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Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Ten Plagues fo Egypt, Plague 6 - Boils

Exodus 9:8-12
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a brick kiln, and have Moses toss it into the air while Pharaoh watches. 9 The ashes will spread like fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, causing festering boils to break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

10 So they took soot from a brick kiln and went and stood before Pharaoh. As Pharaoh watched, Moses threw the soot into the air, and boils broke out on people and animals alike. 11 Even the magicians were unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen.

Introduction
Can you name the plagues so far? Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, the death of Egypt’s livestock, and boils.  Can you name the ones still to come?  Hail, locust, darkness, and the death of the first born son.

God used all these plagues to prove to Pharaoh and Egypt and everyone there is only one God, Yahweh, the Great I Am, Lord of all.  For He said in Exodus 12:12, “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.” And in Exodus 17:17 He said, “By this you will know that I am the Lord…”

Ancient Egypt was a great civilization that lasted some 3,000 years.  One of the ways they demonstrated their greatness was by building impressive monuments.  Each successive Pharaoh was pressured to build bigger and better structures to demonstrate they were greater than the Pharaoh’s who came before them.  This heavy burden forced Pharaoh’s to marshal all the empire's resources and tens of thousands of laborers and slaves to construct remarkable tombs to glorify their legacy. 

In order for build the Great Pyramid of Giza, it took about 30,000 people 20 years at a cost of $1.2 billion dollars (by today's standards).  Do you know which Pharaoh built the Great Pyramid of Giza?  Me either.  You would think for $1.2 billion we would know.  But the vast majority of the world doesn’t really care.  (By the way, I Googled it and it was Pharaoh Hemiunu.)  

An Empire of Idols
Egypt believed in thousands of gods and goddesses, of which Pharaoh was the earthly representative.  I can't imagine the pressure it puts on a person live up to people's expectations that you are a god.  I can't imagine the pressure Pharaoh felt because he actually believed he was a god, knowing all his own flaws.  That was the lie with which they deluded themselves.  

And because life is unpredictable—and life in the ancient world was incredibly unpredictable—the Egyptians believed gods could bless them one day and curse them the next.  And so, the Egyptians sought to appease and control their deities through sacrifices and magical incantations. Much of the mysterious writing with which the Egyptians decorated their buildings were magical spells intended to ward off evil spirits and enlist the help of benevolent ones. 

Among the thousands of Egyptian Gods, one important goddess was Sekhmet, the goddess of war and healing.  “She is depicted as a lioness. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare. Upon death, Sekhmet continued to protect them, bearing them to the afterlife.”[i]  But Sekhmet was powerless to help when Moses reached into the brick kiln for a handful of dust.  

Do you remember how Pharaoh forced the Israelites to make bricks to build his temples and tombs?  Now God has Moses use the ashes from the brick kilns to afflict the Egyptians with festering boils.  Boils broke out all over the Egyptians, but not a single Israelite was affected.  Can you imagine the horror and humiliation for Egyptians as they suffered while they saw their slaves--the Hebrews the viewed as less than human--being spared.  Even Pharaoh's magicians were covered from head to foot with the awful misery.  And where was the protection and healing of the Egyptian goddess?  She has no power to stop Yahweh.

What are our gods today?  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.”   

The Love Idol
According to the Beatles, “All you need is love.”  God made us for love and to love and there is a deep longing for it in every human heart.  Unfortunately, instead of finding love in God and healthy human relationships, we usually turn love into an idol where sex and romance takes the place of God in our hearts.  These are such important idols in our culture we don’t even see them as idols.  In fact, I may get in trouble just for trying to expose them as a myth.  (Nobody likes it when you smash their idol.)

The general myth of love in our culture right now is portrayed in a thousand movies and love songs.  It’s a powerful myth.  We sing the love songs and believe the lies, even though we know they’re unrealistic.  We watch the movies with teary eyes and a yearning in our soul.  The myth is imbedded in our worldview.  The details for each story are different, but it generally goes something like this. 

