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Showing posts with label Idolatry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Idolatry. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Naaman the Overachiever

            There is a fascinating story from the Old Testament from a time when Israel was struggling against enemy kingdoms all around.  The Arameans were neighbors to the Israelites, and they often raided Israel to pillage and take captives.  Listen to the story of how God forever changed the life of one of those Aramean commanders.

2 Kings 5:1-17
1The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.

At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.

            There are a lot of different reasons to come to church.  Some people come to church to find fellowship with other people.  Some people come to church because their parents or their spouses make them!  Some people come to church out of habit because it just seems like the right thing to do.  Going to church has become way of life for some Americans—people’s parents attended church and it has just became ingrained in some people that Sunday is not complete without a morning trip to church.  That way of life is fading for many; church attendance is down for every Christian denomination across America compared to past decades.  Going to church has to be about more than just tradition or else what’s the point?  That’s why so many have stopped coming.
            I hope you come to church because you want to encounter the living God.  I hope you came to church this morning expecting to hear a word from God.  Do you think about what you expect to happen at church when you are at home brushing your teeth and fixing your hair and getting dressed?  Do you think to yourself, “Today I am going to encounter the Living God.  I wonder how that’s going to change me?”  For if you truly encounter God, something is definitely going to happen.
            What if as you are worshiping here today, you hear God speaking to you as clearly as you hear me speaking to you?  What if there’s no doubt at all in your heart that it was indeed God’s voice you heard?  What if He asked you to go on an amazing quest—something spectacular, something glorious and yet also treacherously dangerous that might even cost you your life?  Would you do it? 
            In the early centuries of the church, Christians were heavily persecuted.  Many of them lost their lives and became martyrs because of there faith.  Even today, in some countries, Christians are severely persecuted and loose their lives simply because they believe that Christ is their Lord and Savior. 
But sometimes I think it might be easier to die for your faith than it is to live for your faith.  Now death seems frightening and dreadful; but if we die, the struggle is over and (if we believe in Christ) we go home to paradise with God where there is no more pain and no more tears.  But to live for your faith requires you to be willing to die a little every day.  To live for your faith requires that you suffer a lifetime of deaths as we die to our own sinful desires and are reborn in the Spirit.  To live for your faith requires that you grow old and watch your friends and family die while your own body slowly breaks down.  Yet this is the quest that God gives most of us—not to become martyrs, but to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
A Girl I’ll Call Kayla
This is the life of the young servant girl in our Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 5.  Unfortunately, we don’t even know girl’s name and it seems wrong to talk about her story without knowing her name so I’m going to take the liberty of calling her Kayla.  Kayla was kidnapped from her family and forced to live her life among her enemies in a foreign land as a humble maid to her capture’s wife.  Some might think it better to die than to live such a life of humility and suffering.  Yet Kayla bore the suffering and even helped her master.  When she hears Naaman—her master and the commander of the raiding party that kidnapped her—is suffering from leprosy, Kayla suggests a way that he can be healed.  She already understood the words Jesus would speak hundreds of years later, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  So Kayla suggests that Naaman go see the prophet Elisha. 

