We continued our journey through the Ten Commandments this past Sunday, focusing on Commandments #3 and #4. You really had to be there to fully experience the message. But if you weren’t, I hope the audio will give you a glimpse of the message I shared this past Sunday. I’ll try to find a picture of the pack I was talking about during the opening. As the message unfolded, I placed various weights in the pack. At the end of the message, I placed it on my own back. I think you’ll understand what I was getting at.
The command that God gave the children of Israel is the same invitation that Jesus offers today: to rest.
Of course, you can read the manuscript below. If you’d rather listen, click here to hear the audio.
I know what you thought this morning when you came into the Sanctuary, looked up front, and saw what was sitting on the stage: “What on earth is that? And what on earth is it doing up there?” Well, there’s no need to keep you hanging any longer. If you’re not familiar with this piece of equipment, it’s a backpack that hikers use when they’re on their hiking expeditions. It’s used to carry all of the equipment needed to live: your sleeping bag, pots, pans, clothes, tent, and all the works.
I have a special attachment to this particular pack. I used it during four of the five treks that I took at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. It was, essentially, my home during these four expeditions. And when I moved out to New Mexico to work at Philmont for two summers, that pack was with me. It was kind of my home away from home.
But not all of my experiences with this pack were pleasant. During my third hiking expedition at the Ranch, our Crew’s itinerary had us staying at a campsite area called Comanche Peak Camp which was, you guessed it, located atop the mountain called Comanche Peak. There were two major obstacles to our reaching our destination for the night. First was the mountain in our way. In order to reach Comanche Peak Camp, you have to go over an 11,711 foot mountain known as Mt. Phillips. In addition to this big mountain being in the way, there’s also a water problem. Comanche Peak Camp is what is referred to as a ‘dry camp.’ Many of the camping areas at Philmont have water spigots that draw their water from a nearby source. There’s also several camps that don’t have running water, but there’s a nearby water source – like a running spring or a creak – where you can get your own water and purify it. Then, there are those like Comanche Peak Camp that doesn’t access to any water at all. In order to be able to cook, clean and ensure proper hydration, you have to have water with you. So you bring your own water with you. You make sure all of your water bottles are filled. And the crew is also equipped with a couple of water bladders that will carry somewhere between 1.5 and 2 gallons of water. Taking a couple of these will make sure the crew has enough water for the evening and the following morning.
No one wanted to carry these water bags. As you pack your pack in preparation for your hiking expedition, you try to find as many ways as possible to minimize the weight you’re carrying on your back. A normal, fully-loaded backpack could weigh as much as 40-50 pounds, depending on how much food you’re carrying for that day. And as you carry that pack on your back day after day, the weight starts to wear you down. And the last thing you want to do is volunteer to add another 15 or so pounds to your pack – especially when you’re about to scale an 11,711 foot mountain. So no one volunteered.
That meant our Crew Leader had to pick the poor soul who had to strap additional 15 pounds to his pack. Our Crew Leader that year was a good friend of mine. Surely he wouldn’t pick me to do this unenviable task.
As he announced the guys who got to carry the additional water, he looked me in the eye and said, “Matt, you get to carry the water.”
After a few minutes of protesting, I realized he wasn’t going to give in and I was going to have to carry this additional weight. So, I took the bag, fastened it to my pack, mounted the pack on my back, and we were off. Every step I took became a little more difficult. As the climb got more steep, the pack weighed down on me. I knew that momentum required that I keep walking – one foot in front of the other. I couldn’t stop. But I did. Several times. I would lean on the occasional tree, regardless of the rest of the crew’s desire to keep going. My legs were becoming like jelly. Now, I can have a good-sized stride when I’m hiking. But as I climbed this mountain with the additional water strapped to my back, my stride had essentially shrunk to baby steps. The additional water was weighing me down.
And then, finally, after what felt like years of taking one step in front of the other, we reached the summit of Mt. Phillips. And I dropped that pack as soon as I could.
I’ll never forget that feeling I had once we reached the top. Of course, there was the exhilaration of reaching the peak of an 11,711 foot mountain. But there was also this amazing feeling of relief and almost weightlessness as the burden of my pack with the additional water was finally removed from my back. I felt 150 pounds lighter. It was almost like I was walking on air.