A little girl begins dreaming from an early age that, one day, she will have a beautiful wedding to celebrate her ultimate achievement—finding true love.  For out there, somewhere, is the man created just for her—her soulmate—the one who will fulfill her deepest needs.  He will be tall, dark, and handsome. (Ladies, you can insert whatever physical traits you prefer here because they aren’t as important as what how the man acts.)  The girls greatest dream is that she will find her one true love and he will fall madly in love with her.  He will get down on one knee and propose ini the most romantic way.  They will have the beautiful wedding of her dreams and spend the rest of their lives together.  He will cherish her and give her everything she needs.  They will have kids and he will take care of her and their family.  And they will live happily ever after.  Now all you have to do is fill in the details a bit and expand the story and you have the makings for a romantic comedy that could make millions on the silver screen.  You’re welcome.

Men have a slightly different love myth, but it pairs well with the feminine myth.  Men grow up believing that somewhere, there is a woman so incredibly attractive he will know “she’s the one” as soon as he sees her.  He will be so smitten he will do anything to win her love.  She will be everything he’s ever wanted in a girl.  Because of her, he won’t even want to look at another woman.  Sex with her will be so amazing he will be in heaven!  Therefore, he will gladly dedicate his life to making her happy and she will cherish him as her provider and protector and hero.  He will sacrifice anything for her because life without her would be meaningless.

It’s just harmless stuff right?  Except, that somewhere deep down we believe this stuff.  The fact is, there is no man or woman out there that can live up to the myth we’ve made up in our minds.  Tragically, this kind of thinking actually hinders true love.  Love is not what another person does for you.  Love is what you do for others.  Love is sacrificial.  It’s not about how the other person makes you feel or what they do for you.  Love is giving without expecting anything.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us the characteristics of true love.  "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  Real love is Jesus dying on the cross for sinful humanity.  In fact, the Bible says Jesus dying on the cross is the example of love between a husband and wife.  Which image do you trust?  The popular image of love portrayed in our society or the image of love God give us in His Word?

Conclusion
The very first of the 10 commandments from Exodus 20 says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  You shall have no other gods before me.”

This commandment lays the ground work for all the other laws and commandments God gave us.  Why is it so important that we worship only God?  Some complain God is jealous and egotistical.  That's not true.  God is actually selfless.  He is thinking of us as He gives these commands.  If you have any other gods, you will not be able to love God and you will not be able to experience God's love for you in its fullness.  

When we cut God out of first place in our heart, we create a huge hole that nothing else can fill.  Our deepest desire is love—and it’s the only kind of love God is able to give. So many of the love songs and love stories we cherish, we cherish because they portray an idealized love that only God can give.  Unfortunately, when we seek that love from mere mortals, they will not be up to the task and we will be woefully disappointed.  Meanwhile expecting that love from people cuts us off from the true source of perfect love—Almighty God.

It is not that God is spiteful and refuses to love us if we don’t love someone else besides Him. No.  It's amazing that He still loves us despite our unfaithfulness.  Perhaps an illustration will help.  Suppose you are married and you cheat on your spouse.  You have damaged the relationship terribly.  Even if your spouse stays with you, there will be an offense in your psyche that hinders your relationship.  This illustrates our condition with God.  We have broken that relationship with our sin.  Every time we turn to an idol, we are cheating on God—chasing after fulfilment in some fantasy that can never deliver what it promises.  We chase this fantasy until discover it is an illusion.  Then we either settle for the disappointing illusion or we chase after a new fantasy, ending with the same results again.  All the while, our One True Love is watching, heart breaking, as He see--not only our betrayal and unfaithfulness, but also knows with His all-knowing wisdom that--we are inflicting wound upon wound on our own souls.

And so, God came as Jesus came and lived among us.  He is the perfect representation of true love.  It is not that we love him, but He loved us.  While we were still sinners, Christ came and died for us.  He has made a way for us to come back to God. 

Won’t you repent of your sins and turn to God?

Stop believing the lie that there is some person out there who's love is going to "complete you".  Only God, thru Christ, can complete you.  And when you trust Him, He will save you and teach you to love others--maybe even someone you could marry and spend the rest of your life with.  Even if you remain single your whole life, you will still be completely complete because in Christ you have everything you truly need.




