Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Israelites gather at Mount Sinai: The Golden Calf & the Glory of God

The desert air is cold. A wind blows through the camp, and the smell of frankincense hints in the air from some distant shrubs along the arid landscape. You stand outside a small tent, and in all directions tents dot the landscape, beyond your vision. You’ve woken up early, and darkness still covers the land, with just a few hints of sunlight in the far distance. You look down at your hands, to the scars of the shackles you used to wear in Egypt. Now your free, or so it seems, but something in you longs for the slavery again, yet this raw excitement fills you, because you’ve found something greater, a whole new way of life, with a God of the universe. You smile looking up at the star filling the sky. Then you gaze at it again, a giant beam of fire licking the night sky, standing there like a pillar, unfueled, yet ceaselessly burning. You watch, as the first hints of the light of the morning touch it, and the pillar is suddenly replaced, by a strand of cloud, as the morning roosters start crowing.

Imagine it… 2 and a half million people traveling through the wilderness, they must’ve looked like a mighty stream from above. And now they’d come to a stop, around an ancient mountain.

Today we’re talking about The Exiles at Mt Sinai. So the Israelites had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt, and they’d traveled for some time in the wilderness.

Soon God had led them to make camp near this mysterious mountain, called Mt. Sinai. On the screen you’ll see a picture of what historians believe to be Mt Sinai today.

What happens at Mt Sinai is something very special. We see here an amazing close encounter happen between God and man. God had already delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and now he calls them to himself, to set up his plan with them.

As the 2.5 million Israelites gather around Mount Sinai they see a dark cloud descend on the mountain, and flashes of lightning and thunder. And God spoke to them…

From Exodus chapter 20, “And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

So God gives Israel the laws they are to live by, the 10 commandments. God says, I’ve called you to be set apart as holy, different, starkly different from the world. And this is how you do it, you live by my laws.

Notice the order of events: Did God come to the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt and say, alright, here are the laws you have to live by, and if you can measure up, then I’ll set you free. No. Freedom comes first, then comes holiness.

Similarly, today, God has saved each of us, before we were holy. We come to Jesus Christ completely helpless, sinful, a hot mess and he saves us like that. And how is he able to do that? God takes all that sin upon us, and he transfers it to Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross. He deletes our sin, with the heavy price of Jesus own blood, the blood of the son of God. Then our sins are gone. And much more, we are reborn, given the Holy Spirit, and set on a course of progressive sanctification. Have your sins been crucified with Jesus? Take a moment now to receive that.

We see Moses repeatedly acting as a mediator, between God and man, as one who intercedes for the people, and stands before God as a representative of the people. Does that remind you of anyone from the new testament? Jesus.

So they arrive at the Mountain and next Moses is called up to the mountain top to meet with God. Has God ever called you to the mountain top? Is he calling you today, to come to the mountain top, and receive something from Him? Or to tell you something? Often times God brings us to crossroads, and then meets us there.

Moses went up to the high reaches of Mt Sinai and met with the living God. What an incredible thing. And it says he fasted and communed with God for 40 days.

But while Moses is with God, time passes, weeks and weeks go by, and the people down below become impatient. And they appeal to Moses’ second in command, Aaron, to make them a god to go before them. Something physical that they can see, so they can worship God in such a way. Aaron gathers gold from the people, and they fashion it into a golden calf, set up an altar, and they even declare a day “To the Lord” in which they bring their burnt offers to the calf, and make sacrifices to God, mediated by this gold idol. Then after this solemn time of offerings, they throw a party, and everything goes crazy from there.

Today when we study this story, we think to ourselves: How foolish could these people possibly be? They’ve personally seen God split open the water, and they walked on dry ground. How could they do this!

But how often do we do the same thing in our Christian life? We saw God deliver us from sin. He gave our lives meaning. We were out there chasing after sin, sinning in all sorts of ways, lying, stealing, enslaved to lust, manipulation, and God didn’t hold that against us, He saved us anyway. We saw the transformation. We saw our lives go from darkness to light.

But one day we see one of those old sins, and we jump right back into the mud pile. And once that first compromise is made, it so quickly can become a new habit of behavior. And Satan has just built a beachhead in our hearts.

