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Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 2 - Frogs

Last week we saw that Moses turned the Nile into blood to punish Pharaoh for not letting God's people leave slavery in Egypt.  The Nile was full of blood for seven days.  However, Pharaoh was stubborn and wouldn't let God's people go.  So God sent another plague.

Exodus 8:1-8
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh and announce to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land. 3 The Nile River will swarm with frogs. They will come up out of the river and into your palace, even into your bedroom and onto your bed! They will enter the houses of your officials and your people. They will even jump into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 Frogs will jump on you, your people, and all your officials.’”

5Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Raise the staff in your hand over all the rivers, canals, and ponds of Egypt, and bring up frogs over all the land.’” 6 So Aaron raised his hand over the waters of Egypt, and frogs came up and covered the whole land! 7 But the magicians were able to do the same thing with their magic. They, too, caused frogs to come up on the land of Egypt. 

8 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged, “Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer

Egyptian Idolatry
Ancient Egypt was an impressive civilization. I learned last night while we were playing Apples to Apples as a family that Egyptians were the first to popularize the idea of applying scents to armpits, usually using cinnamon and other spices that wouldn't turn rancid in the heat.  They invented one of the first forms of writing.  They constructed remarkable buildings such as the Great Pyramids and Temples and tombs that are still consider great wonders of the world today.

Yet, Egypt was mired in sin.  As a very powerful empire, they abused their power to mistreat neighboring peoples.  They enslaved the Hebrews and then tried attempted genocide by forcing the Hebrews to throw their baby boys into the Nile River.  They were also guilty of idolatry,

Idolatry may seem a mild sin when compared to things like slavery and genocide.  However, idolatry is a gateway sin.  Idolatry replaces the One True God with a god of your own making.  In the ancient world, people would often craft an idol out of stone or wood into the shape of a god they imagined.  They could make their idol look however they wanted it to look.  But here’s the thing.  Not only could they make their supposed god (which was not really a god at all) look they way they wanted.  They could make their god embody whatever they wanted.  They could make the fake god say, do, believe, and condone whatever they people wanted.

One of the most heinous atrocities of the Egyptians was forcing Hebrews to throw their baby boys into the Nile River.  Now, there is a natural repulsion in every human heart at even the thought of taking a helpless infant and throwing them in a river to drown.  I know that’s wrong.  You know it’s wrong too.  It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what color is your skin, or from what time in history or what country you come from.  Every human being instinctively knows killing babies is wrong.  We know it because God created us with a natural sense of right and wrong.  We value life because God values life.  We want to protect the powerless because God protects the powerless.  We were made in God’s image. Even though we are warped by sin, we still reflect His character.  As America's funding fathers expressed, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

But we also want to do what we want to do.  We don’t want God restricting our behavior (I’m speaking in a worldly sense here).  And so, if we don’t like what the One True God says, then we’ll just change it.  “Let’s just make a minor adjustment here.  There!  I like this god much better!”  And then someone else comes along and says, “Yeah, but, I don’t like that other thing about God.  I would much rather God were this instead of that.”  And they make another little change to god to make Him the way they want him to be.  And this can go on and on and on until the god you are left with doesn't look like the One True God at all. 

And so as Romans 1:21b-23 says, “…they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles." 

When people start compromising the truth and start making their gods to be they they want the to be, it’s not long until your “gods” start condoning things like drowning Hebrew babies in the Nile River.  The Egyptians were smart, intelligent, creative, resourceful people.  Unfortunately, they turned into utter fools because they turned their backs on the truth in favor of lies.  (America, be warned!) 

