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Monday, October 26, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 7 - Hail

Egyptian Government and Society
Ancient Egypt was a theocratic monarchy.  What that means is, Pharaoh (their king) ruled by mandate of the gods.  In America, “we the people” vote to choose our president, senators, representatives, and other leaders.  In ancient Egypt, they believed the gods chose their leader—and it was Pharaoh.  What a convenient system they had.  Do you see?  

The leaders of Egypt created gods to explain everything, who supposedly control everything—from the weather to fertility and the harvest, the protection of the nation, etc.  The leaders of Egypt told the people to say prayers and sacrifice to the gods to ensure their help and protection. And these “made up” gods chose Pharaoh to lead the people.  So if the people believe these “gods” chose Pharaoh, then whatever Pharaoh says, the people have to do or else it will bring down their wrath.  So Pharaoh was able to rule with absolute authority.

Attributing divine authority to national rulers is one of the oldest tricks in the book.  Kings and governments have used it throughout history.  In fact, it was not until a wild bunch of independent thinkers we know as the “Founding Fathers” got together and put their ideas to work that anyone had the guts to really challenge this notion.  At the time, King George was the ruler of the British Empire.  Most of the world accepted the king derived his right to rule from God.  One of the reasons it was so hard for the American colonies to break free from British rule was that everyone believed it meant rebelling not only against King George, but against God who chose the king to rule.

Never-the-less, our founding fathers believed King George’s actions—his “history of repeated injuries and usurpations” (as the Declaration of Independence states)—had overwhelmingly proved he was a tyrant rather than a king operating under God’s authority.  And therefore, the founding fathers laid forth all their reasons why they were rejecting the king's rule and seeking independence.

Our ancestors won a hard-fought war to gain our independence.  And many have made tremendous sacrifices to maintain our freedom for the last 244 years so that we can continue to be ruled by a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Well, God showed that the ancient Egyptian idols were nothing.  God could have destroyed Egypt with just one plague, but He opted for 10 instead so that He could draw it our and bring judgment on all of Egypt’s so-called gods—like Set, who was supposed to be the god of chaos and storms.  So in the 7th plague, God brought chaos through a terrible hail storm—the likes the Empire had never suffered before.  Massive hail stones dropped from the sky, raining down death and destruction to everyone not protected by a substantial shelter.  Egypt’s storm god, Set, was silent—offering no help or relief.

The Idol of Patriotism
I was born in Maryland.  We moved to Macon, GA when I was still very young.  Before we moved, I lived just outside of Washington DC for a short time.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are of driving around the capital and seeing all the beautiful national monuments.  One of the most iconic is the Washington Monument, which is actually based off of the obelisks the ancient Egyptians used to build to glorify the power of their empire.

There’s nothing wrong with statues or national monuments.  They help us honor our heroes and remember our most important values.  However, we must be careful not to turn love for our country into an idol.  And, as a pastor, I must to warn you of something important.  Your nation’s leaders probably won’t mind if you bow to the idol of patriotism.  It works in their favor.  They may even encourage it because the more devoted you are to the country, the more it helps them. Why would they care if you choose to love your country more than God? 

Now, patriotism is not a bad thing.  We don't usually turn bad things into idols.  We take good things and idolize them.  According to Timothy Keller 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.”   

I really struggled with how to present the next part of the message.  I went round and round and just couldn’t break through to find the words.  So, after praying about it, I felt God leading me to simply ask you a series of questions.  These are just designed to make you think as you look deeply into your own heart.

First Question:  To whom do you pledge your primary allegiance?  God or Country? 
Whenever I ask this question, people usually say, "Can’t it be both?"  And on the surface, the answer is yes.  You can pledge allegiance to both God and your country.  Jesus was asked a similar question about a very hot topic in his day.  The Pharisees didn't like Jesus and so they tried to trap him with a question: "Should we pay taxes to Cesar?"  They knew that common people in Jesus' day hated the Romans as foreign oppressors who were extorting money from God's chosen people.  So if Jesus said you should pay taxes to Caesar, it would discredit him with the people. On the other hand, if Jesus said no, then the Roman military would arrest him.  Jesus' answer was perfect.  He asked the Pharisees for a coin and asked, "Who's image is on this coin?"  It was Caesar's.  So Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what belongs to  Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God."  You see, we are all made in God's image.  His image is stamped upon our heart.  So give money (which really isn't that important) to Caesar and give your heart (your everything) to God. 

