As I mentioned earlier, I decided it was time to share the most embarrassing story of my life. I just realized I haven’t posted the aquarium story online for some reason. I’ll find it and add it. It’s a pretty funny story if you haven’t heard it.
To drive the point home this morning (no pun intended :)), I had an axe with me and safely re-enacted the entire event. Yes – I wanted everyone to share in the pain of the moment.
I’m trying to find a picture of me with the bandage around my leg, but I don’t think anyone thought of taking one. What were we thinking?
If you want, you can listen to it here. The manuscript is after the break.
I can still remember the sting. Mr. Gerhart (he’s actually Dr. Gerhart, but we called him Mr.), my Scoutmaster, had poured rubbing alcohol all over a nasty, nasty self-inflicted wound of mine. As I felt the burn of the alcohol on my open gash, my Mr. G. looked at me and said, “That’s to remind you never to do that again.”
You might remember the story I shared back in January about how I had to get stitches on my left knee because I had the brilliant idea to jump up and down on an aquarium that had been left in our backyard and turned upside down. That story is shocking and a little embarrassing. But it’s not nearly as embarrassing as the series of events that led up to me laying in a hammock with my Scoutmaster pouring rubbing alcohol all over an open wound.
When I was in Middle School and High school, some of the highlights of my Summers included going to our Boy Scout Troop’s Summer Camp. We commonly referred to it as our own University of Scouting because if you took advantage of the opportunities before you, you could easily come away with a handful of merit badges, advance a rank, and be well on your way to the next rank. We had enough adult participation and the involvement of older Boy Scouts that we could actually staff and run our own Summer Camp.
This particular summer, I was on the teaching team that led the camping skills area. In the afternoon, we had such a large group of students that we divided the students into smaller groups and had them rotate between stations. I think there was an area that was focusing on some First Aid. There was another that did some knot tying. And another, I think, was about building a fire.
My area of teaching for this group of kids was knife and axe safety. We discussed the proper care of these tools, including how to carry one safely and how to sharpen one properly. We also gave them ‘hands-on’ experiences, highlighted by properly chopping wood.
I had an axe similar to this one, but with one blade instead of two.
To be honest, I probably should have used a hatchet instead of one of these long-handle felling axes, but this was the tool I had.
We discussed safety rules ad nauseum:
- you carry an axe with the blade facing away from you;
- make sure you have a safety area and no one is within the potential reach of a swinging axe;
- keep both hands on the axe when you’re using it;
- never use a dull blade;
- whenever you hand an axe or open knife to someone, you wait until that person says “Thank you” to let you know that he has control of the tool. It’s not just a courtesy thing. It’s an issue of safety.
This particular afternoon, my first small group had finished with their session and moved on to the next area. There were a few minutes before the next group was coming in and I decided it would be a good idea to just finish up the work the last group had done so I could give the next group a fresh start. So I work on finishing the log when I see the next group coming my way.
Before I go into the details about what became known in our Scout Troop as my “axe-ident,” I need to confess that I had already broken one of the key rules of axe safety:never use a dull blade. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only rule I broke.
I saw that the next class was approaching much quicker than I’d expected. I was in a hurry and wanted to have my area prepared for them before they arrived. I didn’t want to be holding the axe when I was doing my initial teaching, so I decided to bury the axe head into the side of a log.
Like I said, I was in a hurry and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing – which is a dangerous thing when you’re using a tool like an axe. I take the axe in one hand (remember, you’re supposed to use two) and swung it down to the face of the log. Instead of a sharp blade going cleanly into the wood, I had a dull blade bounce off its face. And because I didn’t have two hands on the handle, I didn’t have complete control of the tool. And so while a class was gathering around to learn axe safety, I managed to bounce the blade of the axe right into the shin of my leg.
I don’t know which hurt more: the pain that shot through my body from the gash in my leg, or the embarrassment from the fact that I had just driven an axe into my shin while teaching axe safety.
If I had followed the safety rules – the very safety rules I was teaching these kids – then this incident would have been prevented. Rules are important. Rules can be a good thing. But they don’t do you a lick good at all if you don’t follow them. Rules are only helpful if you choose to obey them.
