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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Fourth Commandment

Copyright June 26, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:8-11

Introduction
            Written by the very finger of God, permanently engraved on two stone tablets, placed in the sacred Ark of the Covenant, and kept in the Holiest place of the Temple of God, the Ten Commandments are the essence of God’s law for humanity.  They teach us how to honor God and live well with each other.  They also make it clear how far we fall short of God’s glorious standards and how desperately we need God’s grace and forgiveness.

Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”  (Matthew 19:16-17)

            If the Ten Commandments are so important, shouldn’t we take time to remember and understand them?  I challenge you to memorize the Ten Commandments this summer.  Then, come to Pleasant Grove UMC each Sunday (or read this blog) to learn how each Commandment applies to your life.  

Let’s list all Ten Commandments (paraphrased):
1.     Do not worship any God except the Lord.
2.     Do not make idols of any kind.
3.     Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
4.     Remember to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your father and mother.
6.     Do not murder.
7.     Do not commit adultery.
8.     Do not steal.
9.     Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
10.  Do not covet.

Today we will look at the Fourth Commandment as found in Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

The Fourth Commandment
The Fourth Commandment is all about love, because it reveals a precious gift God gave us straight from His heart.  The Sabbath day is a gift of sacred time.  Few gifts are more precious than time.  The busier we are in this hectic world, the more valuable time becomes.  A child may beg for the newest toy advertised in commercials, but what they really want is their parents’ precious time.  What a wife really longs for from her husband it not jewelry, but to spend quality time together connecting (of course, jewelry is nice too!).  And how much would a man on his death bed give for a little more time to live.  Time is precious and the God of the universe gave us a whole day to share love with Him and He called it the Sabbath.
God gave us this holy “time” to rest and renew.  Some people don’t need to be told to rest, but most in our day and age will run themselves ragged, ruining our health and injuring vital relationships without resting properly.  God loves us and cares about our need.  Even when we neglect our own health, God cares enough to remind us to rest.  As we set aside the cares of the world and worship the Lord (as we were originally designed to do), God renews our strength.  Isaiah 40:31 – “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  God is the source of life and strength.  We are renewed as we rest in Him.
The Sabbath also reminds us what is most important in life.  When we step away from the cares of the world and rest, we reconnect with what’s really important.  This is another precious gift from God.  On the Sabbath, we reconnect with the people who are most important to us.  We find fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ--those who share common love for our Heavenly Father and who are on a common journey of discipleship in Christ.  The Sabbath--with its closeness to our Creator and like-minded believers--helps us remember what’s truly important in life.  It is not what the world promotes that is important--all the flashy trinkets and vices that would entice us to work harder and longer, never taking a break in our striving to get ahead and gain more trinkets.  The Sabbath gives us time to remember the relationships and love that are truly meaningful and be grateful to God.
 
Jesus and the Sabbath
            Some have taken the Fourth Commandment too literally.  Seventh Day Adventist insist that the church must worship on the true Sabbath--which is really the seventh day of the week or Saturday.  It was not until the second century that most Christians started worshiping on Sunday (known as the Lord’s Day because it was the day Jesus rose from the grave).  Every Sunday is a little Easter to Christians and it is fitting that most Christians honor the Lord’s Day as our Sabbath each Sunday.  Some Christians legalistically refuse to do any work on Sunday or argue against things like the sale of alcohol on Sundays.  Could it be that they are being too much like the Pharisees in Jesus time?
            Jesus observed the Sabbath.  Luke 4:16 tells us it was his custom to go to church on the Sabbath day (although they called it a synagogue).  So we know Jesus honored the Sabbath and we should too.  However, Jesus was not legalistic about the Sabbath.  In fact, he criticized the religious leaders of his day for their legalistic interpretation of the Fourth Commandment.
            In Matthew 12:9-14, Jesus healed a man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath while he was at church.  The Pharisees were self-righteously indignant because they considered healing to be work, and you weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath day.  Jesus thought that was crazy.  God is not upset when we do good on the Sabbath day.  So Jesus healed the man.  You can do good on the Sabbath.
In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus was at church again on the Sabbath when he healed a woman who was sick.  The leader of the church (I guess you could call him the pastor or rabbi) got angry and scolded everyone for working on the Sabbath.  He said (paraphrase), "You have six days in the week to heal and be healed.  Come on those days for healing, but not on the Sabbath."  Jesus called him a hypocrite and said healing the woman was the right thing to do--even on the Sabbath.
In Mark 2:23-27, the Disciples picked some food to eat as they walked through a farm on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees complained the Disciples were breaking God’s law, but Jesus rejected their Pharisaical thinking.  In Mark 2:27 Jesus said to them, “...The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…”  You see, the Sabbath is for our benefit.  It is a gift from God, not a restriction meant to take away our freedom.  We should try to be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees when it comes to obeying the Fourth Commandment. 