In many ways, a life of following Christ is similar to our Philmont treks. Both are a journey. They’re full of amazing highs and mountaintop experiences. They also have their share of walking through the valley. And much like the additional water I had to carry, we sometimes carry additional weight in our spiritual lives and feel the burden with each step we take.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus. We’ll be in Exodus 20, beginning in verse 7. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one found in the pew in front of you. Exodus 20:7 is found on page 63 in those red Bibles.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at what has historically been referred to as the “10 Words,” which are more commonly known now as the 10 Commandments. When we started out, we discovered the fact that these 10 Commandments that the Lord gave the children of Israel were not a condition of the relationship they had with Him. They were confirmation of their relationship. And the same is true with us: obeying God’s rules and laws, including the 10 Commandments is not a condition of God’s love for us. We cannot do anything to make God love us more than He already does. But God’s rules and laws are a confirmation of the love He has for us. And then last week, we looked at the first two words, or commandments God has given us: No other gods; and no other idols. Don’t look back at the life that God has rescued you from. Don’t look back. Keep your eyes firmly focused on Christ and don’t allow all of these idols and false gods to pull you back into bondage and slavery to sin.
Which leads us to two more ‘Words’ that God shared which we will look at today. Let’s look at Exodus 20:7
Read Exodus 20:7-11
Resting is not something that is common in today’s culture. Everything is about go, go, go. It’s so tempting to want to be everything and do everything, resulting in our needing to be five different places at the same time. And it’s in the middle of these busy lives that we live that God speaks these words: You must rest.
For a lot of people, that’s a dirty word. But God has shown us time and time again that rest is not a dirty word. After forming all of creation with the power of His voice and then shaping the dust of the earth into the first people, God rested. And when Jesus walked the earth, he made sure to regularly take time to rest. One memorable example is found in Mark 4 where Jesus and the Disciples are on a boat out in the water when a furious storm came up. The Disciples were frantic. A storm like this could easily capsize a boat like theirs. But in the midst of this storm, Jesus was asleep on the boat. He rested.
But we have too much to do. We have too many places to go. And we have too little time in which to accomplish it all. And so we rush around, trying to get everything done and sometimes it feels like we’re just running around frantically like a circus sideshow performer; spinning the plates, trying to make sure none of them fall off the stick. And we try to keep up this act of having it all together; that we can take on more and more things and keep everything under control. And if we’re not careful, everything could come crashing down with very little warning. While it can seem like everything is alright on the outside, we’re really full of anxiety and just churning on the inside, wondering when that first plate will fall. Because if the first plate falls, the rest will come crashing down around it. So we work harder and harder at appearing that we have it all together.
When we do this: when we try to appear that we have it all together, we are really trying to tell God that we don’t need Him. We’re telling Him that we have it all under control. There’s no need for God to step in. Life’s going fine without Him at the helm. Place a weight in the pack
It’s because of this very mentality that God told the children of Israel they must take a day of rest. Because it forced them to remember Who their real provider was. It forced them to analyze their own lifestyle and see who they had put on the pedestal as their God: themselves and their hard work? Or the Creator God who delivered them out of Egypt; the One who provided manna and quail; the One who brought water from a rock so they could drink. Who was really providing for them? Taking a day of rest forced them to rely fully on Him to meet their needs for that day.
And just like the rest of us when we hear something from God, they spent countless hours debating and used countless gallons of ink defining what constitutes rest and what constitutes work. In an effort to make sure they were resting, all kinds of rules were established. There’s a document still in existence that lays out these very rules. It even describes what kind of clothes you could wear on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest, so you wouldn’t inadvertently wear something that was somehow too burdensome and accidentally ‘work’ by wearing too heavy of a garment. These rules and regulations that were handed down by the religious authorities undermined the very meaning of this Commandment from God. In an effort to make it easier for people to rest, they actually made rest an act of work. Place a weight in the pack
Remember the resistance Jesus met when the Disciples picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry? It sparked a huge debate. And remember when Jesus had the audacity to actually heal someone on the Day of Rest? There was an uproar! Because the additional rules and regulations had become elevated to a point that they took the place of the Law that God had given them. Place a weight in the pack
And it wasn’t just the debates about a Sabbath Day’s rest that caused controversy. Look back at Commandment #3. Now, if you’re like me, you learned this commandment in the language found in the King James translation of the Bible. I think the pew Bibles have the same translation. Help me out here if you know it – “You shall not take the name of the Lord in… (pause) vain (right).” That’s been the traditional translation of this verse. But that’s not the most accurate translation. What it’s really saying is, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Now, that carries a different meaning, doesn’t it?
We get caught up in being concerned about what someone can say – Can you use the words ‘gosh’ or ‘geez’? Because those are awfully close to saying “God” and “Jesus.” We treat the word God like it’s a swear word. And we’re not the only ones.
