Exodus 20:1-17 – Perspective Changes Everything

Welcome, friends! Sometimes in our lives we can get lost in our thinking – only seeing things from one perspective. God’s Word invites us to see differently – to view ourselves, others, and the world in ways that can change our lives. Click the videos below and let us explore that perspective…

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
Words written and sung by Michael W. Smith

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them.

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
    Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
    Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt

    and innocent of great sin.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Amen. (Psalm 19:7-14, NLT)

Perspective Changes Everything

Perspective is everything. Nearly sixteen years-ago, me and my family were in a car accident. I was traveling on a highway in rural Iowa and a small car on a gravel road blew right through the stop sign without even slowing down. There was nothing I could do. I slammed into the rear quarter panel of his car, and he literally spun like a top off the highway and came to a stop. Both the driver and his girlfriend passenger were not injured. 

Two of my daughters were in the very back seat of our minivan, with my wife and dog as front seat passengers.  The girls were not harmed. However, my wife tore her shoulder’s rotator cuff trying to protect the dog and had to have surgery to repair it. My lower back was injured, but not in a way which surgery could repair. To this day I live with low-level chronic pain. Most days it’s not bad, maybe a one or two on the pain scale. But on a bad day I can barely walk across the room and need a cane to get around.

I have played the scene of the accident in my mind hundreds of times. I have thought over-and-over again about what I could have done to prevent the accident. Yet there was no way to avoid it. I thought about the fact that if we just would have left a minute earlier or a minute later from my parents’ house from where we were visiting, all would be fine. But I know that kind of thinking is a fool’s errand. I have pondered every possible scenario in my head and have gotten nowhere. 

It also took me awhile to forgive the young man who was driving the other car. He changed my life, and not in a good way. Although his insurance took care of everything and he was very repentant about the whole thing, I was understandably mad for a long time. I eventually did come to the point of forgiving him.

Over the years I have learned to live with my limitations. I have now accepted the sometimes-irritating pain as part of my life. Still, on occasion, I cannot help but think of what my life would be like today if I hadn’t been in that stupid senseless accident. 

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

carl jung

About six years ago I was praying alone in the church for which I was a pastor, at the time. God brought the accident to my mind. I said to God, “Lord, we’ve been through this accident hundreds of times together. I don’t want to think about it anymore. Why are you bringing this up now?”

Even though I wasn’t really looking for an answer to my question, God brought it up because the Lord knew I was finally ready to get a divine perspective on the accident. Out of the hundreds of times I went over that accident, the one perspective I never took was that of the young man – the other driver. God invited me to take the young driver’s view of what happened that day. So, I did.  I know that intersection like the back of my hand, so it wasn’t a hard exercise. 

I put myself in the driver’s seat of his car. I’m driving down the gravel road not paying attention to the fact that a stop sign is coming up. I blow through the sign onto the highway and right in front of a minivan who slams on the brakes just enough to plow into the rear quarter panel. I spin out like a top and come to rest only a few feet from a huge Iowa grain elevator.

For the first time in my life, I finally understood. God had a divine appointment for me that day. You see, if I had not come along just when I did, that young man and his girlfriend would have blown through the stop sign and struck that grain elevator. It would have killed them both instantly.

“Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.”

Irving Berlin

Suddenly, my perspective changed 180 degrees. I always thought about me and my family. I always considered my hardship and my change of life. But now I saw that God sent his servant to save two lives that day. Had I not struck his car, causing him to spin and come to a rest unharmed, two people would have died. 

Now, every time my back acts up and it effects how my life is lived, I’m reminded that it is a small price to pay for the lives of two human beings. Perspective changes everything.

