Well I’m excited because today we are beginning a brand new series of messages under the title “Best Life Possible.” And it’s based on the Ten Commandments. And the reason we came up with that title is because when I was a teen I was taught the Ten Commandments listening to my father preach on them. He preached on them. That was way before this Crystal Cathedral was built. It was over in the other beautiful building, the Richard Neutra building. And dad entitled them, at that time, “God’s Way to The Good Life.” And we’re dusting off those Ten Commandment messages because they haven't been taught, I don’t think, in quite some time.
But the reason they’re so important to me, that you all get a chance to hear them again, is because as a teenager, imagine being a teenager and sitting in church and hearing your dad teach on the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not one, thou shalt not two, thou shalt not three. Would you think that sounds like an exciting message series? Actually my dad, being who dad is, it was all about “thou shalt,” “thou can,” “this is wonderful.” It was a positive Ten Commandments. And I saw and heard and witnessed that these were a gift from God to me as a teenager. And I thought you know what, maybe if I follow these Ten Commandments, maybe I will have the best life possible. Maybe God gave them to me, not to take away all my fun as a teenager, but to spare me from heartache, to spare me from pain; from hurting myself and hurting others, and to propel me to do more for God. Propel me to live my life to its fullest. And that’s how I heard the Ten Commandments as a teenager. Can you even imagine what a gift that was?
And so I want all of you to be able to learn them, too. And today’s message and next week’s message that I will be delivering are as close as what I remember as a teenager being taught by my father.
Well first of all, let’s just get a little overview of the Ten Commandments and the first; there are ten of them. And the first four are about developing a positive relationship with God my father. Dad said it this way: a vertical relationship. That’s what we focus on in the first four commandments. My relationship with God, my father. That is the foundation for all of my life. That is the foundation for the other six commandments, which are my relationship with others; my family members, my colleagues, my neighbors. Do you see what the Ten Commandments makes? This again I learned from my father. A cross. It’s a cross. As we develop our relationship with our God the father, we have a wonderful foundation for positive relationships with others. And those are the secrets to living the best life possible right here in God’s holy word.
Commandment number one: foundational. I think all the rest of them are built on this one commandment and it is I think the most important message you can hear ever from any pulpit and it’s God’s message not mine. But it’s this: have no other gods before me. That’s what God said, first one. Have no other gods before me. That means that before me means God says don’t compete. I don’t want to compete with any other God. It’s me and me alone. I want to be number one, numero uno in your life. I want you to worship me and me alone. No other gods. And if you do that, no matter what happens to you, you can live the best life possible. God wants to be number one in your life and He doesn’t even want there to be a number two, number three, number four, just one, just Him. God, your God. The God, Yahweh.
So who is this God? There are so many books, theological tomes written on God. Who is God? Because it’s a very, very important question and how we answer it, people disagree. But let’s look at God’s word and see what God’s word has to say about who God is. Because God really, truly does not want to be a mystery to you and I. God wants to reveal Himself to you and me. He wants to be in a loving intimate relationship with you. He loves you.
And so God revealed Himself to Moses. Moses was out there in the wilderness, minding his own business, and all of a sudden he walked past a bush that was burning but not burning. A bush that was burning, but not burning. That’s what I just said and that’s exactly what it says in the bible. That got Moses’ attention, wouldn’t it get yours? God wanted to reveal Himself to Moses to the point He got his attention, his undivided attention and there are things that God will do in your life that will get your attention. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good, but God will do whatever it takes to say hey I’m here. Stop, turn around, look at Me. God needs sometimes to first of all to get your attention. He got Moses’ attention and it was obvious it was God. Who else could burn inside a bush without consuming it? Only God. Moses knew that this was God and then the bush spoke. Well it wasn’t the bush, it was God. God spoke. He spoke to Moses.
God wants to reveal Himself to you and He wanted to reveal Himself to Moses and this is what He said: you want to know what He said? “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, your fathers. I have heard the cry of My people.” So He identifies Himself, and then He acknowledges, God acknowledges the pain of His people. Some of you have cried out to God in the middle of the night. You’re heartbroken, in pain you’ve cried out to Him. You’ve cried out to God. God says to you right here, I have heard the cries of my people. I have heard your cry. I’ve heard it. I am here. I do care.
And then God said to Moses, “Moses go and lead my people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.” God wants to lead you out of bondage, whatever bondage that you are in today, God wants to lead you out of that and into the Promised Land. Moses is having this conversation with God, a bush, a burning bush. And he says who me? You want me, God, to go and do this? I stutter, I have a hard time finding all the right words, I am not qualified. You have got the wrong guy, God, in me.
And most of us have felt that way from time to time: inadequate, unworthy, undeserving to be called by God to do something wonderful and magnificent, but God believed in Moses. He had created Moses for this purpose. And God has created you for a divine purpose, as well. God said, “Moses I will be with you.” Believe it. Believe in me and you will lead the people out of Egypt to worship me here on this very mountain.
Well who will I say you are, Moses asked? Who do you say God is, I ask you today? And here’s what God says. God said, “I am who I am.” That’s who God is. I am the great I am. That is who God is. It’s that simple. But let’s look at those words I AM and let’s see what they mean and what they tell us about the substance and the nature of God. God is self-existing, I am. Nobody created God. He created everything else. But nobody created God and be very careful about this distinction between the creator God and the created, which is you and me, which is everything else. Everything else that you and I, we create, we create out of things that God created.
