Canceling the Gong Show

Canceling the Gong Show

Exodus 20:13

Dr. Jim Denison

From 1976 to 1980, easily the most outrageous show on television was The Gong Show. Remember Chuck Barris, the curly-haired maniac who would “gong” unlucky contestants? He went on to make The Gong Show Movie, which was gonged by critics and viewers alike. But Chuck laughed all the way to the bank, or more specifically to France, where he still lives today.

Unfortunately, his show’s title is still an appropriate description for relationships in America.

A person is murdered in this country every 31 minutes.

In 1990 handguns murdered 10 people in Australia, 22 in Great Britain, 68 in Canada, and 10,567 in the United States.

The national prison and jail population in 1980 was 501,900. For this year the Bureau of Justice Statistics projects it to be 2,014,000.

Recent demographics in North Dallas list crime as the greatest single fear we feel. Two Sundays ago my neighbor’s car was broken into; recently one of our members had her purse stolen from her house; since Wedgwood, we know that even churches are not guaranteed safety.

The problem is not just with our society, but with our personal lives and relationships.

Mother Teresa said that the greatest epidemic in America is not AIDS or cancer but loneliness. Isolated, hurting people, in strained marriages and families and relationships, are all around us. Even today.

Where are you at odds with someone today? When I ask you about the problem people in your life, what person comes to mind first?

God wants to help you with that person, and to help us as a society. That’s why he gave us the sixth commandment.

What not to do

Our text today is very simple. The sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments are each expressed in only two Hebrew words: “No murder, no adultery, no stealing.” Today, “You shall not murder.”

“You” is plural, including us all.

“Shall not” is a present-tense command. Not a suggestion or principle but a law. In the present tense, thus applying today, and tomorrow, and for all time.

“Murder” is the key word here. What does it mean?

This is not the typical Hebrew word for “kill.” This word, ratzah, appears forty-seven times in the Old Testament, each time with reference to premeditated and intentional murder.

This word and commandment does not prohibit us from defending ourselves (Exodus 22:2), accidental killings (Deuteronomy 19:5), involvement in war (Deuteronomy 13:15), or capital punishment (Genesis 9:6).

But it prohibits us from all other killing, for any other reason.

Well and good. But most of us have never killed anyone and certainly don’t intend to. So why waste time dealing with this issue? Why not move on? Well, before we decide we’re free to bypass the sixth commandment, perhaps we should remember what Jesus said about it.

If we are “angry” with our brother we are subject to the same judgment as if we murder him (Matthew 5:22).

If we call him “Raca,” an Aramaic term of contempt, something like “Good for nothing!” we must answer to judgment.

If we call him “fool,” the worst form of contempt in the ancient world, a term which means that he is immoral and corrupt in the extreme, we deserve the same penalty as Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Hitler.

Is anyone here today angry with someone? Calling them names? Branding them immoral failures? Apparently there are many ways to “murder.” Why are they wrong?

Scripture gives us at least three reasons.

First, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And so, to hurt a person is to hurt God. This is like attacking your child or spouse. To hurt Janet or Ryan or Craig is to attack me. And 1 Corinthians 3:17 says that we are the “temple” of God. If I attack your house I attack you. If I attack you, I attack the God who dwells in you.

If we don’t want to hurt God, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

A second reason harming others is prohibited is that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is the famous Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and it’s still the best way to live.

The German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller said, “The Nazis came for the Communists, but I wasn’t a Communist, so I didn’t object. They came for Socialists, but I wasn’t a Socialist, so I didn’t object. They came for trade union leaders, but I wasn’t a union leader, so I didn’t object. They came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t object. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.”

If we want to treat others as we want to be treated, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

A third reason hurting others is prohibited is this: how we treat the person we hold in lowest esteem is how we treat Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke of the hungry which weren’t fed, the thirsty not given a drink, the stranger not invited in, the naked not clothed, the prisoner not visited, and said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).