Who was this guy Naaman?  Naaman was a mighty warrior—the commander of the Aramean army (the Arameans were the enemies of God's people, the Israelites).  When Naaman led an army into battle, his army was victorious.  I imagine everyone admired Naaman—he was successful, wealthy, powerful, and popular.  I bet he was even good lookin’!  The Bible says even the king of Aram admired Naaman (and when the king admires you, you must be pretty admirable—at least by worldly standards). 
Naaman achieved a lot in his life.  He was proud of his achievements too.  He expected respect wherever he went—whether it was by kings or prophets.  Naaman felt he deserved respect.  I mean, look at all he had accomplished!  Doesn’t a man of Naaman’s stature deserve respect?  Yet for all his accomplishments, Naaman was really just a rotting corpse waiting to die from leprosy.
            So what’s a man of Naaman’s fame to do—just lay down and accept death?  Absolutely not!  No, Naaman would proudly fight it to the end.  He would go to the ends of the earth if he had to.  He would climb the highest mountains.  He would seek the most skilled physicians and the most powerful prophets if that’s what it took.  He would face this disease with the same heroic pride and dignity he’d faced his enemies in battle. 
Yes, Naaman was a man worthy of this world’s respect.  And he insisted on being afforded the dignity he deserved.  And so he secured a personal letter of introduction from the king of Aram himself and he gathered together an entourage of officers, soldiers, horses, and chariots and went off on his quest to conquer his leprosy.  And he took with him treasures of gold and silver and fine cloths—worth more than $700,000 by today’s standards.  He wanted everyone to know that he was to be respected and admired.  And that he even deserved to be healed of leprosy.
            Yet when he arrives at Elisha’s house, the prophet won’t even come out and talk to him.  Instead, he indifferently sends out a lowly messenger to instruct Naaman.  “Surely,” Naaman must have thought to himself, “Elijah will come out and perform some elaborate healing ceremony.  He will chant and wave his arms and anoint me with the most expensive oil he owns.  And surely he will ask or even demand that his God heal me.  Doesn’t he know who I am?”
            But Elisha instead sends a mere messenger to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River.  This is an insult to a great man like Naaman.  The Jordan River was just a muddy creek compared to the majestic rivers of Naaman’s own country.  How could such a puny, insignificant river have any type of healing effect on such a great man as Naaman?  Naaman probably thought Elisha was just blowing him off.  And so he stormed away in conceited rage.

A True Miracle
            We, like Naaman, expect dramatic miracles from God, but we look right past the miracles that He performs everyday—miracles of natural healing, miracles of mercy on our sins, miracles of the natural laws of nature.  Do you know that right here in this sanctuary, in the air that you just inhaled, that there is enough germs and bacteria to kill you.  However, by God’s natural design, we have an immune system that can fight off these diseases that would normally kill us.  Yet do we thank God for this miracle?  No.  Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of it.  We only see dramatic cures from cancer and miraculous recoveries from near fatal accidents as miracles and we take the more common miracles for granted—even though God is at work in them all the time.
            In a similar way as Naaman, we often look for God to ask us to do something grand to earn His mercy, but we hesitate to do the little things God asks of us every day.  Luckily for Naaman, his officers reasoned with him and convinced him to give Elisha’s cure a try.  And when Naaman washed in the Jordan seven times, God healed Naaman’s leprosy just as Elisha said. 

You Can’t Impress God
I believe God healed Naaman of another disease that day too—the disease of thinking he was good enough to impress God.  Finally, God broke through Naaman’s armor of overachievement and showed him you can’t do anything to win God’s favor.  You can’t impress Him with all your trophies and accomplishments.  You may impress people, but you can’t impress God.
Who are you trying to impress with your life?  If you are trying to impress people then you may succeed, but to what end—it’s all in vain.  But if you decide instead that you will try to impress God—the one who really matters—and if you consider even a fraction of who God is, you are faced with the devastating fact that you can’t even begin to make a minor impression on God.  He is the one who scooped out the valleys, filled the oceans with water, and built up the mountains.  To Him, all your glorious triumphs, all your great victories, all the admirations of your friends, family, and colleagues are but child’s play.  And when you realize that, you are finally at a place when you are able to fall down on your knees before God and say—“Lord, I am utterly helpless!  Save me Lord!  Save me!”  And that’s what Naaman, the overachiever, finally realized.  And that’s why he said in verse 15, “I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”  And I’m not sure, only God knows, but I believe Naaman receive salvation that day—even before Christ came into the world and died on the cross to show how it is possible for us to receive salvation.  Because Naaman finally realized that the God of Israel is the only God in the world, that God’s grace is a free gift that cannot be bought, and he decided that from day forward that he would not offer sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.
Sometimes we need to be reminded, like Naaman, that no matter what accomplishments and achievements we have, what it all boils down to is we’re all just the same—a bunch of rotten, leprous corpses waiting to die because of sin.  And the only thing that stands between us and death is the mercy and grace of God.  He has the cure.  And we don’t have to and we can’t do anything grand enough to earn the cure.  We don’t have to climb the highest mountain.  We don’t have to be martyred for our faith.  We only have to realize that there is only one God in this world and He is the only one who can save us.  And we have to trust Him and ask Him to save us.   

