One Night in Boston

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NASB

I was at a convention years ago; an evangelical gathering of ministry leaders from all over New England. During the closing keynote address, I saved myself a seat next to Milton Friesen, one of my spiritual mentors. Milton was the director of a homeless shelter in Boston and we had struck up a meaningful friendship over the years. Together we sat on the risers that spanned the back of the auditorium.

The main speaker was a well known author and lecturer, recognized by his passionate preaching and persuasive presentations. He was known as a defender of the faith and more than one disagreer was shamed into silence after taking him on in a debate. You would most likely recognize his name, however he is not the one you’re thinking of. He’s the other one. He was calling for a compassionate outpouring of God’s love for the unbeliever. His challenge was for those of us in attendance to share the message of the gospel with everyone and anyone we would happen to meet.

Then the shocker came. As he was fussing and spitting his way to his passionate point, the dynamic speaker announced, “All around us in the streets of Boston, there are thousands of people on the road to hell.” He paused and went on, “The problem is that most of you in this room don’t give a ___________.” (expletive deleted) He bravely continued as the audience gasped and grew silent. “The bigger problem is that most of you are more upset that I used a curse word in the pulpit than you are about all those people going to hell.”

The silence was deafening. No one moved. After a moment, Milton leaned over and said softly in my ear, “I fear our dear brother is correct.” I have never forgotten that evening, nor have I forgotten the lesson. I suppose I never will.

Growing up, I always thought that the Commandment (number four of Ten) “do not take the name of the Lord in vain,” meant ‘cussing’ was forbidden. Well, it surely should be -- but that is not what the law means. Not at all. It simply means that we must not say we belong to God and then live like we don’t. That is a far greater problem than swearing for most of us.

If a woman marries and takes the name of her husband, then proceeds to live like a single woman, she would have taken his name in vain. Many Christians say they belong to Jesus, but no one would never know it. Their lives and identities are tied closely to earth-bound things, despite being heaven’s offspring.

So, I reckon the speaker got it right that night in Boston. My friend Milton passed a few years later. He now enjoys a seat in heaven, so I will have to say it in his stead. “I fear our dear brother is correct.” If you take the Name, you had better swear allegiance.