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Showing posts with label VBS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VBS. Show all posts

Monday, July 1, 2019

When Life is Good, God is Good


Intro
As we get ready for vacation Bible school at my church on July 8-12, I have been sharing a series of messages based on the same themes. We've been studying the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelite out of slavery in Egypt. God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good. When life is unfair, scary, or when it changes, or is sad, God is good. And today, I want to say that when life is good, God is good.


Nehemiah 4:14b
“Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious…”
  

Remember…
God is good. And Nehemiah commands us to remember. God's plans are for our life, but also span over generations. We must make a point to remember all the good that God has done over the span of generations. Sometimes the good we experience today is built upon the work God was doing hundreds of years ago. And perhaps the good He will do in generations to come is built upon the things He is working in our life today (and we may never see the full fruit of it).

Remember what God did in the Exodus all started way back in Genesis with a man named Abraham. God told Abraham, "Leave your homeland and go to a country I will show you, a land flowing with milk and honey. And I will make you the father of many nations. Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky." This seemed impossible to Abraham because he and his wife were already very old. But they trusted God and God was faithful. They had a child named Isaac. And Isaac had Jacob. And Jacob had twelve sons. One son was named Joseph and his brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery down in Egypt. But when life was unfair to Joseph, God was good. Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh's nightmare about the future and thus saved Egypt from a terrible famine. He saved not only Egypt, but also the nations around Egypt who came and bought food from Egypt during the famine. Even Joseph's brothers came and bought food and were saved. And so the Jacob's descendants (the Israelite) came to live in Egypt for 430 years. They multiplied and became so many the Egyptians felt threatened by them and forced them to be slaves to try and wipe them out. However, God was good and the Israelites only grew stronger. And so God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from Slavery in Egypt. Through 10 scary plagues, God convinced the Egyptians to capitulate and let the Israelites go. God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground. God is good.

Then Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land to see if it was a good land and if the Israelites could take it. Two spies--Joshua and Caleb--returned to say it was a good land and that God would help the Israelites take it. But the other ten spies were afraid and said the Canaanites were like giants and would defeat them. So God was disappointed by the Israelites' lack of faith. He decided no one from that generation would enter the Promise Land except for Joshua and Caleb. So the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years until everyone from that generation had died, except Joshua and Caleb. The Joshua became the leader of the Israelites when Moses died and he was ready to lead the Israelites across the Jordan river into the Promised Land. Again, with mighty power, God parted the waters of the Jordan River so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground. And Joshua wanted the people to never forget the mighty power and goodness of, so they set up a memorial. Listen to the story.

Joshua 4:1-7
1 When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
How Can We Remember Not to Forget?
When Life is Good, God is Good. Unfortunately, when life is Good, we tend to forget God. And when we forget, life loses it’s joy. And when we forget God, we stray off course and head toward trouble. It is part of human nature that when life is good, we tend to forget God. It starts out small, maybe because we think we don't need God as much when life is good. Soon we start to question if God is even real or just a superstition. We may get irritated that God has so many rules to follow, etc. We forget that the good life we enjoy came about because of the goodness of God. And when we stray, we start to run into all kinds of trouble. So, how can we remember not to forget? What can we do to help us not forget God?
Celebrate
Who doesn’t like to celebrate? It's fun. But let your celebrations be memorials to remember the goodness of God. That way, you are less likely to forget the goodness of God and that the goodness in your life comes from God. It helps you guard against forgetting, which will steal your joy and ultimately lead you into trouble. The Israelites set up 12 stones so they would always remember how God had been good to them as they crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. Even generations who never lived through it could look at the memorial and remember.

We have our own memorials too. Don't forget what they mean. This week in America, we celebrate the fourth of July when our nation won its independence. We often celebrate with fireworks. Are they just loud, colorful displays? No. They are meant to remind us of the rockets and artillery used in the war of independence when so many gave their life in the struggle for our nations freedom. America was just a bunch of backwater colonies with no army. How did we stand up against England, which was the most powerful military at the time? Could it be that God helped us win our independence against overwhelming odds. Shouldn't we remember this every time see fireworks, so that we never take our freedom or the goodness of God for granted? Celebrate in such a way that you never forget.

Worship
Worship is a verb. Through worship we adore and honor God. It’s what we were made for. And it helps us keep God at the center of our focus so we don’t forget. We worship on Sunday and then all throughout the week we meditate on the Word from worship. It helps keep us centered so we don't forget. Then when the week is over, we return to worship again. This spiritual discipline of weekly worship helps keep us focused. When our worship becomes sporadic, we lose our focus and begin to drift. Soon, we find we are headed towards all kinds of trouble because we forgot that following God faithfully is what brought us blessings to start with. So be faithful to worship the Lord regularly each week. Even during the summer, when you are away on vacation, consider how you can be faithful to worship. It will make your vacation even more meaningful.

