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Don't Take God Lightly
Scripture: Exodus 20:7
Track 3 of 10 in the Ten Commandments series
Running time: 29 minutes, 04 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, July 17, 2005
3th sermon in a 10-part series.
"Don't Take God Lightly"
(Exodus 20:7)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

A fella by the name of Dickinson has written a book, the title of which is simply Names. He has done his homework apparently to discover something interesting about the way we folk like to name our families.

One paragraph in that book reads, "In 1941 there were two men who were executed in the electric chair in Florida. Their names were Will Burn and Will Frizzle. There was a window washer in Montreal who fell washing windows. His name was Will Drop. Others," he said, "seemed destined for certain occupations. Dan Druff became a barber. Jeff Tredwell became a Podiatrist. Goforth and Ketchum became police partners. O'Neil and Pray became partners in church equipment. A plaster contractor was named Will Crumble."

Well, I suppose there is something to those names and I wouldn't necessarily suggest that you take a look and see what your parents named you to see if it has anything to do with your future or not. That's the point of this particular text. Don't misuse the name of the Lord. You've heard us talk just a little bit already about where we have been.

As we start looking at Exodus 20 about the Ten Commandments we were reminded immediately that God accepts no competitors. He has no rivals. Have no other God before Me.

Last week we took a look at that Second Commandment that had to do with graven images, not something that you and I necessarily deal a great deal with, I don't suppose; that we have a lot of graven images around our house. But we came to discover that a graven image was simply man's attempt to bring God down to something his size; to help God be something that we could humanly grasp, to bring Him under our control. So that somehow we could manipulate Him in a fashion like we might like to manipulate Him.

We come back to that fundamental question, "What in the world do the Ten Commandments have to do with us?" It was, after all, written to the Old Testament people of Israel. It was a part of that Old Covenant and yet, at the same time, while we understand that it isn't specifically binding on us, as a law, that there is enormous value in seeing how it gets lived out every day.

I remind you of Psalm 19 where the psalmist says, The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

Exodus 20:7 is the text that we're looking at this morning. You may want to hold it there. There might be something in it you would find that you'd want to look at later.

He simply says this. Exodus 20:7"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name"

Well I suppose any self-respecting preacher would go out and see how other people tried to handle a text like that; so, I did. I didn't do a lot of extensive research into other peoples' sermons but of the five sermons that I read, based on Exodus 20:7; all five of them consistently said that the fundamental point that Moses was trying to make, or God was trying to make through Moses, was that you shouldn't swear, cuss, misuse His name, take it in vain as we sometimes use the term.

I would certainly agree it's a great principle. We ought not do that. I just don't think that has much to do with this particular text. I think there are other places where that's true. "Don't let any unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth." from Ephesians 5 And I suppose that, certainly that if you're going to take this text seriously, you wouldn't abuse the name of the Lord in that way. You wouldn't use it as a swear word. And I'm not absolutely certain that's what he's talking about in this particular text. Don't misuse the name of the Lord.

Some, in those sermons, included this idea. Don't try to take advantage of the power of the name because there was great power in His name, as there is in, frankly, all of our names. There's something significant about how we see ourselves by our names. One of the suggestions that showed up in that sermon was, you probably ought to be careful how you use God's name when you pray. They were more specifically referring to this particular prayer. "God, damn that chair." That's not how, actually, most people say it, but that's how it comes out. Because, if per chance, you, in a fit of anger say that about a neighbor or a child and God chooses to answer your prayer, you could find yourself in a great deal of difficulty, wishing you had never prayed it.

Choosing to ask God to curse someone is not a particularly good idea and some people take it extremely flippantly when they do.

In fact, one of the things that came up in looking at this is that I got this very rich education about how people like to use or misuse the name of the Lord today. Some Christians, and I, this is perfectly fine with me. Some Christians really do want to defend the name of the Lord and so, when they hear other people misuse His name, particularly as a swear word, they will often confront a co-worker over that kind of an event. And, certainly that's an appropriate thing to do. If you think that you have the kind of relationship with that person that you can do that.

I ran into this little chat room thing out there as I was looking at my research however, and, here's the response to a person who wrote this note saying that one of his co-worker's confronted him when he damned a chair that he tripped over at the office. Here's his co-worker's response.

"People are too uptight. I'm sure God understood your request clearly, and whether or not the damned chair/desk/counter you stubbed your toe on is irrelevant. What does matter is that you took it upon yourself to call on the highest power (he does acknowledge you need to be a believer) to damn an object that caused you pain and misery, and your overly pious co-worker took it as an insult instead of the modest request I am sure it was meant to be."