Anchored in the Truth
Do you realize how incredibly blessed we are to have the Holy Bible? The Bible helps us know the Truth. It guards us from forgetting the character of God and recreating Him into whatever we want Him to be. The Word of God doesn’t change.  The same story about the ten plagues of Egypt we're reading today is the same story Jesus read 2,000 years ago.  We read the same stories and characteristics of God that people have always read.  These words haven't changed and they won't change.  Now, everyone can read the words for themselves and come to their own conclusions.  And honest people may all come to slightly different conclusions.  That's why we have Methodist and Baptist and Pentecostals, etc.  However, though we have varying interpretations, we are all anchored to the same Holy Bible.  We are like ships floating at anchor in the open sea.  We may drift this way and that, but we won't drift of into never never land because we are anchored.  And so a Methodist ship may float to the left and a Baptist one may float to the right, but we are still in the same general area.  It is when we severe the connection to Scripture that we float away into crazy heresies that have nothing to do with the One True God of the Bible.  Some have done this.  Some are doing this now.  They don't like this or that about God and what His Holy Word says in Scripture.  So they decide to disregard the Bible.  And in doing so, they are doing something like the Egyptians who made idols to represent gods the way they thought they should be or the way they wanted them to be.

But Why Did God Send a Plague of Frogs?
Egypt had thousands of gods. “Instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”  And one of their most important gods was the goddess Heqet, which they imagined looked like a frog.  She was the goddess of fertility.  Egyptians imagined that Heqet was the wife of Knume, the guardian of the Nile River.  (Remember how last week we saw the One True God turned the Nile River into blood, proving that Knume could not protect the Nile from God because Knume has no real power?)  The Egyptians believed Knume formed the bodies of new children on his potter's wheel and then their frog goddess breathed life into them.  An Egyptian mother giving birth depended upon the frog goddess to hasten birth.  New mothers-to-be often wore amulets depicting Heqet sitting in a lotus.

Frogs were sacred in ancient Egypt.  They were not to be trampled upon.  God—the One True God of the Bible—has a sense of humor, don’t you think?  It’s like He said, “Ok.  So you think frogs are sacred.  You think these slimy creature represent your fertility goddess? OK.  I’ll gonna give you so many frogs you won’t know what to do with them!  You won’t be able to walk without stepping on 10 or 15 of them with each stride!  They’re gonna be in your houses and in your bedrooms and even in your beds.  Let’s see you try to make some babies while you’ve got frogs crawling all over you!”

Once again, the God of the Hebrews shows the Egyptians that their gods are nothing.  If Heqet is real, why didn’t she (or any of the other Egyptian gods) stop this nonsense? They couldn't.  Only Yahweh, the Great I Am of the Hebrews has any real power. 

What’s Your Favorite Idol?
I doubt anyone reading this today actually bows down to worship a statue of a frog.  But Americans have their idols too.  Tim Keller states in his book Counterfeit Gods, an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”  If we’re honest with ourselves, I think many may realize we have idols today too. 

So what’s your favorite idol?

Is Wealth Your Idol?

Are Pleasure & Entertainment Your Idols?

Is love or relationships your idol? 

Are your children your idol?

Is your intellect and intelligence your idol?

Is America (or your nation and way of life) your idol?

Are you your idol?

Or is it something else?

The things we turn into idols aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves.  Frogs aren’t evil.  They have their place.  They are living creatures God made and they are important to the environment.  But they are not gods.  Children are an important blessing God gives us to nurture and love.  But they are not gods.  Money, intellect, national pride… none of these things are evil in and of themselves.  It is when we expect them to do for us what only God can do that we run into trouble.  It is when they are more important to us than God that we sin.  It is when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God that we are heading towards destruction.

What are you clinging to as an idol that you need to let go of today?
I invite you to repent of your idolatry and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
He will forgive you and show you who God really is in the most accurate way.
And where do you see what Jesus is like?
It's not the popular image of Jesus that's been made up by our world.
It's not what you think about Jesus. (You don't get to make Jesus whatever you want him to be.)
Jesus is not necessarily what the “experts” says about him. (Experts sometimes term out to be fools.)
Your Bible is where you read the most accurate description of who Jesus is and what he did and what he expects from us.  John 3:16 may be the best summary of it all where it says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."  That's a great summary.  But let's don't stop there.  Read the Bible.  Study it.  Trust the Jesus you find there and follow him.

Monday, September 21, 2020

10 Plagues of Egypt, Plague 1 - Blood Red River

Yahweh, the Great “I AM”, the One, True, and Living God commanded Pharaoh: 
“Let my people go…”
Pharaoh was stubborn and arrogant. He said, “Is that so? And who is the Lord?
Why should I listen to him and let Israel go?
I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.”

