October 29, 2013

40 Below

Between the ages of 7 and 10 I was involved in a number of children’s musicals at church. One song in particular is still ingrained in my head, and heart, after more than 20 years. The song “The Perfect 10” puts the Ten Commandments into a rhyme. Then the chorus says that “they’re just as true as they were way back when.” God hasn’t changed over the course of history, and neither have His laws.

What is the one thing that currently dominates the majority of our time and energy? Pop culture. It’s everywhere: the Internet, movies, television, music, magazines and books, video games, etc. It seems Hollywood has done its best at trying to turn these laws into suggestions—recommendations that can be disregarded as long as the reason is deemed acceptable. But these laws are practical and pertinent. Using the Ten Commandments as our guide, let’s embark on a quick journey to see just how these laws apply today, and how they can help us get back (and stay) on track toward our future, eternal destination.

Number 1: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).*

Not long before the Mount Sinai experience, the Israelites had been released from their bondage in Egypt, a country whose polytheistic religion would have definitely been ingrained in their minds. Not only this, but the land they were promised was also inhabited with worshippers of gods other than God. Through the biblical account we see how easily the Israelites were taken in by the surrounding influences. Egyptian life did rub off on them. So at Sinai, God first reminds the former slaves of His place in their life. We aren’t much different today. “No other gods” may have taken a different meaning these days, but what we’re doing is basically what the Israelites were guilty of—anything that takes higher priority than God is, in fact, a god. It comes down to balance: time on the computer and entertainment, necessities and enjoyments, both have their place, but God must come first. 

Number 2: “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (verse 4).

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (verses 4-6).

In the first part of this commandment an idol is defined as an image or representation of a god as an object of worship. Again, the Israelites were surrounded by idols while slaves in Egypt. Anubis, the god of the afterlife, and Ra, the sun god, are just a couple of the many deities worshipped and physically represented throughout Egypt. 

The Bible is clear. It’s a matter of putting what we are supposed to do into practice. If we do, God will honor that. 

By telling the Israelites not to make any idols, God was turning their minds back to Him, the Creator. The Creator God alone is to be worshipped, not any created thing. We may possess items that hold sentimental value for us, but unless we form unhealthy attachments to them, they aren’t objects of worship. 

The second half of the commandment states that God visits “the iniquity of the fathers on the children,” but shows “lovingkindness” to those who love Him and keep His commandments. Is God saying that every son or daughter of a drunk, an adulterer, an abuser, etc., will be visited with iniquity? No! We aren’t held responsible for the sins and mistakes of our parents. The notion that we are responsible for the actions of our predecessors—and that we should be punished for it—is prevalent in Hollywood’s film industry. But the truth is, we are held accountable to God only for our own actions. If we don’t learn from our parents’ sins and mistakes and we follow in that path, then we are held accountable. 

Number 3: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord God will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (verse 7).

Ancients believed that God’s name was so sacred and holy it was not even to be spoken. Today His name is so disrespected that it’s nauseating. I cringe every time I hear—or see—it being misused. The misuse is so rampant that it’s hard to block it out. How many times, for example, have you seen “omg” in texts or on Facebook or Twitter? It’s like a breath of fresh air when a movie, TV show, or a message board is free of it.

We can’t force others not to take His name in vain, but we can do our part in being an example of how God should be respected and honored in our everyday conversations. 

Number 4: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (verse 8).

The Sabbath was, and still is, a blessed and holy gift. After six days of creating, God set aside the seventh day for rest and enjoyment of—and with—His creation. Today we can’t seem to stop for anything. Unfortunately for some, Sabbath is their busiest day. 

Remember . . . God commands us to remember. Take this time to remember all that God has done. God also commands us to rest—this is a test of obedience. 

Take this day to enjoy a break. Climb a tree. Call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a while. Shut off your computer. Forget about the demands and problems, and all that pop culture offers that follows us through the other six days. Remember the seventh day and rest in it. Also, remember that it’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:12). So rest—and go do some good.

Number 5: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12).

Sometimes this commandment is easier said than done. To honor means to have a high respect or esteem for someone. We don’t see this often in the parent/child relationships portrayed on TV or film, and rarely do we find this honor toward parents in everyday life. Just watch any major reality show involving kids, parents, and competition, and you’ll see what I mean.