This next line is the one that I find most troubling. "I find your co-worker's attitude childish. I will now ask god to damn him for you. It's the least I could do."

I wonder what would happen if God ever decided to answer that prayer every time it was prayed? Or, if instead, He would actually uphold this particular statement that he makes. "I will not hold guiltless anyone who misuses my name." and, he would exact that punishment on that guilt the moment that it was used the way this particular comment was made. It was terribly flippant. In fact, it's the kind of thing that gets better at the heart of what I think this text is about than any of those other kinds of applications. "Don't use God's name flippantly."

So I struggle with lots of ways in which that occurs. I lived across the street from an elementary school and I've heard God's name used flippantly, hundreds, literally hundreds of times a day because it seems to be one of the most common words in the human language. Every time we turn around it shows up on television. Oh God! Oh . . . . . . . . . . . . . one of those commercials for the Publisher's Clearing House. Just empty! But to be really honest with you, I've heard it used in what I would perceive to be a fairly empty fashion around Christian people, who seem to, without much thought, just toss the name of God into every conversation without ever asking whether that's an appropriate place for His name. Don't use His name flippantly.

Well, there were some others who suggested that you shouldn't blame God. That would be a way to take His name in vain. To blame God when you have made up your mind you want to do something. God has led me to, or God told me to. . . . . if you're not absolutely certain it was God, maybe you might not want to ascribe to Him that activity. That was one of the explanations as a possibility of how to apply this particular text.

I think I want to go just a little different direction than those. It's totally related, I think, but, I'm going to let the great theologian, George Burns, help me with this. Some of you may have seen George play God in "O God I", "O God II", or "O God, You Devil". That might, by the way, have been taking His name in vain, to have George Burns play that part. I'm not sure. That's probably a topic for another day.

But there is a great exchange that occurs the first time God shows up. You remember. . . .George Burns shows up and he encounters a grocery store manager by the name of Jerry Landers. In the midst of one of the conversations, just all of a sudden, Landers says, to himself, "O God!"

And God says, "Yes, Jerry? What is it?"

And Jerry says, "Huh?? Oh, it's nothing, Lord. It's just an expression. A figure of speech. Nothing more."

And then God says, "Jerry, that's why I'm here. I want people to know that I'm not just a figure of speech. I'm more than just a phrase that people blurt out when they get frustrated. I want you to tell people to take me seriously. That I am the Lord!"

I wonder if that isn't exactly what Moses is trying to get at, as he records this command from God. Take me seriously.

It seems to me that one of the things that we need to wrestle with is what's in the power of a name. And the name in the Old Testament was something that carried more than just an identity; more than just the ability to say who you are in the sense of knowing what to call you when we meet. It was a statement about your character. In fact, if you pay attention to those Old Testament names, what you discover is that virtually all of them have some real significance, some real meaning.

Some of you are familiar with the Prophet Elijah. Well, at least, that's how we would pronounce it. His name is Eli - jah. By the way, that means, my God is Yahweh. My God is God. It's a pretty powerful name. In fact, you wouldn't know the name of God. This is what's so utterly interesting to me about the way we have so flippantly taken this little three letter word, God, and brought it into the human language. We wouldn't even know what His name was if He hadn't chosen to tell us.

Do you remember when Moses is getting ready to go into the land of Egypt to rescue these people. He's a sheep herder and he sees a bush and it's burning, but it's not being burned up and he walks over to it and he hears a voice that says, "Take off your shoes, you're standing on holy ground," and Moses suddenly knows he's encountering someone greater than he is. And by the time this conversation gets very far, he wants to know who he's talking to. Whom shall I say sent me to these people? And God's response was, "I am (it's four letters) YHVH." (Ed: Can't get that one!!) If you really want to know. The fancy name for it is the tetragram aton. It's a word that the Jewish people wouldn't even pronounce. It has no vowels. It's four consonants. The song that you heard just a few minutes ago, Adonai, that's the choice of words that they would place in place of what we have called Yahweh, or what you will sometimes see written Jehovah. It was such a significant name that they were so afraid that they would mess it up, they wouldn't even write it down. Now the problem wasn't that they thought they would mess it up writing it down. The problem was they were afraid they might have to erase it at some point and you just can't erase God.

And we look at that, I suppose, and think that's a little silly. They looked at it and said, that is the kind of reverence with which you treat the name. So whenever you come to the word Lord in the Old Testament and it's written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that's this name. The name they wouldn't even say.