If we allow sin to live in us too long as Christians, it begins to separate us from God. Instead we must allow the Holy Spirit to convict us, and cooperate in His process of change in us. Early in my walk as a Christian I struggled with just such sins in my life, and I had to dig into Christian books, and prayer, and accountability relationships. And I had to fight those battles, to be free from sin.

Maybe we aren’t so different from the Israelites and their golden calf. Maybe our golden calves are just a bit more modern, and socially acceptable.

So as the golden calf rises up in the camp, God tells Moses what is happening below, and He says, “I see what they’re doing.” And Moses is led to intercede for the people, and ask God for mercy, which God grants.

So Moses goes down with the stones tablets, and Moses is so upset at what he sees that he throws down the tablets, and they smash on the ground.

Moses asks Aaron, “What is going on?” And Aaron is like, “Bro, I swear, the people threw their gold in the fire and out came this calf. Isn’t that crazy?” So Aaron lies, and Moses goes to work.

Exodus chapter 32:26-29 says, “Moses stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

What do we do with all of this? What most scholars believe is that this was dealing with the instigators behind the golden calf incident. Possibly some of them were Egyptians who had gone with the Israelites into the wilderness. These corrupt leaders of the people had been the ones orchestrating this rebellion. And God ordered their deaths to prevent sin from infecting the camp once again. This is where we struggle to understand the seriousness of sin. We’re appalled at the slaughter of three thousand people, even if it’s ordered by God. But maybe that’s because we don’t take sin seriously enough. Sin is like an infectious disease, that spread so quickly, and ruins people’s lives. We’re pretty tolerant of sin in our day and age. But God isn’t. God knows sin must be confronted and dealt with, or it will spread, and lead to more chaos, sorrow, and suffering for humanity.

How do we understand these events in our modern context? Obviously God doesn’t order us to go and kill false teachers. That’s not how things work in the new testament period. We are told as Christians to pray for those who persecute us, and love our enemies, and to speak out against false teachers. We know that ultimately God himself will deal with false teachers at the last judgment at the end of time.

To us today, three thousand years later, these events seem alien and difficult to understand. But maybe it’s because we tend to be pretty cavalier about sin today in the modern church. God isn’t so cavalier about it.

These events give us a stark contrast, the contrast of the way the modern church sometimes portrays God, as a god who doesn’t care about sin, and just wants to bless us, and the God of the Bible, who is much more complicated than that. The real God of the Bible cares about things like justice and truth, and goodness and holiness! God is pure love, and full of mercy and grace, yet also a powerful mighty Being of glory, sovereignty and judgment. He is so infinitely beyond us that we can only glimpse a mere image of His expansive omnipotent nature. To exclude the aspects of God we don’t like, or find uncomfortable, is to make a false god in our own image, in fact, it is to make a golden calf of a sort, and call it god.

In the incident of the golden calf, we see a tragic event for God’s people. They’ve failed God already, and it seems like they’ve only just begun their journey. In fact, we know that they will continue to fail God in various ways throughout their wilderness trek. And at the end of Exodus 32 we see that God even strikes some of the people in the camp with a plague as punishment for their sin.

Have you ever had a time in your life when it felt like God was disciplining you? I’ve certainly had those times in my life. But thankfully the story doesn’t end with discipline and punishment. The page turns, and things get better.

Flip the page in your Bible, to chapter 33. Despite all the Israelites have done, once again God and Moses speak. And God still promises, verse 3, You will go to the land flowing with milk and honey. But Moses insists, “Lord we need you to go there with us.” And God replies, verse 14, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And again in verse 17, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” And Moses asks God to “Show Me your Glory.” And God shows Moses his glory. Basically he is asking God: “I need to know who you really are.” Have you ever asked God that? Do it. I dare you. You won’t be disappointed.

In the final analysis, despite everything that had happened, Moses interceded for the people, and the covenant that was broken was restored. And today in the same way, when we fall short, when we fall into sin, when we set up our golden calves, the very best thing we can do is come to God, ask for forgiveness, and repent. Then we begin to move in a new holy direction. We ask to see God, and God shows us his glory.

One of the greatest things a saint can do, is go even deeper with God, to a new level of intimacy. Make a declaration before God: I want more of you. Lord, show me your glory. Lord, break every chain of sin in my life. Lord, I confess my need in this area. Lord, I throw my golden calf into the fire and I repent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The World System's Utopian Fantasies & the Resistance awaiting a Better World

I'd like to arrange several elements which we'll reference during this reflection.  We'll be referencing sources including Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, the novels 1984 and Animal Farm by Orwell, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, an obscure Walt Disney film from 1979 called "The Black Hole", Tolkien's Middle Earth universe, and C.S. Lewis' The Pilgrims Regress (1933). Let's begin.

