Beware Of Yourself!

-Evil Appears As A Friend!

Philip Yancey is a popular Christian author who used “Chinese Opera”— in his book, A Skeptic’s Guide To Faith— to help illustrate a point.  “In Chinese opera,” Yancey points out, “Heroes wear a certain color of face paint with a few simple strokes, while villains wear a different palette in complex patterns. In real life,” he continues, “unlike Chinese opera, we cannot always tell the heroes & the villains by the color of paint on their faces. More often, evil appears as a friend with a smell like perfume.” In real life, he said, it’s not always easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is.

-Heroes & Villains!

When we read through the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, we’re introduced to Korah, who rebelled against Moses until God opened up the earth and it swallowed up he & his followers! We also read how Moses struck the rock, to produce water in the desert when God had commanded him to speak to the rock; and, how Israel failed to fully trust that God would go before them, into a battle & the consequences of their disobedience. We also read about the Prophet Balaam’s talking donkey; or, more accurately how God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to God. In each of these instances, there was a hero & a villain; and, the text of Scripture is pretty forthright about who was who!

-Blindly Believing We’re Right!

Today, I’d like to encourage you to look at each one of these stories through a little different lens. I want you to look at them through the eyes of the villain! Here’s why! Because each of us has more in common with the antagonist, in the story, than we really want to admit. I don’t believe that any of them started out being the scoundrel! But, they deceived themselves! And, just like each of them, we have the ability to deceive ourselves! We can blindly believe that we’re in the right; and, everyone else, in our story, is in the wrong!

-Worthless Religion!

Let me tell you why self-deception is such a critical subject for us to talk about— because God has included multiple Scriptures to warn us about deceiving ourselves! In other words, it’s something we sinful humans are prone to do! We are prone to deceive ourselves about a lot of things; but, we’re especially inclined to deceive ourselves spiritually! In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked those, who were listening to Him, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” And, James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” In other words, you can deceive your heart about your faith!

-Not Everyone Who Calls Him Lord!

Jesus also said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me” Matthew 7:21-23. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words— the person you are most easily deceived by is yourself! Beware of yourself! That’s what Jesus is really saying there, isn’t it? Self-deception is so serious that you can think you’re a believer & a follower, of Jesus when you aren’t; and, by the very definition of “self-deception,” you wouldn’t know it because you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re saved! But, the truth will one day be revealed!

Don’t Forget To Remember!

-Painful Memory Loss!

Depending on your translation, of the Bible, the word “remember” can be found some 165 times combined in the Old & New Testaments. It can be found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 15 times, making it one of the keywords in the entire book! Memory is a terrible thing to lose! Just ask individuals who have watched a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s or Dementia— diseases of the brain that slowly cause a decline in memory, thinking & reasoning skills!

-A Pelicans Free Lunch Program!

Loss of memory can be deadly; even, to a flock of California pelicans. A few years back it made the news that a flock of pelicans had come to observe how a fishing company began cleaning their catch each day at a nearby dock where they could conveniently discard the fish scraps into the water. The pelicans, drawn to the daily occurrence, soon gave up fishing for themselves & voluntarily domesticated themselves into a life of leisure, just hanging around the dock ‘til the fishermen showed up! But, when the fishing company discovered there was a market for fish scraps, the free meals disappeared & it wasn’t long before the pelicans took on an emaciated appearance that drew the public’s interest & a group of experts came to investigate!

-They Forgot How To Fish!

What they observed was, that, for some reason, the pelicans seemed unable or unwilling to snatch up the abundance of food, in the sea, that most pelicans gladly hunted! What they concluded, from the investigations, was that the pelicans were starving because they no longer remembered how to fish. Isn’t that crazy? Pelicans were created to fish; but, they failed to remember what pelicans do! Getting back to the book of Deuteronomy, there’s a very good reason why that word “remember” is found so frequently throughout the book.

-Remember The Last 40 Years!

Moses is speaking to the 2nd Generation of Israelites who had grown up over the last 40 years in their wilderness journey. All of the 1st Generation is dead except for Joshua, Caleb, and Moses. The people of Israel are at their last campsite before they cross the Jordan River & begin moving into the Promised Land of Canaan. They are back at Kadesh-Barnea for the 2nd time—the same place there were at almost 40 years previously after the Exodus, from Egypt, where they had listened to the bad report from the 10 spies & rebelled against God’s plan for them; and, they began wandering in the desert! So, Moses has gathered the people together so he could speak to them & help them to “remember” the last 40 years!

-Reaping The Consequences!

He also uses this time to rehearse God’s law with them! He exhorts them to have faith & to trust in God as they begin to take possession of the land. Directed by God’s Spirit, Moses is not assuming that this generation will remember the law & the promises that God made, in a covenant, with Israel back when they left Egypt. So, Deuteronomy sounds quite familiar, to the book of Exodus, as Moses restates all the instructions & laws. He reminds them of the consequences their fathers & mothers faced because of their sinful disobedience to God! In doing so, he tells them to “remember” that we always face unpleasant consequences when we fail to “remember” what God says in His Word.  Let us “remember” this lesson—you’re life will always reap bitterness when living contrary to God’s instruction in Scripture! Always!

 

Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

You Reap What You Sow!

-God Honors Those Who Honor Him!

The life of obedience, to God’s word, really is the best life! It’s a happy life! God honors you when you honor His word! He blesses you! The Prophet Hosea said that sinful disobedience, to God, is like sowing the wind; and, when you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind! It’s that “reap what you sow” principle! For the last several posts, we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments & the rest of God’s Law in the book of Exodus! In Exodus 11, God tells Israel, His people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today.”  There’s that “reap and sow” principle again!

-We Need A Mediator!

If you sow “OBEDIENCE” you’ll reap a “BLESSING”! But, sow “DISOBEDIENCE” and you reap a “CURSE.” It’s because of our proclivity to sin, that God’s law reveals our need for an “intercessor.” God gave Israel the Levitical priesthood. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle & the Holy of Holies; and, then only once a year! And, when they entered, they were required to bring an animal blood sacrifice. The priests were also responsible to wear special clothing & had to be washed in a special ceremonial fashion. The point was that God is HOLY! And, we are NOT HOLY! We need a go-between! A mediator! And, the entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ— the LAMB who was slain! “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself—a ransom for all” 1 Tim 2:5,6.  We cannot make it to God on our own! We need Jesus to be our mediator!

-Sin’s Consequence=Death!

Even in the Old Testament, God’s Law required the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice to cover our sin! In a very graphic way, the Law depicts God’s requirement for the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty! That burning carcass, on the altar, was a vivid reminder that the consequence, of our sin, is DEATH! God chose to accept the sacrifice of a spotless lamb as representative of the One who was to be the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus, God’s only Son! When we say that Israel’s sacrifice, of a lamb, was “efficacious”, we mean it was “capable of having the desired result! It was effective!” God said a substitutionary atonement was effective in curbing His righteous judgment! It appeased Him! But, only because it was a Gospel picture of Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Was Always God’s Plan!

Every lamb offered, on the altar, was a foreshadowing of God’s own Lamb—His own Son—who would be offered as the ultimate sacrifice to take away ALL SIN FOREVER! And, all the furniture, in Israel’s Tabernacle, pointed to Jesus. The Lampstand pointed to Jesus, who was the light of the world! The showbread pointed to Jesus, who was the bread of life! Jesus was always God’s plan. It wasn’t because the Law of Moses failed; and, God was forced to come up with a “Plan B.” No, the law finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in the Gospel, the good news about Jesus! Paul makes this point crystal clear for us: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:24. The law acts as our guardian, to deliver us to Jesus! We’re justified, not through the law; but, by Jesus’ sacrifice!

 

God’s Plan Is Good!

-He Uses Evil Men!

When evil men set their will against God, He will use them & their evil plans for His Sovereign purposes! We’ve been talking about God’s Sovereignty the last couple weeks; and, Scripture tells us that God actually raised up Egypt’s Pharaoh to accomplish His Sovereign purpose:  “The Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” Romans 9:17.  God, in His Sovereignty, turns Pharaoh’s evil plans, for Israel, against him & sets Israel free, from their slavery to Pharaoh, to the praise of His Glory!

-God’s Eternal Plans!

In addition, to His Sovereignty, there is another thread that weaves its way through Scripture; and, it’s closely related to His Sovereignty. I’m referring to God’s eternal plans for His creation! He has a divine plan for all of His Sovereign work in the world & in our lives. One of my most favorite Scriptures, in all the bible, is an acknowledgment that Joseph makes in Genesis chapter 50. After their father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier. But, look at Joseph’s response:  “You planned evil against me; but, God PLANNED it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” Genesis 50:20.

-Confidence In God’s Plans!

Joseph had become so confident, in God’s Sovereignty & His plan for Joseph’s life, that he even trusted God with the evil plans others had against him.  He didn’t separate his “church life” from the “rest of life.” There was no secular for Joseph! Everything, in life, was part of God’s sacred plan! God used Joseph’s negative life incidents to grow him! To sanctify & mature him! To set him free from the bondage & slavery of sin! We also see that God’s plan was to use famine to bring Jacob’s family to Egypt; where, He promised that, in 400 years, He would lead them out of Egypt to a “promised land” that flowed with milk & honey.

-There Are No Coincidences!

In this way, God orchestrated all those “circumstances” to raise up Moses to lead Israel, in their Exodus, out of Egypt.  The world would say it was just a set of “coincidences”! But, we know better! It just “so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, in a basket, among the bulrushes. And, because she “Just happened” to be Pharaoh’s daughter, she had the power to save his life, though Pharaoh had determined to kill all Israelite males! It just “so happened” that Moses’ own birth mother was selected, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to wean him & train him; so, he could grow in the things of Yahweh!

-God’s Never Surprised!

In fact, Moses’ mother was actually paid, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to raise him (Exodus 2:9). Later, God informed Moses that it was “His plan” to send him to Pharaoh & demand, of him, that Egypt would let Israel, God’s people, go! God always has a plan! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says that Jesus was, “…the LAMB slain from the foundation of the world…” Rev. 13:8.  From before creation, God had already planned that Jesus, His Son, would come to earth as a man; and, die on the cross to deliver us from sin! What a great God! He’s never taken by surprise! So, even when the world is surprised by a world-wide virus like COVID-19, God had planned, from eternity past, to use it to bring Glory to Himself!

 

God Is Sovereign Over Viruses!

-This Should Comfort Us!

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is one of the most important principles to be found in all of Scripture! When we speak of His Sovereignty, we mean that nothing, in the universe, happens without God’s permission. That includes viruses like the COVID-19 that is currently wreaking havoc on our world! He has the power, the knowledge & the presence to prevent anything He chooses to prevent! So, at the very least, everything that happens in the world & in our lives is “allowed” by Him.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It’s because of God’s Sovereign control, that I like to say that He’s never surprised by anything! We’ll never find God wringing His hands over something that happens to us; or, anxious about how He’s going to be able to fix it! This Bible doctrine will absolutely change your life once it gets past your head & infiltrates your heart! You’ll learn to trust God with everything! That’s really the test! If you don’t trust God, with everything— including the “coronavirus”— then you don’t “get” His Sovereignty! Or, you don’t TRUST Him!

-Confidence In God’s Sovereignty!

Bible characters, like Joseph & Moses, got it! And, they proved it by living their lives, by faith, in God’s Sovereign control, regardless of the circumstances of their lives.  If you’re struggling, with anxiety & fear, over this coronavirus crisis, you may need to turn to some of these Bible passages & highlight them! For Joseph, who found himself in prison through no fault of his own, he expresses confidence, in God’s Sovereign control, over his dreams:  “Don’t interpretations (of dreams) belong to God?” he asked (Genesis 40:8).  When Pharaoh pulls him, out of prison, because he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams,  he answered Pharaoh,  “I am not able to interpret dreams. It is God who will give Pharaoh an answer” Genesis 41:16.  Later, in verse 25, he tells Pharaoh, “…God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do.” He was about to bring a world-wide famine!

-Sovereign Over Affliction & Trouble!

So, God is Sovereign over weather patterns! And, no one can stop “…what He is about to do…” because He is Sovereign! And, I love what Joseph named his 2nd son:  “…he named him Ephraim, meaning, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction…” Genesis 41:52.  We could preach an entire series on that verse! He trusted God’s Sovereign control over all the “affliction” & trouble in his life! And, God made Him fruitful in spite of it! It wasn’t his circumstances that defined him; but, his faith! Go back over Joseph’s life & re-read it, looking for his submission to God’s Sovereign control!

-Moses & Sovereign God!

God also reveals His Sovereignty to Moses. In Exodus 3:19, God tells Moses, “I know that Pharaoh will not allow you to go unless he is forced by a strong hand.” In His Sovereignty, God knows all things; even, the future! God also tells Moses that He is even Sovereign over all human, physical disabilities: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” Exodus 4:11. Later, in v.21, after Pharaoh initially hardened his heart against God, God tells Moses, “I WILL HARDEN his heart so that he won’t let the people go.” When evil men set their will against God, He will use them to accomplish His Sovereign purposes! God does it for His glory (Romans 9:17).

Set Free From Sin!

-God’s “Rest”!

God is relentless in His determination to deliver His children from the slavery of sin! That’s really the backdrop to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In Scripture, Egypt pictures slavery to sin.  And, the “promised land”, for Israel, was deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. To enter the “promised land” was to enter God’s “rest.” No one can block God’s plan to deliver His people from slavery! And, I’m not just referring to Israel & the Exodus.

-Sin Enslaves!

We’re all slaves, to sin, from birth! Satan’s goal, for your lives & your fleshly desires, is to remain enslaved to the short-lived pleasures of this world. And, if you remain enslaved, to this world, you’ll also die with this world. The Apostle John wrote:  “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” 1 John 2:17. Jesus said,  of those who came to faith in Him, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are NOT of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” John 15:19.  God was relentless in His deliverance, of Israel, from the slavery of Egypt; and, that serves as a metaphor for His relentless delivery of every believer from the slavery of sin.

-Sin Harms Others!

In Genesis, chapter 40,  Joseph was sold into slavery, by his brothers, who hated him, you may remember; because, Jacob, their father, played favorites & loved Joseph more than the other brothers. Eventually, Joseph ends up in a prison, in Egypt, as he’s falsely accused of sexual assault. But, God blesses him with a supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually, God uses that ability to get Joseph out of slavery & prison because Pharoah had some troubling dreams that needed interpreting; and, Joseph was able to interpret them for him. The Pharoah elevates Joseph to the leader, in Egypt, 2nd only to Pharoah himself.  A 7-year famine sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, looking for food; where, they unknowingly come into contact with Joseph, whom they fail to recognize as their brother.

-Sin Repented Of!

By now, his brothers are repentant. They think that God is punishing them for the sin they committed against Joseph; and, eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them; and, there’s a great family reunion as the brothers go home, to Canaan, and bring their father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to live out their lives in Egypt under Joseph’s care.  The book, of Genesis, ends with Joseph’s prophetic words that God will keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and, deliver Israel. After Joseph passes away, a new Pharoah enslaves Israel.

-God Hears Their Cries!

God hears their tortured pleas for relief; and, raises up Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to the promised land, by many great signs & wonders to demonstrate His power. No one could block God’s plan to deliver His people from their slavery. While these are great action adventures, we totally miss God’s purpose, for including them in Scripture, if we see nothing but action adventures. There are principles that thread their way through these stories. One such principle is that of God’s Sovereignty. The doctrine, of God’s Sovereign control over the affairs of man, is one of the most important principles in all of Scripture. When we speak of God’s Sovereignty we mean that nothing happens anywhere without God’s permission!

 

Can God Trust You With Pain?

-What An Odd Question!

That probably seems like an odd question because it makes it sound like “pain” is a good thing, doesn’t it? A good thing that you could be “trusted” with? We might ask if you could be trusted with your best friend’s car; but, not “pain”! The question may also seem confusing because it suggests that pain is something that comes from God & everything inside us wants to rebel at the notion that pain & suffering might be choreographed into our lives by God! That can’t be true, can it?

-We Are So “Coddled”!

Most Christians, here in the west, have been coddled! I have & so have most of you! We suffer very little for our beliefs. Several months ago, I went, with a couple of our men, to visit a faith-based community center in another city. It was a Friday; and, Friday is typically my day off. But, I had had a number of interruptions, that week; and, I didn’t get my work done. So, I was whining that I’d have to go into the office for 2-3 more hours, when I got back, to finish up my work! And, the Lord convicted me! As we pulled into the church parking lot, I apologized for complaining about my “suffering.”

-Real Suffering Looks Like This!

The Holy Spirit had pressed in on me & planted the thought that there were probably brothers & sisters, in Christ, in other parts of the world, who had died for their faith that day. Still, others had endured harsh treatment, for their faith; and, I was whining about working an extra 2-3 hours.  We’ve bought into the lie that coming to Jesus is like playing a Country Western song backward— we get our dog back, our truck back; and, our girlfriend back! Funny! But, that’s not what Jesus said. He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us! That if they persecuted Him, they would persecute us! That if we followed him, we’d have to give up our life! We have to deny ourselves & count the cost!

-More Like Jesus!

You see, the Father intends to use all the “junk”, in this sin-cursed world, to make us more like Jesus— who was, in fact, a SUFFERING Savior, right? Someone said, that, we tend to “…read the Bible, not with a desperate hunger for evidence of God’s triumph in pain; but, with a view to improving our private pleasure.” Clearly, Bible characters, like Moses & Joseph, were not overly concerned with improving their private pleasure! On the contrary, they endured great difficulty on their way to spiritual success; and, it was because of the great difficulties, in part, that they experienced spiritual success. For Moses, Scripture says “…he CHOSE to SUFFER…” rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures (Heb 11:25).

-He Chose To Suffer!

It says he CHOSE to suffer! As the adopted son, of Pharoah’s daughter, he had a choice— short-lived pleasures; or, suffering! Which would you choose? Be honest! Most of us would choose short-lived pleasures, wouldn’t we? Long-lived pleasures, even better! But, Moses CHOSE to suffer! I never choose to suffer! But, I will tell you that when suffering has been my lot, that I grew more deeply, in my faith & my walk with God & others, than I ever did enjoying the short-lived pleasures of this life! I’m not suggesting that we live our lives with a death wish! Rather, we learn to submit to whatever course God directs our lives; and, by faith believe His intentions are good! We need to learn that during this difficult time in human history! Amen?