I know it sounds horribly judgmental and I'm going to repent for this I think, some day. But there are some folks in Lincoln who have His name on their license plate. Yahweh and Yahweh I and I think, if you wouldn't even write it down or say it, why would you make it a bumper sticker. There's something about the way we treat the name, because the name carries identity. It carries character. It carries reputation. I am, the eternal One. I always was. I always will be. I am that I am.

There were a lot of ways that Israel tried to get a handle on that name, but the idea was, don't take God flippantly. Literally the word "to take" is used hundreds of times and it means to pick something up, to carry it. The word Yahweh, in the Old Testament, the word Lord, as we often see it, is used something like 6,800 times referring to God as the One creative, redeeming, above all, God.

And this word, "vain" that we have in our King James versions or in the NIV don't misuse the name of the Lord. Don't take His name in vain. It means something that is empty, useless, thoughtless.

See I think the whole point of this text is that God really does want you to take Him seriously because He's identified by his name.

Listen to one of the Psalms. The psalmist really understood this concept of God's name. The psalmist, David, in this case says, in Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Ascribe to the Lord the glory that is due his name. . . .I have given you a list of his names. It should be, there they are. That's just some of them. It's a fairly lengthy list. This word, EL. . . . E L that you see over here so often on the left hand side, that's the word for God that's used in Genesis 1, only it's plural. Elohim is God. And then all of these words, Jehovah something. . . .that is the word I have used as Yahweh. . . .it's that four letter name. And attached to it are a bunch of other things that describe Him. For example: The Lord will Provide, Jehovah-Jireh.

Well, over here on the left, half-way down, Elohim is often translated Lord Yahweh, I am... . . . . in your English Bibles will be LORD in CAPITAL LETTERS. That's the name we're talking about here in this particular text. God has lots of names and there is this sense of power in names.

In 1Samuel 17 interesting comment that is made when David comes to do battle with the Philistines. David says to the Philistine in 1Samuel 17:45 "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. I don't need spears and swords. I come in the power of His name.

There's also a rather interesting text over in Deuteronomy, the 5th Book of the Old Testament where the Law, by the way, gets repeated for the second generation of Israelites. As Israel is moving finally into the Promise Land, after meandering in the wilderness for 40 years and we rehearse these opening events of Exodus. In Chapter 12, it's talking about what's going to happen when they move into the land and God gives this instruction. Deuteronomy 12:3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods (Now listen!) and wipe out their names from those places. 'Cause the name was important. It represented something about God.

What amazed me this week. I confess to you, it just absolutely amazed me, was how badly the name of God is misused. I typed into a Google search engine, "the Lord's name in vain" and I got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of responses where people literally took it as an opportunity to use every filthy and ugly comment they could about God's name. I thought, "How could you do that?" "You wouldn't do that to your mother!" And yet you do that to the God of the universe. It was like, here's an opportunity for us to put on paper, or, on cyber air, whatever that is, all of these awful comments about God.

It comes down to this, if you identify yourself as a God-follower, there are some expectations of you. It just kind of comes with the territory, because you're a believer, because you identify.

Well. . . . . .they say this is a true story. I'm going to tell it to you as if it's a true story 'cause I don't know that it's not. But the guy's name is C. R. Smith. He was one of the founders of American Airlines. He made a stopover in Nashville, Tennessee one day and when he did he found two of his desks in the corridor. There was a guy sitting behind one of the desks with his feet propped up. And the phone is ringing off the hook. And the guy is just sitting there. And so, Smith goes over and he answers the phone ( Oh, by the way, he says to the fella who is just sitting there, "the phone is ringing" and he said, "That phone belongs to reservations. I'm in maintenance."), so Smith answers the phone. He gives the person the information that he needs about his particular flight. The guy sitting behind the desk in maintenance says, "Well, that was pretty good! You sounded like you knew something about American Airlines. Do you work for the airlines?" he said. "Yes, I do," Smith answered. "And you used to."

There's something about connecting with God that brings with it some expectations.

I don't know how to get around this. Can you tell that I'm fumbling, trying to figures out how to get around this? In another month or so, my wife and I will have been married 35 years. On August 23, 1970, I stood in a church building in Idaho and I made a vow. I said, "I do." I think I said that. I don't remember much about it. What I do remember about that was this. From that day forward, her name was now Sackett. She's been carrying that name for 35 years. You don't even know her name. You just assume that she's a Sackett. She's not. She's a Sackett by marriage. She didn't grow up one. She took my name, willingly, believe it or not. Of course she didn't know any better. Ask her today, and she might change her mind. I don't know.

