Thursday, August 23, 2007

LOOKING TO EGYPT



After they had suffered for hundreds of years under the oppression of the Egyptians, the Lord delivered His people from their bondage with a mighty hand (Deuteronomy 4:34). One would think that after they had obtained freedom in such a glorious way, Egypt would be far from the minds of the Israelites. They were headed to a land of promise and hope. Moreover, God Himself would be their guide: “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). Furthermore, this vast multitude of people would be fed with manna from heaven and given fresh water to cool their thirst: “Thou gavest also thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9:20). The Lord had certainly demonstrated His all-sufficient grace. How did the Israelites respond? Sadly, they murmured and complained (Exodus 16:2). All that the Lord had done and promised to do was not enough for their carnal appetites; but the story doesn’t end with their complaints and God’s judgment on that generation (Hebrews 3:7-19). Although Egypt stands for man’s supply as opposed to God’s supply, the children of Israel, for many generations after Moses, continued to look to Egypt for help. The prophet Isaiah gives a striking reminder of their unbelief when he wrote, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt” (Isaiah 30:1-2). This indictment occurred in the reign of King Hezekiah, who was tempted to make an alliance with Egypt when faced with a hostile Assyrian foe. Had the King not learned that this was the sin of the Northern Kingdom which had resulted in defeat? The phrase “that cover with a covering” (Isaiah 30:1) may also be translated “that weave an alliance,” as noted by biblical scholar W.E. Vine. I think of it as fashioning a plan that does not include the Lord. This was a plan which was not of God’s Spirit (Isaiah 30:1).

The question I ask myself is this: How many times have I looked first to Egypt for help in a crisis? How many times have I taken counsel that was not biblical when I felt the pressure of circumstances? Brethren, may we never forget that “…the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). Yes, the problem of God’s failure to hear can be due to any manner of personal sin as the next verse specifies; but what about the sin of simply failing to trust in Him? Bear in mind that the Israelites, who perished in the wilderness, failed to enter into God’s rest because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). The sin of unbelief is one which will send a man to hell: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Spurgeon once said, “A fearful form of unbelief is that doubt which keeps men from coming to Christ; which leads the sinner to distrust the ability of Christ to save him, to doubt the willingness of Jesus to accept so great a transgressor.” The Scripture says, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). I believe that the sin of unbelief is the root of all sin, and it manifests itself in many ways. In the life of a Christian, it will keep him from enjoying the sweet assurance of God’s presence and the power of His deliverance in life’s trials. He is able to deliver us from all our fears- fears which can literally engulf us like the darkness of storm clouds covering a mountaintop, hiding the rays of the sun shining above.

Dear Christians, the storms of life will never cease, but the rays of God’s providential care are always shining above the clouds. His goodness will come in due time. Beneath the clouds, there is a hiding place which the Lord has provided, and that place is under the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8). “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Let us take our refuge there. I am absolutely convinced that the God who led his children out of Egypt in the day of Moses is the same One who will keep His children safe today and secure forevermore. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).


May the Lord Jehovah be your Helper. May His promises be your hope and strength.


Pastor Tom





Thursday, August 09, 2007

THE PHILOSOPHY OF ENTITLEMENT


Yesterday was one of those days that every pastor in ministry occasionally experiences. Matters that I hadn’t planned on dashed my hopes for a really productive one. In late afternoon, the phone rang. I must confess that I was somewhat hesitant to answer it, but I did. A familiar voice was on the other end; it was a good brother in Christ who asked me if a had a "few minutes" to talk. It turned out that he was just a few miles away, running an errand, and he wanted to stop by to see me before heading home. I wasn’t sure what was on his mind, but I wanted to be available to reluctantly minister to him in some way if need be. As it turned out, the purpose of his visit was to minister to me. He just wanted to tell me how much the previous Lord’s Day had blessed him and his family. Part of that blessing was the morning sermon I preached, “Guarding Your Heart,” which he evidently took to heart. The message focused mainly on Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” God had used His Word to bring conviction and a desire to make sure the Lord was really first in his life. I appreciated his honesty and the gratitude he expressed. I also realized that God often preaches my sermon back to me through someone else. This was one of those times. What does it really matter if my plans for a productive day are set aside by a Sovereign God for purposes He desires to fulfill? If I am really seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), I should never complain when things don’t go “my way”, or when I am inconvenienced. This is a sign of the self-centeredness I preached about on Sunday, a sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1). “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5a).

Perhaps you're thinking I’m just too hard on myself. I beg to differ with you. We all need our times of rest, which God graciously provides, but “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord" (Mark 10:24). The Christian life is not about what is best for me; it’s about what Jesus desires to do through me and in me. This necessitates a life of self-denial, not self-service: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). One of the problems I see in the church today is the philosophy of entitlement which has crept in unawares. We have come to believe that we deserve the best God has to offer in the here and now, not the hereafter. While we may not embrace it outright, the heresy of the “Health and Prosperity Gospel" is crouching near the door of our hearts. Yes, God has given us an “abundant life” (John 10:10), however, it is the abundance of His spiritual blessings that make us truly rich toward God.

So brethren, please forgive me if I appear inconvenienced by the little time you seek from me. I can only think of the crowds pressing in on Jesus, the busy days, the long nights of prayer, and the multitude of things people were seeking from Him; but most of all, I think of these words He spoke: “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem...” (Luke 9:51). He chose to go to Jerusalem, knowing that a cross-awaited Him there. Praise God that He did not take another direction. Praise God that He was not thinking of Himself, His desires, and His needs. He went to Jerusalem for you and me. Even more remarkable is the fact that He did not go reluctantly. We read in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The joy set before Him was the joy of doing His Father’s will. Shouldn’t our joy be doing His will, whatever the cost?

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.


May He be always near to your heart,

Pastor Tom