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Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 7 - Hail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, patriotism is not a bad thing.  We don't usually turn bad things into idols.  We take good things and idolize them.  According to Timothy Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods, an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.




Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 5 - Livestock

Exodus 8:30-9:7
30 So Moses left Pharaoh’s palace and pleaded with the Lord to remove all the flies. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked and caused the swarms of flies to disappear from Pharaoh, his officials, and his people. Not a single fly remained. 32 But Pharaoh again became stubborn and refused to let the people go.

9:1 “Go back to Pharaoh,” the Lord commanded Moses. “Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 2 If you continue to hold them and refuse to let them go, 3 the hand of the Lord will strike all your livestock—your horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats—with a deadly plague. 4 But the Lord will again make a distinction between the livestock of the Israelites and that of the Egyptians. Not a single one of Israel’s animals will die! 5 The Lord has already set the time for the plague to begin. He has declared that he will strike the land tomorrow.’”

6 And the Lord did just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal. 7 Pharaoh sent his officials to investigate, and they discovered that the Israelites had not lost a single animal! But even so, Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn,[a] and he still refused to let the people go.

Introduction
Can you name the plagues so far? Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, and now the death of Egypt’s livestock.
Exodus tells us again and again that God sent the plagues to prove to Egypt and everyone that there is only one God, Yahweh, the Great I Am, Lord of all.  (Ex 17:17 - By this you will know that I am the Lord… Ex 6:6 - Then you will know that I am the Lord your God… Ex 10:2 - …that you may know that I am the Lord. Ex 12:12 - …I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.)

Sacred Cows of Ancient Egypt

As Modern people, we can’t underestimate the importance of livestock to ancient people.  They provided food, transportation, cultivation for farms, and they carried goods from place to place.  Livestock were a symbol of power, wealth, and status and Egypt owned tremendous amounts of livestock.  

The Egyptians made gods and goddesses of the things that were important to them.  And since livestock were very important, they have many gods fashioned in the image of cows.  There was Hesat, the goddess who was said to provide humanity with milk to sustain life.  In particular, Hesat was said to suckle the Pharaoh and several ancient Egyptian bull gods.

There was also a cow goddess named Hathor, who was the mother of the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra, both of whom were connected with kingship.  Thus, Hathor was the symbolic mother of the pharaohs. The Egyptians believed Hathor helped deceased souls in the transition to the afterlife.

They also believed in a bull god called Apis (pronounced Happy).  Apis served as an intermediary between humans and other powerful deities. In the Egyptian myth, Apis was sacrificed and then reborn. Apis was represented by a live animal mascot (sort of like UGA, the mascot of the University of Georgia). Religious leaders would identify a black calf by the markings that identified him as Apis. He was venerated throughout life and buried in an expensive funeral with a tomb and mourned until a new Apis was found.

God brought judgment on Egypt’s gods and goddesses.  Through the fifth plague, God intentionally poured out judgment on Egypt’s pride, wealth, and livelihood while exposing their perverted sense of what is sacred.  All the livestock of the Egyptians died. ("All" is a hyperbolic statement.  In plague 7, we will see God warning to Egyptians to protect their livestock from the hail.  So it wasn't that all the livestock of Egypt died in the fifth plague, but so many died it seemed like they all died.  However, some apparently survived to be threatened by the seventh plague.)

Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

Now you would think one plague would be enough to turn Pharaoh and Egypt around.  Yet, here we are on the fifth plague and Pharaoh still will not let God's people go.  (I pray COVID-19 is enough to convince America to turn back to God; I would hate to think there are still five or ten more plagues coming.)

A number of times throughout this story, we read about Pharaoh’s stubborn heart. Sometimes it says, “Pharaoh hardened his heart…” (Ex 8:32). In other places, it says, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Ex 9:12)  The two sort of go together.  God always gives us a choice to obey.  However, when you disobey again and again, your heart becomes hard and it can grow so hard it is nearly impossible to change.  That was Pharaoh.  And God chose to use Pharaoh's hard heart to make an example for all the world for all time to see.  

