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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”.

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