One may browse through a hundred news articles a day or reflect on the situations facing humanity with great trembling. And one may reflect back upon history to consider how history repeats itself.  And one may search these things out to attempt to understand what is the actual truth of things in our realm of existence. 

Every time we read a news article or a book we're reaching out for some small piece of ultimate reality.  And for myself personally, though I don't know if this applies to others, I am attempting to piece these realities together to perceive the larger picture.

Piecing life together, and how to understand it, involves understanding philosophies, modern and past, histories of the Earth, the various disciplines of science, world religions, politics, sociology, anthropology, and so on and so forth. One gathers this information and begins to search for the meta-story behind the face information. Some discount it based on their own philosophy, I cannot.  

So what is the story? From my perspective, I see a spiritual reality playing itself behind the material. I find the cosmic battle, which takes place behind the face of all we see. An ongoing struggle between good and evil. It's waged on the seven hills of society, which include: arts & entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.

This cosmic battle is referenced frequently by Del Tackett in the landmark series "The Truth Project."  We also see the cosmic battle referenced by the three women in A Wrinkle in Time. The battle is referenced, between darkness and light on the various planets throughout the galaxy in this universe. The battle is also expressed in the struggle of Middle Earth against the forces of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings. The struggle plays itself out through A Pilgrim's Regress as well. 

So how do we track down this battle in the material? This is increasingly difficult. I find myself reading a dozen articles from various news sources and asking myself one question: "How on Earth am I supposed to know what is true and what is false?"  

The great power of our era has a simple name: propaganda. Propaganda expresses itself increasingly through television news, print and online news, public education, arts & entertainment, and even religion and the business world.  Particularly in the United States we see a propaganda war being waged between two ideological perspectives, progressivism and conservatism in their various forms.  And for the average person attempting to discern actual reality, well, the difficulty is seeing past propaganda and ideology to actual reality.  

The new trend in the ideological struggle is that of censorship, demonization, cancel culture, character assassination, and de-platforming.  One ideology begins to silence the opposing ideologies. If one can control the spread of information, then one can control the entire narrative of the society.  

This is not new in history by any means. The battle has simply gone from 95 theses being nailed to a church door, to the printing press' results, dueling newspapers federalists vs. anti-federalists in print, in the early times of the American experiment, to the 1960s to the 1990s it was television networks and newspapers, today it's expressed via these older mediums, and increasingly in the internet sphere.  

But before we get bogged down in the ideological struggles, we step back to reference the cosmic battle. 

What is going on behind the news articles and talking heads? 

The idea of progress is paramount.  Progress, is the concept that over time humanity is slowly improving technologically, scientifically, medically, philosophically, intellectually and morally to the point of utopia. 

The spiritual concept of progress is reflected in the tower of the Babel. 'We will make this Earth into a paradise and we don't need God's help to do it.' I once shared this concept in my mind.  'We don't need God, and we will create a paradise with our sciences and technologies, and God is irrelevant, and we're going to show God how much we don't need him.'

Quite similar to the tower of babel.  They would 'make a name for themselves.' They would ascend the heights, and build higher and higher to reach the perfect heavenly state, with faces turned away from the face of God; instead faces shining with human pride. 

This is the dream of the human system as it exists now.  It goes all the way back to the garden of Eden, in which the serpent told Adam and Eve that they would be like god if they listened to him.

And that is the voice behind this utopian ideology.  We're going to have it all, and build it apart from God.  

But from the perspective which I come, the Christian perspective, I see a hidden goal behind this glorious scheme.  This endgame for the world system, this new world order does not actually look like a paradise for man. 

It looks like something quite different.  The end result is much more similar to a planet like Camazotz, from A Wrinkle in Time.  A planet where everything is exactly the same.  All is equality.  All is controlled.  And free thought is unacceptable.  Where the brain "IT" controls all aspects of society.  And the residents has been stripped of all free will, and made into robots.