First of all, we are created so the mind that He created. It needs the.. let’s just say you’re an artist, it needs the pigments that God created. It needs the paper to paint on, which God created. Everything that we create, so call create, we create with things that God created. And God the creator is the great I am and He is the one that says have no other gods besides me, the great I am. And it’s very tempting to worship the created versus the creator. But draw that distinction and you’ll be on safe ground. I am means He’s immutable. There are no permutations of God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The loving, rescuing, all-powerful God of the Old Testament is the same all-loving, all-powerful, all-rescuing God of today in your life. He didn’t cease being loving in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He didn’t cease being all-powerful last week. He still is today and He’s not going to cease being all-loving and all-powerful tomorrow or ever. He is always the same. He never changes. And He is eternal. He has always existed and will always exist. He will always be I am. He is, God is real, God exists. God is alive. You can believe in Him. And He loves you, He loves His creation. All these things that He created, He loves. He has a plan for you just like He has for Moses and He believes in you just as He believed in Moses.
You know I like to say this first commandment: have no other Gods before me. Let’s rephrase it today and call it like we like to say here at Crystal Cathedral: Believe in the God who believes in you. Believe in the God who believes in you. Oh yes this God, He did rescue His children from Egypt. And sure enough, there they were, back on that mountain, back on Mt. Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.
And you know I always wondered about the plagues. Why did God have to do ten plagues? Why not just one plague? Well you know I recently learned that the plagues were actually necessary to demonstrate God’s power because at the time, the Egyptians, they had all these gods and they were perceived to be the powerful gods. And so all these plagues were so called, they were supposedly protected by the Egyptian gods. The Egyptians were supposedly protected from the frogs by their god. They were supposedly protected from the flies by their fly god. They had all these gods that protected them from these things, but here they come, here come the plagues. And what did they see and what did they discover? God, Yahweh is the real true God. God, Yahweh is the one and only powerful God.
God delivers them from the plagues; He delivers them at the Red Sea. And yet even though they have seen all that God did for them when Moses went up to Mt. Sinai and got the ten commandments from God, by the time he gets back down, he doesn’t even have time to read the Ten Commandments to them because they have already built a golden calf, a false god. And so Moses tips that golden calf over. And you know over and over and over again in the Old Testament, these false gods keep creeping back in. They kept creeping back in. They crept into the temple of God, they crept into so many parts, and God kept saying, don’t have any other gods but me. Why? Because God knew those gods weren’t going to help them. He knew those gods didn’t love them. He knew those gods weren’t powerful. He knew that as long as they believed in those gods, they were being misled.
And today what’s really important for you to learn, and it’s something that I have lived my whole life, and that is constantly self-examining and saying okay Lord, what golden calf do I have in my life? And we all have them. Some that I’ve struggled with is the golden calf of success. Now you’re going to say but Sheila, I thought success was important. Yes, success is a good thing, but don’t let it be the god in your life. Why do I live? Why do I get up in the morning? Why do I work so hard? Is it for success? Or is it for God’s glory? Is it for my glory or His glory?
Another golden calf I have to tip over periodically is pleasing others. I love to please people but in the final analysis, have I pleased God? That’s the question I have to ask myself. Have I pleased God? Is He my God? Or are others, pleasing others my god?
So people, God says have no other gods before me, and I say, that God believes in you. God wants you to be a success. God wants your life to be as full as it can possibly be, but it starts with believing in Him and making Him first and foremost in your life. Believe in the God who believes in you. Do you know that God believes in you even if you don’t believe in Him? There are times when I don’t believe in myself, but praise God, He still believes in me. As His creation, He loves you, He believes in you. He believes that your life can count for Him if you believe in Him. But sometimes we look at our circumstances around us and things haven’t turned out the way we wanted them to. And then it’s so tempting to say oh, can God exist? I prayed, I believed in Him, how could He let this happen to me? How could He let the Chilean miners end up crushed at the bottom of a mine? How can God allow me to have lost the love of my life? How can God have allowed me to live on the streets, to lose my job, my home, my family, everything? I don’t believe God exists. It’s also tempting to believe, even if you believe God exists, to say but okay I believe God exists but how can He love me? Is God there? Does God care?
I’d like to close with a story that I learned from my dad and it was about a man by the name of Dr. Daniel Poling. And this story illustrates what dad taught was this: Belief, belief is not just a feeling. Belief is not just what we see around us. Belief is a choice. Belief is choosing to believe even when there’s no reason to believe. And I’ve had to do that myself from time to time. And I thought I have no reason to keep on believing but I choose to keep on believing. And I learned that lesson from this story that dad taught when I was a teenager.
Dr. Daniel Poling, a Christian leader, esteemed, respected. Look up his name. Read about him, Dr. Daniel Poling. But his son became a Chaplain in World War II and he went out in the Navy. And the ship was lost and his son gave his life for the country and gave his life for other seaman. When Dr. Daniel Poling received news that his son was lost, he said, ‘God how could You do this? How could You take my son from me?’ And he didn’t feel that he could believe. He didn’t feel any faith. He didn’t feel brave. He didn’t feel like he still believed in God, this manly esteemed Christian leader. His faith was rocked. It was shaken to its core. And so he made a choice and he went to the window and he looked out the window and he said, with no feeling, but he said it: ‘I believe. I believe. I believe in God.’ He still didn’t feel anything but he made the choice to make the declaration.
The next day he got up and he went to the window again and he looked out the window and he said, ‘I believe. I believe. I believe in God.’ He still didn’t feel it but he made the declaration. He did that day after day until one day he said, ‘I believe’ and it sparked in him. ‘I believe!’ He believed it. ‘I believe! I believe! I believe in God and I believe that God loves me.’
Can you make that declaration today? Maybe you don’t feel it. Maybe you do feel it. But say it. Say it together. Repeat after me with as much declaration as you can, with as much umption as you can. Maybe it’s weak; it doesn’t matter, just say it out loud. I believe. I believe. I believe. I believe in God. I believe God loves me. Amen.