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.

Closing
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

Introduction
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. 

Purpose
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?

Conclusion
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, August 17, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 1 - Sun, Moon, and Stars

Introduction

A long time ago, in a land far away…

God’s chosen people live in Canaan.

A teenager named Joseph was full of God’s Spirit,

Which made him dream and showed Joseph the meaning of the dreams.

The dreams revealed a glorious future, but also great trouble,

Because even when God has great plans in store for us,

Things Fall Apart.

Joseph was gifted by God and loved by his father,

But Joseph was also young, spoiled, and arrogant.

His brothers hated him.  Their father, Jacob, loved Joseph more than them.

He showered Joseph with praise, cuddled him, and gave him special gifts,

Like the custom made, multicolored coat, Jacob had made just for Joseph.

The borhters hatred of Joseph was fueled by jealousy and by Joseph’s own egoism.

He never missed and opportunity to rub his status as the “golden child” in their faces.

But dark days were coming, because even for God’s people,

Things Fall Apart…

God's Salvation Story
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  I’m not talking about the story of Joseph—that’s just one series of stories in the midst of the The Story—the story of God’s salvation of humanity.  No, I’m talking about, the story of how things fall apart.  Things have been falling apart since Genesis.  For God created a perfect world and He made a perfect Garden and He made people to be perfect and that’s why He gave them the ability to choose how they would live in this perfect world—because that was the only way to allow them the ability to love.

Love is always a choice.  It must be a choice.  You cannot will someone or force someone to love.  They must choose to love of their own free will.  That is the only way real love can exist.  And God loved His creation.  And God loved the people He made to be stewards of His creation.  And God hoped His people would love Him too.  But God could not make them.  He would not make them.  For He wanted their love—if they chose to love Him—to be genuine. 

And to start with, the first humans did love God.  They obeyed Him when He said, "Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of God and evil."  But then Satan, that crafty, deceitful, shamefully evil serpent slithered into God’s garden and tempted the first woman.  And she ate some of the fruit God told her she must not eat. And she also gave some to her husband and he ate.  And so that day they chose to love themselves and their own ambitions more they they loved God.

That was the first time things fell apart.  Sin entered the world. 

God’s perfect world became corrupt.  His people became corrupt. You can read all the stories in the Bible.  Cain killed his brother Able and then people became more and more wicked until the only solution was for God to wash the whole earth clean with a flood.  He started over again with a man named Noah.  But even then, things fell apart.  Even as God actively works to save the world from sin, things fall apart—right up to this very day.

Who among us haven't experienced our plans falling apart during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I think everyone has.  It's almost impossible to plan.  School was supposed to start back nea the beginning of August, but then COVID cases surged adn they decided to push the start date back to August 31st.  However, we are now experienced enough to know that's just a target date.  We know things can change, because we live in uncertain times and things fall apart. 

But where was I?  Oh yes.  The story of Joseph, a bright young man with a bright future.  But things fall apart... 


Genesis 37:9-13, 18-21

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

 

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

 

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

Fallen Red Wood Tree

Have you ever made really good plans, only to see them fall apart? I had some awesome plans to take my daughter to see the red wood forest in California.  It was to be a special trip in honor of her turning thirteen.  We were to fly out to Portland Oregon and spend several days driving down the Pacific coast and stopping in to see the redwood forest.  Then we would end our trip in San Francisco before flying back home.  The flights and hotels were booked and we were supposed to leave the last week of March.  And then COVID-19 shut everything down. a week or two before our trip.  Things fell apart.

If God’s plans fall apart, why are we surprised when our plans fall apart?  We delude ourselves if we think anything is guaranteed.   

Joseph’s brothers hated him and planned to kill him.  Reuben secretly planned to save Joseph.  He had a plan.  He hated Joseph too; but it’s one thing to hate someone.  It’s another thing to kill them.  Rueben didn’t want that.  Reuben had a plan to save Joseph, but it fell apart. 