Speaking of robots, in Disney's The Black Hole we find a good metaphor for this concept.  A madman, on a massive space vessel, hanging at the edge of a black hole, has turned the entire crew into robots, controlled by him.  And this madman is obsessed with the vast nothingness of the black hole before him.  The crew tried to stop him, but they failed.  And now he will bring all of humanity into the black hole with him.  He's assured that this black hole will lead to some sort of paradise, some sort of new awakening for man.  But it leads into a place of fire and death. And the main characters must fight tooth and nail to escape this demented madman, and his delusional reality.  They must not go into the black hole with him. 

The endgame for our enemy, the Satan, is to turn humanity into robots, through a tool called by the Bible, "the mark of the beast." And this mark seems to remove human free will. They become robots, controlled completely by the Satan and his world system. They can no longer choose anymore.  That is Satan's endgame. Total control.  The lure on the hook is secular utopia for humanity.  The latest vessel to make it there is socialism, in the past it's been communism, providential kings and queens, secular revolutions, military conquests, dictatorships, and religious fanaticisms. 

In A Wrinkle in Time, in the 2003 cinematic adaptation, in the capital city of Camazotz every aspect of society, the movie theatres, the newspapers, the restaurants, and the businesses all include the word "It" in the titles of them.  This references the subtle influence the "It" being has behind all aspects of society, how all seven hills are completely dominated by the "IT" and it's ideology of total uniformity. That is the Satan's goal in any society, is to so influentially dominate the society's spheres of power that only his ideology wins out.  

And Satan is fundamentally the madman of The Black Hole, doomed, insane, twisted and mangled by his own rebellion and the judgment he received from God, his only goal left is to deceive as many as possible into the black hole pit where he is doomed to reside forever.  He is the madman promising paradise but unable to provide it, and hoping to destroy as many as he can with him. He's the ultimate kamikaze lunatic. 

But the goal of the "It" behind societal influence is to no longer need to influence anything. Once totalitarianism is achieved, well, no need to influence, or have to fight to influence anything.  Control is achieved. If you disagree, you die. 

This concept is spelled out in Animal Farm and 1984.  The ideological "lock step" is mandatory in those societies, and anyone showing any sort of free thought must be arrested, tortured, and forced into an undying love for the state's will. This is reflected in the final scene of 1984, in which the main character watches the screen displaying big brothers system, and he smiles, clapping his hands, weeping with joy and love for the system he has been taught to worship. 

The road to 1984 is of course paved by means of Huxley's Brave New World.  Self-seeking pleasure, technology, scientific progress, and consumerism nullify and stupify the human will to resist tyranny. And uniformity is dictated not by an all-powerful state but by the all-powerful cultural trends that dominate the society.  And out of this uniformity and lockstep in culture, and decreased watchfulness by the minute men and women of society, the pathway for increased control by the state is paved.

The spirit of the Age referred to in C.S. Lewis' the Pilgrims Regress is what reinforces the growing lockstep and difficulty of dissenting. There are little philosophical tricks and emotional games played within the lies that dictate what must be believed in the particular era of society. Usually, the spirit of the age appeals to emotion, while the truth appeals to intellect. Which will win every time? Emotion every time sadly. If you feel that what you've been told is right, you'll fight for it, and if you believe people who disagree are evil, you'll fight twice as hard. Viciously.  And as that momentum grows in the culture, the stream begins flowing so intensely down river that it's hard to stop and say, "Hold on a minute what about these facts? A. B. and C." The emotion is in control. The stream pushes toward the goal being guided behind the scenes by the Satan, thus dissent becomes increasingly difficult. Even more, swimming against the current becomes viewed as insane, dangerous, and evil.  

I imagine that when the time comes for the anti-Christ world system to take center stage, and the tribulation saints are slaughtered, chanting crowds will be absolutely convinced that what they are doing is completely righteous and good, they will feel 100% that they are in the moral right for removing such evil bigots and haters from society, to pave the way toward utopia.  They will be assured of their own self-righteousness in destroying them. That is the power of propaganda, and hatred. 

But there is more at work in the world than the will of evil and the world system.  There is also this peculiar resistance movement within all societies everywhere.  It is a rather strange resistance movement.  

People of the system prefer to not look upon it at all, it makes them uncomfortable.  So in one sense they are often quite invisible to the larger system. And their goals do not align with the system at all, the system craves power, influence, wealth, pleasure, and control. But these resistance cells don't seem to crave these things. If they do, they are used as caricatures, to slander the real resistance movers as judgmental and bigoted and selfish and evil. 

