Yesterday’s message …
- Had a rare, late in the week edit in which the opening paragraph was gutted, replaced, and I think improved;
- Had a title with a word I think I might have invented;
- Recognized that the prelude to the Ten Commandments is as important as the commandments themselves;
- Had a shift at the end to become about Jesus (thank you Timothy Keller!);
- Landed at this bottom line: God loves you too much to share you.
So I am now in my 30th year of pastoring and would you like to know something that has NEVER happened in all that time? Not once? This: no one has ever made an appointment with me, come to my office, and shared, “Pastor I need to work on becoming MORE jealous. Would you please hold me accountable so that I can increase my levels of jealousy in every area of my life?” Of course not. That’s absurd. It’s a vice, not a virtue. I’m sure that none of you have ever, on Dec. 31 of a year made this New Year’s Resolution: THIS WILL BE MY YEAR OF LIVING JEALOUSLY! Not once. Because it’s a vice, not a virtue. You know this.
I mean, really, just WHEN is jealous used as a compliment? Like, never. Preachers. Whew. You wanna see a jealous bunch? I remember the times years and years ago, a UMC just took off and a group of us were talking about it and one guy says, “Ah, right guy, right time. ANYONE could have done that.” I thought – but didn’t say – “pretty sure you couldn’t, friend.” We preachers are experts at criticizing that which we can’t achieve – and jealousy is at the root.
And then you move jealousy to the realm of sibling rivalry and WHOO!… it’s still unbecoming, isn’t it? Some of you live it right now. And then jealousy’s sweet spot: romance and marriage. And in those cases, jealous pivots between two poles: it’s pitiful because it’s paranoid and unjustified – you’ve known people like this – or it’s sordid because, yep, there was a reason for it. And you know, don’t you, because it’s on the TV and in the news, all the times and all the ways jealous rage becomes murderous rage. Just recently in Hickory, three dead, one injured, and two surviving kids heard it all. Jealousy at the root.
So with that backdrop, it is unsettling to say the least when we read these words in Exodus 20:3-4:
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
READ that lead up to this justification for the no gods or idols in 20:5:
5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
FOR, the Lord is jealous. For the Lord has this emotion, this character … defect? Trait? … that we’ve just seen is either paranoid or sordid when found in people. That we’ve seen leads even to murderous rage in ppl. And so we start a series with an odd title like Gods At War and with it an even odder thought that God himself could be eaten up with jealousy and some of you are like, “I knew it! Church is strange!” But guess what? Whether it’s here in Exodus 20 or in the New Testament and the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, CIE is still true. Context really is everything. And that context is not only in Scripture but in life. Because this Exodus 20 IS the 10 C, after all and get this: the preface, the prologue to the 10C is as important as the commandments themselves. Look at 20:2:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Oh. I can issue you commandments now because I brought you freedom then. My ability to instruct is rooted in my tendency to invade.
And … what was it that God brought them out of? The land of slavery. He chooses Israel not because they’re good but because they’re loved aand he acts decisively to deliver them from slavery. Where was it they were in slavery? Egypt. Do you know about them? Did you see the movie? They had gods. Gods for everything. The Nile River, the Sun, the locusts, blood … all that stuff was gods to them. Some of you are getting an A-HA moment right now: yep, the very items God used in the plagues was his way of saying to Egypt and Israel alike: that stuff you worship? I rule it all. But the Egyptians, with all these gods, had to juggle them all to keep them happy. If you juggling multiple relationships, it’s a challenge! Whether in romance or marriage or in religion!
And the place where Israel is GOING from here? The Promised Land? Canaan? Different gods, same problem. Multiple gods, competing loyalties, gotta keep them happy. Including Molech, a god in the PL who was only appeased by … child sacrifice. So guess what? God KNEW that his people were leaving a land of slavery and headed to a land where if they weren’t careful, they could be enslaved all over again! But enslaved this time not by people but by the people’s gods!
Because look at 20:3-4 again: READ. No other gods. No image. Two commandments restating one idea. Do you know why no image? Whether it is a graven image of a foreign god or an effort to approximate the one true God? Because the best if functions is like this: AV of distortion photo from carnival. God’s like, “I will not be distorted. I will not contained. I will not be domesticated.”