And how are children, no matter their age, supposed to honor the parents who neglect and/or abuse them? Or parents who don’t teach them proper values or morals? Perhaps honoring the Father in heaven in spite of the circumstances would compensate for the honoring of earthly parents who don’t honor their role as they should? 

For parents who don’t share the same belief system or won’t admit to the change they need—love and honor them where they are, even if you don’t agree. As I said, it’s easier said than done, but it will make those relationships smoother in the long run.

Number 6: “You shall not murder” (verse 13).

From children’s video games to PG-13 and R-rated movies, our society has become desensitized to murder and violence. We loathe terrorists who murder innocent people, yet we have no problem sitting through a movie in which murder is portrayed as both a crime and as justice served. 

We can’t ignore murder. It’s a very real part of our sinful world. But we can prayerfully sensitize ourselves again to the reality that murder is disgusting and deplorable. It’s life being taken. How can we not be sensitive to that? 

Number 7: “You shall not commit adultery” (verse 14).

How is it that society has come to the place that we actually feel sorry for the one committing adultery? Again, Hollywood has done a good job of making adultery seem socially acceptable. We may sympathize with the one who feels something lacking and sees the need to cheat on their spouse, thereby excusing their behavior. This is not acceptable. I don’t know the stresses that married people sometimes experience. I am, however, the product of a home in which divorce as a result of adultery occurred—and I know its damaging effects. In spite of what pop culture has deemed all right, people need to do what is right: honor the vows made on the wedding day, stay faithful.

Number 8: “You shall not steal” (verse 15).

The excuses for stealing are many, but there is no good reason. As we see in pop culture, stealing not only refers to material possessions (we can surely recall, for example, stories about celebrities caught shoplifting); there are other things that can be stolen as well: time, love, ideas, etc. In the end it’s true: the one who steals never prospers. 

Number 9: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (verse 16). 

There’s a reason Solomon, in Proverbs, puts a lot of focus on two evils: lying and gossiping. They hurt. They destroy relationships. They break trust. They damage reputations. In today’s society these consequences aren’t often considered. With our broken human nature, we do this without thinking. Once again, the blatant acceptance of this behavior has contemporary media and entertainment written all over it. (Have you glanced over the tabloids at the grocery store lately?) We are surrounded by the world’s seeming approval of it. Even if done with the “best” intentions, bearing false witness still has negative effects. The character of a person can easily be damaged. And whether the information about a given person is true or not, we know exactly what we are supposed to do. The Bible is clear. It’s a matter of putting what we are supposed to do into practice. If we do, God will honor that. 

Number 10: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; . . . or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (verse 17).

A want or desire isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s something like a better-working car, a good education, etc. It really depends on what the desired object is—and our reason for the desire. We also tend to want not only what is not ours, but also something that belongs to another person—and the object of desire is not ours to want. 

While there are a plethora of modern-day examples I could use, my mind keeps going back to David. He didn’t banish that initial thought of desire like he should have. And even though he was a man after God’s own heart, the breaking of this commandment led David to break the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments as well. This all started with the simple act of desire for another man’s wife who was not his to desire. 

When we do see this in modern media, we should, no matter what the venue, be brought to a higher state of contemplation and contentment for what is ours. The more content and thankful we are for what God has blessed us with, the less the want of anything that isn’t ours to desire will enter our minds.

Be the Change

The Ten Commandments are still relevant. And here is something else to consider: how we interact with the modern media “enemy.” Sure, we can choose, for example, not to own a television, or try to avoid the negative influences that come out of pop culture. But the disregard for God’s commandments isn’t just going to disappear if we ignore it. Those evils are still going to be created, shown, read, heard—and they’ll influence those who watch and read and hear them. 

It’s not just about us avoiding it. It’s about trying to change contemporary mind-sets for the good. Try to make a difference. We can be the positive change in pop culture. Isn’t this how Jesus, through His life on earth, showed us how to be? He came face to face with sin and interacted with the perpetrators—and He changed things. He didn’t ignore His surroundings. We should do the same. n

* All biblical quotations and references in this article are taken from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.