The Mark of Believers
            There is one more important thing to say about the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is what marks us as sacred people.  We live in a sea of secular people, in a secular world that constantly tries to take us over.  We must always be careful, lest we be swallowed up in the meaningless activity and busy-ness of an unbelieving world.  When we keep the Sabbath, it announces our loyalty to God and is a witness to our decision to follow His way instead of the chaos of this world.  It dramatically proclaims our faith that resting in God is more fruitful than toiling away an extra day in the world.
Some would say, it doesn’t make any sense.  Surely seven days of work will produce more than only six.  Yet we see in businesses like Chick-fill-a that a Sabbath day of rest is possible in a successful company.  Furthermore, it is a tremendous witness to everyone about who we are and who we trust.  I don't ever remember a cashier at Chick-fill-a telling me the restaurant was a Christian business.  No one there ever preached to me or quoted the Bible, but every time I am craving a chick-fill-a sandwich on a Sunday afternoon and can't get one because "Oh yeah, Chick-fill-a is closed today," it reminds me that Chick-fill-a is a business founded that operates on Christian principles.  You can say you are a Christian until you are blue in the face, but when you take the seventh day off, it speaks volumes.
The Sabbath rest challenges us to disengage from culture induced expectations for frantic leisure, frantic consumption, or frantic exercise. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume I page 846).  It requires us to trust that God can provide just as much abundance (or even more) in six days than the world can give in seven.  This is what a God’s people believe. 

Conclusion and Invitation
I would like to challenge you to remember that Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  We live in a time when way too much has crept in to steal away the precious Sabbath gift God gave.  It didn’t happen over night, but little by little, over the course of years or even decades, this greedy world has stolen our sacred time--minute by minute and hour by hour.  Work schedules, business ventures, baseball tournaments, entertainment venues, the demands of people who do not understand or honor our God-given right to rest and worship the Creator…  They have stolen our precious gift.  You need the Sabbath.  God knows you need it.  That’s why He gave you the gift.  You are the only one who can choose to take it back.  You are the only one you can protect your Sabbath by choosing God’s way instead of the world’s way.  I challenge you to make a commitment to remember to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  
            Jesus said, “…if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)  But who among us can really keep them?  Even if you break just one commandment, you have broken them all (paraphrase of James 2:10).  That’s why I am so glad Jesus came to offer us grace.  In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Lay down your heavy burden of sin and find grace and forgiveness in Christ today.  Stop frantically following the ways of the world trying to earn more (even trying to earn God's love) and come follow Jesus and you will find rest.  I invite you to choose Jesus today. 
            If you would choose Jesus today, would you pray with me: 
 
"Lord Jesus, forgive me for breaking God's commandments.  I know I am a sinner and I'm tired of it.  Please forgive me and save me.  I want to follow you and find rest.  Please come take control of my life and lead me.  I will do my best t follow you.  Amen." 
 