We must also remember Pharaoh and Egypt were under demonic influences.  When a person or a people reject the truth of God for false gods as did Egypt, it opens them up to all kinds of evil influence.  Demons are real and they are always willing to come in and pretend be gods.  And if you let them (thinking they will serve you and give you what you want), it won't be long before those same demons will take over your life.  This is always the case with idol and false gods.  You start out thinking they will serve you, but you end up serving them as slaves.

We must never forget there is a spiritual battle raging all around us, though unseen.  Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Some people today think demons are an outdated idea. They think the demonic possessions of the Bible were merely mental or physical disorders ancient people could not diagnose; so many today believe people in the Bible were ignorant and we know better. However, we must remember that Jesus acknowledged demonic influence as a legitimate problem for people. Are we so intelligent as to disregard Jesus' worldview?  Isn’t it a bit arrogant for modern people to assume we always know better and that the ancients always misdiagnosed mental/physical disorders as demon possessions? We now live in a world that dismisses the idea that any malady at all could be caused by demons. Consider:  Are we not in as much danger now as the ancients were then of misdiagnosing a serious problem if we arrogantly dismiss their experience as absurd?

We live in a rational age. That means we believe in science and logic and critical thinking. If you want to know if something is true, then test it, study it, verify it scientifically. We have taught ourselves that science is the answer, that science is black and white. However, we are not as smart as we think we are. And the “experts” (the modern equivalents of ancient high priests) are not as infallible as we think they are either. One of the things we have all seen this year is how wrong the experts can be.  The very same experts (the CDC and Dr. Fauci) who confidently proclaimed in March, "You don't need to wear a mask."  In fact, they even had the attitude that you were being ridiculous and ignorant if you were wearing a mask.  A few months latter, they completely changed their message and now say the exact opposite of what they said in the beginning.  Added to all this mixed messaging is the politics.  The virus is real and a serious problem.  However, who you support politically has a lot to do with what you believe about the virus and how we should handle this pandemic.  And all sides use science and data to support their opinion.

I’m not here to take on side or the other.  I’m just making a point.  We are not as smart as we think we are.  How people use science is not black and white nor does it have all the answers. People will arrogantly scoff at you as irrational & ignorant one day and then completely change their story the next day.  Science and facts might be unbiased, but the way people use science and facts is a product of what they believe.

The Idol of the Intellect

My purpose today is not to debate the science and politics of COVID-19. My purpose is to expose an idol in our lives. 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.” And if we’re honest, I think we’ll admit that a lot of people today—maybe even you—trust more in the intelligence of modern humanity than you do in the ancient God of which the Bible tells us.

Some will say, “Pastor, don’t you think it can be both? Can't we trust science and God?” Listen, I believe in the importance of education.  I have Bachelor of Science degree and Masters degree from Emory University.  Education is important and God gave us intelligence and wants us to use.  Furthermore, He gave us tools like science to better understand our world.  However, we have to be careful we don't start thinking we're so smart we don't need God.  

The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.  As modern people, we often raise intellect and rational thinking to a god-like state. It has come to the place that many people don’t think they even need God anymore. Religion is just an outdated myth (some think it even a handicap to society).  It's just stupid when your intelligence turns you away from God.

Proverbs 3:5 advises, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding."  Verse 7 warns, "Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil."  And Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall."  We have grown very proud in our modern, intellectual world.

Evil Influences

Are we too smart, too rational to think that demons could influence our world today?  Here are some signs that dark forces may be at work behind the scenes.

The first sign is hard to see because it's hidden.  People won’t see it coming.  The fact that the Enemy remains hidden is a sign to watch for in and of itself.  The Devil is real, but he doesn't want people to know it.  He will try to convince people he doesn't exists and that anyone who says he does is just ignorant and superstitious.

A second sign of demonic influence is that people will twist what God says.  In the Scripture, we see Satan twisting God's Word.  This is how he tempted Eve in the Garden in Genesis.  He didn't deny God's Word outright.  He changed it.  He said to Eve, "Did God say you can't eat any fruit in the garden?"  That's not what God said.  Then he told Eve God denied Eve something good by  withholding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  "He knows if you eat it, you will be like God…"

Satan even quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, quoting Psalm 91 out of context to tempt Jesus to leap off a high place so that “angels will protect you” and prove that Jesus is God's Son.  Of course, Jesus knew better and quoted Scripture (Deuteronomy) right back at Satan saying, "You must not put the Lord to the test."

Another sign of demonic influence in the world is that people will do evil things.  Of course, people will always do evil things, as long as we are lead bya sinful, fallen nature.  However, we look around and we see people doing particularly evil things--things previous generations could have never imagined.  Don't we see there is dark evil in the world today?  Isn't it obvious when a crazy person walks into a school and starts randomly shooting innocent children?

Demonic influence is getting especially bad when people call evil good and good evil.  It's gotten to where the average person today is really confused, because we can't hardly tell right from wrong anymore.  Society's rules change all the time.

Have you noticed the subtle way hero stories are being recast in our generation?  When I was a boy, I loved superhero movies and it was real clear who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.  Superman was the hero and Lex Luther was the archvillain.  However, the trend in movies over the last couple decades has been to recast all these stories.  They now want to tell the story from the villain's perspective and show he's not such a bad guy after all.  In fact, he (or she) may actually be the real hero and the apparent hero is really the villain.  Part of this is just an attempt at interesting story-telling to bring new life to an old story.  It was interesting the first time it was done, but now it's been done so much it's become the norm.  And I think it reflects a deeper issue in our culture.  So many today think have decided (or are questioning) if good is really good or if evil is really good.  There is a reversal of roles happening before our eyes.  Things that were considered undeniably repulsive and wrong a generation ago are glorified today.  And things we always accepted as good are now called evil. 

When demons are manipulating your culture, it isn't long until people deny or replace God.  Soon, you don’t even have to hide it anymore; the demons can come out in the open and people won't be repulsed at all.  People will welcome them, idolize them, worship them--just like they did in ancient Egypt.

Romans 1:24-27 – “So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”

Closing

There is still time to turn to God.  We live in a free  society.  It may be hard to reject the norm of idolatry and paganism.  You may be ridiculed and have to sacrifice some things you've come to cherish and depend upon, but it won't get you killed.  Unfortunately, if our nation continues down the road we are headed, spurred on by our favorite demons, we may soon come to a place I don't want to imagine.  Now, more than ever, is the time to turn to God through Jesus Christ.  We must put God before all else, above all the other counterfeit gods in our nation: wealth, power, relationships, intellect, entertainment, etc.  Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."

Turn from your false gods to the One True and Living God—the One who gave His life on the cross to redeem you from slavery to sin.   If you choose something else above God, know this: your days are numbered. Your world and everything in it, all your false gods will soon fall—just like the false gods of Egypt.

For there is only one Lord—Yahweh, the Great I Am.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plagues 3-4 - Gnats & Flies

 

Introduction

Ancient Egypt was an empire with thousands of gods they believed protected their way of life and made them great.  In their pride and arrogance, Romans 1:25 explains, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself…”  

The God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, my God, the only true God we read of in the Holy Bible is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The gods of the Egyptians evolved over time.  It is sometimes hard to determine who their supposed gods were.  One century a god may be depicted as a swarm of flies.  Then, the Egyptian empire would change.  A new dynasty would come to power and the culture and politics of the empire would change and their gods would morph according to people’s imaginations.  The god of the flies would evolve into a vulture or a snake.  These gods could be changed, because they weren’t really gods at all.  They were only the imaginations of people.  They were created to serve the purposes of the leaders of the empire. 

When God spoke to Moses in a burning bush, He said, "My name is Yahweh," which means, “I am who I am.”  In other words, no one gets to make up my character or who I am or what I do.  I am real.  I am eternal.  I make up my own mind.  I don’t change.  You don’t make me what you want me to be.  I made you and you must conform to the person I made you to be, not the other way around. 

And so, Yahweh, decided to pour out justice on the evil Egyptians and prove He is the supreme Lord of all and all the idols and false gods people worship are nothing.  Through 10 plagues, God shattered every false notion of the Egyptians and brought Pharaoh’s empire to its knees to deliver the Israelites from bondage.  He proved there is only one God and his name is "I Am." 


Uatchit, The Egyptian Lord of the Flies
The Egyptians believed in a goddess called Uatchit (pronounced Wadjet).  She started out as the supposedly as the protector of  lower Egypt and was depicted as a vulture.  When the empire unified, she became the protector of the entire empire.  She was often depicted with the head of a vulture or a fly (and later a cobra) and was said to live in the swamps among the papyrus reeds.  Uatchit was supposed to be Pharaoh’s protector.  With an all-seeing eye, she could see trouble coming and warn him.  But none of that mattered, because this false god was impotent against the One True and Living God of our Bible. 

God sent to swarms of insects as the third and fourth plagues of Egypt—first gnats and then flies.  Now, the the exact nature of the third plague is a bit of a mystery.  The Hebrew word used we usually translate as Keenim can also mean fleas or lice.  Now any of these insects would be awful.  Lice and flees infest and bite. Gnats swarm and get in your eyes and nose.  But the Hebrew word Keenim carries with it the idea of flying and biting or stinging.  So imagine biting/stinging gnats or flying flees and lice! Yikes! 

And the fourth plague is flies.  Not only are flies a nuisance, they often transmit parasite and disease.  I was on a mission team in El Salvador a few years back and we had terrible trouble with flies.  They weren't any more numerous in El Salvador than they are in Georgia where I live.  However, the flies in El Salvador carry an amoeba.  If they land on your food, they you will also get the amoeba and it will cause severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Almost everyone on our team contracted the amoeba and had to take medicine to get rid of it.  Now, imagine ancient Egypt swarming with flies, possibly contracting diseases and having no modern medicine to combat it.  It must have been terrible.

Well, the Egyptian false god, Uatchit, apparently didn’t warn Pharaoh or do anything to stop the gnats and flies.  Isn’t she supposed to see everything?  Isn’t she supposed to be the goddess of swarms who protects Pharaoh and lives in the swamps where these insects live and breed? 

Only One God
There is only one God.  Most people are familiar with Jesus teaching that we should love our neighbor.  Jesus said this is the second most important commandment (and that it is like the first most important commandment).  What is the most important commandment?  Jesus told us the most important commandment too.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus said, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  There is only one God.  All other gods are idols and false gods.  They are nothing.  And in order to truly love your neighbor, you have to start by loving God.

 

Sadly, people still worship idols today.  There are some listening to this message who worship idols.  It may not be a statue, but you have turned a thing God created into the one you love more than God “with all your heart, all your soul, and all you strength.”  In his book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller says 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 realize we have idols today too.

The Idol of Wealth
People are often surprised to learn that Jesus taught about money more than any other subject.  The word money is mentioned 70 times in the Gospels.  Forgive is only mentioned 38 times.  And 11 of the 40 parables Jesus told were about money or used money to make the point.  You see, Jesus knew, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”  (Matthew 6:21)  And He knew that greed and wealth idolatry are rampant.  And so he said:
“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke 12:15) And he also said, "No one can serve wo masters… You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money." (Matthew 6:24)

People who worship the idol of wealth do three things: They love it, they trust it, and they obey it.

People who worship wealth, love money.  They dream about it and how to make more. They imagine all the things they can buy with money.  They may be jealous of others who have more money and scheme for how they can “win” in the competition to be wealthiest.  They believe having more money will improve their social status.  People who love wealth are willing to sacrifice in order to have more.  Some things they may sacrifice are their time, their family… their principles… their relationship with God…  1 Timothy 6:10 warns, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”  [Jesus to the rich young ruler…]

People who worship wealth, trust money to keep them safe.  If they don’t have enough, they feel vulnerable and out of control.  They are constantly worried about how they will make it if something goes wrong.  They long to have enough money so they can feel in control.  Money makes them feel safe.  They can handle the problems they face, because they can buy their way out of their problems. 

The problem is, money is usually not the answer you think it is.  Ask someone was wealthy who unexpectedly lost it all.  Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had an especially abundant harvest.  He decided to build bigger barns to store up all his wealth thinking, "Now I can live the good life because I will have everything I need.  But the Lord spoke and said, "You're a fool!  Tomorrow, you will die and then who will get all your surplus?"" 

People who worship wealth, obey their master.  Ironically, people who think money will give them freedom and security, find their idol becomes a cruel master that enslaves them.  They have money and can’t imagine living without it.  And often, the wealthiest people still feel they don’t have enough and they must have more.  Soon it becomes clear, money is not serving rich people.  Rich people are usually serving their money. 

It is human nature to want more, more, more. when we are 15 or 16 years old, we say, "If I just had a car!"  Then we get a car and we soon say, "If I just had a reliable car!"  And we get a reliable car and we're finally satisfied, right?  No!  Then we say, "If I could just have a bigger car!"  And then we say, "If I just had the best car!"  The person who constantly wants more, newer, better things has become enslaved by their insatiable addiction to money and the things money can buy.  They are slaves. 

Slaves must obey their master.  Those deeply enslaved to the false god of wealth will lie, cheat, and steal to get more money.  They will justify all kinds of evil to earn and protect their “god”—tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, bribery.  They will hoard their wealth while others starve and say, “It’s not my problem.  They should have managed their money better.”  People who worship wealth have broken both the first and second most important commandments.  They don’t really care what God thinks and they don’t care about their neighbor either—as long as they are rolling in the dough.  But Jesus said, “Man does not not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.” (Matthew 4:4) 

By His Word, God can make mana fall from the sky to satisfy our every need as He did for the Israelites as they traveled to the Promised Land.  By His Word, Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food o feed thousands of people.  Do you want to rely on God or would you prefer to make a god of your own choosing to satisfy your needs.  That’s the core issue. We don't want to be beholden to God.  We want to be in control.

Something happened when my son was two or three years old that really illustrated this principle of sinful human nature to me.  I had a bag of Doritos and my little boy wanted some, so I would give him a chip every time he asked.  I made up my mind I was going to give him as many as he wanted; all he had to do was ask and I would give him more--one chip at a time.  But very soon, he was board of this game and just wanted me to give him the bag.  Even though I told him he could have as many as he wanted, that wasn't good enough; he wanted to hold the bag.  And this is how we are with our Heavenly Father.  It's not good enough for us to rely on God who is willing to give us everything we need and want.  No.  We want to hold the bag. 

The Spiritual Practice that Smashes the Idol of Wealth
Greed is a sneaky sin. Greed is rampant in our culture.  And yet, very few people think greed is a problem for them.  “It must be someone else.”  Here’s a simple test.  Do you obey God’s command to tithe?  Tithing is giving 10% of your income to God’s Church.  It is the minimum standard God gives in the Bible for what people are supposed to give to God’s Church. 

According to nonprofitsource.com, the average church-going Christian only gives about 2.5% of their income.  Only five out of one hundred Christians actually obey God’s command to give the minimum.  5 out of 100!  Now, whenever a preacher starts talking about tithing, people get upset.  They start making all kinds of excuses for why don't or why they aren't required to give the tithe.  The fact is, people are simply trying to justify themselves.  They don’t want to give the tithe; maybe they are ashamed they don’t give the tithe and so they make excuses.  Could it be they are protecting their idol?  One thing is certain, they are not obeying the One True God who said, give a tenth of your income to the Lord through His Church.

Jesus on the Cross
Now, God is a God of grace.  He is patient and He is good.  When we were still sinners, He came as Jesus to die for us on the cross.  Now, it is not that we deserved salvation, but that we desperately needed it.  Christ gave his life for us while we were still sinners so that we can be forgiven when we repent of our sin and turn to God.  Repentance means to turn away from sin and our false gods and turn to the One True and Living God who gave His life for us on the cross.

Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t give to us the way most Christians give to Him?  How would you feel if Jesus only gave, 2-3% for your sake?  (That would still be more than we deserve.)  How much did Jesus give?  Did He only give 10% or His life and blood on the cross?  No.  He gave it all.  Therefore, even if you are giving a tithe of your income, you are still 90% short.  

Jesus doesn't want your money.  He wants your whole heart.  Jesus gave His all for us and I want to give Him my all too.  Don’t you?

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.