Well Pharaoh, You are about to find out ‘Who is the Lord?’

The Ten Plagues of Egypt
The First Plague: The Nile River Turns to Blood

Exodus 7:14-25
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn, and he still refuses to let the people go. 15 So go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes down to the river. Stand on the bank of the Nile and meet him there. Be sure to take along the staff that turned into a snake. 16 Then announce to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go, so they can worship me in the wilderness.” Until now, you have refused to listen to him. 17 So this is what the Lord says: “I will show you that I am the Lord.” Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. 18 The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.’” 

19 Then the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and raise your hand over the waters of Egypt—all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs. Turn all the water to blood. Everywhere in Egypt the water will turn to blood, even the water stored in wooden bowls and stone pots.’” 

20 So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile. Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood! 21 The fish in the river died, and the water became so foul that the Egyptians couldn’t drink it. There was blood everywhere throughout the land of Egypt. 22 But again the magicians of Egypt used their magic, and they, too, turned water into blood. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had predicted. 23 Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind. 24 Then all the Egyptians dug along the riverbank to find drinking water, for they couldn’t drink the water from the Nile. 

25 Seven days passed from the time the Lord struck the Nile. 

God tells us why He sent ten plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7:5 – “When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”  Again and again in the book of Exodus, God repeats the definitive statement, “I am the Lord!” to Moses, the Hebrews, and Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  In fact, God says “I am the Lord!” no less than 36 times throughout the book of Exodus.  God wants everyone to know that He is in supreme command of everything in Heaven and on Earth.  That no king, no Pharaoh, no army, no empire, and no other supposed “god” has any power above Him.  And through the ten Plagues of Egypt, God is going to prove once and for all to everyone that He is Yahweh, the Great I AM, the One True Living God.  My greatest hope as we go through this series about the 10 plagues of Egypt (and as we live through this plague of COVID-19) is that everyone knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is still Lord of all and we need to turn to Him for our salvation through His son, Jesus Christ.

In order to really appreciate what God proved by delivering the Hebrews (AKA, the Israelites) from Egypt, you have to understand a few things about ancient Egypt.

Egypt vs. USA
First, Egypt was a vast and powerful Empire.  Egypt was unified as an empire around 3,100 BC.  It is one of the oldest civilizations on earth.  For reference, Christ lived on earth about 2,000 ago.  Now, that's a long time ago.  However, that's not even half way back to when Egypt was founded.  Egypt unified as an empire in over 5,000 years ago!  That's incredible!  

Egypt was the most successful empires of the ancient world.  Of course, they are famous for the great pyramids, one of the grea wonders of our world.  In this picture to the right, you can see a comparison of the great pyramid of Giza to other
famous structures.  notice the statue of liberty on the chart.  Now that statue is quite grand (if you've ever seen it, you know).  However, look how the sheer mass of the pyramid dwarfs Lady Liberty.  The Egyptians did this without computers, calculators, or mechanized equipment.  Their empire boasted incredible wealth, power, regional influence, peace, and security.  They are know to this day for their music, medicine, philosophy, art, and literature.  They invented hieroglyphics to write down their history, religion, and ideas long before most peoples even knew how to write.  Egypt was the superpower of their day and their influence persisted nearly ten times as long as the Unites States of America has even been in existence.

Egypt had a complex religion of over 2,000 deities. There were gods for everything. Egyptians made gods from what they saw—animals, natural features, and the sun, moon, and stars. Egyptian gods had to be controlled by sacrifices and religious ceremonies. If you did the right magic, the god’s had to do what you asked. It was important to control the Egyptian gods because they didn’t care about humans. This might be hard for modern people, because most of us grew up with a Christian concept of a benevolent God who is holy, righteous, and compassionate.  So when we think of God, we probably think of a good God.  Egyptian gods were not like the Christian God.  Egyptian gods were greedy, selfish, and lustful and just wanted to enjoy the pleasure of being a god—often at the expense of humanity.  Egyptian gods resembled more of what Christians might call demons.  They would lie, cheat, steal, and use people to get what they wanted (or just abuse people for their own entertainment).  