But for the real remnant resistance, they are not well understood.  They go unchallenged much of the time, sometimes treated as innocent bystanders or neutral parties if they don't make too much noise, but if they begin to cause a ruckus and an anomaly in the system appears around them, then they are targeted for destruction by the system. 

This was most perfectly displayed when a certain Jewish peasant named Jesus Christ the messiah was crucified by the system.  Yet paradoxically his complete destruction in the "cross event" is actually what birthed 3 days later the most severe anomaly yet known in the history of the world system. A dead man appeared alive again, and gave a power to his many followers, that then burst forth into the Roman empire and across the face of the world, guided by this mysterious "Spirit" within them, that seemed to instruct them where to go and what to do.

So often times what appears to be the destruction of these resistance cells of the Spirit will blow up in the face of the world system and become detonation points for the expansion of the resistance and it's influence to new areas of society and to greater numbers of people held in proper bondage to the system.  Quite fascinating.  

These resistance fighters seem able to preserve society in a semi-stable state throughout history past and present.  And they seem often to be the ones at the forefront of resistance to tyranny in it's various forms.  

So we see this constant cosmic battle between the world system and these peculiar resistance fighters, and often times it's tid to tat, a horrible world war, a madman who exterminates millions of Jews, yet then from out of this darkness springs this army of light that invades the madman's empire and overturns it completely, setting free millions and millions from tyranny and granting the world safety once again.  Always some great depression followed by a peculiar great awakening, a time of moral depravity followed by dedicated temperance movements, misery in tyranny followed by enlightened republics and democracies, dead churches breaking forth to great church revivals, and so on and so forth.

These peculiar resistance fighters seem to constantly point to a new reality breaking forth into the world system that they call "the kingdom of God."  They point to the coming hope of a "new heavens and new Earth" where they will find a paradise similar to the original Eden.

So we find two systems at work, and they have two separate goals: for the world system the goal is a worldly utopia in which all find complete equality in every way, where man has transcended above and beyond God, and has shown God why he was wrong all along. 

And for the resistance on Earth, the messiah's blood washed ones, the goal is one in which humanity is reconstituted to it's creator, the God of the universe, who loves them, and will then allow the old earth to pass away, and will remake a new heaven and new Earth, in which will be a paradise called "the new city of God" where humanity and it's creator are restored to right relationship forever. God's perfect reality restored.

Now, if the material naturalists are right and there really is no god and no design and nothing to the universe but time + matter + chance then the hoped for worldly utopia is really humanity's only hope. They have to find some way scientifically and medically to make the human form immortal, and then form the broken human society into some sort of utopia.  That is their dream and only hope. 

But, if the resistance fighters are right, and God is real, and God's system is really the default position for all life, then the world system is setting up not a utopia, but a pyramid of control, a new order, upon which the promised coming "anti-Christ" will place himself atop, to control the entire world, promising a paradise, but then betraying this promise, and bringing about total war, complete control, and the final removal of all human free will through "the mark."  Thus, the only hope for humanity is to be restored to right relationship with God, through this ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to be free from "sin" the sort of crust of the old system that provokes rebellion to God, and embrace the counter-system mindset in this world, living a peculiar sort of purity. So after passing through the vail of death, these washed ones will join in a new God-driven system, while those who have rejected the God-system are quarantined in a place of disconnection from God and judgment, known as "hell" or "outer darkness."  Very interesting.  

Can you see the prime reality?  Can you see it through all the propaganda, through all the lies, and beyond the material world?  If you can see it, and are beginning to see it, I beg of you, to join our resistance.  Yes, I must confess, I am indeed part of the peculiar resistance to the world system.

And I ask you to join us, today. For there is coming in these last times, a final great awakening, before our departure.  After which the world will achieve it's most sought after goal; religion without god, wrong and right reversed, utopia of a sort on earth, their god in total control! But in the end comes the rude revelation that it was all a lie, socialism, communism, shared wealth, shared work, community, tolerance. It was all a lie. The great reversal takes place.  The anti-Christ betrays them, the world sinks into chaos. The truth is revealed, it was all really about one thing in the end: control. The mark reveals "IT" the removal of free will. True socialism. Total control. Humanity become robots. 