And I just can’t get away from that opening, that intro. I command you because I invaded you. I give you instruction because I brought you freedom. Out of slavery. It is as if God knows that if his people try to FIT HIM IN, PUT HIM ALONGSIDE, JUGGLE BALLS OF WHICH HE IS ONE, he knows they will be enslaved by the very thing they have elevated to be alongside. The very thing that we feel LIMITS us to just one god, one way actually LIBERATES us from every other pretender, every wrong way.
It’s like this mantle here. Here’s a photo of Julie. Nice! But here’s Brooke Shields. Nice! And here’s J-Lo. And then _Jennifer Garner__. As implausible as that is, Exodus tells us that is what God wants to prevent. Because I have all those alongside and not only is there an Unhappy wife (unless she says, “you think you can deal with him? Have at it.”) I am enslaved trying to keep all these people happy.
And God is so smart. Because so many ppl right here right now are feeling pretty good because you don’t have any little statues and you’ve yet to commit child sacrifice. But you’re still enslaved by what’s competition for God when it comes to meaning, contentment, and focus. What you’ve placed alongside. It’s the marijuana that EVERYONE DOES but you can’t NOT DO IT. It’s the obsession with security – you can’t have enough, be protected enough, safe enough, planned enough. It’s the candidate that if he doesn’t win – or if he does – you will feel a loss way out of proportion to what it really means. It’s the anger that you nurse – against people you know, celebrities you don’t. And you realize that if that was taken away from you, if the energy you get from hatred was gone, what would you have left? It’s the deep need for relationship – you’ve kinda proved you’re not good at marriage yet you’re desperate to do it again! You’re enslaved by what you placed alongside God; how you have him share space in your life with another. And idol isn’t always a bad thing; it’s when you allow it to become the only thing.
And when you look at it from the angle of enslavement, it turns out that God’s anger isn’t rooted in his anger, but in his love. It’s not an indication of his small mindedness but proof of his largeheartedness. Yes, God’s jealousy is because he is big hearted and because he longs for what frees you, what’s good for you, and he knows all those answer so much better than you do. So here’s the simple (not simplistic) answer to how it can be the God can be “jealous”: as I heard said once, God loves you too much to share you.
That’s it. When we ask God to share us with our pot, with our politician, with our security, with our search for our next mate, he knows that will enslave us. He loves us to much to allow that for us. He longs to be the only God, the only Enough, the only image on the mantle. (Other photos OFF!), the liberator God. It’s so cool: God can be monogamous with 7 billion people at once. Praise God. God loves you too much to share you.
Really what God wants to be is like this: HOLD UP TISSUE. What is this? NO, it is not a Kleenex! It’s a tissue! Kleenex is the brand and tissue is the product. Yet, for us they have become one and the same! That’s what God wants in your life. Not to be a part. To be your life. Like Kyle Idleman says:
“God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods. God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works. He is the only God who can help us, direct us, satisfy us, save us.”
This is what Gods At War is all about. You are the object of this desperate battle for your affection. You’re in the crosshairs of that battle. And every victory of what is shiny or seductive or temporary or false or even the GOOD THING (your kids’ sports, your good candidate, your righteous indignation) is a victory that will enslave. You put it alongside, on this mantle of your affection, and the result is the very slavery God wants to prevent. God loves you too much to share you.
Because you and I have three options in life: You can BE GOD. BE GROWING LIKE GOD. BE MISERABLE (AV). Please: #1 is not possible and #3 is not desirable. God is so jealous for you for your good and from his love. Let yourself be loved into Godogamy like that. REFRAIN.
If you’re wondering if you really have any idols, if you’re having someone/thing else share your heart, ask three questions. Write these down: 1) What do you complain about? 2) What has disappointed you in life? 3) What do you sacrifice time and money for? Those will tell you your values. Those will tell you what you have put alongside God. Those will tell you the source of your enslavement. God’s word is of freedom: REFRAIN
Because, yes, God is jealous. He won’t be tamed, contained, or shared. He is fiercely, ferociously jealous for your good and for your heart. He knows that when he is all you have he is all you need. Yep, God is jealous. And it is so interesting about jealousy. Remember me reminding you what people do sometimes when they’re jealous? They go into a murderous rage like that family in Hickory with those traumatized kids. People kill out of their jealousy.
But God. Jealous people kill. But God? Our jealous God DIES. He GETS KILLED. He doesn’t kill others out of his jealousy, he sacrifices himself. You want to see the lengths that God will go to NOT TO BE ALONGSIDE BUT TO BE ALONE IN YOUR LIFE, there it is: AV of Passion cross, ponder