If we want to treat others as we would Jesus, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

Ways to murder today

We’ve learned why to keep the sixth commandment. Now, let’s look at ways to break it, as Jesus interpreted it. Let’s go from preaching to meddling for a moment.

Gossip murders the character of those we talk about, exactly as “Raca” or “fool” did in Jesus’ day.

Listen to Leviticus 19:16-18: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life” (note the parallelism).

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has a good book on the Ten Commandments. In it she quotes this essay on gossip, sent to her anonymously:

My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice.I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.I flourish at every level of society.My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no face.To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.I am nobody’s friend.Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.I topple governments, wreck marriages, and ruin careers–cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion.I spawn suspicion and generate grief.I make innocent people cry in their pillows.Even my name hisses. . . .I make headlines and headaches.Before you repeat a story, ask yourself, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? If not–shut up!

Now let’s consider briefly some other ethical issues the sixth commandment raises. As someone once said of a preacher, “He believed everything he said, but didn’t say everything he believes.” I’ll have to do that today, for the sake of time.

What about euthanasia? This is obviously a larger subject than time allows today, but the sixth commandment is clear: only God has the right to determine when a life should end.

What about suicide? Again, only God has the right to determine when a life is done. Not even the person living that life. Please understand: suicide is not the unpardonable sin. That theology came from the belief that sins must be confessed before one dies, and someone committing the sin of suicide obviously could not do this. But the Bible nowhere says that. Suicide is, however, a great sin, always wrong in Scripture and against the will of God.

What about abortion? Again, this is a far larger subject than time allows today—some time in the future we need to consider a sermon series together on all these various ethical issues. But I would not be truthful with you today unless I told you this: I believe Scripture is clear in teaching that life begins at conception, as when God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). According to the sixth commandment, then, abortion is, in principle, wrong.

Here’s the bottom line for today: we are to see all people as God sees them, and as their mother sees them. Then we will value them and treat them as we should. Now, how do we do this?

What to do with problem people

Jesus’ commentary on the sixth commandment gives us the help we need.

First, release your anger (Matthew 5:22). When Jesus tells us not to be “angry” with our brother, he uses a very specific Greek word, orgizesthai, which means long-lived, cherished, nursed wrath and anger. This is not thumos, the word for short-lived angry emotions, but the word for anger we choose to hold onto and feed.

Jesus does not tell us not to feel angry, but not to hold onto that anger. We cannot help our feelings, but we can manage them. Luther said we cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair.

So, refuse to hold onto your anger. Ask God to help you let it go today.

Second, take the initiative to heal (Matthew 5:23-24). To put Jesus’ words in our context, if you are on your way into the sanctuary for worship and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave church, drive to his house, and make things right. Only then should you come in here to worship God.

Not if you have something against him—if he has something against you. Take the initiative to heal the relationship.

Do it now (Matthew 5:25-26). Again in our terms, if someone is suing you and you’re in the wrong, settle before you get to court. It will cost you far less now than then. It will never be easier to make things right than it is today.

Choose to pardon (Matthew 5:38-42).

Jesus’ words relate to an insult, as when someone slaps you on the right cheek with the back of his hand, or a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack for him. You can retaliate, but you only hurt yourself.

Frederick Buechner is right: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a rapid way to a sightless, toothless world.

To forgive is to pardon. It is not to pretend you’re not hurt, or excuse the hurt, but choose not to punish the one who hurt you. Ask God to help you choose to pardon, for his sake and for yours.

Last, pray for the person (Matthew 5:43-44). This is sometimes the only thing you can do, but it is always the best thing you can do. And it is hard, perhaps impossible, to hurt those we are praying for. Pray for the problem person in your life, today.


A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to “honor your father and mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”

A boy (the oldest in a family of seven) immediately answered, “Thou shalt not kill.”

He was right.

Help for a Family Feud

Help for a Family Feud

Exodus 20:12

Dr. Jim Denison

Do you remember the game show Family Feud? 100 people were surveyed on a subject. Then two families, five members each, tried to guess the most popular answers on these surveys. Richard Dawson’s “Survey says . . .” was the “Is that your final answer?” of the day.