The Bible invites us to view our lives from a different perspective. Our hurts and our pains, our sorrows and our sufferings, our changes, and our limitations, are all part of something much bigger God is doing in the world.  We are not always privy to God’s plans and purposes. Yet God’s Word challenges us to take a perspective of the world, of humanity, and of ourselves which is counter to how we often think.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to read God’s Word and practice repentance – literally, a change of mind.  We are invited to see the Ten Words (Commandments) as the glasses through which we are to view our relationship with God and our relationships with others (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus, summarizing those Ten Words, put it this way: All the Law hangs on loving God and loving our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40)

The thread of those moral words, those ethical commands, runs through the entirety of God’s Word, the Bible. The psalmist reminds us that this Word is good, sweet, and more precious than gold (Psalm 19:7-14). The Apostle Paul reminds us that this Word is our wisdom to live by (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  And Jesus, as the Word made flesh among us, lived that loving and gracious Word with perfect moral and ethical goodness.

The temple, as the place where God’s Word was read and observed, was not to be adulterated with making a profit – which was why Jesus drove out the moneychangers.  And he did it with flavor! (John 2:13-22) Later, after Jesus died and rose from death, the disciples remembered their master’s words and affirmed them as being the Word of God. They believed. Their faith and repentance changed the world.

God is inviting us to take up the Divine Word and see our lives, the lives of others, and every event and situation through that lens. We are to see Jesus, not only as a great teacher, a moral and good person, and a loving healer – but also as Lord and Savior. In a small way, I suffered so that someone else could live. Yet Jesus suffered sin, death, and hell in our place so that you and I could live – so that we might have the eternal life of enjoyment with God forever.

Allow the Word of God to shape your lives and form your thinking today and every day. You might not always know what God is doing, but you can be assured that everything God does is just, right, and good. 

May you know God’s peace today. May you know Christ better in this season as you reflect upon our Lord’s great sacrifice on our behalf.

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 – Ten Basic Rules for Life

Invitation to the Decalogue by Romanian sculptor Liviu Mocan

Moses called out to all Israel, saying to them: “Israel! Listen to the regulations and the case laws that I’m recounting in your hearing right now. Learn them and carefully do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Horeb. The Lord didn’t make this covenant with our ancestors but with us—all of us who are here and alive right now. The Lord spoke with you face-to-face on the mountain from the very fire itself. At that time, I was standing between the Lord and you, declaring to you the Lord’s word, because you were terrified of the fire and didn’t go up on the mountain.”

The Lord said:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You must have no other gods before me. Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins—even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.

Honor your father and your mother, exactly as the Lord your God requires, so that your life will be long and so that things will go well for you on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Do not kill.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife.

Do not crave your neighbor’s house, field, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (CEB)

Whenever I take my wife’s pooch to our local spacious dog park, he knows he will need to stick to just a few of my basic rules. Although he doesn’t need the leash and is free to roam, he understands not to bark at people or approach them and other dogs without my permission. Those few simple rules are for both his well-being, and others.

We as people are free to live our lives as creatures in God’s image. The Lord has just a few basic rules for us to live by to honor both divinity and humanity, as well as to protect others and ourselves. Most folks know them as “The Ten Commandments.”

The Ten Commandments (The Decalogue or The Ten Words) were given to the ancient Israelites nearly 3,500 years ago. These words have stood the test of time and continue to be understood as a universal standard of morality and relational interactions.

There are hundreds of commands in Holy Scripture – approximately 613 in the Old Testament, and 437 in the New Testament – a whopping 1,050 total commands throughout the entirety of the Bible. So, what, then, makes these Ten so special?  Why do we stick to The Ten Words?

Moses and the Ten Commandments by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Macri (1913-1991)

The reason The Ten Commandments have endured and continue to be learned, spoken, and adhered is that they are foundational commands. Following the Ten Words in the Old Testament are a string of specific commands from God to Moses and then to the people (Exodus 21-23 and Deuteronomy 6-26). Those commands are all a fleshing-out of how to live the basic Decalogue in the Israelites’ context of entering and being in the Promised Land.

In short, every single command of Holy Scripture can be ethically and morally tied back to The Ten Commandments in some way. Whereas many Old Testament laws were given to the Israelites in their ancient Middle Eastern socio-economic culture, The Decalogue was designed to be universal and flexible for every culture and society everywhere, for any time, and every generation.