If you prayed that prayer today, would you send me an email and tell me so I can pray for you?  You may email me at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Pastoral Response to the Supreme Court's Ruling on Same-sex Marriage

On Friday, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in our country have the legal right to marry anywhere in our country.  The ruling has sparked fear, sadness, anger, and concern among many Christians who hold to the biblical understanding that marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman.   As the pastor of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Dalton, GA writing to members of my own congregation who are disturbed by this rulling, I offer four points of advice as you respond to the court's decision:

1.  Be at peace.  Remember that God is in control.  Despite our fears, which are fueled by heated news headlines and social media, God is still in control.  Trust Him with all your fears, worries, anger, and sorrow.  Philippians 4:6 (The Message), "Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns."  Christians are a praying people.  Let us pray.

2.  Keep things in perspective.  The Supreme Court's ruling does not alter the stance of Pleasant Grove UMC, the United Methodist denomination (or any other denomination for that matter).  The United Methodist Church prohibits UM clergy from performing weddings for same-gender couples and prohibits such weddings from being held in our churches.  The court's decision has no control over the UMC's policy and I remain hopeful that the UMC will remain faithful to a biblical understanding of marriage between a man and a woman.

3.  Speak the truth in love.  Remember, you are an ambassador for Christ in everything you do and say.  As you talk to your friends, family members, and neighbors--especially on social media--let your words be filled with God's love and grace.  Pray for God to enable you to speak the truth in loving ways.  Refuse to be sucked into the vortex of angry, rude, and hurtful arguments.  Let the Spirit be your guide.  Speak the truth clearly in a sincere and loving way.  If you cannot speak the truth with love--being respectful even of those who disagree with you, who curse or revile you, who do not seem to respect you--then do not speak at all; turn those situations over to God and let Him handle them.  Now more than ever, we need Christians who know the truth, live the truth, and who love their enemies and pray for those who curse them.  

4.  Live faithfully for Christ.  Don't worry about what everyone else is doing wrong.  Instead, focus on doing what is right yourself.  You can't control what other people do and you aren't responsible for them anyway.  You are responsible to God for your own actions.  So do the best you can--with God's help--to live a holy life.  Our best opportunity to change the world around us for the better comes when we live faithfully for Christ ourselves.  

Please join with me in praying.

Almighty, Loving, Forgiving, Sovereign God,
I come to you with a heavy heart.
I grieve for a nation that seems to slip further and further from You every day.
I grieve also for people who lash out with hurtful words--
words fueled by fear, frustration, and anger--
aimed at those they believe are misleading our country.
Help us oh Lord!
Help us to trust You when the swirling storms of cultural change and chaos whirl around us,
as we fear the damage being done to a nation we love.
Help us to trust You to guide our Church to remain faithful to Your Word--
even if it costs us.
Help us to count as an honor 
any loss or persecution or suffering we must endure for the sake of the Gospel.
Help us to understand the Truth of Your Word 
so we can communicate it clearly whenever You give us an opportunity.
Help us to be humble, and to love, and to respect those with whom we disagree--
even if they do not do the same for us, even if they revile us, curse us, or persecute us.
Help us to live faithfully--living out the Truth we proclaim with our actions.
And please forgive us, for we know we fall short far too much.
We offer ourselves to You, trusting in Your mercy and grace,
through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Third Commandment

Copyright June 16, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:7

Introduction
            This summer, I would like to challenge you to memorize the Ten Commandments.  Then, come to Pleasant Grove UMC each Sunday (or read this blog each week) to learn how the commandments apply to your life.  We will study one commandment each week.
            There are 613 laws in the Old Testament of our Bible.  The Ten Commandments are the essence of them all, distilled down to ten easy to remember commandments that cover every area of life.  We know they are very important because they were written by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18) and Jesus quoted them regularly as he taught.  Unfortunately, most people--even Christians—do not know or understand the Ten commandments.  So…