Tithe
Tithing helps us to trust God and remember that all we have belongs to Him. It puts our faith in God’s providence and Lordship into practice. Tithing is giving 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church. So, if you earn $200 on your paycheck this week, you would give $20 to the church. That would be your tithe. If you earned $500, $50 would be your tithe. If you earned $1,000, $100 would be the tithe you give to God at church. BUt most people struggle to give a tithe. They think, I don't want to give God 10% of my money. And their we see their error in thinking. You see, it all belongs to God. It is not that God is asking you to give Him 10% of your money. He is letting you keep 90% of His money. Tithing is a challenging discipline that reminds you very vividly that God is good and you owe all your blessings to Him so you won't forget.


Serve 
Serving helps us remember it’s not all about us. God loves everyone and wants to help everyone. God chose the Israelites as His special people to be a royal priesthood. That's why he saved them from slavery. He wanted them to be a light to the gentles; in other words, He wanted them to help all people find a relationship with God. Unfortunately, the Israelites corrupted this original purpose to think they were better than everyone else. They thought God loved them and hated everyone else. But we know this is not true, because as John 3:16 says, "For God so love the world that he sent His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life."

America is the greatest nation in the world. Miraculously, through God's providence, we gained our independence from England and grew from nothing to the most powerful country in the world. Is this because God loves us more than He loves the rest of the world? Some people in America think so; others live as if this is the case. But the Truth is, God loves the whole world. He doesn't love Americans more than anyone else and we aren't better than anyone else. God blessed America so that it could be a blessing to the whole world. I you were born or live in this great nation, it is not so you can just indulge your selfish desires. God wants you to use your freedom and privileges to help others grow closer to God.

Serving others help you remember that this life is not all about you. God loves everyone and serving helps us refocus our attention away from ourselves on the people around us that God loves.
Make a Commitment 
When Life is Good, God is good. Now is the time to make a commitment to remember the goodness of God:

Commit to Celebrate – in ways that recall all the good God has done in your life

Commit to Worship – summer is a time when many slip away from worship. Reinforce your commitment to worship each week, even while on vacation.

Commit to Tithe – give 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church

Commit to Serve – how can you serve God and the people around you?

The most important commitment of all – Commit to follow Jesus as your Savior and Lord. I hope you will make that commitment today.

Monday, June 17, 2019

When Life is Sad, God is Good


Introduction
We've been studying the story of Exodus as we prepare for our July 8-12 Vacation Bible School.  The theme of VBS is God is Good.  We've learned when life is unfair, scary, or changes, God is good.  Today we learn that when life is sad, God is good.

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

When Life is Sad, God is Good
For this session, our VBS curriculum takes a detour from the Exodus story.  We switch to the New Testament story of Jesus.  The incredibly sad thing that happened to Jesus, for which he is most famous, is the crucifixion.  Though he was perfect in every way and deserved so much better, he was nailed to a cross.  In Exodus, God was delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  However, God's ultimate goal is to deliver all people from slavery--regardless of race or nationality.  He wants to deliver you and me.  You say, "But I'm not a slave!"  Yes you are.  We all are slaves to sin.  Every since humanity first chose to listen to Satan instead of God--trusting the Devil more than God--we've been slaves to sin.  We can't help ourselves; even if we don't want to in, we still do.  And God wants to set us free.  So He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do for the world what God did for the Israelites at Passover in Exodus.  God set them free from physical slavery, but through Christ He sets us free from spiritual slavery.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

It must have been so sad for his disciples to see the man they loved and worshiped crucified.  It was sad for his mother.  It was sad for his Father in heaven to see His perfect sun shamefully and painfully tortured and murdered.  It was sad, most of all, for Jesus to see these people he loved so much he left the glory of heaven to come save them turn on him.  It was sad as his disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him.  It broke his heart.  But even when life is sad, God is good.  Jesus became our Passover Lamb.  His blood shed on the cross became the atonement for our sin just as the lambs' blood on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt signaled the Angel of Death to spare them.  When we repent and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we pass from death to new life.  We are set free from slavery to sin.

Let’s listen to the story of Jesus’ arrest.