Therefore, we need to distinguish between The Law (capital “L”) and the law (little “l”). God’s fundamental and foundational ethical Law has always existed and continues to exist – and it is encapsulated in ten short and simple commands which everyone everywhere can obey, whether they are at their jobs, at home, church, or out having fun.

In fact, these ten basic commands are so important that Jesus restated them for us in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Christ got down to the heart of the commands and let everyone know what it truly means to hold, keep, and obey The Ten Words. For example, Jesus said concerning the seventh command:

“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’ But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22, NCV).

It had become easy over the centuries for people to think everything was jim-dandy if they didn’t physically kill anyone. Yet, Jesus knew that well before any person is murdered by another that anger has been nursed through bitter grudges toward another. 

The Ten Words are the very heart of God’s desire for all humanity, and this is precisely why it is important to know and obey them in their full intent. They contain how to relate to God (Commands 1-4); and, how to relate to one another (Commands 5-10).  Jesus would later say, in response to what is the greatest command of all:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NCV)

Question and answer 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a Confession of Faith crafted by Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century, addresses a significant issue:

Question: Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly? 
Answer: First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

When all is said and done, grace will have the last word. Yes, none of us will ever perfectly live-out and embody The Ten Words in their entirety all the time. Yet, the grace of God in Jesus Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves: deliver us from the realm of sin, death, and hell.

Stuff happens. We often fail to live-into the ways of God for our lives through The Decalogue. However, God, always the hound of heaven, will track us down and mercifully redeem us.

So, embrace The Ten Words. Know them, memorize them, and understand them. Post them on the wall of your office or in your house. Most of all, seek to practice them, obey them, and embody them so that you can enjoy all the freedom of God’s big world.

And you just gotta love it that Johnny Cash once sang about them…

Leviticus 23:1-8 – There’s More to Life Than Work

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“The Lord said to Moses:  Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed times, the Lord’s appointed times, which you will declare to be holy occasions:  Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Common English Bible)

When I was kid, watching the cartoon The Jetsons was a Saturday morning ritual.  The futuristic family featured George the husband and father, an employee of Spacely Sprockets.  In one episode, George comes home and is met by his dog, Astro, and wife, Jane, looking tired and haggard from a day’s work.  George’s comment when he entered on the treadmill through the door was, “Jane, these 3 hour work days are killing me!”

Indeed, the technological progress of post-war America had led to the common belief among many that with so many advancements, workdays would become smaller, with leisure time growing.  In the 1960’s, it seemed a foregone conclusion that technology would provide the masses with unprecedented amounts of discretionary time for whatever they would want to do.

the jetsons

Fifty years removed from The Jetsons we now know what Americans and people across the world would do with time-saving devices: We simply work a lot more.  Just the opposite has occurred from having loads of leisure time.  People discovered that greater efficiency with technology has brought an equal competition for business and making more money.  Time saved has translated into accomplishing more work, and not in taking vacations and indulging in new hobbies and ventures.

The 4th command of God’s Ten Commandments is needed today more than ever.  It is time to come back to this basic instruction of the Lord, and engraft its wise counsel into our lives.

“Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded:  Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Common English Bible)

The point of God’s command to his people is neither to squash commerce, nor to be a curmudgeon about fencing one day a week of doing nothing; instead, the command for Sabbath is designed to be a life-giving day where we discover that:

There is more to life than work.

The word “Sabbath” literally means “to rest.”  God built into his creation a rhythm of rest and work.  God Himself rested, not because he was tired, but because he ceased working long enough to enjoy the earth and everything in it.  Everything in life is done in rhythm.  We walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm.  The earth cycles in rhythmic seasons of the year, and the animal kingdom mates and lives in annual rhythms.  All creation is rhythmic.

