Friday, February 11, 2005

Standards In A Non-Standard World

The "Ten Commandments" have been a topic of much discussion over the past several years. They seem to always be ending up in a court somewhere. Most of the time it’s because they are being found unconstitutional, as in the recent case in the courtroom of Judge Jennifer Coffman. She ruled that, not only are the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, but that the displays of all historic documents in eastern Kentucky schools and courthouses were unconstitutional and had to be removed. Her reason: "they had the effect of conveying a very specific governmental endorsement of religion."

It seems that most of our historic documents have some reference to God in them somewhere. I find it odd that they are being found unconstitutional since they are the very basis of our laws. Some courts still remember that. You might remember that Roy S. Moore, a judge in Alabama, fought (and lost) to keep a stylized copy of the Ten Commandments posted in his courtroom, much to the consternation of some civil libertarians. People fight over their legality mostly because they are largely ignorant of what they are, what they mean, and why they’re so important. In fact, most people can’t tell you more than these two: "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal." Some people think they’re obsolete. Ted Turner thinks they are. A few years ago he offered a substitute he called the "ten voluntary initiatives." People who don’t understand their importance say the Ten Commandments are "old, archaic, immaterial rules of a primitive culture." They say they have no relevance to us at all. Sometimes Christians have been guilty of promoting this belief, pointing out that they are part of the "old way" God dealt with people. They surely can’t apply to all of us who are under "grace."

So, what are the Ten Commandments about? Primarily, we see them as God’s moral law. We look at the Ten Commandments as God’s guidelines for our lives. Here are Ten Rules to live by that will keep you in good graces with God, or so we think. Fact is that we can’t keep the Ten Commandments. We will always fall short of the mark. That’s why grace is so important. God had something else in mind when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Bible says: Romans 3:20: "Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." Romans 5:13: "...for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law." Romans 7:7: "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."

We can look at the Ten Commandments as God’s guidelines for living, but The Bible says that God gave the law to reveal the fact that man is a sinner. Do you want to know why there is such a ruckus about posting the Ten Commandments? It’s because they reveal sin. That makes us uncomfortable. And all that negative stuff is just not good for our self-esteem. We will do anything to hide from our sin. But God still sees it. God wants us to see it. Finding the Standard in a Nonstandard World. "And God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."

There is an important word in verse 1: "all". God spoke all these words. Moses makes it a point to let us know that none of this was his idea. You’re not going to find his opinion here. What follows is God’s word and that’s it. No commentary, no explanation.Nothing except what God has to say to his people. It’s sort of an attention getter that says everything that follows is very, very important so you better listen carefully.There’s another important thing to remember. God says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." He wasn’t talking to the entire world when he said that. He was talking to his chosen people. Doesn’t it bother you just a little bit to know that he didn’t give these commandments to everyone? Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? We expect everyone to follow these rules but they were given to us...God’s chosen people...the people he brought out of the land of slavery. And you do know we were slaves to sin. We want everyone to follow these rules, but they just don’t apply to everyone.

They don’t apply to everyone because not everyone recognizes their sin. Paul says, "I would not have known what sin was except through the law." Do you think that maybe, just maybe, this might be one way God makes us confront our own sin? Conventional wisdom says that there are no absolutes in life. Everything is relative; there is no absolute truth. And, since there is no absolute truth there can be no "one God." For the conventional world, that is absolutely true. Remember, God gave the law to His people. He is our God. Or is he? He says he is "the Lord your God." What does Lord mean? Lord means "one possessed of absolute control." It denotes a master; one with absolute authority over another.

God is the master; we are his subjects. He is the shepherd; we are the sheep. Have you ever seen a herd of sheep leading the shepherd? Probably not, but how often do we try to lead God in the direction we want to go? Why do we do that? Could it be that we have placed other gods before THE GOD? Now, I know we are all shaking our heads and saying, "No, I worship the only true God." But what about that god of self? How many of us are guilty of placing our desires and our opinions before God? There’s an old saying that "everybody has an opinion about everything." Could it be that we have fallen prey to the world’s wisdom that says, "You can have it your way"? Could it be that what we really want is to be our own god and have other little gods around to help us out when we need it? Could it be that we have become so self absorbed that we don’t even recognize how we rebel and challenge the ultimate authority of God in our lives? The message that the world screams is that we will find ultimate peace and fulfillment if we will only buy this or eat that or go there or look this way or do this or do that. The world, the ones who don’t know any better, buys into this reasoning without a thought. And so do we. We live in a land where Self is Sovereign, where people believe that there are "many roads" to salvation, to happiness, to meaning in life. Where definitions of what is "right", "good", "bad", and "evil" are left up to individuals to create on the fly. Where "being spiritual" means you can believe in anything you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s happiness.

We live in a world where anyone who suggests that there ought to be one set of specific moral rules for everybody is chided as being "narrow-minded" and "intolerant." We are living in the days described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4) When God is removed as the rule-maker, the limit-setter, then anything and everything goes. We have begun to create God in our own image and remove Him as the sole authority in life so that we can make ourselves feel good, enlightened, and happy but the truth is that we will never feel good, enlightened or happy until we put God back in his rightful place as the "Lord your God." Saying you believe in "the Lord your God" is easy. Living like you believe it is the most difficult thing you will ever do. Finding the standard in a nonstandard world is easy. Look to Jesus Christ—look to the Word.

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