You can give your allegiance to both God and your country, but one must be primary.  Jesus also said, "You cannot serve two masters.  For you will either hate the one and love the other; or you will ove the one and hate the other." So to who do you pledge your primary allegiance?

If I asked you to recite the pledge of allegiance, could you do it.  Most would proudly stand and begin, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...", but stop.  Why did you choose that pledge.  You assumed I mean the American pledge.  Why did you choose that one over the pledge to the Christian flag?  Perhaps you didn't know their was a pledge to the Christian flag.  More likely, it's because you simply assumed when I asked "Pledge of Allegiance" that I meant the pledge most children grew up saying every morning at school.  Do you see?  The state has done a much better job indoctrinating us all than has the church.  (The Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian Flag:  I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands; one brotherhood, uniting all mankind in service and in love.]

Next Question:  If you had to choose between being an American or being a Christian, which would you choose?
Again, people will always ask, “Can’t it be both?”  Of course it can.  You can be an American and a Christian—but one must be primary.  For God will not be second to anyone or anything.  And most Americans aren’t going to push this issue very far because it risks potentially pointing out that we really have made a choice and maybe the choice is America first and God second.  We don’t want to see that in ourselves so we avoid this question and sit on the fence.  Most people will be “Both American and Christian.”  But if you had to choose, which would it be?

It might be easy to deceive ourselves in answer this question.  So let me ask a few more than might reveals something we've never thought about.  Do you fly a flag at your home? Which one? Almost all the homes I see as I drive around my community fly the American flag.  Is that the one you fly?  Why did you choose that flag?  The obvious answer is you are American.  You may never have even given it much thought.  But if you are a Christian, you are a citizen of God's Kingdom and there is a Christian flag.  Why, as a Christian, do you choose to fly an American flag instead of a Christian one?

My goal here is not to judge anyone.  You may have good reasons.  But I suspect most people have never given this much thought.  And I also wonder if we do give this much thought if it might reveal our subconscious primary identity as either Christian or American.

Last question:  Do you believe you would be safer living as an atheist in America or as a Christian in Saudi Arabia? Why?  Perhaps it is because you believe we are more protected in the US because we have better laws and are under the watch of a strong military but in Saudi Arabia we would be vulnerable without that protection.  What if God specifically sent you to Saudi?  Would He protect 
you? Would His protection in Saudi Arabia be stronger or weaker than the US military is in America?

Now, let's dig in a little deeper.  I asked about your safety.  Did you think of safety primarily in terms of protection of this temporary life rather than considering it from an eternal perspective? In other words, what probably came to you mind was whether you would be physically safe.  You probably didn't think about the safety of your soul.  You were worried about your life (this life).  Why?  The early Christians saw this life as something they would gladly sacrifice for the sake of God's Kingdom.  They viewed life from the perspective of eternity.  Have we grown so comfortable with this life and the things of this world that we cherish it above eternity?

The Election
I will be so glad when this election cycle is over.  People are going crazy.  Everyone is so ramped up like this election is the end all and be all and it makes people who are normally kind and civil act very badly.  To be sure, this is an important election, but it's not an excuse to behave badly. I think some people think the stakes are so high because they believe the outcome of this election will either preserve or damage an idol they have in their life.  Their “America” will either be preserved or destroyed based on who wins.  

I’m not as concerned because my future is not tied up with the success or failure of this nation.  I care—don’t get me wrong.  I care, but the stakes aren’t as high for me because my hope is in the Kingdom of God.  Whether America rises or falls, my hopes rest in the Lord who said in Exodus 20:1-2, “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.  You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:1-2) 

Invitation
Who rescued you? Who preserves you? Who will you honor and trust to preserve you in the days ahead regardless of the outcome of this election? Who will you choose to serve?

Joshua 24:15, “Choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”



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