The Hebrew word for God’s Name is Yahweh. It’s really an untranslatable word, but the best we can come up with is saying it means something like “I am that I am;” or “I am Who I am;” or “I will be what I will be.” But the ancient Hebrews never wanted to inadvertently say the name of God, so when they’d come to the name Yahweh in the Scriptures, they’d actually say out loud their word for Lord. They built this hedge of protection around the Law as an effort to keep people from somehow inadvertently breaking the Law. But in the process, they added yet another burden to their lives. Place a weight in the pack They were constantly worried about what they said and whether they had accidentally said something that was too close to the name of God. And that wasn’t even the purpose of the Commandment in the first place.
To misuse God’s name means literally “to lift it up or attach to it emptiness.” … The third commandment is a directive against using God’s name in a manipulative way. And we’ve seen that happen all of the time, haven’t we? European kingdoms swept into Jerusalem and slaughtered people in an effort to ‘save’ the Holy Land from the unfaithful. The Crusades ended with thousands upon thousands of deaths – all because influential people said God had told them to do it.
In the South during the 18th and 19th centuries, Scripture was taken out of context and preachers used them as proof-texts that the enslaving of Africans was actually within God’s will. Thousands of people were sold into bondage and families were ripped apart because it was all done under the name of God. They were misusing the name of the lord.
When Hitler rose to power and he began to make war and shipping people to concentration camps, a group of churches in Germany stood up and said that what he was doing was within God’s will. They put words into God’s mouth. Words He never said or intended to say. But they gained support because, after all, they were doing it for God. They were misusing the name of the Lord.
I think of the people who have followed charismatic leaders like David Koresh to their own destruction because he claimed to be speaking for God. He was misusing the name of the Lord.
God is saying “Don’t you dare claim something is from me when it really isn’t. Don’t attach my name to something in an effort to control or manipulate people. Don’t attach things to what I say that I never said.
And we’ve had all kinds of people put words in God’s mouth. Jesus said to his Disciples and continues to say to us, “Follow me.” But too many people think it can’t be that simple. It’s easy to announce what you should be doing in order to attain salvation:
Place a weight in the pack after each topic:
Don’t go with girls who do.
Go to church every Sunday.
Read your Bible 2 hours every day
Dress a certain way
Watch certain television shows
Don’t watch certain television shows
Vote for certain politicians or support particular political parties
Vote for certain contestants on American Idol
And we throw in these false images of what we think God is like. You know what I mean:
There’s the vending machine version of Him. He’s just here to give you what you want
There’s the Sherriff version, sitting and waiting for you to screw up so He can zap you
There’s the Grandpa version – the one who lets you get away with everything
And there’s the Man Upstairs version. He wants to be our buddy. He doesn’t really tell us how to live but is there when you need him.
The list goes on and on. True, some of those things are important. And as we draw closer to Christ, we find our desires becoming more and more like His. And our lives will change. But the first step isn’t following a list of do’s and don’ts. The first step is responding to the invitation Jesus has given: Follow Me.
When we add to that invitation, it’s like we’re adding weights to our journey. We’re adding burden to our walk with the Lord. And we spend a life constantly worrying if we’ve done enough to earn God’s affection; if we’ve done enough to earn our salvation. We also spend a life constantly worrying if we have finally done enough wrong to make God give up on us. And it weighs us down. All of the burdens we carry with us. And when we add the burdens that just come with life:
Add more weights:
Anger and bitterness,
The list can go on and on…
Put on the pack
When we encounter the regular valleys of life in addition to the things we’ve already added to our journey, the walk becomes almost unbearable. And we take baby steps at best. Maybe we even wind up marking time – because the burdens we have become too great. And they’re not something we can carry on our own.
Jesus has issued an invitation. He said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened – and I will give you rest.” It’s an invitation to come just as you are. It’s an invitation to put down all of the additional stuff that we put on ourselves and find our identity and satisfaction solely in Him. You don’t have to do anything to earn this rest that he offers. All you have to do is give up. Stop trying to carry it all on your own. Stop trying to earn God’s love and accept the love He has already poured out for you. He wants you to find rest in Him. So go ahead, lay down your burdens. You don’t have to get yourself cleaned up to follow Him. You don’t have to get everything right in order to follow Him. Just lay that all down and come to Him. It could be the first time. It could be the hundredth time. We’re all tempted to take up our own burdens instead of finding rest in Christ. But He wants you to lay all that down because He loves you just as you are.