Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Monday, January 11, 2021

Put Away Your Sword

Introduction
I had not planned to speak on this subject today.  I planned to begin a sermon series called “The Way of Christ”.  But because of the events of this week, I felt compelled to change today’s message.  Those reading this include Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  I’m not taking sides.  I love you all and what I have to say is for everyone. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus' arrest.  Jesus had just shared the Last Supper with his disciples and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the authorities and the led a crowd of his enemies to the garden to arrest him.  

Matthew 26:52-56

51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Peter Cutting Off an Ear

This story about one of Jesus' disciples cutting off a man’s ear is so important that all four Gospel include it—Matthew Mark, Luke and John.  The Gospel of John says the mob was a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply said it was a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs.  The Gospel of John says it was Peter who cut off the man’s ear.  The other Gospel’s don’t tell us who did it.  The Gospel of Luke says Jesus healed the man’s ear.

The incident was very chaotic and happened so fast.  There wasn’t anyone standing by with a smart phone recording it all.  I’m sure it was hard for all the disciples to remember all the details perfectly.  It's no wonder their accounts vary a bit.  However, there is one thing they all reported.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all remember that Jesus told them not to fight.  In John 22:51, Jesus said, “No more of this!” And in Matthew 26:51, he said, “Put away your sword!  Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Dying by the Sword

Jesus is the most influential figure who ever lived.  He changed the world so drastically, we divide history by whether it happened before or after Jesus lived.  There have been many people who sought to change the world with the sword (or guns or missiles or bombs), but none has even come close to the influence Jesus had on the world.  And he did it all without a sword.  In fact, Jesus was able to have so much influence because he didn’t use a sword.

 

And I believe Jesus message to us today is the same he said to his disciples on that that dark night of his arrest.  “Put away your sword!”

 

We’ve had our swords out for a long time in this country.  And it’s gotten exponentially worse over the last decade.  I realize none of you are literally walking around with a sword.  But figuratively, we carry a sword.  The sword of which I speak is not a weapon with a long metal blade.  The sword we carry is an attitude that we have to fight each other to make life the way we want it to be.

 

Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”  What we have been seeing more and more in our country and communities—what we saw vividly splashed across our television sets on January 6th as rioters stormed the Capital building in Washington DC—is what it looks like to die by the sword.  It's not necessarily a physical death--though 5 people died.  It's a spiritual death.  It's a moral death. It can even be the death of ideas or the right to influence public opinion.

 

What led us to this place—a place where thousands of people would gather at the capital and violently and foolishly rush past barricades and overwhelm law enforcement and illegally occupy the Capital for several hours?  What makes people act like this? 

 

We are so divided.  It’s not just that we don’t agree on everything.  (America is too big and too diverse for us to agree on everything; that’s never gonna happen.  We've never in our history agreed on everything.)  The problem is we are so angry we want to swing a sword at people with whom we disagree.  And maybe, we’ve been cutting off each other’s ears so long now that we don’t have any ears left to listen.  We don't use swords, but we cut off ears with words and insults and accusations and mistrust and disrespect.

 

There are times when it is necessary to draw a sword (or a knife or a gun) to defend yourself, but using a sword is not the way to make the world a better place.  It’s not the way to make America great.  And right now, we need to hear Christ’s words when he says, “Put away your sword!”  This is not the way.  Violence is not the way.  Fighting is not the way to make America great or the world the way God wants it to be.

 

The Way of Christ
Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  The people of Israel thought the Messiah would come to save them from their enemies—that he would fight for them with a sword and liberate them from the Romans.  Jesus knew that would never work. 

 

Jesus could have easily beaten the Roman army.  He said in Matthew 26:53, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” Certainly, God’s angels could defeat the Romans.  However, Jesus knew a violent uprising would never work because it’s not how you change people hearts.  Only love can change people’s hearts.  


Love is how Jesus changed the world.  And love is how Jesus wants his followers to make the world a better place.  Love is how Jesus wants you to make America a better place.

 

And this is a message for everyone—Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  It’s time to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and saying how evil they are.  It’s time to stop calling people names because of what party or philosophy they follow.  It’s time to start treating everyone with respect.  It’s time to start listening and learning from each other.  (You don’t have to agree with someone to respect them, to listen to them, and learn from them.)

 

It’s time to start living by love or else we will die by the sword.

What does that mean for you? The details may vary from person to person. Some suggestions might be to stop calling people names becasue of their political party or ideology.  Maybe you need to change your attitude and understand that people with whom you agree probably believe what they do for good reasons. They are not the enemy.  Quite often they share the same values as you, but just prioritize them differently.  