The game show aired from 1976 to 1985, was revived again in 1988 for one season, and aired again briefly five years ago. But the title describes our culture even more fully today than it did 25 years ago.

Children report that they spend less than thirty minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their mother, and less than fifteen minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their father.

A recent Harris poll asked Americans what they most want to do with their time. 30% chose reading; 21% chose watching television. Only 13% chose spending time with their family.

Listen to these frightening facts about youth today. Every day in America:

2,989 young people see their parents get a divorce.1,849 are abused or neglected.7,742 become sexually active.2,795 get pregnant.1,295 give birth.10 are killed in alcohol-related auto accidents.16 commit suicide.

Our families need help. Fortunately, God cares. That’s why he gave us the fifth commandment.

What does God say about families?

Let’s study our text together.

“Honor,” the commandment begins. The word means to respect or venerate.

“Your father and mother,” God continues. In a world which relegated women to inferior status, this inclusion is significant. And note that Leviticus 19:3 restates it this way: “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” Here the mother is even listed first.

“So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” the commandment concludes. The first meaning of this promise is that the nation of Israel would be secure in her society and land if she kept this commandment. But there are other meanings as well, as we will see in a moment.

And note that God’s word makes this a binding commandment for all time.

Leviticus 19:3 says, “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” None of us are excluded, no matter the circumstances of our situation. We’ll say more about this in a moment.

The book of Proverbs adds, “If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness” (20:20); and also this gruesome hyperbole, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures” (31:17). This commandment is important!

The New Testament is clear as well.

Jesus renewed this commandment when he told the Rich Young Ruler, “honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:19), and he severely criticized the religious leaders of his day for not honoring and supporting their parents (Mark 7:9-13).

The epistles are clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1-2); “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

We need to keep this commandment for the sake of our souls, our families, and our future. This is indeed how to “live long” on the earth.

Perhaps this brief tale from the Brothers Grimm will make the point. Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, and this son and his wife soon decided that they could not have such a distraction at their table.

So they led the little old man gently but firmly by the arm to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in a bowl. But one day his hands trembled even more than usual, and the bowl fell and broke. His son and daughter-in-law, in anger and distress, then made a little wooden trough and fed him out of that. It was terrible to see him eating as would an animal, but that’s the way things were.

One day the couple’s four-year-old son was playing intently with some bits of wood, so they asked him what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling at them for approval, “to feed you and Mama out of when I get big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, then they cried a little, then they took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.

We need the fifth commandment, for our lives, our families, and our future.

What about dishonorable parents?

But before we find practical ways to honor our parents, we need briefly to ask a hard question: what if our parents are not honorable? What if they try to keep us from following Christ or otherwise doing what is right? What then?

Sometimes we must choose which commandment to break. When Corrie ten Boom’s family was harboring Jews, one day the Nazis banged on their door and asked if they had Jews in their house. Which commandment will they break—the sixth commandment, not to murder, or the ninth commandment, not to lie?

Jesus made it clear that following him would sometimes cause conflict with our family. His own family misunderstood him early in his ministry. And he specifically told his followers, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

This happened often to the early Christians, who had to refuse their father’s order to reject Christ, even to the point of death.

In Jewish society as well, when a son turned from his father’s faith he became dead unto him. I had a student at Southwestern Seminary whose Orthodox Jewish family held a burial service for him when he came to Christ. There is a tombstone in New York with his name on it today.

Ephesians 6:1 is clear: “Obey your parents in the Lord.” Martin Luther had to refuse his father’s wishes that he become a lawyer, to become a minister. Thomas Aquinas’s family locked him in the family castle for a year in their attempt to prevent his entering the ministry. Francis Schaeffer’s father forbade his starting L’Abri.

Unfortunately, we must sometimes choose between our earthly father and our heavenly Father.