Let’s recite all Ten Commandments together.  This list is my paraphrase of the Ten Commandments.
  1. Do not worship any God except the Lord.
  2. Do not make idols of any kind.
  3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. Do not murder..
  7. Do not commit adultery
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. Do not covet.
Today we will look at the Third Commandment.  Exodus 20:7
7 “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

This verse makes two main points.  First is the commandment itself: “You must not misuse the name of the Lord.”  Or as a more traditional version puts it, “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  Or as I put it in my own words, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.”  The second part of the verse is pretty clear.  The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.  I think we can understand that.  It means we better not break this commandment or you will be punished.  So, I think it is vital that we understand the commandment so we can avoid breaking it, right?  So what does it mean to misuse or take the Lord’s name in vain?

Three Stories
            Here are three stories of misusing the Lord’s name.  First off, I was watching a show on HGTV where they renovated a family’s home and then brought the family in to surprise them with the results.  The remodeled home was beautiful and the family was thrilled with the results.  As they gave the family the tour, each time they entered a new room, the wife exclaimed in delight, “Oh mu God!”  It was as if she could find no other way to express her surprise.  “Oh my God!” poured out of her mouth over nad over again each time she entered a room.  Saying “Oh God!” in such a way would be considered misusing the Lord’s name.
            My second story took place where I practice jiu-jitsu.  My jiu-jitsu class is a mixture of many different kinds of people—some who are Christians, some who are not, some who attend church regularly and some who never attend church.  Well I was rolling one day (that’s what we call it when we are wrestling or practice fighting with an opponent in class) and I defeated my opponent by twisting his arm until he tapped out (or gave up).  (That’s how you win a jiu-jitsu match.)  My opponent was frustrated and expressed his frustration by cursing, “@#$%!”  Remembering that I was a pastor, he quickly apologized and said that’s what he does when he’s frustrated.  Some people consider cussing a form of misusing the Lord’s name.
             My last story came from a Mary Helen Speights.  She once hired a Christian man to remove a rotten tree from her yard.  He removed the whole tree except for the trunk, which was too large for the chainsaw he had with him.  He promised he would return the next day with a larger saw and remove the trunk.  Donna had already paid him for the work, but this “Christian” man (who readily advertised his business as a Christ-centered business) never returned.  It has been years now and this “Christian” has never returned to finish the work as he promised.  This is also considered misusing the Lord’s name.

The Three Most Common Violations
Each of these stories is an example of what many people would call misusing the Lord’s name.  Let’s look at each one.  First, there is using God’s name in a trivial waysuch as saying “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” or even “Jesus!” to express excitement or exasperation.  This way of using God’s name has become so commonplace that many do not realize it as a problem.  However, in Jesus day, you weren’t even supposed to speak God’s name.  Many people would not even write it—choosing instead to refer to God by the title Lord instead.  The Old Testament Law in Leviticus chapter 24 stipulated that speaking God’s name in the wrong way was punishable by stoning.  In fact, this was the sin for which the religious leaders sentenced Jesus to death on the cross.  If we held to that standard, people in Dalton, GA would be stoned to death every day.  Unfortunately, it is even a bad habit I am guilty of from time to time.  I need to work on this.
Using God’s name in a trivial way is something we should not do.  It is a bad habit that desensitizes us to the Holiness of God.  Instead, we should remember that God is holy and good and we are mere mortals that should hold God in reverence, respecting God and His name.  So if you struggle—as I sometimes do—with this bad habit, I encourage you to do better.  Even so, I don’t think this is the worst way we misuse God’s name.  Let’s look at the second way people are accused of misusing God’s name.
The second way we accuse people of misusing God’s name is when they use profanity (or when they cuss).  Technically, this is not really using God’s name in vain, because you are not usually using God’s name at all (unless you are saying “G-- D---”).  Profanity is really not what the Third Commandment is addressing.  However, there are other places the Bible teaches us not to use profane language.
  • Proverbs 10:32 – The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.
  • Colossians 3:8 – But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
  • Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
            I would add that these verse speak to more than just “curse words.”  God wants us to use wholesome words, and even more important, wholesome ideas that build up and do good.  You might never say an obscene word in your life, but if you express perversion, malice, slander, or words that tear down or lack grace, you are not doing the will of God, regardless of how pretty your words may sound.  An evil tongue sometimes drips with honey, but it is still evil.  So let’s agree not to use profanity or even profane ideas that tear down rather than builld people up in love.  If you struggle with this, ask the Lord to help you break this habit.
            There is a third way we misuse the name of the Lord, and I think it is the worst of all.  It is when we invoke God’s name or reputation for our own selfish purposes.  You see, the term “The Lord’s Name” doesn’t just mean His common name.  The Lord’s name is his reputation.  That’s what we mean when we say the Lord’s prayer.  What do we say, “Our Father, who are in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…  The expression hallowed be thy name means—may your reputation be honored and exalted. 
Quite often in our society, people will affiliate themselves with the Lord’s name (or His reputation.)  For instance, you might see a car mechanic with a fish symbol on the sign of his business.  The implication is, “Look, I’m a Christian mechanic.  You can trust me.  I won’t cheat you.”  And that’s a good thing if you need someone to work on your car, right?  You don’t want to be cheated.  You should be able to trust that guy, because he’s a Christian. 
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if you are going to use God’s name (or reputation) to bolster your own reputation, you better live up to it.  Right?  For if you are using God’s name to bolster your own reputation without living up to it, you are misusing God’s name. 