Genesis 37:23-36

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.[c] 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

29 Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief. 30 Then he went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone! What will I do now?”

31 Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. 32 They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”

33 Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave[e] mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianite traders[f] arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard.

Who’s to Blame?

What a terrible waste!  Joseph was just about the same age as my daughter, who just started her first semester of college.  I think of my daughter—so young, so smart, so full of potential with a bright future ahead f her.  That was Joseph. God’s hand was upon him.  He was going to do great things through Joseph.  Then, this happened.

Who’s to blame for it all?  His brothers are to blame—for sure.  Their murderous actions were pure evil.  You should never hate someone.  Do you see where it leads?  I don’t care how much you hate someone, you should never murder. 

Even so, Josephs brothers aren’t the only ones to blame.  Let’s be honest.  Joseph’s father is to blame too.  Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons.  And he didn’t even try to cover it up.  If Jacob had loved his sons all the same and treated them fairly and equally, they wouldn’t have been so jealous they wanted to see Joseph dead.

And what about Joseph?  Doesn’t he share some of the blame too?  Didn’t he relish being his dad’s favorite son?  Didn’t he go out of his way to rub it all in his brother’s faces?  I’m not saying any of this justifies what Joseph’s brothers did.  However, I hope you can see everyone shares at least some of the blame for the way things fall apart.  We all share some of the blame because we all sin and sin corrupts the world and leads to this kind of suffering for everyone, everywhere.

God still has a plan for Joseph.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  When things fall apart, God is still in control and He is still at work.  Some how, some way, God takes things that fall apart and turns them into something beautiful.  However, in order to see if and how God redeems this broken story, you’re going to have to come back for the next episode next week.

 

The Mosaic of Life 

Some of the most beautiful art is created with mosaics.  A mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together broken pieces of tile or glass.  It takes incredible vision and artistic ability to make the most intricate mosaics, which may consist of millions of tiny broken pieces.  However, the results are stunning (as you can see in the picture above).

 

Our lives are like the broken pieces of a mosaic in the hands of God.  We see our plans falling apart.  We see only broken pieces, but God has a vision and plan.  He uses even the brokenness to make something indescribably beautiful.

 

God had a plan for Joseph. God has a plan for you.  And it doesn’t matter if you:

·       Messed up with your kids like Jacob

·       Struggle with jealousy like Joseph’s brothers

·       Are arrogant and proud like Joseph

·       Or anything else.

 

If your plans fall apart and you don’t know where to begin putting the pieces back together, trust God. God has a plan for you and nothing can thwart His plans.  Even if everything falls apart, God can put it back together in ways you can’t even imagine. 

But you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to trust God.

You will be tempted to either give up or try to glue the pieces back together yourself.

It won’t work.  Only God—through Jesus Christ—can redeem your broken life and broken plans.

And when He does, it will be more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

Do you trust Him?  Will you let Him?

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Christian Extremism (AKA Zeal)