In these situations, the first commandment is clear: we can have no god but God. Not even our parents. But, these situations occur far less often today than they did in Jesus’ day. I’ve seen only a handful of circumstances in my years in ministry where a child really had no choice except to disobey his parents in order to obey God.

If this is your situation, pray. Ask God to show you what to do. And be patient. Perhaps your parents will change over time. Don’t give up on them. Honor them in every way you can. I liked what one Christian said. His father was a drunkard, and so he said, “I always want to honor the man I want my father to be.”

Insofar as we can honor our parents without dishonoring God, we must do so. This is the clear teaching of his word.

How can we keep this commandment today?

Honor our parents. Prize them, respect them, find ways to value them today.

Note that the commandment does not say, “Love your parents.” God’s word tells us to love God, the stranger, and our neighbor, but nowhere are we told specifically to love our parents. Why not?

Because the best way to show love for our parents is to honor and obey them. This matters far more than any words or material gifts we might give to them.

We act into feeling, we don’t feel into acting. Don’t wait until you feel love for your mother or father—find a loving thing to do. Find a way to honor him or her. When we honor our parents, we find that we feel a new level of appreciation for them. So, find a way to honor them today.

How? Thank them. Thank your parents for the life they have given to you, and for the ways they provide for you still.

Current estimates are that it costs the average parent nearly $300,000 to raise one child from infancy to age 18; that doesn’t count the costs of college, which often exceed $300,000.

Take the initiative. When parents have to ask their children to say thanks, it doesn’t mean nearly as much. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are good, but not enough.

Bill Hybels tells about cleaning out his father’s desk after he died. He and his brother found note pads, files, stacks of legal documents attesting to the scope of his business responsibilities. But in the top drawer on the right-hand side, he found a collection of letters which seemed to occupy a position of honor. There, neatly grouped in rubber bands, were all the letters he, his brother and sisters had ever written to him.

What would you find in your parents’ home today?

Obey them in the Lord. As we have seen, the Scriptures are clear here.

Support them when you can. As the population lives longer than ever before, more and more children are parenting their parents. This is often hard, but always right.

1 Timothy 5:3-4: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”

1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Last, remember them when they’re gone. We continue to wear their name, and to reflect on them with our lives. We will bring honor or dishonor to our parents, as long as we live.

I really like something Janet tells our boys: we belong to everyone who loves us. This fact should affect our decision, as long as we live. For our parents’ sake, and for our own as well.


All of Dallas mourned this week the passing of Tom Landry. The television retrospectives were unanimous: while he was a coaching genius and a great football legend, his character was his most abiding legacy.

By now everyone knows his life priorities: faith, family, and football.

These can be our legacy today: God first, then family. Whatever is “football” to you, last. If he could do it, we can do it.

And we must.

I read recently a philosopher’s story about a spider who dropped a single strand from the top rafter of an old barn and began to weave his web. As the days, weeks, and months went by, his web grew. It did its work well, providing the spider with food as flies, mosquitoes, and other small insects were caught in its elaborate maze. The spider built his web larger and larger until it became the envy of all the other spiders.

One day this successful spider was traveling across his beautiful web when he noticed a single strand going up into the darkness of the barn rafters. “I wonder why this is here,” he thought. “It doesn’t catch me any dinner.” And so the spider climbed up to this single strand and severed it. When he did, the entire web slowly began to tumble to the floor of the barn, and the spider with it.

Don’t cut that cord.

The Wheel of Religion

The Wheel of Religion

Exodus 20:7

Dr. Jim Denison

Wheel of Fortune is one of America’s favorite game shows, and the simplest. You merely guess the words or phrases behind blank squares. If it’s your turn and you guess the words, you win.

Of all our game shows, this is the one the ancient Jews would most likely have understood. “The Dating Game?” “Jeopardy?” Not likely. But a show about words? Absolutely.

They were fascinated with words, even to the point of veneration. They knew the power of words—once spoken, they can never be taken back; they have the ability to injure, to bless, to condemn, or to save.

And they knew that no word is as powerful as the name of God. I want to show you why that’s so, how we’ve lost that power in our culture, and why getting it back is so important to our souls.