John 18:1-12
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up.
Yahweh – I AM
There is a peculiar phrase hidden in the story. Did you notice it? Jesus uses the phrase I AM three times: in verses 5, 6, and again in verse 8.  In fact, when he says it the first time, all the soldiers fall to the ground.  Why is that?  I AM is the name of God.  Remember, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked what His name was, God said, "I AM."  And here, Jesus uses those same words, "I AM."  And there is power in the name of God.  It knocks the soldiers to the ground!  No one took Jesus' life from him.  He chose to give it up for our sake.

In Hebrew, the name I AM is pronounced Yahweh; it is the proper name of God. It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning. In some sense, it means Lord. But it is more. It means “the eternal one, the existing one.” It means “reality” as in “true reality”. In other words: What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality. God is Truth. Our notions of reality are always skewed by our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception. But God is THE LORD. The Lord made it all. He controls it all. No one perceives the way things really are as accurately and deeply as God.
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope. I AM hope!"
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you! I AM salvation!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD. I will deliver you!  I AM deliverance!"

We are learning that God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.
When life is unfair, God is good.
When life is scary, God is good.
When life changes, God is good.
When life is sad, God is good.

In all these phrases, the one thing that does not change is: God is good.  The goodness of God is not defined by our feelings or experience. God is who He is. He is good. He is always good. God does not change.

We need to trust in the goodness of God—especially when life is sad. When our sadness drives us to despair, we must hold tight to our faith in the goodness of God.  Don't let your perception of God's character be corrupted by your sadness (or anger, or fear, or anything else).  God is good!

The unchangeable, incorruptible, unshakable nature of God is a sure foundation when life is sad. He is the great I AM, Yahweh, the Lord. He does not grow tired or weary. He does not lose hope. He does not give up.

At the same time, God is not insulated from our pain. Jesus is God. He says so right there in John the day he was arrested. He said, “I Am Jesus.” I AM is the eternal name of God and Jesus means “The Lord saves”. But the most amazing thing is how the Lord saves us. He saves us by living our experience.  He allows the forces of darkness to arrest him, beat him, and crucify him to death. So you see, God is not insulated from our pain. He experienced all the painful things we endure: betrayal, fear, unfair treatment, deep sadness, excruciating pain, loneliness, and disappointment.  He absorbed all these things and even death on the cross.

And today, when we are sad or afraid or worried about change (or whatever we are facing), Yahweh (the eternal unchanging Lord of all) is right here with us in the midst of it. He knows what we feel; He has felt it too. And wonder of wonders, God even takes our sadness and uses it for our ultimate good. When life is sad, God is good.

The Best Kind of Sorrow
The best kind of sadness, the sadness God can use for our greatest good, is sorrow over our sin.  You see, we have all done things that we shouldn't do--sometimes by mistake, and sometimes even on purpose.  And it is our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.  And it can be overwhelmingly sad when you realize your actions are the cause of Jesus' pain.  But that's a good sorrow, because it can drive you to your knees before God to say, "Lord, I am so sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me and help me not to act that way again."  That's what it's all about. God has been longing for the day you would repent of your sin and ask for forgiveness and seek His help to live a new and better life since the day humanity first fell into sin.  God is faithful and just.  When we confess our sin, He is quick to forgive and offer us a fresh start.  And the Holy Spirit will begin to work in you to make you a whole new creation, holy as God is holy.  Would you turn to God and be forgiven today?

Monday, June 10, 2019

When Life Changes, God is Good


Introduction
This is the third blog in a series base on my church's VBS theme for this summer--Life is Wild. God is Good.  It's all about the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt.  Today, we learn: When life changes, God is good.

Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

The Israelites lived in Egypt for over 430 years.  Imagine 400 years!  What was your family doing 430 years ago?  You probably have no idea.  What was America doing 430 years ago?  Well, America didn't even exist as a nation 430 years ago.  Consider this, the King James Version of the Bible--a version we consider very old, so old it is sometimes hard for us to understand it--hadn't yet been written 430 years ago.  And the Egyptians lived in Egypt for 430 years.  That's a long time.

The Egyptians were unfair to the Israelites.  They forced them to work as their slaves.  But when life is unfair, God is good.  God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.  Pharaoh said, “No!”  So God sent ten scary plagues to torment the Egyptians and convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free.  And when life is scary, God is good.  When your life is scary, trust God is working things out for your good.  The last plague was the scariest of all.  The Angel of Death struck the firstborn son of every family in Egypt; every family accept those who heeded God’s warning to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb lost their firstborn son.  The night after Passover, Pharaoh awoke to the sound parents crying all over Egypt and found that even his own son was dead.  Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go free.

The Israelites packed their things and left Egypt.  The word Exodus literally means “going out.”  The second book of the Bible, Exodus, tells the story of the Israelites going out of Egypt.  They were leaving behind everything they'd known.  Egypt was not their homeland, but the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years.  It was all they had ever known and all their parents and grandparents had known for generations.  It was going to be a huge change.  So the Israelite's needed to learn:  When life changes, God is good.

Pharaoh was a stubborn, arrogant man.  Even though the Lord God, Yahweh, had brought Pharaoh and all Egypt to their knees with the ten terrible plagues, Pharaoh changed his mind.  He wanted the Israelite slaves back.  He decided to chase them and drag them back to Egypt.  After all, he was still Pharaoh—the most powerful man in the world!

Pharaoh’s chariots bore down on the Israelites.  He had them trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.  Many of the Israelites cried out in fear.  “Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die?  It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than dead in the wilderness!”  This is a common sentiment for people who are struggling through a significant change.  Even when the changes are good, we complain and get stuck in negative thinking.  But God is good and He makes a way when there seems to be no way forward.  We have to trust Him.

Exodus 14:21-22 21 Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22 So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

The Rest of the Story
The Egyptians tried to pursue the Israelites, but God fought for His people.  The Egyptians saw the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry ground and followed them, but God cause confusion in their ranks.  Chariots got stuck or their wheels fell off.  The couldn't catch up to the Israelites.  Then, once all the Israelites were safely on the other side of the sea, God caused the waters of the Read Sea to come crashing back together upon the Egyptian army.  The passage says not a single one survived.  

You would think seeing the Lord fight for His people in this way would convince the Israelites to trust God more.  However, we see again and again that they complained.  The first example is when they come to the spring of Marah.  They and their animals are thirsty, but the water of the spring is bitter.  So, the Israelites complained, "Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die of thirst!  Things were so much better when we were slaves in Egypt!"  So God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into the spring and it made the water good to drink.

Then another time, the Israelites were complained they had plenty of food to eat, but they were starving in the wilderness.  So God made manna fall from heaven--a mysterious substance the Israelites could gather and eat.  Soon they complained about this too and said they wanted meat to eat.  So God made flocks of quail descend upon them and they had more meat to eat than they could stand.

Time and time again, God provided and the Israelites still complained.  They struggled as their lives dramatically changed.  In some sense, they longed for the safety and security of Egypt.  Even though they had been slaves, at least they knew what to expect from life.  Wandering in the dessert required them to trust God as their lives changed.

When life changes, God is good.
Often, God initiates change because it's for our own good.  God wanted to deliver the Israelite from Egypt, but His delivery was more than just a change of location.  The Israelites were slaves.  Even after they were free, they were still slaves in their minds.  God wanted to change their minds.  God wanted the Israelites to be His holy people, a Kingdom of priests who would represent Him to the whole world.  They were to be distinct and different from all other people.  They were to be a beautiful, bright light that would draw all people all over the world back to God.  The Israelites were part of God’s grand plan to save the whole world and would eventually usher in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  So God had to change the Israelites.

Change is hard—especially when it alters the very identity of who you are.  No wonder the Israelites were always complaining in Exodus.  We look back and we think, “Man, what a bunch of whiners!”  But understand this:  God wants to change you too.  He wants to change your fundamental identity.

Who are you?  What's your identity?  I mean, how would you describe yourself?  These are hard questions if you've ever really tried to answer them.  You might identify as a man or a woman (or something else).  Maybe you would say:  "I am a husband or a wife,  a parent, a child, a college student or retired."  You might choose your occupation as your identity--banker, farmer, lawyer, pastor, etc.  

God says, “Forget all that.  That's justr what the world says.  That’s not really who you are.  I’m going to give you a whole new identity--an eternal identity.  I made you and I know why. I'm going to help you realize who you really are according to My master plan.” 

A lot of people only become Christians because they want to go to heaven. Someone told them that they would go to Hell and suffer torment for eternity unless they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. And they want to go to heaven instead, so they become a Christian. And to be sure, the Bible does say, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." (Romans 6:23) But God says, “That’s not big enough. You need a whole new identity.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" And Galatians 6:15b says, "What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation."

And so, after we start following Christ, God begins to change our identity.  Once we were slaves, but God set us free.  But it takes a long time for the Holy Spirit to convince us we are really free so we start thinking like free people instead of people who are still slaves to sin.  God is changing our identity from sinner to saint.  He is changing you from a child of the Devil to a child of God.  He is changing you from someone who worships all the wrong things--material possessions, your family, a romantic relationship, the esteem of people, pleasure, or your own selfish desires--to someone who worships only God (as you were originally create to).

These are some of your eternal identities:  Free, Saint, Child of God, Worshiper of the One True God.  These are eternal.  They will never change.  Ten thousand million years from know, no one will even care that you were a lawyer or a doctor or even a parent.  All that will matter and remain is your identity in Christ.

The Exodus is a picture of the Christian life.   The Christian life is a process of surrendering to God each new day and allowing Him change our identity and make us His people.  It’s a life long journey as we walk through the wilderness of this life toward the Promised Land of Eternal Life with God.

Closing
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."

Change is inevitable.  We face many changes in this life.  Ultimately, God is changing us; and that’s a good thing!  Because, when life changes, God is good. 

When my son was a little child, he had a baby blanket.  He carried it everywhere with him and whenever life was too much for him, he'd stick the corner of that blanket in his mouth and suck.  As you can imagine that blanket would get really nasty and we had to wash it often.  Well, after a few years it was really work out, but he just wouldn't give it up.  So as he was getting ready to go to preschool, my wife and I came up with a plan.  We cut the blanket in half.  The a few days later, we cut the half blanket in half.  We kept this up until Gavin only had a small square left.  Then we finally convinced him to give it up.  We promised to keep it safe for him.  (We still have the remains of that  blanket packed away somewhere in a memory box.)

Blankets wear out, but God stays the same.  So cling to God in the midst of change, because God never changes.  Malachi 3:6a - “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” God is Yahweh – The Great I Am (Exodus 3:14).  He is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end… (Revelation 1:8).  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) 

So when life changes, remember:  God is good.  Trust Him.  Cling to Him.  And be transformed.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

When Life is Unfair, God is Good


Introduction
We're going to have a great Vacation Bible School this summer--July 8-12.  The theme of our curriculum from Group Publishers is Life is Wild, God is Good.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share a a 5 part series based off the 5 days of VBS.  God is Good! Even when life is unfair, or is scary, or when life changes, or is sad, God is good! And when life if good, God is good.  Throughout the series, we will learn about the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Today, we learn how the Israelites became slaves; and we learn that even when life is unfair, God is good!  That’s not just something we say.  That’s what Scripture teaches.

Scriptures
Nahum 1:7 – The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes.  He is close to those who trust in him.

Exodus 1:11 – So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king.

Background
God is deeply and personally involved in our lives.  The Bible is full of stories of how God is personally involved in people’s lives.  So don’t ever think God doesn’t care about you or that He has more important things to do than worry about your life and your struggles.  God is all powerful, all loving, and present everywhere.  He is more than capable of being personally involved in your life (and mine and everyone else’s life on the planet).  There is no limit to God’s involvement and He cares deeply about all of us.

However, we must also understand that God’s story is infinitely greater than just our lives.  The beautiful tapestry of God’s master plan weaves through everyone’s lives and it spans across many generations.  The story of the Exodus is a brilliant example of God working out His plans in individual lives as well as across many generations of people.

Exodus is the second book of the Bible.  But perhaps you remember the story of Joseph from the first book, Genesis.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous and so they sold him into slavery in Egypt.  It wasn't fair, but God was still good to Joseph.  He gained favor in Egypt and eventually rose to be the second in command to Pharaoh.  God helped Joseph interpret a dream that prophesied Egypt would have 7 years of surplus harvest followed by seven years of famine.  And so Joseph led the Egyptians to store up extra food during the 7 good years so they would have enough for the 7 bad years.  His efforts saved thousands of Egyptians from starvation, including many of the people leaving around Egypt--even Joseph's brothers and their families who came to live in Egypt.  Life us unfair, but God was good.

The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years.  Sometimes, the numbers in the Bible get lost on us.  Think about the magnitude of 400 years for a minute.  What does 400 years mean in the timeline of American history?  400 years ago, America didn’t even exist as a nation.  The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years.  Let that sink in for a minute. 

The story of Exodus really showcases how God’s plans involve individuals as well as spanning across many generations.  God was intimately involved in Joseph’s life, but his plans weren’t just for Joseph, the spanned across 400 years and many generations right down to the Israelite slaves in Egypt.  God is at work in our lives in much the same way.  God is intimately interested in you and He is working out His plans for your life right now.  However, His plans are grander than just you.  In fact, God was at work 400 years ago in your ancestors lives, and His plans for them were setting things up for you today!  You probably don’t even know the names of your ancestors from 400 years ago, let alone their struggles, problems, suffering, and victories.  But God is good and He used even their suffering to be a blessing for them and for you today.

When Life is Unfair… God is Good!
Life was unfair for the Israelites in Egypt.  Their ancestor, Joseph, was a brilliant, godly man who saved everyone in Egypt from starving to death.  But his noble actions and the favor it imparted to his people were soon forgotten.  New Pharaohs came to power who didn’t care and they became suspicious of the Israelites.  And they imposed harsher and harsher treatments.  Soon they forced the Israelites to work as their slaves.  It wasn’t fair.  But guess what:  life ain’t always fair, is it?

But guess what else:  When life is unfair, God is good!  The more the Egyptians persecuted the Israelites, the more God made them prosper.  They kept having children and growing families.  They continue to thrive, despite the harsher and harsher conditions.  They grew to be so many, the Egyptians were paranoid the Israelites would overpower them.  So Pharaoh decided to hatch one of the most evil plans you can imagine:  Every time a baby boy was born to the Israelites, they were to be drowned in the river.

But still, God was good.  God helped the Israelite midwives and the parents to find ways around Pharaoh’s horrible plans.  And Exodus 1:20-21 says, “God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.”

Principle – When life is truly unfair to you, understand it may be an opportunity for God to work tremendous good for you in hidden ways.  Difficulties make you stronger.  Trials make you wiser.  Suffering can draw you closer to God.  And remember, it is not just for you.  God is working out plans that span across generations.  Do you know that the trials and tribulations your parents and grandparents and great grandparents endured for generations, have brought you many of the blessings you enjoy in this life?  Memorial Day reminds us all of the sacrifices so many in our country made to guarantee the blessings we enjoy in the United States.  Was it fair that they should die so that we can celebrate and enjoy the blessings of God?  Still, God was good to them in ways we may never understand.  And God is good to us because of what they endured.  Life is unfair, but God is good!

Things Often Get Worse Before They Get Better
When the time was right and God was ready to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians, he chose a man named Moses.  In Exodus chapter 5 we read that God sent Moses and his brother to demand that Pharaoh set the Israelites free.  Do you think Pharaoh listened and let the Israelites free?  Of course not!  Not at first.  In fact, he did the opposite.  He made conditions even worse for the Israelites.  Pharaoh said they had to continue slaving away to make bricks, but he was going to provide the straw they needed; they would have to collect it themselves and still turn out the same number of bricks.  So the Israelites suffered even worse and they were really angry at Moses for stirring up trouble for them.

And this is another important principle for you to understand.  Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. When you are struggling and God comes to deliver you, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And when things get worse before they get better, you have to check our faith and ask:  do I really trust God? Do I really believe the Lord when He says He’s gonna set me free?

God is Lord
One of the great themes of the Exodus story is the Lordship of God.  In fact, the book of Exodus is really when God reveals Himself as “the Lord”.  When God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush in Exodus 3:15 He tells Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.” 

Yahweh is the proper name of God.  It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning.  In some sense, it means Lord.  But it is more.  It means “the eternal one, the existing one.”  It means “reality” as in “true reality”.  In other words:  What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality.  God is Truth.  Our notions of reality are always skewed my our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception.  But God is THE LORD.  The Lord made it all.  He controls it all.  No one perceives the way things are as accurately as God. 
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope.” 
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD.  I will deliver you!”

In Egypt, Pharoah was considered lord, like a god.  He said to Moses and the Israelites, “Who is you’re god?  He’s nothing!  You’re nothing.  I’m Pharaoh!  I’m like a god!  I have the power to enslave you or destroy you!  I even have the power to make you drown your baby boys in the river!” 

And so, the stage is set.  A great conflict is coming between God and Pharoah to prove who really is the Lord?  Check back next week to hear more of the story.

Closing
But today, you have some questions to answer in your own heart: 
Do you really believe God when He says He’s gonna set you free?
Do you believe God  is THE LORD and has the power to deliver you?
Do you believe and will you trust THE LORD, even if things get worse before they get better?

Life is wild.  God is Good.  Even when life is unfair, God is good.



Monday, June 18, 2018

When You Are Lonely, God is With You

Introduction
            As you may have read in my previous blogs, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judea around 600 BC.  They destroyed the capital of Jerusalem and burned their temple to the ground.  All Jews who were not killed in the battle were taken captive back to Babylon.  The best and brightest like the biblical figures Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to serve as advisors in the Babylonian empire.  They were given new Babylonian names and forced to live as Babylonians.  The hope was they would be completely assimilated and forget the homeland ever existed. 
            Daniel and his friends must have felt lonely.  What makes you feel lonely?  Have you lost someone you care about?  Do you feel like no one thinks or believes like you anymore?  Are you facing a battle no one else really understands--even those who try to be kind and support you?  Are you a leader or a parent (which can sometimes be a very a lonely job)?  Today, I want you to know when you are lonely, God is with you.
            King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon when Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity, but his reign did not last forever.  Others succeeded him like King Belshazzar.  (There is a really cool story in Daniel Chapter 5 where Belshazzar literally saw "the writing on the wall" just before his life ended.  It's a great read and it is the story from which we get the expression "Can't you see the writing on the wall?")  As Babylonian power began to wane in the world (all worldly kingdoms come and go), it created a power vacuum where variousl kingdoms and leader vied for power.  Of those clamouring for the top were the Medes and the Persians. 
            Daniel 6 tells of a person called Darius the Mede.  Historians are not sure who he is.  It's possible he was a general of the Mede’s who conquered Belshazzar (or who ruled for a time in the power vacuum after Babylon fell).  He is called King Darius, but we get the sense that his status as "king" is a precarious one.  One thing's for sure.  It’s lonely at the top.  You are responsible for taking care of the kingdom while also fighting off everyone who wants to take your place.
           We also see Daniel in chapter 6.  He is a, a follower of the One True God of the Bible.  Daniel is older now than he was in the previous chapters of the book.  He has survived multiple kings and kingdoms.  Through it all, he has been highly respected by them all for his ability and most of all his integrity.  
  
 Daniel 6:1-18
1Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

[I’m going to stop the story here.  If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to check back next Sunday.  Today, our task is to wrestle with the lonely night Daniel spent in the lion’s den.  If we jump to the end of the story too quickly, we might miss what God wants to say to us today, which is this:  When you are lonely, God is with you.]

King of the Hill
            When I was a kid, I used to play a game called king of the hill.  There was a dirt mound hill in the play ground and all the kids would scramble and fight their way to the top. Whoever made it to the top first was "king of the hill."  Now the kings job was to stay at the top by fighting off all the challengers.  Everyone else's job was to dethrone the king and take his place. 
            Now, if we'd been smart, we would have built alliances and worked together.  The king could have enlisted a few helpers by giving them some special privileges in return for their helping in fighting off the challengers.  3 or 4 peole working together would have more success than on lone king trying to defend his hilltop.
            It seems that is what Darius decided to do.  He divided his kingdom into 120 provinces with twelve high officials to rule them.  Of course, the problem with this is, who would keep the twelve high officials in line?  Well, Darius had a solution for that too.  He designated three of his best, most trusted administrators to oversee the twelve.  Daniel was one of those administrators and it soon became clear to Darius that Daniel was the most capable and trustworthy of them all.  He egan to elevate Daniel above all the rest and this made everyone else jealous.

Darius’ plan for King of the Hill
            When you’re on top, jealous people will always find something to bring you down (even if they have to make it up).  The other administrators and all the high officials allied together to bring down Daniel, but there they couldn't find anything against Daniel--he was a talented and honest man with great integrity.  The only chink in Daniel's armor was related to his commitment to God. Daniel would not violate his obedience to God, even if ordered by the king.
            So, the administrators and high officials went to the king and stroked his ego and tricked him into making a law where, for thirty days, no one could pray to anyone accept King Darius.  So in essence, the were making him like a god for thirty days.  Now, that was probably pretty appealing to a guy who had such a struggle to hold on to or enforce his authority.  So he feels pretty good about it and agrees and signs it into law, without really thinking about the implications for Daniel.  And so now, Daniel ends up in a quandary, because the Ten Commandments say "Do not worship any god accept the Lord."  So will Daniel maintain his integrity and do what he knows is right or will he bow to the new law, violate his conscious, and disobey the Lord?  He's got a tough decision to make and his life is at stake. 