Introduction
             This blog was inspired by John Wesley’s 1781 sermon titled “On Zeal”. John Wesley founded the Methodist movement to restore passion and zeal to the Anglican Church, which had become dull and lazy. Wesley was passionate about God’s Kingdom and urged Christians to serve with passion and zeal. God’s Kingdom was to be their first priority in life and they were to serve with their whole hearts.
             It is impossible to experience any real spiritual progress in your life without considerable commitment and zeal. Furthermore, it is impossible to make a lasting difference in our community without passionate commitment. Yet, religious zeal scares many people—perhaps for good reason. We have seen the evil acts “religious nuts” have perpetrated in the name of God.
            Critics of the early Methodist movement in England considered Wesley’s teachings and religious devotion too radical and extreme. To the apathetic church leaders of the day, Wesley and his followers were dangerous fanatics.
            Perhaps you have known someone you considered a religious fanatic—someone who was too radical in their religion, a real "Jesus freak". My Grandma loved Jesus and she loved the church.  As a kid, me and my siblings used to joke that you didn't want to bring up the subject of religion around Grandma.  You didn't want to get her started on that subject because she wouldn't stop talking about it.  We thought she was a fanatic.  We were fine with religion, just in moderation.  We thought Grandma should be more like us and tone it down a bit.  Funny thing is, now that I am more mature, I embody much of the same passion for Jesus I once scorned in my Grandma.  I'm sure there are many people who think I should "tone it down a bit."  (Someone once told me a good definition of a fanatic. “A fanatic is someone who is more committed than you are.”)  We always think we've got religion in just the right dose.  Maybe we need to consider if we need to have a little more religious zeal.
            There are different kinds of religious fanaticism—some are healthy and some very dangerous. Religious extremism of the wrong sort can lead to horrific violence and terrorism. Is there a still a place for religious zeal in our age? Is there such a thing as healthy Christian extremism? What is the difference between a good and evil religious fanatic?
            Perhaps the Apostle Paul is the best example of the wrong and right ways to be a extremely devoted to God. Before he became a Christian, Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee. His misguided passion led him on a crusade to destroy Christianity. Graciously, Jesus appeared to Paul and set him on the right path. Paul became as zealous for Jesus as he had once been against him. Paul’s passionate work as a Christian missionary eventually got him in trouble with the religious authorities. He was arrested and put on trial and ultimately gave his life for Christ. In Acts 22, Paul is on trial as a Christian extremist.  

Acts 22:3-4
Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.

Paul Was a Religious Extremist
            Here we see Paul testifying how his religious zeal before he became a Christian led him to persecute Christians. Yet after Paul became a Christian, his religious zeal swung completely the opposite way.  He didn't lose his zeal or become lazy; he became an extremist for God's love in Christ.
            Before he was a Christian, Paul sought to destroy anyone he felt insulted, disobeyed, dishonored, or lied about God or threatened the Jewish religion. Paul was a religious extremist, but his misguided zeal motivated him to do evil and not good. He thought loving God meant destroying people who disagreed with him about God. One must be very careful with extreme devotion to religion. It can lead to the most horrible acts—as Paul showed in his early life.
            Thankfully, God changed Paul’s life and he learned the right way to serve God. In 2 Corinthians 12:15, Paul reveals his new attitude towards people for the sake of Christ. He said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for you.” As a Christian, Paul was even more extreme in his devotion to God, but his new core value was love. Paul was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, reputation, even his life for the sake of saving as many souls as possible.
            We, also, must learn the right way to serve God—with our whole hearts as Christian fanatics of love, committed to the Kingdom, willing to put our lives on the line for the sake of love.
But is it possible to tell the difference between good and evil Christian extremism? It is and John Wesley’s instructions on the matter may be the best advice on the subject.

Christian Zeal
            John Wesley said, “...Christian zeal is all love. It is nothing else. The love of God and man fills up its whole nature.” This is what the great Christian hymn tells us, based on the Gospel of John: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Christians are by definition, Love Extremist. For it was extreme love that led Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. It was the extreme love of the martyrs that led them to risk their lives for the sake of a lost world who needed to hear the Gospel of Christ. And it is extreme love that leads Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

What is the nature of the extreme love we show?
            The Christian extremist is full of humility. We count others as better than ourselves. We willing surrender our rights for the sake of others.
            The Christian extremist is full of gentleness. We are careful with other's feelings. We gently woo them to Christ.
            The Christian extremist is full of patience. We are long suffering, drawing our patience from the eternal well of God’s love.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist doesn’t just have flashes of all these traits. The true Christian extremist is steadfast, showing these traits in all seasons.

Strengthening Christian Virtues
            Do not fret if you lack these characteristics in you in the measure you want. You can strengthen them within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian practices. The more you pray, the more you read your Bible, the more you worship Jesus in church, the more you receive Holy Communion, and meet with other Christians for fellowship and accountability, the more God will strengthen the characteristics of love within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian service. The more serve God and the people around you, the more you offer charity in our community in the name of Jesus, the more you seek to love your fellow man, the more you will exercise and strengthen your humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
These are the ways to strengthen God’s love within you and become the kind of Christian fanatic that Jesus wants you to be. 