I tried, because I'm the last son in the Sackett line, at least in our particular branch of the tree. I tried to get my daughters ( I only have daughters). It's just unfair that in American culture, it's the girl who changes her name. I tried to convince all three of my girls to, at least hyphenate their names, if they couldn't get those bozo's to let them keep their names, then hyphenate it or something. But keep us around. They didn't. They all took their husbands names. So if Michelle Ryan walked in the room or Jill Dicken or Amy Bates, you wouldn't necessarily know they were mine.

See, when you take somebody's name, you take their identity, you take their connection, you become their representative in this world. They are going to determine your reputation. That's a scary thought when you have children out there running around who are teenagers. I mean people in Lincoln, Illinois think of me as Michel/Amy/Jill's father. I got so tired of being. . . . Are you?????. . . . .are you their father? You almost want to say, I don't know. Tell me what you think of them first.

Are you starting to see where I'm trying to go with this thing? When you decide to become a follower of God, you take HIS name and everywhere you go, God's reputation is at stake. Because you carry His name. And I hear Moses saying, "Don't take my name lightly!" "Don't misrepresent me." "Don't ruin my reputation."

I know none of you parents have been this foolish, so I'll just go ahead and tell you how dumb I was. I sat my daughters down and said, "Ya know, you have two choices in this life, because I am the first Christian in our family and want people to associate being Christian with the name Sackett. If you don't intend to behave like a Christian, then change your name.

Jesus' problem with the Pharisees. . . .his problem wasn't with what they taught. In fact, he said, you can listen to what their teaching. Their teaching isn't bad, just don't do what they do. The problem was the reputation that they had.

I think that was Paul's concern about the church. He says in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 I have engaged you, (The old King James says, espoused you) to Jesus and now I'm afraid, he says, that you're going to go out there and do something really stupid. Well, why would that matter? Because we take God's name.

I didn't know this. I'm assuming this is true. Maybe some of you who know more about this than I do can clarify this between services so I won't make the same mistake second service. But, I just read that on the German military uniform in the 1940's under Hitler was the phrase Got Mit Uns. In German that's translated, God With Us. I don't know how God could have stood that.

But I'm not so sure how God sometimes stands what happens to His name when we wear it. I know there have been times when He certainly wouldn't have been proud of His name the way I wore it.

I think what Moses is trying to help us understand is that God wants to be taken seriously. So don't thoughtlessly carry His name; don't take up His name if you don't intend to try to at least attempt to live it out. If it isn't in your heart, at least in your motive to try to do the best job you know how to represent His name. . . .

Well, when Paul writes in 1Timothy, he says to that slave culture in the way they treat their masters, that they should obey their masters so that God's name would not be disregarded.

Did you ever ask yourself. . . . .How did Jesus obey this command? Don't take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Remember how he started the model prayer? Surely you do. Hallowed be your name. Don't let anybody call you father. There is only one father, Jesus says. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. But do not swear by heaven and earth. Don't abuse the name, Jesus says. And if there was anything that Jesus condemned roundly and consistently it was hypocrisy. Wearing the name of God and having your actions not live up to the name.

I wrestled with this text and sermon now for days and one of the things that struck me in the midst of trying to figure this thing out, was a statement that I have loved for years. It's one of my favorite passages of Scripture. You'll recognize it; Philippians 2 That Jesus did not think equality with God something to be held on to, but he poured himself out taking upon himself the form of a servant. Do you remember how the end of that early church hymn ends? That after he has been raised up, God will give him the name that is above every name. Comes right back to that doesn't it? The power of the name.

God invites you to take Him seriously. To honor Him with your speech. To not misuse His name. To just be conscious of how you use it, even when you're attempting to use it positively. I'm just going to assume you would never use it negatively, but to put meaning in that name. You. . . . I realize we're not a crowd that says Hallelujah a lot, but we're not a crowd that ever says Hallelujah. But if we were, do you know what you're saying? It's two words. . . . .Hallelu (praise) and jah (Yahweh). Whenever you're are saying Hallelujah, you're saying praise God. So, it's those kinds of words that I want in my own life, to just simply begin to take on meaning. So that I don't say them and don't understand that there is something there about God. But that's a minor thing.

The major thing is not just the words that you use. The major issue is that when you walk out of this building and into your families and into your workplace and out here on the street and people know that you are a God-follower, they're going to want to know, have you taken God's name seriously? Do you wear it well?

That's what we're inviting you to. Is to wear the name of God well; to commit in your heart that you will do everything you can to be God-honoring in your speech and in your life and in your relationships, so that when people see you and they say, there goes a Christian. That's a positive thing!

Will you stand with me and let's commit ourselves to that kind of life?