Among the thousands of Egyptian gods, some that were supposed to be among the most important and powerful were Appis (pronounced 'happy'; the god of the Nile River, the source of life), and Isis (the goddess of the Nile and supposed divine mother of Pharaoh), Khnum (the guardian of the Nile. The ten plagues with which Yahweh struck Egypt through Moses, attack the very gods the Egyptians believed were in control of the world. One by one, God shows that He is the Lord; He is in complete control and can do whatever He wants and no other god, no demon, no army, no empire, and no Pharaoh can stop Him.

Look at what God did in this very first plague. The Nile was the most important feature of Egypt. It was the empire’s lifeblood—it made agriculture and civilization possible in the middle of the dessert (not to mention fishing and transportation as boats traveled up and down the river like tractor trailers drive up and down I-75 today).

And so God attacked the most important asset of the Egyptian empire. He turns the Nile reiver into blood. He says, “Ok, you think the Nile River is your life blood. Fine, I’ll turn your river into actual blood! You think you can commit genocide an take little Hebrew babies and drown them in your “amazing” river? Their blood is on your hands and in your river. So, let’s make it official! I’ll show you what your river looks like to me! It is filled with the blood of your murders.”

In the process, God exposes the impotence of some of the most important “gods” in Egypt. Appis was suppose to be the god of the Nile. Isis was the goddess of the Nile. Khnum was the guardian of the Nile. Where were they when God stuck the Nile? There were three of these gods against Yahweh.  Why couldn’t they protect the Nile? Because they are nothing. Exodus 7:14, “I will show you that I am the Lord.”

Egypt’s Experiment with Monotheism
I’m no expert in Egyptian history or religion. However, some very interesting things happened in Egyptian history (and this is according to secular—not religious—scholars).  One is that a foreign people group ruled in Egypt for a number of years.  This group, the Hyksos, ruled in Egypt about the time the Bible says Joseph rose to second in command of the empire when the Hebrews came to live in Egypt.  Could the Hyksos been the Hebrews?  

Another interesting phenomena occurred about the same time.   One Pharaoh, Akhenaten, started to favor one god above all the other gods in Egypt.  Soon he decided that that one god was the only god.  COuld this have been the influence of Yahweh's people living in Egypt?  Could Joseph’s influence have lead some of the Egyptians to reject their idols and false gods toward the One True God? Maybe.

Ultimately, the Egyptians rejected Joseph’s people and his God, and chose to delve back into their idolatry.  When Akhenaten died, Egypt delved back into their traditional pantheism.  This also seems to follow the biblical narrative that says the Egyptians forgot about Joseph and began to resent the Hebrews and eventually made them slaves and turned to genocide.  That is why God is leading His people out of Egypt in Exodus to give them their own land where they will serve as His representatives to the whole world.

God Bless America
Well, Ok, I’m a nerd. I love this stuff! You may not. So, what does all this have to do with you today? I‘m glad you asked!

There are so many parallels for us today. Obviously, we are in the midst of a global plague. I don’t know if God sent COVID-19 on us the same way He sent ten plagues on Egypt (I sure hope not! What if COVID-19 and the all the troubles of 2020 are just the start? What if 2021 gets even worse?) Whether God sent COVID or not, I say we all make sure we turn back to God because I’m tired of this!

There are more parallels between the ten plagues of Egypt and your life in America today. Egypt was a superpower of the Ancient world. Who is the superpower of our times? America. Again and again in the Bible, God is the God who stands up for the oppressed against the powerful. Why is that? One of the biggest reason is because when people get powerful, they often feel like they don’t need God anymore and they turn their backs on Him. They grow selfish. Eventually they may get so bad they are willing to do the same kinds of things Pharaoh did. Thinking he was a god, Pharaoh ordered the enslavement of the Hebrews and then resorted to genocide to wipe them out by drowning their babies in the Nile River.