I don't want anyone to go through that terrible time, though there is hope even then, to join the resistance, but the cost in that time of complete evil is to die for Christ.  

Instead I hope you find your way back home, to God's system, and God's design, and God's structure of reality. Freedom. Free-will. Choice. Choose to love the truth and hate the lie.  Love then takes over, and God's law becomes beautiful to us, when they were once repugnant. The laws of love and truth become majestic to us. God's gift was always free will. Choice.  And in the new universe, choice remains. But in the old, it is finally snuffed out completely.

My goal, the goal of every servant of the messiah, and member of the five groupings of missional ministry, is to get you home safely.  Which is why I write this today.  But, the choice is ultimately yours.  Truth, or lies, pretty lies, or hard truth, redefining good and evil, or seeing them as they truly are. God's gift is... choice. 

Will you join the resistance?  Or will you gather with the tower of Babylon? Your choice.  

Make it a good one human.  We will continue the battle. Your armor is waiting, if you'll join us. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Love and Spiritual Warfare: 4 Traps of the Enemy and how to Overcome them

Today we’re talking about a rather curious topic, I call it “love and spiritual warfare.” Love, because it’s valentines day, and spiritual warfare, because we’re in the midst of it at this church.

Love is the perfect state for the church, to be centered on the love of God, which flows through us, and properly ordered, we as the church are receiving the love of God from God, we’re enriched by it, constantly, and then the love of God generates love in us, that flows out from us, to others, which enriches them. Love bubbles up from the throne of God, pouring out into our hearts everyday as we access God. And as we access God, the love of god bursts forth out of us, like a spring of water, is what Jesus called it, when he said, “John 4:14, NIV: "but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

And thus, that love, springs forth out of us, and flows out to others. Love is fundamental to who we are as Christians. And if we’re lacking in love, we’re in great danger.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. Love never fails”

So the enemy seeing the love amongst us as believers, his goal, the Satan’s goal, is to destroy that love amongst us. And so he wages warfare against us.

As I’ve been studying, that is. An interesting book by Charles Stanley called “When the Enemy Strikes.” I want to make you wise to his tactics tonight. I want you to see how Satan and his demons try to harm us.

I knew from the very beginning that the enemy would strike our faith community. The enemy’s goal is to exhaust the saints. To divide them, hurt them, ruin their marriages, harm their children, and attack their families. It’s very real. Just because we don’t see it with our eyes, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

So let’s consider a few of these tactics of the evil one. Charles Stanley breaks Satan’s deceptions up into four areas. The snare of debate, snare of division, snare of doubt, and the snare of deception.

First the snare of debate. You know, we as humans are masters of self-justification. We can figure out just about any way to sneak out of a biblical text, or try to re-interpret something. And pretty soon we’re justifying the most irrational nonsense in our minds. And what we’re really doing is trying to self justify ourselves.

I know the Bible says this, but I’m a special circumstance. God won’t judge me for that. And we start to debate in our own head, and Satan whispers lies to us and encourages us toward escaping the commands of God for our own desires. The snare of debate. We can justify just about anything in our own minds can’t we? A Christian alone is a dangerous thing, that’s why we need the body of Christ around us. I’ve seen Christians justify the most insane sinful conduct, because they decided to work it out all by themselves. No pastor, no church community, just me in my mind. Beware of the snare of debate. We can debate almost anything in our own heads and eventually decide it’s ok.

Second, the snare of division. Our enemy Satan is always trying to divide people. If Satan can keep us fighting each other, then we aren’t focused on fighting to win lost souls. It’s so easy for the enemy to stir up resentment in us, or anger, or annoyance. The snare of division, and within this, the snare of accusation. Satan is referred to in the bible as the accuser of the brethren who accuses them day and night before God. And how often we accuse each other and harm one another.

But it’s not always us, often it’s demons whispering to us. The enemy can only succeed if we agree to listen to his voice. It’s dangerous. I’ve seen people, just sitting listening to that voice of Satan day and night, and eventually they blow up at you, over things you didn’t even realize were going on in their mind, because they’ve been listening to that voice of accusation in their mind, instead of focusing in on prayer and study of God’s word. The enemy loves a vacuum, if we aren’t praying and studying the word, the enemy’s whispers will become louder in our minds. And we will be deceived, and we will be agents of division in the very church we love. I’ve seen people just up and leave the church over almost nothing, because that voice of the enemy whispered lies to them until they were so angry and upset they simply left. Never even talked to anyone. They just up and left their family. And alone, they became a prime target in the wilderness, for destruction.