There’s A Lion Already Outside the Den             The story makes you fearful for poor Daniel because he is facing the lion's den.  But what you might miss is there is already a lion outside the den prowling around.  What I mean is, there is already a dangerous threat to Daniel that I would argue is even more important than the threat to his life from the lion's den.  It's the same threat each one of us faces when it comes to our integrity.  You see, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  The Devil is on the prowl.  He wanted to destroy Daniel witness.  If Daniel caves, the Devil has the ultimate victory.  Daniel integrity and witness and all that is truly important about him is destroyed.
            The Devil is a lion going about ready to tear apart the witness of the faithful today.  He wants to destroy the witness and resolve of God’s faithful children today.  He wants to discredit, remove, silence, and make irrelevant Christ’s followers so no one in this world will listen to us when we speak God’s truth.  We all have a choice to make.  Will we remain true to what we know is right or will we cave to the pressure to go along with the crowd?  How we respond will either show integrity and strengthen our credibility or greatly weaken or destroy our witness.  What will you chose to do?
            Daniel knew exactly what to do.  Verse 10, when he learned of the law saying no one could pray to anyone except King Darius, Daniel went home and got one his knees and prayed—as usual—to the God of heaven.  I want you to notice a few things here.  
           First of all notice that Daniel prayed.   Prayer gives you strength, because it keeps you connected to the One True God, the source of Life.  When you are lonely, prayer reminds you that you are not alone.  God is right there with you. 
            It is precisely in those moments when I have felt the most alone that prayer has helped me recognize the true nature of God the most.  It is precisely in those moments when I felt everyone had abandoned me, or when I felt no one cared, or when I felt I had failed and no one could love me, or when the world was so dark that I didn’t want to be around anyone else that I was able to pray to God and know His eternal, everlasting, ever-loving, all-knowing, all-embracing presence.  Such prayer during the darkest times reminds me at the very depths of my soul that if everything else falls apart or fails—even if the sun and moon themselves were to fall from the skies—it is OK because I am a child of the One True and Living God who made the Heaven and the Earth and He holds me in the palm of His mighty and loving hand.  And it is an experience that chases away all loneliness because I am not alone.  I am a child of God.  He is my Father.  He will never abandon me.  I will never be alone. 
            Second, notice it says Daniel prayed, as usual.  Now here is something you could easily miss.  Daniel prayed as usual.  That means this wasn't something he just started when he found out aout the crazy law or the lion's den.  This was already Daniel's regular daily practice--to pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.  This was what he'd being doing for years.  And he kept doing it and he did it in his open window.  He wasn't hiding anything from anyone.
            Now, there's an important lesson for us in this.  If you are going to take a stand and do the right thing when the challenge comes, you’ve got to be training everyday up to that point through regular, daily spiritual disciplines. 
            The Iron man is a grueling race competition that includes a long distance swim, biking, and then a marathon race.  Just to finish an Iron Man is a great accomplishment.  It takes a lot of training to get ready.  No one just decides to do an Iron Man race on a whim.  They don’t wake up on the day of the race and roll out of bed—without ever having trained—and say, “I think I’ll compete in the Iron Man today…”  That would be ludicrous, I don't care how fit and athletic you are.
            Neither would you want to wait for the day of trials to come before you start praying.  Start praying today.  Build your spiritual muscles now so they will be ready when the troubles come.  Read and study your Bible so you know what to believe.  Pray daily (Daniel prayed three times a day) so you know God with all your heart.  Worship the Lord in private and together with other believers.  Make it your faithful and usual habit.  Troubles come for us all, start training for them to day so you will always be ready. 

Conclusion
            This past Sunday was Father's Day so I want to end with a story about my own father.  On time when I was young, my dad was driving with me and my siblings in the car.  We were on the interstate and there were only two lanes.  Well, two cars were driving side by side very slow and it seemed as if they were doing it on purpose.  We were right behind them and they would not make an opening for cars to get through.  There were 10 or 20 cars stacked up behind them in both lanes.  My dad was really aggravated because it was becoming obvious they were just being jerks.  So, somehow, he managed to get around the cars (I think he did it on the shoulder of the road).  Once around, most people would just drive ahead and leave the situation behind, but not my dad.  He decided he was going to break this traffic jamming pair up so all the other cars could get through.  He got in front of one of them and slowed down to 50 miles per hour.  They still would not separate.  Dad said, "I'm gonna make them separate if I have to slow all the way down to a stop.  So he started slowing down.  45 MPH.  40 MPH.  Still no separation.  35 MPH.  30 MPH.  Finally, one of the cars sped up and went by leaving an opening that cars began to pour through.  One driver, thankful for my father's rebellious act rolled down his window and raised his fist in the air in the salute of defiance!  I have never felt so proud of my dad!
            Fathers are often the ones who teach us to take a stubborn stand for what it right, no matter the cost.  Challenges are coming for us all.  Will you stand up for what’s right?  I encourage you to do the right thing and also to start praying for courage and integrity for the challenge today.  And never forget--because it can be a lonely battle to do the right thing--when you feel lonely, God is with you!