In America, we are some of the most privileged and prosperous and powerful people in the world. According to Gallup, the median household income around the world is $9,733 per year.[i] What’s the annual income at your house? The average for Dalton is 43,076.[ii] So, there’s no denying we have it pretty good. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We also owe a lot to our ancestors stuggles, the military for protecting our nation, and many others.  However, I pray we never, ever, ever forget that our blessings and security come from God. Lord, forbid we ever begin to think America’s greatness is due to our businesses or military or system of government or philosophy or anything else.  God forbid we forget He is the one who grants and protects our peace and prosperity.  For when we do, we are going right down the same road as Egypt in Exodus. God might have to come in and remind us, all our “gods” are nothing! God, and God alone, is the Lord.

Whether or not God specifically sent COVID-19, I pray it wakes us all up to the truth that we are not in control. We never really were. A tiny little virus shut down the entire world. Do you still think you are in control?  How many plagues will it take to convince you otherwise?

This is the Lord’s word to you today. Repent of your sin and arrogance and idolatry and turn to the Lord through Jesus Christ. 

Well, what Pharaoh did is indicative of the way some people will respond to the Lord.  Exodus 7:23, “Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind.”  You see, Pharaoh  hardened his heart.  He was stubborn.  He said to himself, “It’s just a thing, a coincidence.  It will pass.  I’ll be fine.  Life will return to normal.  I’ll still be in control.”  And unfortunately, that’s the way some who read this message may respond.  You will be stubborn and harden your heart.  You’ll say, “I’m not gonna change.  This ain’t that big a deal.  I’m still in control.  I’ll be fine.”  And you will return to your “palace” and put the whole thing out of your mind.

But, I pray that will not be your response.  I pray you will recognize the Jesus is Lord.  I pray you will repent of your sin and turn to Him.  Get down on your knees and pray for forgiveness.  And start today to follow Jesus with your whole heart.  For Jesus said in Matthew 4:17, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Monday, September 14, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 5 - Bricks without Straw

A long time ago, in a land far away… 

Pharaoh issued an evil edict: Every baby boy 
born among the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile River. 
Ironically, Pharaoh’s own daughter rescued one Hebrew boysfrom the river. 
She named him Moses. 

Moses grew up in Pharaoh's royal court. 
The princess hired Moses' mother as his nanny. 
Moses grew up strong and intelligent. 
He received the best the royal court of Egypt could offer. 
Moses witnessed the terrible suffering of his own people. 
The injustice ate him up inside. 
Bitterness and anger burned within him. 
One day, in a fit of rage, 
Moses murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. 
When his crime was discovered, Moses fled to Midian, 
where he worked as a shepherd in the obscure countryside. 
All the ambition and promise of his youth faded 
until Moses was an old man. 
Then, God looked down on the Hebrew people and knew it was time to act. 
God would save His people and everyone would see God though it. 

God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and said, 
“I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” 
God empowered Moses to speak boldly to Pharaoh. 
“Let my people go.” 
But Pharaoh was the leader of mightiest empire in the world. 
He said, “Who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? 
I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 

And then… 
Things Fall Apart…

Exodus 5:6-9, 22-23
That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen:
 “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.’ Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!”

22 Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

The Anatomy of a Brick
When you think of a brick, you probably think of the hard red clay brick they use to build houses.  Bricks have been around for a long time.  The pyramids were built with limestone and granite blocks, and also mud bricks, like the ones described in this passage.  These bricks were made with mud mixed with straw, and they in dry climates, they can last for thousands of years.

The straw is added to the bricks for two reasons.  First, the straw helps the bricks dry faster.  The straw absorbs moisture from the mud speeding up the drying process.  Second, the straw makes the bricks stronger (similar to the way builders today may add rebar to concrete to make it stronger).  The Hebrews were in deep trouble.  Moses came to deliver them, but Pharaoh made their situation even worse when he made the slaves find their own straw and still make the same number of bricks.

In the New Testament, Christians (those who follow Christ as Lord) are described as being “living stones” in a spiritual temple. 1 Peter 2:4-5a says, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” 

The bricks the Hebrew slaves made in Egypt were used to make temples to worship the false god's and idols of Egyptian religion (or tombs for dead Pharaoh's, who were presumed to be god-like).  Now, because of Christ, every Christian is a living brick (or stone) in a spiritual temple that honors the One, True, Living God.

Just as God rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, God rescues us from slavery to sin. When Satan (the destroyer of humanity) has us in chains, Jesus comes and demands from the cross, “Let my people go!”