Know the name of God

You shall not, the commandment begins.As with last week, “you” is plural, so that this commandment applies to every one of us, with no exceptions.

“Shall not” shows that this is a commandment, not just a suggestion or principle for life. It is as important to God as the commandments not to murder or commit adultery. This is crucial to God.

Misuse means to take his name “in vain.” The word means “groundlessly, emptily, without basis,” and includes frivolous, insincere, or unjustified use of the name of God.

The original context was legal in nature. When a person testified before the elders or council, he was to speak “in the name of God.” This was something like our oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The commandment was not to promise truth “in God’s name,” then lie or deceive.

The name of the Lord your God is the central phrase of the third commandment.

Jewish people associated the “name” of a person with his or her basic identity. For this reason, biblical characters were often assigned names to describe them (“Esau” means red, because he was red-headed; “Isaac” means laughter, because Sarah laughed when God said she would have a son).

And so the “name of God” deals of his basic character and identity. To speak of the “name of God” was to deal with his very nature, being, and person. For this reason, the names of God in the original biblical languages were sacred to the Jewish people. Each of them said something important about God.

YHWH means “the One who was, is, and ever shall be.” This name showed that God is eternally the Lord. As C. S. Lewis said, if time is a line on a page, God is the page.

“God” here is Elohim, literally “the God of gods.” This says that he alone is God, above all other deities worshipped around the world. In a day of polytheism and henotheism (each country had their own god), he alone is the God of the universe.

El-Elyon (Genesis 14:22, Deuteronomy 32:8-9) means “God most high,” showing that God rules the world today.

El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3) means “God Almighty,” and shows that he has all the power of the universe, and we have none.

Pahad means “the One to be feared” (Genesis 31:42; 1 Samuel 11:7). We are to approach him with awe and reverence.

Adonai (Isaiah 6:1) means “Lord of all,” the one who reigns.

Jehovah-Jireh (Genesis 21:22; 22:14) means “the Lord who provides” for our every need.

Jehovah-Tsidkenu (Jeremiah 23:6) means “the Lord is our righteousness,” so that we can be holy and righteous only as he makes us so.

Jehovah-Shalom means “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24), pointing to the fact that only God can give us peace.

These are just some of God’s names in the Scriptures. As you can see, the “name of God” describes his character, identity, person. In other words, the name of God means God himself. Listen to some examples:

Psalm 8:1: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Psalm 20:1: “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”

Psalm 68:4: “Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him.”

Psalm 111:9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.”

Proverb 18:10: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Malachi 3:16: “A scroll of remembrance was written in [God’s] presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.”

Matthew 6:9: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Matthew 18:5: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

John 12:28: “‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.'”

John 20:31: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 5.41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

Acts 9:15-16: “The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'”

Philippians 2:9-11: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, 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.”

Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Revelation 14:1: “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”

Revelation 19:16: “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords.'”

Here’s the point: to misuse God’s name is to misuse God, to abuse him, to slander his character and reputation. This issue was so important that the third commandment is the only one of the ten with an immediate threat of punishment.

It stands to reason, then, that we would want to know how to keep this commandment—what it means to dishonor God’s name, and to honor it.

How to honor the name of God

The first way we break this commandment is to use God for ourselves. In biblical days, people would swear falsehood in court, in the name of God. They made business deals or personal promises in his name, then broke those contracts. They used God’s name in a profane way, to curse someone or to express anger.

We obviously break this commandment today if we use God’s name in profanity. Such language has no place in Christian character or conduct. And when we use God’s name in swearing or cursing, we dishonor his character. We abuse his reputation. We use him for ourselves.

We also misuse God’s name when we manipulate others with it. The preacher who says, “God told me you need to give money to this ministry.” The husband who says, “God told me to divorce you.” The parent who says, “God will punish you if you don’t do as I say.” We take his name “in vain,” for our own purposes. We use God for ourselves.

And this, the Lord of the universe will not allow.