The Priorities of the Christian Extremist
             Let’s look at some of the ways Christian zeal is expressed and consider which ways are most important.
            First of all, a Christian extremist will be zealous for the church. I hope one of your top priorities in life is to come to church. Come for worship. Come for study. Come for fellowship. Come for opportunities to serve. Commit to miss no more than 5 Sundays a year. Support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. If you are truly a Christian, you should have a deep, abiding love for the church. You will want to be here more than anywhere else. Your desire to be present for church should be near the very top of your commitments in life—above sports, above travel, above recreation, above friendships, above politics. A Christian fanatic, a true Jesus freak, loves the church.
            However, the Christian extremist has an even higher priority than attending church. A Christian fanatic is even more passionate about the teachings of Christ than the church in general. For Christ gave us the church, Holy Communion, baptism, the songs of our faith, and the traditions of the church. Since it is Christ we worship when we gather here, the Christian extremist is more devoted to what Jesus said and did than to the church itself.
            But there is more! A Christian extremist who is a fanatic follower of Christ, should be even more zealous to serve in Jesus name—for the Jesus said, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” (Matthew 9:13). Whenever one interferes with the other, acts of mercy are to be preferred above coming to church and even Bible study.
            However, as zealous as Christian extremists are for good works, we should be even more passionate about Christian virtues—humility, gentleness, patience, contentment, submission to God—for these are the attitudes that lead us to serve God and humanity, and serve in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.
            The greatest zeal of all is reserved for the most important Christian virtue—love. This is something the Apostle Paul finally discovered when he became a Christian extremist. He said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” 
            
Taking Back the Word Extremist
            Perhaps you are still afraid of the idea of a Christian extremist.  Isn't it too dangerous?  No it isn't and I think Christians should take back the word from evil people who have kidnapped extremism.  True Christian extremism, rooted in love, rejects all forms of evil.
            If true Christian extremism is extreme love, then it rejects every kind and degree of hatred and bitterness. A Christian fanatic refuses to retaliate, but rather loves his enemies and prays for those who curse him.
            If Christian extremism be nothing more than sacrificial, wholehearted love of God and humanity, then it will never have anything to do with prejudice or jealousy or any form of bigotry, racism or xenophobia. Persecuting or mistreating others in any way—even in the name of God—is totally inconsistent with Christian zeal. It is not Christianity at all, let alone Christian extremism.
            If humility is a chief trait of Christian zeal, pride is utterly incompatible with it. The Christian extremist will gladly have their pride hurt for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist cannot be both gentle and angry. And we must be careful of any so-called “Christian” whose chief characteristic is anger. Yes, anger is part of the human experience and sometimes serves a useful purpose to energize us, but the truly zealous Christian will be one who is known for love and not anger. Love is the motivating factor that energizes and excites us. Even anger about a world that has turned its back on God will only be a minor footnote in the life of a Christian extremist. The Christian extremist will devote themselves to gentleness, patience, and love and any anger they feel will be fleeting, dissolving quickly in the far superior attitude of grace.
            Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to take back the term extremist from those misguided people who try to use it but do not know God or His Kingdom.  Let us become so in love with Christ that we show the world what a Christian extremist is really like.  It is the only way to know God and change the world with His love.

Invitation
            Search your heart and discover your own attitude. Are you like the Anglican church John Wesley sought to revive? Is your faith dull and lifeless, lazy and uninspiring? Are you just going through the motions and not really growing spiritually or making any real difference in your family, your community, or your world? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to get serious about your faith.
            Are you like Paul before he became a Christian? Is your religion full of the wrong kind of passion? Is your religious zeal motivated by anger when it should be motivated by love of God and your fellow man? Is your zeal all about following the rules or trying to impress God when it should be about God’s grace and forgiveness? The greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to be born again—like Paul—so that you turn your passion to the right things.
            Are you a Christian who needs to go deeper, become more committed, be filled with passion for Jesus Christ? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to look deep in your heart and reprioritize the elements of your faith so that love is the motivating factor for everything you do.