Tell the World
            Today, you have the opportunity to do just that.  You have the opportunity to fall down on your knees and cry out to God, “Lord, I am utterly helpless!  Save me Lord!  Save me!”  For all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
            There are some right here in this sanctuary who have not yet come to Christ; for you, today could be the day.  And there are a multitude of others out there in the world who have not yet come to Christ.  And for those of us who have already cried out to the Lord for salvation, we hear God’s specific message to us today in Romans 10:13-14 - 13For “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
So, if you already believe in Jesus Christ, God wants me to give you this message:  God is sending you to tell the everyone that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  Go tell the world.
And if you have not yet give your life completely to God through Jesus Christ, God has this message for you today:  Today is the day.  Don't put it off any longer.  Decide today who you will serve--whether it will be the empty and useless and petty idols of this world--money, fame, power, prestige, things, drugs, alcohol, sex...  Or will you realize these cannot save you and you cannot save yourself.  Turn to God through faith in Jesus.  He died on the cross for your sins.  He rose from the grave to conquer death.  He offers forgiveness and everlasting life.  And Jesus will give true meaning to your life.  So decide today to worship him and him alone.  Do not spend one more minute of your life sacrificing to any other god.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Second Commandment

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

            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.

            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.” 


            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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The First Commandment

Copyright June 1, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:1-18

Let's play a game.  Let’s see if you can finish these famous commercial jingles! 

Ok.  Try this one without the music:  “Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese…”
            How'd you do?  I bet you did pretty good.  At least 90% of my church congregation knew them all!  I guess those jingle writers did there job well and made some memorable commercials.  Now, let’s try something a little different.  How many of the Ten Commandments can you name?  Too hard?  How about this then:  What is the first commandment?
I'm guessing you didn't do as well remembering the Ten Commandments.  Perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  My message series this summer will be about the Ten Commandments and how they apply to our lives.  I would like to challenge you to memorize the Ten Commandments this summer and to come hear the message each Sunday.  We will take one commandment each week.  Today, we will look at the first commandment.  But before we do, let’s list all 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 you neighbor.
10.  Do not covet.

Exodus 20:1-18
            This list is my paraphrase of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:1-18.  Let me read the full passage.
1Then God gave the people all these instructions:
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
“You must not have any other god but me.
“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.
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
“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.
12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You must not murder.
14 “You must not commit adultery.
15 “You must not steal.
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.
Explain the Passage
These Ten Commandments are listed in two places in the Bible—Exodus 20:1-18 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  They were given to the Israelites in the dessert after they were freed from slavery.  After 400 years of slavery, this brand new community was unaccustomed to living on their own.  Gone were the masters who formerly told them what to do every step of the way.  The Israelites needed someone to teach them how to live as a civilized, free people.  And so the Lord gave them His Law—rules for how to live as a community.  And these Ten Commandments were the essence of the law distilled down into 10 easy to remember principles that covered every area of life.  Exodus 31:18 says the Ten Commandments were written “by the finger of God” on stone tablets.  God gave the tablets to Moses and they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21).  The original stone tablets were presumably lost along with the Ark of the Covenant a few hundred years later. 