What kind of bondage are you in today?
We are all in bondage of one form or another because of sin until Jesus sets us free.  Some may struggle with the bondage of racism.  Because of sin, some do not see people as individuals.  Instead they lump people together according to stereotypes because of their skin color, nationality, or some other reason.  They may treat people different because of their preconceived notions.  If that's you, Jesus came to set you free from those chains.

Others may be in bondage to an addiction.  The most visible addictions are drugs or alcohol.  Other addictions that are just as enslaving are addictions to porn or food.  Jesus came to set people free from the chains of addiction.

Some may be in bondage to a bad marriage or relationship.  They may feel trapped, like they are in chains, but Jesus came to set people free.

God wants you to be free. Jesus gave his life on the cross so you could be free to leave your former slave master to go and worship the Lord and celebrate His goodness and experience the joy of abundant and eternal life.

Things Often Get Worse Before They Get Better

But here’s the thing: Quite often, your situation will get worse before it gets better.  And when it does, it can feel like things are falling apart. A friend and older colleague of mine, Rev. Ken Stephens, used to say, “That’s the Green Light!"  I said, "Ken, what do you mean?"  He said, "When you start on the road to do what you know Jesus wants you to do and then you meet resistance, that's the green light!  You see, the Devil doesn't want you to do what Jesus wants you to do.  So when you start doing it, the Devil puts all kinds of road blocks in the way.  But that's the green light.  It tells you that you are doing the right things!"  So if things get worse before they get better, it is confirmation that you are probably on the right track.

If you decide to follow Jesus and let him set you free from sin, do you think things are just going to immediately be easy?  No.  You see, the Devil isn’t going to let you go without a fight.  Things are likely going to get harder before they get better.  But that's the green light.

If you decide to let Jesus set you free from the chains of racism, you are going to meet resistance.  Your attitudes may change as you start to see people the way Jesus does, but that doesn't mean the people you hang around have changed yet.  They may not like that you are trying to change.  They may even turn their backs on you and ridicule or reject you.

If you decide to let Jesus set you free from addiction, do you think all your cravings are going to immediately disappear?  They probably won't.  That's why we have groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narc-anonymous (NA) and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA). Addictive habits don't just disappear.  When you choose to get "sober", it may get worse before it gets better.

And if you are in bondage because of a bad marriage/relationship, it will probably get worse before it gets better.  If you go to your partner and say, "Somethings got to change." And maybe you go to counseling and have to talk about all our problems for which you are ashamed.  That will be hard; but your relationsihp isn't going to get better unless you do the hard work to make it better.  Or maybe you marriage is beyond repair and you decide a divorce is the best option.  Divorces are very hard and things may get worse for a time before they get better.  You may be tempted to just stick with the familiar, because the a bad marriage is less scary than an unknown future.

Why Things Get Worse
Maybe you can understand Moses’ complaint in Exodus 5:22. “Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me?””

Why does God allow things to get worse before they get better?  Well, one reason is that there is evil at work in the world.  Evil resists God’s good.  The Apostle Paul described a spiritual war waging all around us (and even inside us) between God and evil spirits (see Ephesians 6:12).  You can’t see it, but the battle is raging right now as we speak.  Which side are you on? 

But there’s more.  By allowing resistance to our deliverance, God teaches us to depend on Him.  We may be tempted to deliver ourselves in our own way.  Remember young Moses?  What did he do?  He got angry at the Egyptian who beat the Hebrew slave.  How did that work out for him? 

It brings to mind the rioting we’ve seen over the last several months.  The mobs of angry rioters remind me of that young Moses killing the Egyptian (Exodus 2:12).  I understand the anger.  Rioting is a very worldly (and ineffective) way of addressing a problem; it's counterproductive.  God has a better way.  His timing and methods are always better than ours.  That's part of the healing process because we have to learn to let go of control and let God be in control.  (Our need to always be in control and do things our way is one of the root causes of the sin problem.)

We face resistance that is too big for us.  We can’t overcome it by ourselves.  Our pride is shattered.  We humbly realize we are helpless and that only God can deliver us.  We learn to depend on God’s Holy Spirit to work through us.  It’s not our power, but His.  