This happens quite frequently in our society:
  • When a politicians promotes his or her Christianity as a way to garner more votes without intending to put Christian principles first in their career
  • When a business uses their religious affiliation to attract more business
  • When a person seeks to use their religion garner more influence in the community
  • When a person where a cross, or a Christian t-shirt, or a put a Christian bumper sticker on their car, but doesn’t act as a Christian while displaying the Lord’s name.
  • When a person uses their faith to bolster their reputation without living up to the Lord's name.  Isn’t this what the Pharisees did that bothered Jesus so much?  He said they “…love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.”  (Matthew 6:5)
Please hear me.  There is nothing wrong with showing your faith in Christ by wearign a cross or a Christian t-shirt, etc.  However when you do, you should be very conscious of how you behave; is your witness matching up to Christian principles?  These are fine lines, but God knows a person’s heart and if you are using God’s name to commend yourself to others without honestly trying to live up to it, then you are misusing God’s name and you are breaking the Third Commandment in the worst kind of way. 
 

Conclusion/Invitation
            The Third Commandment tells us, we will not go unpunished if we’ve misused the name of the Lord.  All of us have done it.  We all deserve to be punished.  Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages for sin is death…”  And Exodus 20:7 tells us, “You will not go unpunished if you misuse the name of the Lord.”  But there is Good News.
The Good News is Jesus has already taken your punishment on himself.  He allowed himself to be whipped and spat upon for your sake.  He wore a crown of thorns for you.  He carried the cross down the road to cruel Golgotha on your behalf.  He was nailed to that same cross so you didn’t have to be.  He spilled his own precious blood so you can keep yours.  He bore the agony of hell, so you could escape.  He did all this and more to save you.
Won’t you thank him today for this priceless gift?  Won’t you ask forgiveness for the way your sin brought suffering to the Son of God?  Won’t you ask him to be your Lord today?  Won’t you commit to follow Him from now on so you can begin to obey the commandments more faithfully?  Then I offer you this prayer to express your desires to God.

"Jesus, thank you for taking my sins to the cross so I don’t have to.  Forgive me for the way my actions have caused you pain.  Help me to live a better life that is worthy of the sacrifice you made.  Today, I choose to follow you.  Jesus, save me and be my Lord and I will serve you for the rest of my life.  Amen.”