That’s an important lesson to remember as we finish our journey through the Ten Words to Live By today. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Exodus chapter 20. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Exodus 20 is found on page 63 in those red Bibles.
The people of Israel are gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai and Moses has gone up to the mountaintop to receive the legal code from God. These laws that he received were meant to be the rules to govern a community of faith that has chosen to follow God and His leadership. God’s rules and laws were not intended to tell you what you had to do to become part of God’s community; they were intended to show you how to live once you’ve become part of His community. They’re not a condition of a relationship with the Father. They’re confirmation of it. Following God’s rules and laws won’t earn you a relationship with the Father, but they’re the response we should have once that relationship has begun. Moses even tells us this when he comes down from the mountaintop.
God made it clear that the laws Moses brought down from the mountaintop were from Him by sending an awe-inspiring sound and light show. There was smoke, lightning, and thunder, which are common images used to describe the presence of God. And as the earth shook with the majesty of the Lord, the children of Israel trembled in fear. Surely they wondered how they were going to be able to earn the favor of this mighty and powerful God.
Every other religion on the face of the earth is based upon the concept that there is a god that is distant from us and is angry with us. We follow these rules and practice these rituals in an attempt to appease the divine and make him (or them) happy with us. They’re attempts to earn God’s affection. But God has shown here and countless times throughout Scripture that there’s absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s love and affection. He is already radically in love with you and with me. But more on that in a minute.
The children of Israel are standing, trembling at the foot of the mountain, wondering how they’re going to earn God’s affection when Moses reminds them that all the smoke and thunder and lightning are for their benefit – to remind them that these laws had come from God Himself. And that the purpose of all of this – the smoke and thunder and lightning and the Ten Commandments – was to keep God’s chosen people from sinning. The rules weren’t established to get God to love us, but they were given to us to show us how we can keep from sinning in response to the love that God already has for us.
These were the laws that were supposed to govern God’s people as a society. They were encouraged to write them on their doorposts and post them in places that were highly visible, so when they saw the written Law, they would remember and obey. They were encouraged to train their children to follow God’s commands and keep His covenant. They had visible reminders surrounding them as a constant encouragement to keep from sinning.
But rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
And it didn’t take long for the children of Israel to choose to disobey the laws they’d agreed to follow. In Exodus 32, just a few chapters removed from receiving the Ten Commandments, we find Aaron and the people taking their gold jewelry, melting it down, and forming an idol in the shape of a golden calf. And Aaron, in a very bold move, displayed the calf and said to the people, “Here are your gods who delivered you out of Egypt.” They couldn’t even wait to leave the mountain before breaking the first two commandments, essentially telling God that they wanted to go back to the life they’d had before He delivered them.
Because rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
After God eventually led the people into the Promised Land, they looked to Him as their king. When there were times of trouble or when the people had gone astray, God would raise up a judge to lead the people for a time, delivering them from their time of trouble and back to following God as their King. But although the Ten Commandments remind us to find our identity in Him and not to covet our neighbors’ possessions or even their lifestyle, the children of Israel eventually wanted to be like everyone else and demanded a King. Now, there were some very righteous kings, including godly men like David, Josiah, and Jehoshaphat, but they also experienced their share of kings who led them astray. The monarchy of Israel was not in God’s original plan. But the people took their eyes off Him and decided to follow their own hearts instead of pursuing the heart of God, in spite of the laws that had been established.
Because rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
The same is true for us. We can post the Ten Commandments on our walls, mount them on monuments for courthouse lawns, put them on billboards, and even print them out on little index cards to pass out to people…but it’s not going to do us a bit of good if we don’t choose to obey them. God’s laws aren’t going to change us unless we allow them to be written on our own hearts.
As I stand here this morning, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there isn’t a person in this room who isn’t a rulebreaker when it comes to the Ten Commandments. No, you probably haven’t murdered anyone, but how many times have you wished ill-will upon someone? Or sat in judgment on someone when you really weren’t in a position to judge? Or murdered someone with harmful words? And what about the times when we have taken our focus off of the Father and decided to go our own path and do things our own way? How many times have we turned to our own idols instead of relying on God to provide for us?