A second way people break this commandment is to make faith into religion.

For instance, the Jewish people took this commandment to mean that they should never pronounce God’s personal name. Only the High Priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to speak YHWH, and only in the Holy of Holies.

The scribes even wrote YHWH so that the people wouldn’t pronounce it. The original Hebrew language had only consonants. So the scribes took the vowels from another name for God, Adonai, and put them under the consonants YHWH. This was to tell the reader to say “Adonai,” not “YHWH.” Over the centuries we’ve combined the added vowels with these consonants and created “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” but this was almost certainly not how the name was originally pronounced.

When the scribes would come to YHWH, they would put down their pen, stand in the corner for a time of meditation and prayer, then take off their clothing, wash, put on new clothing, take a new quill pen, and write YHWH. They would then burn this pen and clothing, put on their old clothing, take up their old pen, and continue their work.

We can still make faith into legalistic religion today. If your faith consists of the time you spend at church, the Bible study and prayer you do at home, the money you give, so that you think God likes you better when you are religious and is ashamed when you’re not, you’ve made faith into religion. Faith is relationship, expressed in religious ways. It is not a set of legalistic rules. Or else we misuse the name and worship of God.

The third way people break this commandment is to trivialize God. We compartmentalize him, so that he is only one part of our lives. We know we’re going to heaven, that we have our “fire insurance,” so we come to church to pay our religious dues. But we don’t let our religion affect our lives.

This approach explains the fact that ethical behavior is the same inside and outside the church today. The divorce rate among Baptists is even higher than it is in the outside culture. We make sure we don’t misuse the name of God, we make him a part of our lives, and think that’s all he wants. But it’s not.

Ultimately, to keep the third commandment means to honor God with our lives. To live so that we bring glory to God’s name, character, and reputation, in all we do.

Billy Graham said, “We take the name of God in vain when we accept it and allow ourselves to be called Christians, but do not live godly lives.”

To be a “Christian” is to be a “little Christ.” Our lives now reflect on Christ in all we do. We are the only Bible most people will read, the only church they’ll attend. We are to live so that God will be honored by what we do. As I’ve said before, I became a Christian because of the joy I saw in Christians. So will others, because of us.

Jesus was very clear: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).


Now let’s get personal. Are you keeping the third commandment? Does your language dishonor God? Do you use God to manipulate people? Have you made faith into religious activity without passion for Jesus? Have you put God in a box in your life? Or does your daily life bring honor to the Christ whose name you wear?

With God’s help, we really can glorify Jesus with our lives. Even in the hardest places, it’s possible.

Let me prove it, and I’m done today.

Early in the football season I read a Sports Illustrated article about Kurt Warner, the new starting quarterback of the St. Louis Rams. Warner has an incredible story. Five years ago he was stocking groceries, trying to support his family while hoping for a chance to play professional football. He played in Europe, then the Arena football league in America, and started this season as the third-string quarterback for the Rams. He went on to become the league’s best player.

The Sports Illustrated writer spoke at great length about Warner’s passionate faith in Jesus Christ. And so I’ve prayed for Warner all season, that his life would back up his words under the media scrutiny and glare of the public spotlight. And it has.

In every interview he gave during Super Bowl week he spoke of his gratitude for what Jesus had done with his life. When a Tennessee Titans football player was injured, Warner ran to his side, knelt, and prayed for him. And when his team won the Super Bowl last Sunday evening, on national television he gave all the credit to Jesus.

He kept the third commandment. So can we. And Jesus will be pleased.

When You’re In Jeopardy

When You’re in Jeopardy

Exodus 20:8-11

Dr. Jim Denison

The game show Jeopardy was conceived in 1964 by Merv Griffin in the dining room of his apartment. Griffin also composed that music they play while the contestants think. The show now employs four full-time researchers, ten writers, and is viewed by 32 million people.

This is the game show Marine Corps. Think about it: on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? contestants answer ten questions and win a million dollars. A Jeopardy winner must answer upwards of 40 or 50 questions to win a few thousand dollars.