And it is a witness to everyone about God.  God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to harden so that everyone could see God’s power.  The Hebrews would see—and even the Egyptians would see—that God is in control.  God is mightier than Egypt or Pharaoh or any problem you face in your life.  You have to trust God to save you, because you can’t save yourself.  However, things will often get worse before they get better.  

Starting next Sunday, I’ll begin a new series called “The Ten Plagues of Egypt”.  We will see how God used ten plagues to demonstrate His superiority to every supposed power in Egypt.  But today we have to rest with the uncertainty.  God sent Moses to deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  Pharaoh said “No!” and he made life ever harder for the Hebrews. 

Things often get worse before they get better. Things my get worse for you before they get better.  Will you trust God to save you anyway? We you face the hardships knowing God has something great planned? Do you believe God will even use the hardships to make you stronger in Him? God wants you to be a “living stone” in His spiritual temple. But you must trust Him to do the work, even if you are forced for a time to make “bricks without straw”.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 4 - When All is Lost

A long time ago, in a land far away… 

The Egyptians feel threatened by the growing numbers of Hebrews in their land. 
The Egyptians have forgotten how the Hebrew, Joseph, saved Egypt from starvation. 
They have forgotten the contributions of the Hebrew people to the greatness of Egypt. 
Most of all, the Egyptians have forgotten the One, True God the Hebrews worship. 

Attempting to weaken the Hebrews, the Egyptians treat the Hebrews cruelly, 
forcing them to serve as slaves. But God continues to bless the Hebrews 
and they thrive and multiply. 
Pharaoh, the leader of the Egyptian empire, hatches a dark and evil plan. 
Every male child born to a Hebrew family is to be drowned in the Nile River. 

Now we hear the tale of how one Hebrew family copes when 

Things Fall Apart... 

Exodus 2:1-10
About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. 3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. 4 The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

5 Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. 6 When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

7 Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked.

8 “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother.

9 “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

A Dark and Evil Time
I can’t even imagine the devastation for these Hebrew mothers.  Remember Pharaoh’s decree from Exodus 1:22, “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” I can't imagine being a Hebrew mother with a baby growing in your belly for 9 months, becoming so intimately attached, and so fearful for your baby.  They must have prayed that their children would be born girls.  And I can't imagine the terror for these mothers when they birthed baby boys.  What could they do?  Pharaoh had absolute authority.

I can’t imagine any mother facing the impossible decision to "abort" their child.  In China for several decades, the government had a policy that limiting families to only one child and because of cultural pressures that the child be a healthy male, women often felt forced to give up a child (either through abortion or adoption) because the child is not what they expect (China's "one child olicy" ended in 2015).  Even in America, young mother's who do not plan for a pregnancy (or who for whatever reason feel they are not ready or able ot care for a child) will often seek an abortion.  According to the latest statistics I could find, there were 862,320 abortions in 2017 (according to Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.[1])  I'm not judging the women who has face the terrible decision about whether to abort a child or put it up for adoption.  I don't know what they are going through; I can't even imagine how difficult that must be.  I pray for God's mercy and grace in the midst of what must be an incredibly overwhelming and devastating choice.  

Moses' mother faced that choice due to an enforced condemnation of every male baby born to a Hebrew mother.  One wonders, how did the Egyptians enforce Pharaoh's edict?  I can imagine young Hebrew mothers trying to hide their babies, but how do you hide a crying baby? Eventually you’re going to be found out. Maybe a neighbor turns you in (for money or favors from authorities).  That would be a horrible environment to live in too, one where your neighbors and friends and maybe even family are the same ones who are condemning you.  And so eventually, a mother would be found out and I guess Egyptians soldiers showed up at your door to enforce the death of your child. And what would the punishment be for trying to hide your child? Maybe you are tortured? Maybe your whole family is tortured and/ killed? I don't know, but it must have been terrible punishment in order to convince a mother to cast her child into the Nile River. 