At some point in our lives, we’ve chosen to disobey one of these commands. Some of us might even be breaking one right now as I speak this morning. And if you’ve broken one, you’ve broken them all. Each one of us in this room is a rulebreaker. And the rules we’ve broken have much more disastrous consequences than putting a dull axe into your leg.
Rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
And the thing is – you cannot obey God’s laws on your own. These commands show us what sin is and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. But they don’t give us the ability to follow them. The law is the light that shows how dirty the room is. The light shines in the dark corners of our lives, exposing the ugly parts that we’d rather keep hidden. But it doesn’t give us the ability to clean up the room. Choosing to obey God’s rules after the mess has already been made doesn’t make our lives any cleaner. It might keep it from getting worse, but it doesn’t make it cleaner.
There’s only one way the mess that our lives become when we choose to disobey God’s rules can be cleaned up. And that’s through the blood of Jesus Christ. Like I said earlier, God is radically in love with you. He wants to know you like a trusted friend. But we are all rulebreakers because we have all sinned.
The Greek word that we translate as “sin” is a hunting and archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” It carries with it the weight of not being able to reach God’s standard. And that’s something we can’t do on our own because God is God and we aren’t. The Hebrew word for “sin” implies the habitual habit of messing things up. And that’s what we do when we sin. We mess things up. We cannot keep it clean by our own power.
There are two basic types of sin outlined in Scripture. The first is easy to discern: it’s the sins of commission. It’s where you do things you know you’re not supposed to do. The Ten Commandments tell you not to commit murder, adultery, or to steal. When you know you’re not supposed to do these things and do them anyway, it’s the sin of commission – the sins you do.
You can post God’s rules and laws in front of your face all day long and still choose to disobey by sins of commission. Because rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
But there’s another type of sin that we don’t normally think about. It’s knowing you’re supposed to do something and choosing not to do it. That’s a sin of omission. There are countless examples in both the Old and New Testaments telling God’s people to take care of the poor. Even though we know that, it can be easy to put the poor around us on the back-burner. We’re told to love our neighbor but sometimes it’s easier to just love ourselves. Choosing not to do something when we know we’re supposed to do it is just as much of a sin as the sins of commission. And it all comes down to us choosing to disobey. Because rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them.
When we choose to disobey, whether by sins of commission or sins of omission, it’s still sin. And that sin has made a mess of our lives. The end result of that mess of our lives is supposed to mean death – eternal separation from God.
But the good news is that God doesn’t want to leave us in the messy room. Yes, God’s rules and laws reveal the mess in our lives – but cannot clean our lives. The only way our lives can be made clean is by being washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. He willingly chose to have His body broken and blood poured out so our sins…the result of our own choices to disobey…so these sins that have made a wreck of our lives could be washed away and we can have a right relationship with the Father.
We can learn the Ten Commandments backwards and forwards, but if we don’t choose to follow them, they’re not going to do us a lick of good. Because rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them. But the key is, we cannot do it on our own. We have to have help. And that can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
Have you invited Him in? Have you chosen to follow Christ and to allow God to live inside of you? Are you allowing Him to guide you and provide for you? Have you chosen to be obedient to Him and follow His example by being baptized – by symbolically putting to death your old self…the one that keeps making a mess….the one that is stained by sin…by putting that old self to death and coming up as a new creation in Christ? Have you chosen to do that? Remember that you cannot do it on your own. No matter how hard you try, you’re still going to fall short. We must rely on His grace.
Or maybe you’ve chosen to follow Him and somehow along the way you got sidetracked and decided to go along your own path. You know what you’re supposed to do, but you just haven’t been doing it. I learned my lesson that day when Mr. G. poured rubbing alcohol all over my leg. It doesn’t do you a lick of good to know the rules if you don’t put them into practice. Rules are helpful only if you choose to obey them. And the consequences of choosing to disobey God’s rules are far greater than an embarrassing ‘axe-ident.’