Most importantly, if you are a Christian who has committed your life to follow Jesus as your Lord, recognize your role and work as hard as you can to do things the way Jesus would do it.  Perhaps the way of Christ is best summarized in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.

The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord make me an instrument of Your peace

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness joy.

O Divine master grant that I may

Not so much seek to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive

And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned

And it is in dying that we are born

To eternal life.

Amen.

 

Will you live this prayer?  Peter boasted he would die for Jesus.  I'm sure the other Disciples thought the same.  But we see in our scripture, they all fled.  They were probably willing to die for Jesus on a battlefield, but not on a cross.  It’s easy to pledge you will die for Jesus.  But will you live for him—even if it means dying on a cross instead of dying in glory on the battlefield?  Jesus' way is the way of the cross.

 


Monday, December 21, 2020

The Epochs of Israel - The Messianic Hope

Introduction
This year, because of COVID, people may have to curtail many of their usual Christmas traditions.  Some are even forgoing visits with relatives that they may only see during Christmas.  Who would have thought last Christmas that this Christmas would be so strange?

And yet, Advent—the weeks leading up to Christmas—is a season of hope.  We hope that the number COVID cases will go back down.  We hope the new vaccines will be safe, effective, and available.  We hope that life will soon return to normal. 

Ultimate, as Christians, we have a great hope that Christ will soon come to bring His perfect Kingdom on earth—a kingdom where there will be no more suffering or sickness, no more tears of sorrow, and no more hurting or death.  For as Isaiah 9:6-7 says, “The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”

This is the great hope of biblical Christianity.  It started way back with Israel in the Old Testament and developed through each epoch of Israel.  An epoch is a period in history, typically one marked by notable events or characteristics.  There were 4 major epochs in the history of Israel in the Bible.  Each stage was part of God’s ultimate plan to save humanity.  In my church congregation yesterday, we used a the following responsive reading to review the epochs of Israel. 

Responsive Reading Review
Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! His plan of salvation spans the whole course of human history.  The Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. 

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 1, the Lord He led the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 2, the Lord raised up judges to rescue Israel from her enemies.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 3, the Lord established the house David to rule as kings of Israel.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

 Pastor:  But the people of Israel and their kings were not faithful to God. Finally, The Lord had to punish Israel.

People:  Babylon attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and took Israel away into exile.

Pastor:  But the Lord promised to bring Israel home.  A Messiah would come to save Israel.

People:  The Promised One would rule on David’s throne forever. This was Israel’s hope.

 All:  And so the Fourth Epoch of Israel begins—The Messianic Hope.

Isaiah 49:5-7

5 And now the Lord speaks—
    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer
    and Holy One of Israel,
says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,
    to the one who is the servant of rulers:
“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.
    Princes will also bow low
because of the Lord, the faithful one,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Israel’s Hope
This Christmas, we remember the story of Christ’s birth.  Everything about the birth of Christ is soaked in the Israel’s hope for a Messiah.  Remember how the angels announced to the shepherds, “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [the Messiah], the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

By the time Jesus was born, Israel was a conquered nation.  The Roman empire occupied the land and extorting the people, forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes, to provide soldiers for the Roman army, to bring glory and success to Rome at the expense of Israel and her people. 

This was not how it was supposed to be.  Israel was God’s chosen people.  They were to be royal priests who enjoyed God’s special favor.  But the Romans treated them like dogs and there was nothing they could do.  Nothing but hope—hope for a Messiah to save them.  And it was into this great hope and longing that Jesus was born. 

God’s Hope
People usually can’t see beyond their own personal situation—their own hopes and dreams, their own suffering and pain.  God’s vision is infinite.  He sees the whole picture.  So while Israel only hoped for a Messiah to alleviate their personal suffering and political turmoil, God’s vision was to save the whole world.  In Isaiah 49:6 “He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.””

Imagine a Greater Hope
And so, as we draw nigh to Christmas, and as we hope for relief from COVID-19 (or whatever major struggle you face), I pray we will dare to tap more and more into God’s grander vision.  Can we go beyond our little hopes and dreams and embrace God’s greater hope?

Can we go further than merely hoping for healing from COVID-19?  Can we go further to hope for healing from all our brokenness?  Do we really want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic? Wouldn’t it be better to go forward to something new and better?

As for me, I hope for the coming of Christ and His great hope.  I join in the great Advent hymn with all my heart singing:

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee

Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

Whatever worry or struggle with, I pray your hopes will be greater than to just "Go back to the way things were.  God's hopes for you--for all of us--are greater than to just "go back."  God hopes for us all to "go forward" into something new and better.

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.”