To make things even harder, you don’t really answer questions—you question answers. They give you the answer, and you think of the question. If you ask the wrong question, you cannot get the right answer.

That’s how life works as well. If we ask the wrong questions, we get the wrong answers. If psychologists, counselors, and statistics are to be believed, that’s happening at epidemic levels today. We’re asking the wrong questions—how can I do more? Make more? Have more? Be more? We’re spinning plates, and they’re falling. We are in “jeopardy” to stress and time pressures.

The fourth commandment can help us. Let’s study it together.

Who needs a Sabbath?

“Sabbath” translates the Hebrew shabbath, which means to rest from labor. Who needs that?

In my office sits a desktop computer, running at 500mhz (whatever that means). I have a notebook computer I carry with me, and a pocket-sized personal digital assistant I have with me at all times. I wear my pager every day, and have my cell phone and voice processor with me all day long. And I’m no technology guru. I don’t know a “dos” from a “macro” file. This is just the stuff I need (or think I need) to do my job.

Technology promised us modern conveniences which would make our lives easier, but the pace of work has increased, not diminished. Americans on average worked 167 more hours last year than the year before. Driving in a car used to be time off, but not with cell phones, cars with e-mail, and palm-top voice-activated computers. Lunch in a restaurant used to be time off, but not with phones and pagers. Being at home used to be time off, but not with home computers, e-mail, pagers, and phones. We go faster, harder, longer than ever before.

Campbell’s Soup has discovered that people will not use microwave meals which take longer than six minutes to prepare. McDonalds reports that the typical customer spends an average of seven minutes eating one of their meals.

The Personal Assistant, someone who schedules your day, handles your chores, runs your errands, and generally helps you with your time demands, is a new growth job market. Jeanne Edwards in my office called one of them here in Dallas to find out what her job is like, but the person was too busy to talk to her. She needs her own personal assistant, it seems.

The three greatest killers of Americans are not cancer, heart attacks and accidents, but computers, pagers, and telephones.

The annual cost of running red lights, in medical bills, car repairs, etc., is $7 billion. The average amount of time saved by running a red light is 50 seconds. We’re asking the wrong questions.

Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot, wrote his autobiography a few years ago. In it he told about an unusual event at Edwards Air Force Base in the late fifties. A pilot testing a Mach 2 fighter actually outraced the shells from his cannons and shot himself down. I’ve done that, running too fast for my own good. Haven’t you?

Who needs time away, time alone with God? Jesus did.

He spent forty days alone with God in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

When he began that ministry, one of his first actions was this: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

Later in Mark’s Gospel we read, “because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'” (Mark 6:31).

Still later in his ministry we read, “After Jesus had dismissed the people, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).

All through his life and even the Gethsemane before his death, Jesus practiced the shabbath.

Who needs time away, time alone with God? I do. God has revealed himself to me most fully when I was alone for an extended time with him.

The night I spent alone in a hut in Malaysia, lonely and hurting, crying out to God. Then singing in Malay, “Jesus loves me,” only to look up and see twenty children from the village sitting around me, singing with me. God was there in them.

The retreat I took in college where I spent a day walking with God, clarifying my call to ministry.

The silent retreat in Atlanta nearly five years ago when I rediscovered my soul, my personal walk with Jesus.

Our staff’s silent retreat last fall, where God renewed my call to follow Jesus alone.

I have learned this fact: we cannot be much for God until we have been much with God. Stephen Covey is right: the issues is not how to prioritize our schedule, but how to schedule our priorities. We must put first things first, for the sake of our souls, our homes, our marriages, our lives.

How? Let me show you how not to keep a shabbath. This may surprise you.

What is not a Sabbath?

Look at the fourth commandment with me.

This is the longest of the ten commandments, 48 Hebrew words by my count (in contrast to two for the sixth command, “Not shall you murder”). The shabbath clearly matters to God.

So we are told to “Remember the Sabbath day.” “Remember” means to observe, to venerate, like “Remember the Alamo.” This is something we choose to do, intentionally and consciously.