Will you do me a favor?  If you have prayed this prayer and decided to let Jesus be your Lord for the first time, will you let me know?  Email me at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com  I would like to know so I can thank God and keep you in my prayers.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Second Commandment

Copyright June 9, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:4-6

Introduction
            Obviously, people struggle to remember the Ten Commandments.  Even Christians—who value and seek to follow the Ten Commandments—struggle to remember them.  That’s a shame, because the Ten Commandments are a fundamental element of our faith.
Exodus 31:18 says the Ten Commandments were written “by the finger of God.”  This is the only example of scripture in the Bible being written directly by God.  There are 613 laws written in the Old Testament, but The Ten Commandments represent the essence of them all.  They must be important, because Jesus often quoted them in the New Testament.  Not only do the Ten Commandments show us how to live a godly life, they also show us how desperately we need God’s grace and forgiveness because we fail to keep the commandments so often—even when we try hard to be good.
We will study the Ten Commandments all summer longer—looking at one commandment each Sunday.  As we go through the list, I challenge you to commit the Commandments to memory and to come each Sunday to learn how they apply to your life.  Today we will look at the Second Commandment.  But before we do, take a moment to read all 10 together. The following list is my paraphrase of the 10 commandments from Exodus20:1-18. 

The 10 Commandments
1.     Do not worship any god except the Lord.
2.     Do not make idols of any kind.
3.     Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
4.     Remember to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your father and mother.
6.     Do not murder.
7.     Do not commit adultery.
8.     Do not steal.
9.     Do not testify falsely against you neighbor.
10.  Do not covet.

Here's a cool (cough, cough) video that might help you remember them. 
 
Exodus 20:4-6
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

            The second half of verse 5 is very troubling.  People often ask me about the statement, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children… [to] the third and fourth generation…”  That is a very troubling statement and I promise I will address it.  However, before we get to that, let’s look at the second commandment itself.  I promise I will come back to verse 5 in a few minutes.

Idols
            The second commandment says, “Do not make for yourself an idol of any kind…”  You might think that is an easy commandment to keep in our time.  Modern Americans are not is the habit of casting golden statues to worship the like people in Old Testament times.  However, we may struggle with this second commandment more than any other.
            We engage in idol worship anytime we put something or someone (even ourselves) before God.  It is the very definition of Sin—letting something else besides God be the first priority in your life.  This is not what God created us for.  God created us in His image to worship Him as the center of our lives.
Pastor Timothy Keller wrote an excellent book on the subject of Idolatry called Counterfeit Gods.  I highly recommend it.  In his book, Keller writes, “…the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”[i]
Our sin-infected hearts tend to take the good things God gives us and turn them into ultimate things.  We give them power they do not have.  We can make an idol out of anything when we trust it to give us what only God can give. 

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.  A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry…  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.””[ii]

Some idols we worship today are:

·       Money.  Many people will agree that money can be an idol.  We understand that greed can be a powerful and negative influence that destroys lives and break the hearts of its worshipers. 

·       Children.  I have known parents who make idols out of their children.  All good parents want the best for their children, but some parents go too far by spoiling their children rotten or by overprotecting them or by pushing them relentlessly to succeed. 

·       Success.  Some professional athletes take performance enhancing drugs because they have to be the absolute best.  They are already phenomenal athletes, but that’s not enough for them.  They will risk their bodies and the reputations for their “idol.”  It’s not just athletes.  The same idol of success is found in the workplace, in churches, and even in families.  Anytime you have put succeeding before God, you have made success and idol.

·       Love.  Some people stake all their hopes and dreams in love.  If they could just find that special guy or gal, their problems would be solved.  If they could just find someone who really cares, they would be fine.  Yet even love becomes and idol when we expect it to fulfill us the way only God can.