Whenever we keep going and do not live according to the rhythm laid out for all of God’s creatures, we break.  Even machinery needs a break.  Sometimes I find it more than ironic that we treat our cars and vehicles with the regular maintenance and care that we don’t even extend to ourselves.  We care for our cars because we don’t want to experience a breakdown on the highway.  Yet, much more important is the care of our souls and our bodies.  Without regular intervals of work and rest in a consistent rhythmic pattern, we breakdown, burnout, and, like little children who have missed a nap, we have epic meltdowns of anger, frustration, and passive-aggressive behavior because we simply ignored God’s 4th command.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me at this point.  Some of you may have had a background filled with legalistic embraces of Sabbath.  No this, and no that, no nothing on Sundays, as if God were some divine curmudgeon who frowns at anything happy on the Sabbath.  To rest means to have a change of pace from regular weekday activity of work.  To rest and enjoy the difference of a Sabbath’s day is avoided by so many people because it brings this question to the forefront of our minds:

Who am I if I’m not working?

Our identities can be so tied to our jobs that we compulsively check our multiple e-mail accounts on a day off; tie ourselves to our smart phones and iPhones on vacation; and, allow work to bleed into our time away from the job.  God wisely placed loving boundaries around us.  But like Adam and Eve who could not be content with enjoying the entire garden, we obsessively pluck the forbidden fruit from the one tree that is off limits.

Work brings money, influence, power, relationships, industry, and a host of good things.  The problem is not work; the problem is that we humans can create an idol of it.  When work and all that comes with it consumes our attention, we are on a one-way road to nowhere.  I’ve heard more than one deathbed confession from dying persons, and I’ve yet to hear anyone wish they had worked more.  Nope, it’s usually something out of rhythm and out of whack – that they let their jobs and their ambitions surrounding work call the shots in life, without stopping to enjoy the vast creation, the gifts of God, and the emotional wealth that can come from relationships.

Because we aren’t sure who we are if we’re not working, we just keep working.  If we feel bad, we work harder.  If things are tough at home, we just put more hours in at work.  If we need more money, we pick up a part-time job.  When work becomes the catch-all answer to our many problems, it has become our god and we will worship at the altar of money and activity… until we can learn to stop and rest.

It’s just one day out of seven.  Just 1/7th of your life is needed to change the pace and allow a divine rhythm into your existence.  The temptation, however, is to take a day off from work so that you can do other work at home.  So, the challenge, for many people, is to allow the weekend to be one day where you get stuff done, and another day to truly rest.

This is not easy.  Right now I work six days a week.  And, sometimes, I work a few hours on my “day off.”  I’m speaking to myself as much as I’m speaking to you.  Yet, no one bats an eye at my constant working (well, except maybe my wife!).  In fact, people seem impressed when we work all the time.  We don’t want others thinking us lazy.  We want others to think well of us, and give us accolades for our hard work.  What gets lost in it all is God’s grace to us through rest.

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God desires us to enjoy Him, and not avoid Him.  He wants us to be still and know that He is God.  He longs for us to connect with Him.  This will only happen if we plan and prepare for it.  Sabbath doesn’t just happen; we must engage it.  Maybe we need to put God on our calendars.  Make an appointment with Him like we would anyone else.  Put the same kind of effort into making a date with God that you would with the people you care most about.  Perhaps the best thing you could do is go play a round of golf (if golf isn’t your idol!); go to the beach; or, take a nap.

The thing about Sabbath is that, when we get down to actually practicing it, we find that the world didn’t stop.  When we return to work, the earth is still spinning on its axis.  The company didn’t burn down in our absence.  Life doesn’t cease when we submit to a Sabbath rest; it’s just that we cease from participating in it for a short time.  Our delusions of grandeur dissipate and disappear when we finally come around to consistently obeying a Sabbath rest.

Work is noble.  But there is nothing noble about working without rest.  We are still human beings when we aren’t making money, and still valuable when we don’t have jobs.  Folks in healthcare facilities aren’t any less important because they aren’t holding down a job.  Work doesn’t define us – God’s image within us does.

It isn’t likely that we’ll ever see a George Jetson 3-hour workday, and that’s probably a good thing.  Work’s inherent goodness can only be truly appreciated when we plan and prepare to live and enjoy a Sabbath’s day rest.