“Keeping it holy” means to make it separate, different, distinct. A day different than the rest of the week.

They worked “six days,” from sunrise to sunset, thus a typical 70 hour work week. Labor was part of God’s will for us in the Garden, before the Fall, and will be as we worship God forever in heaven.

But on the shabbath, we are not to work at all—and neither is anyone else. Everything alive, even animals, need this time away.

This is so important to God, he set the model for us. The God who “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:3) didn’t need a day off. He observed a Sabbath to teach us to do the same. This is the only commandment of the ten for which God has set a personal example.

What does God not mean? First, the Sabbath is not a legalistic religious requirement.

The ancient Hebrews were so concerned with the Shabbath that they devised 39 ways of breaching it, each divided into 39 ways, for 1521 different Sabbath rules. A scribe could not carry a pen; a person could not kill a flea; they could not wear clothing it was possible to carry (because they might get hot and carry it).

It’s fascinating to me that of the Ten Commandments, this is the only law not renewed in the New Testament. All the others are repeated in the Gospels or Epistles for us to live by today, but not this one. So it retains not the force of prescription, but principle. What does it mean in principle, today, to keep the shabbath?

A second wrong answer to the question: the Sabbath is not church attendance.

The first Christians worshiped God on Sunday. This was the day Jesus rose from the dead, and the day Pentecost birthed the church. Jesus chose to rise on Sunday; the Spirit chose to fall on Sunday. This is the “Lord’s Day” (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).

But the Roman Empire did not observe this day as special in any way. And so the Christians would worship, then go to work. This was a normal day for their culture. They would observe a shabbath, a day or time of rest with God, separate from their church attendance.

Unfortunately, things began to change in AD 321 with Constantine, who laid down the first law that work in the cities must stop on the Lord’s Day. In 585 the Council of Macon forbade all work on Sunday. Alcuin (d. 804) and Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) erroneously identified the Lord’s Day with the Sabbath. The Reformers separated them; in fact, Luther (in his Larger Catechism) and Calvin (in the Institutes 2.8.32,34) were very adamant that they are two completely different concepts. They were right.

Going to church is not keeping a Sabbath. You may make this your shabbath day, your day to be alone with God. But church attendance is not the same thing as the Sabbath.

How do we keep a Sabbath?

So, how do we practice the shabbath? First, get alone. Make a time and a place where nothing else in your life can intrude. Your office at work or living room at home are probably not the best places. Find a solitary place and use it for your shabbath.

Second, get alone with God. Read the Scriptures, asking God to speak to you. Write what he says in a spiritual notebook. Keep a prayer list you work through with him. Read devotional literature which helps you draw closer to Jesus. Listen to him.

Fosdick was right: “We need a day when we can hear such a voice as His. A day when we give the Highest a hearing.” Jesus stands at our hearts, wanting to come in and eat with us, but we must be quiet enough to hear his knock at the door.

Third, get alone with God daily. One day a week isn’t enough food for our bodies, or our souls. Listen to Abraham Heschel: “The Sabbath as experienced by man cannot survive in exile, a lonely stranger among days of profanity. It needs the companionship of all other days.” Make a daily appointment to be alone with God, in your shabbath. When is your next appointment with your Father?

Last, get alone with God daily, and retreat regularly. John Stott needs an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year in shabbath with the Father. What do you need? What’s your strategy for this week? This spring?


Abraham Ibn Ezra said in the Twelfth Century, “I keep the Sabbath, God keeps me: a covenant eternally!” Have you made that covenant with him?

A newspaper in Tacoma, Washington once carried the story of Tattoo, the racing basset hound. Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.

A motorcycle officer named Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it. As he passed the car he saw that the something was Tattoo.

“He was picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could,” said Filbert. He chased the car to a stop and rescued Tattoo, but not before the dog reached a speed of 20 mph and rolled over several times. Tattoo was fine, but asked not to go out for an evening walk for a long time.

Who has your leash today, you or God?