Again, we make an idol out of anything we trust to give us what only God can give.  Idol worship is a severe problem in America.  And it is just as abominable to God today as it ever was.
          Idolatry is such an affront to God because it fundamentally goes against the very core of who God is, who we are, and our whole purpose for being.  When we make an idol, we attempt to change the whole order of creation.  We try to make God the way we want Him to be.  We make Him in our image instead of recognizing we are made in His image.  We switch the roles of our relationship around until we pretend to be the creator while demoting the God of the universe to our underling.  It is a reversal that is an outrage to all of creation, and an abomination to God.
            Idols always disappoint us.  They do not have the power to fulfill our hopes and dreams.  They turn to dust in our hands.  The leave us empty, broken, frustrated, and discontent.  And so God commands us, “Do not make idols of any kind.” 

A Troubling Statement
            I promised I would come back to the troubling statement in the second half of verse 5.  Let’s read it again.  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
            This is troubling, because we don’t like to think of God being jealous.  That emotion seems too unappealing to belong to a righteous God.  Furthermore, doesn’t it seem rather unfair for God to lay the sins of parents upon their children—even to the third and fourth generation?  Do you feel you should be held responsible for sins of idolatry your great, great grandparents committed?  Such emotions and behaviors do not seem fitting for the Christian God.  We would much rather think of our God as treating each person individually and being unbegrudging rather than jealous.
            Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  What are we doing when we think like this?  Are we not wanting to re-make God into the image of what we want God to be like?  What do we call that?  Isn’t that idolatry?  We are trying to make God the way we want Him to be.  What gives us the right to do that?  We are the creatures and God is the Creator.  But we want to switch things around.  We want to create a perfect god according to our concept of what is perfect.
            God is who He is.  We do not get to re-configure Him to be the way we want Him to be.  Even if the best we can do in this instance is say “We don’t understand this verse or we are confused by it,” let us not try and manipulate the character of God and make it what we want it to be.  That is idolatry.
            I think I can say something helpful about God’s jealousy and generational punishment.  First of all, God’s jealousy is not like human jealousy, which is so often misplaced and corrupt.  God’s jealousy flows out of righteousness.  He made us.  He has every right to demand our faithfulness.  He shouldn’t even have to demand it.  Our love and honor and admiration for God ought to be the most naturally flowing characteristic of our lives—it is what we were design by God to do.  And yet, we trade in our affection for God for almost anything else—things that are not gods at all, only figments of our imagination (idols that have no power, no life, nothing at all to offer).  It is no wonder at all that God should be jealous, that He should be angry.  On the contrary, it is amazing to me that God has not obliterated humanity from the face of creation because we have turned our backs on Him so many times. 
            And the truth is, the sins we commit have dire consequences—not just for us but for many others as well.  Like a stone tossed upon the waters of a still lake, our sin sends out ripples that spread out to affect many others.  Those ripples even span across generations—to the third and fourth (or even more) generations.  If you ever find yourself thinking, “My sin does not affect anyone else,” think again.  Even if you do not see it, your sin has contributed to the pain, suffering and evil of the world, and it might even affect your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  In this way, I understand that it is not unusual at all that Exodus 20:5 says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children…”  I will tell you what is truly amazing though—verse 6.
            Verse 6 says,I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”  This is statement is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  For even though we have all broken the second commandment in one way or another at some point in our life, even though we are worthy only of God’s jealous wrath, instead we receive grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 10:13 – “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Ephesians 2: 9-10 – “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” 

Conclusion

            The Ten Commandments show us how sinful we are and how desperate we are for a savior.  The Good News is, Jesus can save you!  Forgiveness, mercy, and grace are available to you through Jesus Christ.  If you recognize your need, call out to Jesus today.  Pray to him and beg for forgiveness.  Surrender your life to him and ask him to lead from this day forward.  Commit to follow Him and you shall be saved.  Then when God looks at your heart on judgment day, he will not see your sin.  He will see Jesus living in you and you will be redeemed.

 

[i] Timothy Kelly – Counterfeit Gods page xiv
[ii] Ibid. – page xviii