So very dangerous. Satan whispering “they don’t really like you.” “they don’t respect you” “no one there is really your church family.” “they are judging you” “they don’t really care.” And all those lies build up, and people just leave. Very tragic.

Don’t listen to the lies.

Thirdly, the snare of doubt. Ah yes, doubt, the opposite of faith. Instead of focusing on the unseen realm of the spirit, we focus on the natural. No one new is coming. There’s no reason to stay. Nothing is going to change. Sometimes our unbelief, our grumbling and complaining is just horrendous. We act like the Israelites in the wilderness. God can’t change this. It’s over. Better go back to Egypt.

Or, we began to doubt the need to meet together in the church. We find our convenient excuses, well COVID, and I’m busy, and I have stuff to do, and once again we’re on our own, read to be picked off.

We start to doubt God’s word. Well it’s just the words of people. There are errors in it. It’s mostly symbolic so who knows what its really saying? What about all the other religions? We start to have these doubts. Instead of having faith in God’s word and what it says about God.

Or we start to doubt our relationship with God. We think, no I’ve sinned too much. Or God can’t forgive me. God doesn’t really love me. Or God is just a cruel task master. And we doubt God’s loving relationship to us.

No more doubts. The enemy sows doubts. We don’t have to embrace them though. Instead, have a radical trust in God, a firm, unshakable faith that God is trustworthy to the core. Don’t listen to the whispers of doubt from the enemy. Trust God.

Fourthly the snare of deception. The snare of deception is one of the most powerful the enemy has. I’ll give an example. Masturbation, or pre-marital sex. We know it’s wrong. But Satan starts to whisper, its no big deal, you aren’t hurting anyone, just consenting adults, God doesn’t mind, he loves us so its ok to do it. And its interesting, once you are actively doing that sin, you become snared. Where you become blind to the sinfulness of it. Satan blinds our minds to the truth. We’re so pinned down by it, that’s we’re actively deceived. If I’m caught in it, it’s a scary feeling of powerlessness. Like I’m trapped, and I can’t quite get out of it. And often this takes counseling with your pastor or mentor, fasting and praying, and often times a serious crisis situation to escape the deception. It’s like being taken hostage, by a lie.

So those are the four snares: Debate, division, doubt, and deception. Now let’s touch on the cures for these lies of demons.

For debate, the solution is rejecting the voice of the devil in your mind. Don’t debate with the evil one. Cast him out in Jesus name. And if you start struggling with debate in your own mind, talk to a trusted friend, pastor, or mentor. Get some outside input on it. You can’t win a debate with Satan in your mind. Just end the discussion. Cast the demon out in Jesus name.

For division, the solution is unity in love. In a situation of division, pride always makes it worse, and before you think you aren’t; the problem, well, you may be. We love to point the finger at others, but let’s look at our own conduct instead. What am I doing? Am I being prideful and allowing divisions? That’s the question. The solution is a humble, meek, love between one another that submits to one another. It’s hard to practice. Because we like to feel like big shots. But humble love is beautiful and holds the community together.

For doubt, we turn to God’s word. We can doubt and doubt and doubt. And begin to reject all the key tenets of the faith, and leave the church and ruin ourselves. Or we can cling to God’s word and trust his word and allow it to speak to us.

For the snare of deception, the solution is fasting and prayer. If we’re caught up in deception, caught up in sin because we’ve believed the lies of the enemy, we ought to humble ourselves, begin to pray for extended periods, fasting and praying for God to deliver us from deception and set us free in the truth. Perhaps a 3 day fast, or a 3 week Daniel fast, or 10 days.

But all these solutions are wrapped up together in one fundamental reality: The reality of the love of God, that lives in us as believers, and that is passed on from us to each other. If we love each other honestly, and in action, then the enemy will fail to harm us with his four snares. The humble love in action of the community of believers will win out in the end. God will win out in the end. Love is greater than anything. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. 

How Israel Ended up in Egypt: From Abraham to Jacob to Joseph

We start with the historical account of Abraham and Sarah, and the birth of their long hoped for son Isaac. And we know God was working through Abraham and Sarah to found a nation in the midst of a sinful world. So keep that in your mind, God has a bigger story he’s developing.

