When God called Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, there was just a little tiny problem. The Egyptians weren’t about to let the Israelites go. After all, the Israelites were free slave labor. It was going to take something powerful before Pharaoh would agree to let them go, and that’s when the battle of the “plagues” began. It started with Moses turning the Nile into blood, something that the Egyptian magicians were able to somehow reproduce. Then came the frogs, which the Egyptians were able to simulate. When the flies showed up, the magicians began to choke. They had a sense that there was something bigger than man behind these things. For the Egyptians, things went from bad to worse. Livestock died, people were covered with boils, and enormous hailstones fell from the sky.
People have always tried to follow the path of the magicians, trying to explain away what God does. Like the magicians, they will even try to copy the kinds of things that God can do. In doing so, people miss the lesson that the Egyptian magicians themselves learned with the flies – it was the finger of God (Ex. 8:19). The magicians were able to copy the first two plagues, but they were powerless to replicate the next eight.
Just like those first two plagues, men can indeed do amazing things. There are self-help books and support groups that can accomplish much. Yet when it comes to true, powerful, and lasting deliverance, we will always stop short until we bring God into the picture. There is someone greater than you. There is someone able to help. His name is Jesus.
Jesus did not have many kind things to say about the scribes and Pharisees of His day. They were judgmental, hypocritical, mean-spirited spiritual leaders of a nation that needed desperately to know God. They did have one good quality, which Jesus did not disparage. Regarding the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:3).
It is very important that spiritual leaders live what they preach. We live in a very dark world that needs to see the light of a person whose “walk” matches their “talk”. So why didn’t Jesus just say, “Ok everyone, completely ignore everything connected to the Pharisees, because they’re just a bunch of hypocrites”? Jesus actually encouraged His listeners to pay attention to the words of the Pharisees. Why? Because despite all their faults, they taught from God’s Word.
God’s Word is true, despite the flaws of the person who is speaking it. God’s Word is powerful, even if someone is abusing it by living a hypocritical life. There are going to be times when a favorite pastor or leader will have a very public fall. That doesn’t mean that the things they taught from God’s Word were necessarily bad. I’m not trying to excuse the flaws of men who have stumbled, but I do want to call to your attention that God’s Word is true, no matter who is speaking it. God’s Word is the baby in that old saying: “Don’t throw out the baby out with the bath water”.
Jacob had a reputation of being a deceiver. With all the trouble he caused, he left home a lonely, broken man. He found God at a place he named “Bethel” (“house of God”), and he promised he would follow God if God would help him.
Jacob ended up in his mother’s distant home town, living with his Uncle Laban. While Jacob had been a bit of a deceiver, he was nothing like his Uncle Laban. Having fallen in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, Jacob negotiated a contract where he would work for Laban seven years in exchange for the hand of Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob and gave him his other daughter instead. Then they negotiated for Jacob to work another seven years, and this time for Rachel. The third contract with Laban was to allow Jacob to build up his own family wealth, but along the way Laban kept changing the terms of the contract. First it involved one kind of goat, then another. When it became obvious that Jacob needed to leave with his family, God spoke to Jacob in a dream, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. (Genesis 31:12)
All through Jacob’s life, God knew what was going on. All along the way, God was working behind the scenes to provide for Jacob. All along the way, God was keeping His promises. God does the same for us, beloved. Like Jacob, we may not realize it towards the end of the season, but it’s still true. God hasn’t forgotten you. He sees. He works.
Abram was a man with an amazing history. While the rest of the world followed after silly idols, Abram chose to worship God. A man of faith, he left the land of his fathers and followed God to a place he’d never been before. As a warrior, he led his small group of servants to fight with the kings of the east in order to rescue his nephew Lot. He was a man of promise, God having promised him that he would one day have a son. He was also quite flawed. When it began to look like the promised son would never come, he took things into his own hands and fathered a son through a slave girl instead of his wife. The not-promised-son (Ishmael) and his descendants (Arabs) have caused trouble for Abram’s family ever since.
Things got back on track when God renewed His covenant with Abram. This covenant was so significant that God even changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Within a year after this covenant, Abraham would have his promised son. What changed? God said, “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:11). Both literally and figuratively, circumcision is a “cutting off of the flesh”. I find it interesting that the promised blessings followed the dealing with the flesh. Too often God’s hopes for my life get sidetracked when I live after the flesh and give birth to Ishmael-sized problems. The blessed life is not just about having more of the Spirit, it’s about choosing to live less after the flesh.
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (Genesis 3:4)
There’s really not much new in this world when it comes to temptation. Oh the things we get tempted with might look a little different, the sins might get new names, but it all still works the same. The pattern of temptation and sin stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
The serpent first comes to make you question what God has said. He will ask you if God really meant to say that the thing you struggle with is actually a sin. He might tell you that God actually didn’t mean what He said, and that the thing you are contemplating isn’t all that bad. He might even tell you that you have a genetic disposition towards this thing, and if God made you that way, then what could be so wrong?
The second thing the serpent does is to claim that the rules have changed. Even though God warned Adam that eating of the forbidden fruit would result in death, the serpent knew better. One of the things that gets twisted in our minds when we face temptation is that we begin to think that somehow we are different. We think that somehow the rules don’t apply to us. Yet, when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit, death did indeed enter the human race.
You can learn from Adam and Eve’s sin. Choose to treasure God’s Word. God means what He says. The rules haven’t changed. You can avoid the consequences when you just say no. God’s ways are best.
In seeking to impart wisdom to his son, King Solomon warned about several kinds of people, people he did not want his son to emulate. One of those types of people is known as the “lazy” man, or the “sluggard”. The lazy man is the one who likes to sleep (6:9). He might have lots of dreams and goals, but never accomplishes any of them because he is … lazy (13:4). The sluggard might have a bowl of food before him, but he is too lazy to even feed himself (19:24). The lazy man doesn’t work hard when he’s supposed to be working, and hence he doesn’t have much to show for his life when harvest time comes (20:4). The sluggard actually has desires and goals, but they end up causing him only hurt because he is too lazy to do anything about them (21:15). The lazy man isn’t even all that stupid, in fact he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in town (26:16). Yet one of the things that strikes me about the “lazy” man is the fact that he hides behind his excuses. Solomon wrote, “The lazy man says, “There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion is in the streets!”” (Proverbs 26:13)
Now just because the lazy man says there is a lion in the streets, doesn’t make it so. He might elaborate on the probability of panthera leo stalking the neighborhood and impress you with his Latin at the same time. He might protest as you challenge the legitimacy of his “excuse”. He might say, “But what if there is a lion outside?” My friends, wouldn’t you agree that the fears we have of the great “what ifs” rarely pan out? We all might do a little better if we learn to drop the excuses and just do our best.
There is a right way to live and a wrong way to live. I have this sneaking suspicion that at some time every person on this planet has been aware of this truth. When we make the choice to do the wrong things, there is something we hear inside our heads that tells us we’ve made a bad choice. Some people learn to quiet that voice until they can only barely hear it. Others make excuses for that voice and blame their parents or their community for the feeling of guilt they experience. Others will go a different way and live their entire lives sinking in a cesspool of shame.
My friend, there is another way to deal with the wrong choices you have made. God offers us forgiveness. The prophet Micah wrote, “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18–19)
Some argue that it’s just not right for a serial killer to be forgiven by God by simply asking for it. Yet what we often neglect to remember is why God can forgive in the first place. God doesn’t just look the other way when a crime is committed. God always makes sure that every crime is properly punished. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth to pay for our crimes. He paid a debt He didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. Forgiveness is here for you. Real forgiveness.
Did your parents ever teach you that saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? I don’t know if I heard it first from my parents, or who taught it to me, but over the years I’ve learned that there isn’t a whole lot of truth to that. You know what I mean? Words can actually hurt. They can cause a bit of emotional trauma if spoken at just the wrong time, in the cruelest way. Yet I wonder if the inventor of that axiom didn’t have another goal in mind for its hearers. I wonder if the intent was to teach us that we shouldn’t let words hurt us like we often do.
I have to confess, I can get my feelings hurt pretty easily. I’m beginning to learn that I’m acting a bit on the “foolish” side when I react too quickly. Solomon wrote, Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. (Proverbs 12:16)
I have to confess that I’ve said some pretty stupid things that I regret ever having let loose from my lips. I wish I could take those words back. However, when someone says something to me that they regret, I am quick to hold on to those words and immerse myself in the insult to the point that I become either depressed or outraged.
I think it would be better to let it go. Don’t be too quick to react to an insult. Sometimes the “insult” could have some truth to it, and I might actually learn to grow from it – as long as I’m not annoyed. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but you don’t have to let words do the same.
It seems that I do some things in life a little better when someone is watching me. But probably the thing I do best with an audience is handle temptation. When someone is watching me, I will tend to do a little better when faced with the choice of a hot fudge sundae or yogurt. Some have found it easier to face temptation by having a friend to call when they are being tempted. But sometimes even your accountability partner doesn’t answer their phone. So what do you do when you think you’re all alone?
Solomon might have been the king of Israel and the smartest man on the planet, but he was also part of one of the most dysfunctional families on record. His parents met when his father was out on the rooftop spying on a naked woman. His mom was that woman. His parents were married only after having committed adultery and murder. Solomon’s brother committed adultery with his father’s concubines on the palace roof in front of the people. Solomon himself had an interesting relationship with women. We all love his amazing love poem “The Song of Songs”, but sometimes forget that he also had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. So when Solomon is telling his son some tips about how to deal with sexual temptation, he speaks from experience. Pay attention. Solomon told his son, “For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths” (Proverbs 5:21 NIV).
You have an audience of One. He’s hoping you do well.
When Jesus comes back, the world’s armies will be gathered against Him. He will respond to their aggression with the sword of His mouth, and every enemy will be conquered. As Jesus sets up His kingdom, He will rule and reign from Jerusalem. As He rules, a most amazing thing will take place at the Temple. Water will begin to trickle from under the door of the Temple and there on that desert mountain, a river will start to flow. The river will flow eastward until it empties into that vast salt water lake known as the Dead Sea. Ezekiel records, “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed” (Ezekiel 47:8).
Even though I believe Ezekiel is describing a real event in our future, I can’t help but think of the picture it paints of what Jesus wants to do in our lives right now.
Jesus wants to conquer you. He wants to sit on the throne of your life. You might say to me, “Well what’s stopping Him?” And my answer is simple. You are stopping Him. For Jesus to be the ruler of your life, you have to stop fighting Him and surrender. And when you stop fighting Him, something wonderful happens. The Holy Spirit begins to flow from your heart. The river flows from where His throne is. The river flows from where He is worshipped. Wherever this river goes, dead things come alive. That dead sea of bitterness and resentment in your heart can be healed. It starts with simply yielding. Let Him win. You.