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Keep The Commandments
March 21 and 22, 1998

1 TIMOTHY 6:11-16

"When you want to know about a man, when you want to know about a man's character, look into the face of his wife." Bill McCartney had been a successful football coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and was widely respected and famous for founding Promise Keepers. When he heard these words in a sermon, Bill McCartney squirmed. He turned and looked squarely into his wife's face. His heart sank. What he saw stunned him. Her face was sad and empty. Her eyes, once so bright and effervescent, had lost their sparkle. They were dull, downcast, and discouraged. The house of cards he had pretended was built on rock came crashing down.

Bill had put alcohol and his career first. That morning God spoke to Bill. He realized how meaningless his dedication to his career would seem if he lost his home. In his book, Sold Out, McCartney wrote,

"It took thirty years to sink in: God doesn't appraise my worth by my won-lost record. Victory in His eyes is the happy bounce in Lyndi's step. Integrity in His eyes is the self-assured, contented smile on her face. God measures my character in the secure, affirmed countenances of my children--and of my children's children. God weighs my righteousness not in the hours spent at work, but on the scales of my daily fellowship with Him."

How to succeed, not just survive, is our theme this Lent and Easter. Dream Big, Tell the Stories, Get Connected, Pray and Praise, and today: Keep the Commandments. 1 Timothy 6:13-14, "I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame." Love God. Put God first. Respect God and observe a day of rest and worship. Honor your parents. Love your neighbor. Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat or covet. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

What happens when the commandments are not kept is described in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,

"You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power."

Sounds like 1998 in America! Holding to the outward form of godliness, Bill McCartney outwardly was godly; after all, he had founded Promise Keepers! But, inside he was a different story, and you can tell what people are really like by looking at how they treat those closest to them. Jesus said, Matthew 23:25, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup... but inside it is full of greed and self-indulgence."

We are living in interesting times, a turn-about from previous generations when rules, commandments, and laws were upheld, feared, revered and obeyed. Now, the pendulum has swung far away from legalism clear over to antinomianism (no rules, no laws). We have moved to the conviction that all rules are meant to be broken, and anything goes:

I am the only one who knows what's right for me.

My opinion is the measure of all things.

The rules are made up as we go along to suit the situation.

Don't bother me with your standards. What right do you have to tell me what to do?

Sound familiar?

A woman was caught in the act of adultery. According to the law of the day, she could be executed by throwing stones at her. When they gathered to throw the stones, Jesus said, "Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone." One by one they dropped their stones and slipped away. Jesus said to the woman, "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more." In the Bible, the Gospel of John, that's the end of the story. But, today, what might happen? Listen to a modern version by William Meuhl.

Jesus says, "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more."

And she says, "What do you mean by sin?"

Jesus says, "Well, I mean like adultery. That's wrong."

She says, "So what gives you the right to judge me? How do you know it was wrong when you know nothing about the relationship?"

So Jesus says, "But you weren't married to this man."

"So?" she says. "It was a loving and fulfilling relationship."

"But..." says Jesus.

"And before that, there was Sam. That loving relationship was fulfilling for about three months. Then there was Joe. So what's with this sin bit, Mr. Morality?"

Jesus looked around at his feet, searching for a large stone...

The ethical code today seems to be:

Anything goes; shame and embarrassment lay in getting caught; do whatever you can get away with.

Don't bother about doing your best; do just enough to get by. A cynic said, "Work is what people want, until they get a job." Then, they don't want work. I thought this cynical, until one of our ranchers told me, "I've hired too many who had that attitude."

And, how about the commonly accepted statement, "It doesn't matter what a person does in his/her private life, as long as he/she does the job." Really? How do you separate the two? How long can one succeed in presenting two fronts, two faces, one in private and one in public? What one is like inside the cup will eventually seep through and be visible on the outside as well.

And, whatever happened to the notion that we set examples? In Maeve Binchy's recent novel, Evening Class, a teacher, soon to be named principal, is a womanizer, drinker, parties every night, and smokes in the school corridors. When accused of being a bad example for the students, he snorts, "We're not here to be some example to them, we're here to teach them. To put some information into their heads. It's as simple as that." Can teachers really separate their behavior, their lifestyle from their teaching?

By now, some of you are probably accusing me of being too negative, but this sermon does not have to remain negative. It depends on you. How are you living the life God gave you? If you are not pleased with how you are living your life, your response to this sermon need not be negative, but very positive.

A person whose cup is clean on the inside as well as on the outside, a person who keeps the commandments, is described in the lesson read today, 1 Timothy 6:11, "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness." I like Psalm 15:1-2,

"O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart."

A cleaning woman was converted at a Salvation Army meeting. When asked what difference Jesus made in her life, she said, "I don't sweep dirt under the carpets any more." You want to be good? "Obey everything that I have commanded you," says Jesus, Matthew 28:20

A character test of how you are doing is to look into the faces of the special people in your life. What do you see? Last week Ellie and I received a letter from our son, Craig, who is going to be married in October. With humility and gratitude, let me share the blessing of his letter with you.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I would like to thank you both for your love and encouragement through the years. You always made time for me and made me feel special. You attended every band concert and piano recital and made me feel like the best musician ever. You made family a top priority and to this day make going home a joy rather than a chore. Your relationship is a model for me as I prepare for married life. Thanks for always putting your children first. I don't say it enough, but I love you both and cherish the times we spend together.

Love, Craig

I covet for each of you the joy of receiving such a letter from the special people in your life. When you do, praise the Lord. If you don't, it's never too late to make changes, changes in your attitude, changes in your priorities, changes in your relationship with God, changes in how you relate to the special people God has put in your life. Regardless of how our modern culture interprets morality, there are commandments we either keep or break. Actually, we do not break the commandments, we break ourselves on the commandments. "Keep the commandment," urged the author of 1 Timothy. "Obey my commandments," taught Jesus, and God will help you successfully keep them. Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

To succeed, not just survive, dream big, tell the stories, get connected, pray and praise, keep the commandments. Continued next week.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris