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Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts

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.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 4 - When All is Lost

Introduction
A long time ago, in a land far away… 

The Egyptians feel threatened by the growing numbers of Hebrews in their land. 
The Egyptians have forgotten how the Hebrew, Joseph, saved Egypt from starvation. 
They have forgotten the contributions of the Hebrew people to the greatness of Egypt. 
Most of all, the Egyptians have forgotten the One, True God the Hebrews worship. 

Attempting to weaken the Hebrews, the Egyptians treat the Hebrews cruelly, 
forcing them to serve as slaves. But God continues to bless the Hebrews 
and they thrive and multiply. 
Pharaoh, the leader of the Egyptian empire, hatches a dark and evil plan. 
Every male child born to a Hebrew family is to be drowned in the Nile River. 

Now we hear the tale of how one Hebrew family copes when 

Things Fall Apart... 

Exodus 2:1-10
About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. 3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. 4 The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

5 Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. 6 When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

7 Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked.

8 “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother.

9 “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

A Dark and Evil Time
I can’t even imagine the devastation for these Hebrew mothers.  Remember Pharaoh’s decree from Exodus 1:22, “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” I can't imagine being a Hebrew mother with a baby growing in your belly for 9 months, becoming so intimately attached, and so fearful for your baby.  They must have prayed that their children would be born girls.  And I can't imagine the terror for these mothers when they birthed baby boys.  What could they do?  Pharaoh had absolute authority.

I can’t imagine any mother facing the impossible decision to "abort" their child.  In China for several decades, the government had a policy that limiting families to only one child and because of cultural pressures that the child be a healthy male, women often felt forced to give up a child (either through abortion or adoption) because the child is not what they expect (China's "one child olicy" ended in 2015).  Even in America, young mother's who do not plan for a pregnancy (or who for whatever reason feel they are not ready or able ot care for a child) will often seek an abortion.  According to the latest statistics I could find, there were 862,320 abortions in 2017 (according to Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.[1])  I'm not judging the women who has face the terrible decision about whether to abort a child or put it up for adoption.  I don't know what they are going through; I can't even imagine how difficult that must be.  I pray for God's mercy and grace in the midst of what must be an incredibly overwhelming and devastating choice.  

Moses' mother faced that choice due to an enforced condemnation of every male baby born to a Hebrew mother.  One wonders, how did the Egyptians enforce Pharaoh's edict?  I can imagine young Hebrew mothers trying to hide their babies, but how do you hide a crying baby? Eventually you’re going to be found out. Maybe a neighbor turns you in (for money or favors from authorities).  That would be a horrible environment to live in too, one where your neighbors and friends and maybe even family are the same ones who are condemning you.  And so eventually, a mother would be found out and I guess Egyptians soldiers showed up at your door to enforce the death of your child. And what would the punishment be for trying to hide your child? Maybe you are tortured? Maybe your whole family is tortured and/ killed? I don't know, but it must have been terrible punishment in order to convince a mother to cast her child into the Nile River. 

Moses' mother manages to keep her baby hidden for three months, but eventually, she is found out (or about to be discovered) and so, she does the only thing she feels like she can do.  She makes a basket and covers it in pitch and tar so it will float, she puts her baby in the basket, and she sets it afloat on the river.  This story has been told thousands of times.  It’s hard to separate fact from fiction.  I've heard some tales having Moses' mother or sister caring for the child each day to keep him safe.  But that's not what the scriptures say.  What do the Scripture say?  They say. “She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.” (Exodus 2:3-4) 

I imagine this almost as a mournful ceremony. If the evil Egyptian authorities say you have to throw your baby in the Nile River, then (I suppose) this is the most loving a mother could do it.  Perhaps, decorate the vessel with flowers and send the child of with lamenting songs as it floats away on the river, probably thinking you will never see him again.  Technically, Moses' mother has done what Pharaoh required.

In the midst of this hopeless situation, when all seems lost, Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child.  Have you ever considered that not all Egyptians agreed with Pharaoh evil, genocidal plan?  Pharaoh was a cold-hearted sociopath, but that doesn't mean all Egyptians were.  In fact, I would venture to say most Egyptians weren't.  Most people have compassion in their heart--especially for babies.  We tend to lump all people together into one group, forgetting each person is an individual.  We may think all "black people" or "white people" or "Hispanics" are all the same and we assign stereotypes to them.  We even lump groups like politicians all together, assuming they are all the same.  But that's not what God sees.  God sees us all as individuals.  And the Egyptians were all individuals.  Unfortunately, they had to obey Pharaoh--he was an absolute monarch.  Or did they?  Apparently, Pharaoh's daughter took a chance and disobeyed her father's edict and rescued the Hebrew baby boy.

Rescued Through Baptism
The Hebrews were in a dark and evil time in Egypt.  But God was working to rescue them.  And we will find that water plays a key role in the full story of how God rescued His people. 

In the story today, we see Moses being rescued from the river. He was lovingly placed in the river (in a basket) by his mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him and he starts a new life in Pharaoh’s court.  He was given a new life.  He started out as a boy condemned to death, but was rescued through the water for a new life as a royal prince in Pharaoh's court.  Later, the Book of Exodus tells the tale of how the Hebrew slaves escape the Egyptian army when Moses parts the Red Sea and the Hebrews walk across on dry ground to start a new life on the other side as free people, God's holy nation.  Did you know these are both symbols of what God wants to do with you and me? God wants to rescue us from the hopeless consequences of our sin and give us a new life as free, holy, sons and daughters in His royal Kingdom.

Just as Moses’ mother had no choice but to put her baby in a basket on the Nile river, we are hopelessly separated from God by our sin. No mater how badly we want to be free, to be washed clean, we are cannot affect the change ourselves. We are slaves to the sinful nature.   Thankfully, Christ died on the cross to set us free. Jesus is our Moses who delivers us from slavery to sin.  And what is the mark of our deliverance? What ceremony do we celebrate to mark the beginning of a person’s life as a Christian? We celebrate Baptism. 

Baptism marks the beginning of a Christian’s new life as they follow Jesus as Lord.  We use water to symbolize being cleansed of the stain of sin – as when we wash the baby’s head with sprinkled water Baptism also symbolizes dying with Christ and being raised to a new life – as when we submerge a person under the water in baptize a lift them up to start a new life as a born-again believer.  Baptism is and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace-work God does for us—cleansing us of sin and recreating us as a new, holy person.

Here is what the Word of God, the Holy Bible, says about people who repent of their sin and choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. 1 Peter 2:9-10: “…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

Closing/Invitation
I want you to know something.   No matter what you did in the past—no mater how horrible you feel your sin was—God can forgive you and give you a fresh start. You may feel like your sin was so bad it is unforgivable. It isn’t. God can and will forgive you, because of what Christ has done on the cross. Through the blood of Christ, God’s grace washes away your sin.  

If you ask God to forgive you, He will and you can make a fresh start.  What’s more, He will fill you with His Holy Spirit to help you live a new way as His adopted son or daughter.  God puts it this way in the Message paraphrase of Ezekiel 11:19—He says, “I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you. I’ll cut out your stone heart and replace it with a red-blooded, firm-muscled heart. Then you’ll obey my statutes and be careful to obey my commands. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”

Is that what you want? You can have it today. Turn to God, pray, and receive His grace. 



[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/number-abortions-u-s-drops-lowest-they-became-legal-nationwide-n1055726

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Last Days

Introduction
2020 may go down as the worst year in the last century! 2020 will always be remembered as a unique leap year. It had 29 days in February. 300 days in March. Five years in April. (And we stopped keeping count after that.) 

It’s been bad y’all.  I cannot believe that “Tiger King” was the most normal part of 2020 so far.  If 2020 was made into a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep.

There have been a lot of jokes made about 2020 being a bad year.  But “the year 2020” is the worst joke

of them all.  Can we just skip to 2021 and start over? (But then, how do we know if 2021 will be any better?) 

With all that’s been going on, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people like this: “Pastor, is this the end of the world?  Do you think Jesus is coming back soon?”

It’s on everybody’s mind—especially

if you grew up with a Christian background.

Jesus said he would come back one day and create a new heaven and a new earth and the world we live in now will be destroyed and replaced (see Revelation 21). 

So I want talk about the last days and get to this question:  Are we living in the Last Days?

 The Apostle Paul wrote about the

“End Times” to a young man named Timothy.  Paul perceived the end was near for him and he wanted to giv some advice to the next generation of Christian leaders.  Paul knew, as we all do, that the next generation will not do things exactly the way we do them.  That's as it should be; they will live in different times and must adapt to their times.  Even so, we hope the next generation will hold fast to the essential values we've help dear, even as they adapt for their context.  Paul wrote to advice Timothy to be true to the essential elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be ware of those who would try to lead people astray by changing the message and living in ungodly ways in the last days. 

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Does It Seem Like the End is Near?
With all that’s going on, it’s no wonder that people are asking if the end is near.  And when we read what Paul wrote to Timothy here, it may sound very familiar.  And other places in Scripture teach similar themes about the “Last Days”.

Paul wrote Timothy: in the last days there will be very difficult times.  These are some of the most difficult times we have faced in a long time.  And we definitely see a lot of selfishness and greed all around.  So much of the public discourse, business practices, and even personal behavior of people today is saturated with selfishness and greed.  And Paul told Timothy in the last days, people will be puffed up with pride and scoff at God.  That's a very accurate description of the way people act these days.  Scoffing means to make fun of or ridicule someone so as to discredit them.  People don't even listen to each other anymore and they certainly don't listen to God.  Instead, they write God and others off as stupid and not even worthy of giving the time of day.

And Paul told Timothy when the end is near, people will love pleasure rather than God.  I see this so clearly right now.  I always knew the attitude was there, but I see it so clearly during this pandemic.  People are "afraid" to come to worship God in a public gathering.  And I get that it is risky and some people because of health issues or other legitimate reasons do indeed need to avoid public gatherings like a church worship service.  However, I see some of the same people who are avoiding church because it is too risky also quite willing to go to entertainment venues for pleasure.  It's to "unsafe" to worship God but "worth the risk" for the sake of pleasure.  Really?  It seems we have our priorities all out of wack!

Paul writes, in the last days, people "...will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly."  You can see this clearly in America today.  While church attendance has been declining for decades, we actualy see a surge of interest in spirituality among the population.  People are intrigued by things like new age religious philosophy, eastern religious techniques, yoga, and self help.  There have been television series made about spiritual mediums who contact the dead and talk to them.  So it's not that people aren't "religious"; it's just that people prefer to dabble in religion as an intriguing hobby.  They will try a little religion they way they will try a fad diet.  They take a little bit of Christianity and a little bit of Buddhism and a little bit of this or that and blend in all up into a cool little cocktail they can sip and and show to their friends like the latest, hippest craft beer.  And if their "religion" or "spirituality" ever comes into conflict with something they want ro like, they can always just set their cocktail aside and grab something new that's more pleasant.  Hardly anyone is ever deeply committed.  Few ever turn to Christ and fall on their knees and completely surrender and say, "Jesus, You are Lord!"  Your Lord is the absolute sovereign of your life.  You do what your Lord says, even if you don't want to, even if it challenges you or changes you. And so, may people today act religious, but they reject the power that could make them godly.

These are all characteristics of the “End Times” and we see them clearly in our world right now.

And I pray that everyone reading this will repent of any of these attitudes and actions, immediately, because we do not know how much time we have left.  Jesus promised he would return.  And he will return in your lifetime.  Either he will will return for the whole world or he will return for you.  One thing is certain, you will come before Jesus at the end of your life.  The question is:  will that be a very good thing or a very bad thing?

Are we living in the Last Days?  Yes!  But so was Paul when he wrote these words to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago.  God has been working for a long, long time to save the world from the devastation and death humanity’s sin brought on Creation.  The plan God details in Scripture goes all the way back to Genesis—some four or five thousand years ago.  The most important aspect of God salvation plan was for His Son, Jesus, to come preach the Good News of God’s salvation, to give His life on the cross for our sins, and to rise from the grave.  Jesus did all these things.  We are in the last stage of God’s plan.  But God is being patient.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 

We are living in the last days, but no one knows when the end will come.  Jesus is full of wisdom and power.  If people knew the day and hour Jesus was coming back, they would procrastinate.  Probably, mo people would get worse before they thought about getting better.  If they knew they had two years left, they would think, 'Why worry about that now?  Let's have some fun before we need to get serious."  They would be even more selfish and greedy and prideful.  They would live sinful lives for as long as they could—turning their backs on God—and then, at the last minute, they would turn to God and beg for forgiveness.  That’s why Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.” (Matthew 24:36).  And he warned, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

How Bad Are Things Right Now, Really?
I know when we look around at the world today, it seems like it may all be unraveling and the world is coming to an end. I get that.  I understand that feeling.  However, as bad as 2020 has been for us, I want to help you keep things in perspective.  According to Google, there have been 727 thousand deaths worldwide from COVID-19.  That's awful.  Every one of those deaths represents someone's mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.  My heart goes out to them.

At the same time, let's compare the difficulties in our times to those of other eras.  50 Million people died worldwide from Spanish flu in 1918.  And near the same time 40 Million people--soldiers and civilians--died around the worldwide during WWI.  And between 1941-1945, six million Jews died in the holocaust (nearly six times as many as have died so far from COVID-19.)  These are staggering figures.  I'm sure many people living through those tragedies looked around and thought, "These must be the last days."  Maybe they were even praying for it so God would come and get them out of that mess.  

And of course, right now, things are for people financially in our country.  The economy is suffering from months of shutdown and disruption.  Many people have lost jobs.  And I know it's a struggle.  At the same time, again, let's keep it in perspective.  Do you realize that Americans--even in financial difficulties--have it way better than most of the rest of the world?  I googled this and found out that the average annual income for Sierra Leon (where our church sponsors Nick and Heidi Griffiths as missionaries) is only $504.  (That's not a typo. That $504 per year, not per month).  And this is not just the case for Sierra Leone.  Similar poverty for the average person exists in Kenya, Guatemala, El Salvador... and the list goes on and on and on.  And People in third world countries have been living that way for decades.  Don't you know someone living in those conditions would look at us in our country and think, 'So you think the end of the world is coming because you lost your job and you're on unemployment?"  Meanwhile, they're digging through trash at the city dump trying to figure out how they can get they next meal.

Or what about the young boy in our own country who lives in an abusive home and has for years?  Or what of the teenage girl in Atlanta who is being trafficked for sex?  Do you think a year ago they were thinking everything was fine, but know because of COVID-19 it must be the end of the world is coming?  It's all about perspective.

Paul, writing to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago, thought the end was eminent.  He wrote his letter with that perspective.  Interestingly, most church historians believe Paul lived for several more yers, even traveling to Spain to preach the Gospel of Christ. So even Paul was a bit misled in his perspective in regard to when the end would come.  However, Paul was martyred--along with thousands of other Christians in the first century.  Some of them were were even fed to lions in the Roman coliseum.  Don't you think that kind of cruelty made them wonder if they were living in the Last Days?

We don’t know if the signs of the times mean that Jesus is coming back today, tomorrow, or even this year. What we do know is: His return is closer today than it was yesterday.  And we don't know how much time we have left.

Conclusion
Well then, what difference does it make?  
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) It was his first sermon recorded in the Scripture and it was His message throughout his ministry. And we need to take it to heart, because we do not know how much time we have.

If you feel nervous because of all the bad stuff happening, good! You need realize how vulnerable you are and how important it is that you repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ. This is the whole point of the Bible’s warnings about the last days.  You need to get your heart right with God.

If you are not a Christian, you need to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Turn to Him. Follow Him. Live the way He said we should live. Trust Him. You will find salvation. You will also find peace—even in the midst of bad times.  And if you are already a Christian, times like these ought to remind you and motivate you to get busy doing the things Jesus told us to do—loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, praying and working for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.

What do you need to do today?  What commitment are you going to make?

 

 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Have You Heard


Introduction
We’ve been following the story of the very first Christians for several weeks.  We are tremendously indebted to their faith and their faithfulness.  We might could understand if they’d just given up and thrown in the towel.  They were outnumbered and subjected to severe persecution.  They never knew from day to day what would happen next.  One day, they enjoyed the favor of the people.  The next, soldiers were coming to take away their property and arrest them or chase them out of town.  Through it all, they were dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit while praying that Jesus would come back soon.

I want to re-visit the story from the second chapter of Acts, verses 14-24.  This was the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  All the believers were gathered in one place (there were so few of them, they could still all fit in one place).  The Holy Spirit fell upon them in a mighty rush of wind and it appeared as if flaming tongues of fire danced above each person’s head.  And all the Christians began talking in different languages—languages they had not previously known—about he wonderful things God had done through Jesus Christ.  And all the Jews from around the world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost came running to see the commotion and they heard the Good News about Jesus in their own languages.  Some of the people who listened were amazed, but others thought the Christians were drunk.

Acts 2:14-24
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 Some of you are saying these people are drunk. It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that. People don’t get drunk by nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, what you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel:
18‘In the last days, God said,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
19In those days I will pour out my Spirit
upon all my servants, men and women alike,
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon will turn bloodred,
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’
22“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Reflect
These are the powerful words Peter preached to the people of Israel. The people who in their time, were supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God. Yes, of all the people in the world, the Israelites were supposed to know God the best. Yet when God sent His one and only Son to redeem the world, they led the fight to have him murdered.

In our time, we Christians are supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God—the ones who know Him and love Him the best.  Yet how many times do we nail him to the cross again and again by sinning and doing things we know we ought not.  Lying, stealing, cheating, bickering, gossiping, lusting, drunkenness, adultery, giving more priority to the things and people of this world than to the one true God who made them all.

Acts 2:22-24
22 “People of Israel [that’s you and me], listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.”

Have You Heard?
Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about my Jesus?  He wasn’t born as some high and mighty king.  No!  He was born as poor peasant to a family who couldn’t even find him a room to be born in.  He ended up being born in a stable with a bunch of farm animals.

Have you heard the story of my Lord?  Have you heard the story of my Jesus?  He grew up poor, working with his hands.  His family couldn’t afford to send him college.  But he grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.” [i]

His name is Jesus!  When he turned thirty, he was baptized by his cousin John and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.  And God spoke from heaven with a thundering voice of authority and said, ““You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” [ii]

His name is Jesus!  When He gathered together his disciples and followers, he didn’t choose people because of how much money they had.  He didn’t choose people because of their status.  He didn’t choose people because they were good enough or because they were well educated.  Instead he chose fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, outcasts, and ordinary people like you and me. 


Have you heard about Jesus my Lord? 
1.              He spoke to one man who was paralyzed and told him to get up and walk because he was healed, he said your sins are forgiven—and the man got up and walked! 
2.              Once he was sailing with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm came up and huge waves began to crash against the boat, breaking over the bow until the boat was nearly full of water.  And though his disciples were frozen with fear, Jesus calmly commanded the wind and the water to “Quiet down!” and suddenly the wind stopped and the sea was calm. 
3.              One time, a wild eyed man, foaming at the mouth, possessed by a legion of demons came running out of a cemetery, falling before my Lord Jesus screaming, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”[iii]  And Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the poor retched man and he sent them into a heard of pigs and sent the pigs running down into the sea where they drowned. 
4.              He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and the lame to walk.
5.              He fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. 
6.              He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. 
7.              He said You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!” [iv]
8.              On top of the mountain, he was transfigured and his clothing became dazzling white, and he stood and talked with Moses and Elijah, even though they’d been dead for hundreds of years.  And even though Peter and James and John were so blown away by the whole experience that they wanted to build 3 shrines and stay on the mountaintop worshiping forever, Jesus wouldn’t allow it because he knew his place was back down in the valley suffering for the people.
9.              He stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb, and though the body’d already been dead and buried for so long it’d begun to smell, he commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  And a dead man obeyed and came back to life so that they had to unwrap the grave clothes and let Lazarus go free.
10.          Speaking of his own body he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in 3 days!”

Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about My Jesus?  He looked at me, a young man lost in sin, a adolescent who came from a broken home, a young teenager who wanted to have sex and get drunk and act stupid all the time, a kid who hated his father, a youth who thought it was cool to vandalize and destroy property, a 16 year old reckless driver who should’ve gotten himself or someone else killed—he looked at me and he saved me from the path to destruction down which I was heading.  And he snatched me up from the fires of hell over which I was dangling.  And he set my feet upon the rock and gave me a new life of abundance.

Have you heard about Jesus my Lord?  He looks at you, the man who is cheating on his wife.  He looks you, the kid who is getting high on drugs.  He looks you, the girl who is having sex with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want him to leave her all alone.  He looks at you, the workaholic who is neglecting your family, wasting your life climbing the corporate ladder while your family is going down the tubes.  He looks at you, the teenager who is so disillusioned with the vanity of life that you would contemplate going on a shooting spree or even taking your own life.  He looks at us all, who are dying of spiritual thirst in this dry and weary land where there’s no hope, and he says, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”[v]

Have you heard what they did to my Lord?  They arrested him in the middle of the night.  And they falsely accused him.  And they paid some worthless people to lie about the things he had said and done.  And they put him through a fraudulent trial in the middle of the night.  And they convicted him before the sun came up.  And they tricked a mob into trading the life of the sinless, spotless Son of God for the life of the murderous Barabbas.  And they spat on him, and they mocked him, and they beat him within an inch of his life, and they put a crown of thorns on his head, and then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and hung him there until he died.  And then they chunked him in a cave and rolled a big, fat stone in front of it and thought they had seen the last of the Son of God. 

Oh, but have you heard the good news about Jesus my Lord?  Acts 2:24, However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.  After three days, the stone was rolled away and Jesus got up and walked out of that tomb.  And he appeared to many of his followers, both men and women, and he proved to them that he was really alive.  And he’s proven it to me too, time and time again, that he is indeed alive even today. 

Acts 2:36, “So let it be clearly known by everyone in Israel [and by you and me too] that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah!”

“Brothers and sisters, what should we do?”

“Each of us must turn from our sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Then we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to us and to our children, and everyone in every part of the world.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you, as strongly as I know how, save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray!” 
           
Prayer of Repentance
Oh God, we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Have mercy on us, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of our sins.  Wash us clean from our guilt.  Purify us of our sin.  For we recognize our shameful deeds—they haunt us day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have we sinned; we have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against us is just.  For we were born sinners—yes, from the moment we were conceived.  But You desire honesty from the heart, so You can teach us to be wise in our inmost being.  Purify us from our sins, and we will be clean; wash us, and we will be whiter than snow.  Oh, give us back our joy again; You have broken us—now let us rejoice.  Don’t keep looking at our sins.  Remove the stain of our guilt.  Create in us a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within us.  Do not banish us from Your presence, and don’t take Your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us again the joy of Your salvation, and make us willing to obey You.  Then we will teach Your ways to sinners, and they will return to You.  Forgive us for shedding the blood of your Son, O God who saves; then we will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.  Unseal our lips, O Lord, that we may praise You.  You would not be pleased with anything we could try to do to earn your forgiveness, or we would do them.  Even if we spent our whole lives trying to earn Your acceptance, You would not accept us.  The only sacrifice You want from us is a broken spirit.  A broken and repentant heart, O God, You will not despise.  Look at us with favor and help us; reconstruct Your holy dwelling place within our hearts.  Then You will be pleased with the things we do and our whole way of living will be pleasant in Your sight.

In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.


[i] Paraphrase Luke 2:52
[ii] Luke 3:22b
[iii] Paraphrase Mark 5:7
[iv] Paraphrase Matthew 15:11
[v] Paraphrase John 4:10