Spirit-Filled Pastor: How America Is 'Straining at Gnats and Swallowing Camels'

Is our culture, as Jesus puts it, trying to "swallow camels"? (Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash)

Note: This is the first of a three-part series.

We live in a land of paradoxes. In one part of a city, a small group meets in a neighborhood church to study the spiritual import of the pomegranates on Aaron's robe, while in an elementary school across town, the Ten Commandments are being removed from the wall where they have resided since 1965.

On the one hand, we see the human tendency to learn more and more about less and less. On the other, we witness the inclination to casually discard what previous generations have held to be of fundamental importance. Ask any Christian the meaning of WWJD, the biblical principles of financial prosperity or the words to their favorite contemporary Christian song, and you are apt to receive a ready reply. Ask most to name the Ten Commandments and you are unlikely to get a correct response. Ask them to name them in order and you are less likely still.

In this generation, the search for the significant is supplanted by the glorification of the trivial. Jesus called it "straining at gnats and swallowing camels" (see Matt. 23:24).

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Disregarding laws of God and His Word opens a Pandora's box and unleashes a hornet's nest. Jesus did not destroy the laws of God, but became the fulfillment of them. Hebrews reminds us that we are free from the law and sin.

Liberties without laws produce anarchy and chaos. Unrestrained liberty and freedoms become a license to sin, and eventually become open licentiousness.

Likewise, a nation that does not respect the laws and covenants of God will falter with cracked and unstable foundations, thus disregarding respect for the rule of law, and ultimately turning freedom into enslavement.

Ephesians 5:15-21 is a good reminder to us:

See then that you walk carefully, not as fools, but as wise men, making the most of the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not be drunk with wine, for that is reckless living. But be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, being submissive to one another in the fear of God.

Let us not be so enamored and intoxicated with the cares of this world that we become blinded by the deceptive promises of fleshly satisfaction, which, in reality, will ultimately enslave us.

May our personal liberty not become a fleshly license to sin (and cause others to stumble), thus inevitably leading to open licentiousness.

The tendency of the church to neglect the teaching of the Ten Commandments can be attributed to the common misunderstanding that the life and ministry of Jesus did away with the commandments and replaced them with the new commandment of love. While it is true that we are justified by faith and are not accepted by God based upon our ability to keep the commandments, Jesus explicitly stated that He did not "come to destroy the law, or the prophets" (Matt. 5:17, KJV). The Greek word translated "destroy" can also mean "to nullify" or "make invalid." Jesus did not come to nullify the law! Therefore, the law must still be applicable and relevant to His church.

"Therefore, you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you this day, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and so that you may prolong your days in the land, which the Lord your God gives you, forever" (Deut. 4:40, MEV).

God promises us here that it will "go well" with us if we follow His commands! But, sadly, much of the world believes the Ten Commandments of God are as irrelevant and archaic as the stone tablets upon which they were inscribed, because they do not understand the spirit of God's law.

I had the pleasure of meeting and ministering with Stephan Tchividjian when he spoke at the annual vision banquet for Hill Country Daily Bread, our Somebody Cares affiliate in Boerne, Texas. Stephan is the eldest grandson of Billy Graham and a gifted teacher in his own right.

He often says, "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." This explains what we see happening more and more in our nation today as those who have no relationship with the God of the commandments have rebelled to the point of opposing any representation of Him in the public arena.

In response, we cry out in righteous indignation—and justifiably so—when the Ten Commandments are removed from public life. We protest when the Bible (the written Word of God) is banned from the public square, as it was in 2004 when a Bible that was part of a tribute to William S. Mosher—founder of Star of Hope, a ministry to the homeless—was removed from the lawn of the courthouse in Houston. And we complain when praying in public is challenged.

Yet the greater question remains for those of us who profess faith in Christ: Do we even pray in private? Are the commandments of God and the Word of God written on our hearts? What we do behind closed doors is what determines the power of God (or lack of it) in public.

What Nehemiah Knew

Nehemiah was a man of position, having grown up a Hebrew slave on Persian soil. But God's hand of blessing was on him in the land of his captivity and he held a prominent position in the royal court of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. Despite his good fortune and prosperity, he desperately longed for his people to be restored to their calling and destiny as the elect of God.

It had been well over 100 years since the Babylonians had occupied Jerusalem, destroying its walls and temple, and taking all but the poorest of its citizens into exile to be pressed into service. So much had changed with the passing of time. Persia had replaced Babylon as the ruling world empire, and many of Israelites had lived their entire lives in captivity, never seeing Jerusalem. Several Persian kings had issued decrees authorizing the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but lack of resources, poor leadership and sabotage of new construction efforts had prevented its completion. Still, Nehemiah waited for news that the walls of the city had been rebuilt and that work to rebuild the temple had begun. Only then would it be clear that the favor of God had returned to His people.

Nehemiah's brother, Hanani, recently returned from Jerusalem and brought him news that all was not well in the land of Judah:

"The remnant that returned from captivity is there in the province enduring great affliction and reproach. Also, the wall of Jerusalem remains broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3).

Nehemiah wept with a sorrow beyond description. He had long suspected that the Lord had pulled back His hand of blessing from His people, and now he was certain. But he also knew that his God was a God of mercy; he had knowledge that his God had provided an avenue of restoration. He began to pray:

"I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy for those who love Him and keep His commandments. Let Your ear now be attentive, and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant, which I now pray before You, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not obeyed the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which You commanded Your servant Moses.

"Please remember the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you behave unfaithfully, then I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and bring them back to the place where I have chosen to establish My name'" (Neh. 1:5-9).

Nehemiah knew that the people of God were scattered and defenseless before their enemies because they had sinned by not keeping the commandments of God. He also knew that God had left them with a promise. If they would return to God and keep His commandments, they would be forgiven, restored and established in the place that He had chosen—Jerusalem.

Doug Stringer is founder and president of Somebody Cares America and Somebody Cares International, a global network bringing hope and healing to communities through prayer initiatives, compassion outreaches and cooperative efforts. He is the author of numerous books, including In Search of a Father's Blessing and Leadership Awakening: Foundational Principles for Lasting Success.

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