Moses' mother manages to keep her baby hidden for three months, but eventually, she is found out (or about to be discovered) and so, she does the only thing she feels like she can do.  She makes a basket and covers it in pitch and tar so it will float, she puts her baby in the basket, and she sets it afloat on the river.  This story has been told thousands of times.  It’s hard to separate fact from fiction.  I've heard some tales having Moses' mother or sister caring for the child each day to keep him safe.  But that's not what the scriptures say.  What do the Scripture say?  They say. “She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.” (Exodus 2:3-4) 

I imagine this almost as a mournful ceremony. If the evil Egyptian authorities say you have to throw your baby in the Nile River, then (I suppose) this is the most loving a mother could do it.  Perhaps, decorate the vessel with flowers and send the child of with lamenting songs as it floats away on the river, probably thinking you will never see him again.  Technically, Moses' mother has done what Pharaoh required.

In the midst of this hopeless situation, when all seems lost, Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child.  Have you ever considered that not all Egyptians agreed with Pharaoh evil, genocidal plan?  Pharaoh was a cold-hearted sociopath, but that doesn't mean all Egyptians were.  In fact, I would venture to say most Egyptians weren't.  Most people have compassion in their heart--especially for babies.  We tend to lump all people together into one group, forgetting each person is an individual.  We may think all "black people" or "white people" or "Hispanics" are all the same and we assign stereotypes to them.  We even lump groups like politicians all together, assuming they are all the same.  But that's not what God sees.  God sees us all as individuals.  And the Egyptians were all individuals.  Unfortunately, they had to obey Pharaoh--he was an absolute monarch.  Or did they?  Apparently, Pharaoh's daughter took a chance and disobeyed her father's edict and rescued the Hebrew baby boy.

Rescued Through Baptism
The Hebrews were in a dark and evil time in Egypt.  But God was working to rescue them.  And we will find that water plays a key role in the full story of how God rescued His people. 

In the story today, we see Moses being rescued from the river. He was lovingly placed in the river (in a basket) by his mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him and he starts a new life in Pharaoh’s court.  He was given a new life.  He started out as a boy condemned to death, but was rescued through the water for a new life as a royal prince in Pharaoh's court.  Later, the Book of Exodus tells the tale of how the Hebrew slaves escape the Egyptian army when Moses parts the Red Sea and the Hebrews walk across on dry ground to start a new life on the other side as free people, God's holy nation.  Did you know these are both symbols of what God wants to do with you and me? God wants to rescue us from the hopeless consequences of our sin and give us a new life as free, holy, sons and daughters in His royal Kingdom.

Just as Moses’ mother had no choice but to put her baby in a basket on the Nile river, we are hopelessly separated from God by our sin. No mater how badly we want to be free, to be washed clean, we are cannot affect the change ourselves. We are slaves to the sinful nature.   Thankfully, Christ died on the cross to set us free. Jesus is our Moses who delivers us from slavery to sin.  And what is the mark of our deliverance? What ceremony do we celebrate to mark the beginning of a person’s life as a Christian? We celebrate Baptism. 

Baptism marks the beginning of a Christian’s new life as they follow Jesus as Lord.  We use water to symbolize being cleansed of the stain of sin – as when we wash the baby’s head with sprinkled water Baptism also symbolizes dying with Christ and being raised to a new life – as when we submerge a person under the water in baptize a lift them up to start a new life as a born-again believer.  Baptism is and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace-work God does for us—cleansing us of sin and recreating us as a new, holy person.

Here is what the Word of God, the Holy Bible, says about people who repent of their sin and choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. 1 Peter 2:9-10: “…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

I want you to know something.   No matter what you did in the past—no mater how horrible you feel your sin was—God can forgive you and give you a fresh start. You may feel like your sin was so bad it is unforgivable. It isn’t. God can and will forgive you, because of what Christ has done on the cross. Through the blood of Christ, God’s grace washes away your sin.  

If you ask God to forgive you, He will and you can make a fresh start.  What’s more, He will fill you with His Holy Spirit to help you live a new way as His adopted son or daughter.  God puts it this way in the Message paraphrase of Ezekiel 11:19—He says, “I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you. I’ll cut out your stone heart and replace it with a red-blooded, firm-muscled heart. Then you’ll obey my statutes and be careful to obey my commands. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”

Is that what you want? You can have it today. Turn to God, pray, and receive His grace.