The Purpose of the Ten Commandments
Obviously as we have stated, the commandments gave instruction to the Israelites fledgling community on how to live a moral life and thus avoid the consequences of sin.  They can serve the same purpose for us today.  However, the Ten Commandments serve another purpose.  They show us how sinful we are (Romans 5:20) and thus our desperate need for grace and deliverance. 
If we are honest, we will each admit that we have broken many (if not all ten) of the commandments at one time or another.  Have you ever stolen something?  Even something small like a pen?  You have broken the 8th commandment.  Have you ever told a lie (even a little, white lie)?  You have broken the 9th commandment.  Have you ever committed murder?  (Jesus said if you even hate someone in your heart, you have committed murder in your heart.)  If so, you have broken the 6th commandment.  Have you ever misused God’s name (have you ever used God’s name in a trivial way)?  OMG!  You have broken the third commandment!
It doesn’t take long to see even the best among us are very sinful when we examine the 10 commandments in this way.  As Romans 3:23 says, “All fall short of God’s glorious standard” and are in desperate need of God’s saving grace.
So, with that being said, let’s examine the first of the Ten Commandments (or rather, let us allow God to examine us with the First Commandment). 

The First Commandment 

            Exodus 20:3 says, “You must not have any other god but me.”  In other words, “Do not worship any god but the Lord.”  It is notable that the command doesn’t speak to the issue of whether or not other gods exist.  It simply states, “You should have no other god but me.”  Whether or not there are other gods is beside the point.  (We will see in a moment that we often turn things into gods.  Whether or not these things are really gods is irrelevant.  They sometimes become real to us.  And the Lord warns us not to have any other gods in our life.)
            The people of the tribes and nations who lived around the Israelites worshipped many different gods.  Undoubtedly, the Israelites had seen this and would be tempted frequently to worship the gods of other nations.  But God says, “I am the one who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  I am the one you should worship.  You should not worship any other god.  I am your God.”
            In our time, we put other “gods” before the Lord all the time.  Anytime we choose our desires instead of God’s will, anytime we put our hopes in the things of this world, anytime we seek fulfillment from people, places, or things that we can only find in a relationship with God, anytime we give honor and praise that belongs only to God to someone or something else, anytime we place anything before God, we have violated the first commandment.  We may not call these things “gods,” but we make them our gods when we put them before the Lord.  And these little gods will always let us down and leave us empty and broken.  They cannot deliver us the way the Lord has.
            Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”  Egypt is a figurative place for us.  We weren’t slaves in Egypt like the Israelites.  Nevertheless, each of us has been enslaved in some way.  Some are enslaved to depression.  Some are enslaved to pornography.  Some are enslaved to the scars of the past.  Some are enslaved to worries about the future.  Some are enslaved to what people will think about them.  Some are enslaved to your money, possessions, power, or influence.  Some are enslaved to their own pride, or guilt, or shame, or greed.  We are all enslaved by sin.
            Enslaved.  It means you have lost the power to choose.  When you are a slave, your master controls your life in every way.  Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, you are or were a slave to whatever controlled you in this life—even if it was your own warped, inflated sense of self (which always falls short of the grander plans of God which are far greater than the individual self).
John 3:16 tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His one, and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Through Jesus Christ, we can be delivered from slavery to whatever little gods control us.  If you trust in Jesus and follow him, you have been set free!  And the words God spoke to the Israelites all those millennia ago when he gave the Ten Commandments, now apply to you.  Exodus 20:2, “”I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”  And God gives you His first commandment:  “Do not worship any god but the Lord.” 

            If we are honest, we will certainly see that we are all guilty of putting things before the Lord from time to time.  As Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  And Romans 6:23 tells us the consequences and also the wonderful Good News.  “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  So though we have broken the First Commandment many times and deserve only God’s punishment, instead we receive grace because of Christ. 
            Each time I receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, it reminds me how much God loves me and how His grace cleanses my sin.  The bread represents how Jesus gave his own body to be punished for my sin.  The wine represents the blood he shed on the cross that washes away my sin.  He was innocent, yet he willingly gave himself to pay the price for my sins.  Therefore, all my sins are forgiven.  All yours can be too.  Won't you ask Him to forgive you and wash you clean today?
Here's a simple prayer you can use to help you do just that:

            Thank you for loving me enough to die for my sins.  I'm sorry that my sin broke God's heart and cost you so dearly.  Please forgive me.  I don't want to sin anymore.  Come into my life and lead me and I will do my best to follow.  Please save me and be my Lord.  Amen.

If you prayed this and asked Jesus to save you today,
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