So Abraham and Sarah raise their new son Isaac. But God also blesses Hagar and her son Ishmael. In fact, tradition tells us that Ishmael went on to found the modern day Arab nations. Very interesting.

But God decides to test Abraham. God is wondering, is Abraham really faithful, and committed to Him completely? Is he worthy of this great task of starting a new nation?

God commands Abraham to take Isaac to the altar and sacrifice him to God. What a shock this is! Sacrifice Isaac? Isaac is the only hope Abraham has of seeing the promise of God come true.

But we know that they set off together, for 3 days, to the altar. And Isaac asked Abraham, we have the wood for the sacrifice but where is the lamb? Normally they would sacrifice a lamb.

And Abraham’s reply is telling, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham trusted God so much, that he believed and knew that God would provide. And indeed God did provide. And what we see here is a picture of what God did for us. We all deserve death and judgment because of our sins, but God provided a sacrifice for us, just like he did for Abraham, for us, Jesus Christ, became the sacrifice for us to wash away our sins and save us from judgment. God makes a way when there is no way.

So the story continues. Abraham and Sarah die, and Isaac is married to a woman named Rebekah. God provided this wife for him. And Isaac and Rebekah had children, twins, which they named Jacob and Esau. 

I love the events of Jacob’s life, it’s just amazing. But we have to go really fast through this. Jacob was a troublemaker you might say. He was a deceiver. And he cheated his brother out of his birth right.

Jacob ended up fleeing from his brother. But God came to Jacob as he fled, and called him to Himself. Jacob wrestled with God, some translations say an angel, all night, what this means we don’t really know. But in a dream Jacob was given a vision from God. 

Genesis 28:10-15 says, “10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[c] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[d] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 

So in this vision he saw a ladder leading up to heaven, and angels were descending and ascending up and down the ladder over him. And again in the very first book of the Bible, we’re still in Genesis, we see another picture of the coming of Jesus. We saw a picture of that with God providing the sacrifice in the place of Isaac, just as Jesus would take our place on the cross. And again we see the ladder to heaven. And this is a picture again of Jesus, the way to heaven, and if you recall when Jesus meets Nathaniel, he says to Nathaniel, "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man." John 1:51

The ladder to heaven is Jesus.

So Jacob, the troublemaker, the deceiver, becomes part of this special line leading from Abraham down toward the beginning of Israel.

Later on Jacob meets Rachel and they are married.

Jacob and Rachel had many children. And one of them was named Joseph. And we’re really focusing in on the historical events surrounding the life of Joseph.

Joseph was the favorite of his parents. And he was given special treatment. Joseph had dreams of the future, and would tell his brothers all about these dreams. But this led to his brothers despising him. And eventually they took him, and sold him into slavery to get rid of him.

This historical series of events involving the life of Joseph is the key to understanding how Israel ended up in Egypt. So keep that in mind.

His brothers sold him to a band of midianites on their way to Egypt. And they took Joseph’s cloak and soaked it in blood from an animal and showed it to Jacob their father and told him Joseph had been killed.

If you’ve ever had trouble in your life, struggles and darkness, tune in for the events of Joseph’s life. He endured horrible things in his life. And he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Most of us, when we went through hard things in our lives, it was because of the bad decisions we made. And then a lot of us blamed God for it. But it wasn’t God’s fault, it was ours.

In any case, Joseph was taken into slavery. If you think it’s foreign, the idea of slavery, it’s really not. Slavery is alive and well. In fact Michigan is in the top 10 states in the country for the worst rates of human trafficking. Joseph found himself quickly becoming a statistic like so many today.

Yet God was with him in his difficulties. The group of slave traders brought Joseph to Egypt and sold him to a man named Potiphar. From Genesis chapter 39:

“The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. 

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

So Joseph did everything right. He was a good servant to Potiphar. He didn’t complain or mistreat him, or quietly fight against him. He blessed Potiphar and his whole household. Yet you have this woman, Potiphar’s wife harassing him day and night to sleep with her. And Joseph is a young man. He’s certainly got sexual urges going on inside him. Very strongly I’m sure. Yet he does the right thing. He resists these intense urges within him.

Have you ever been trapped around someone you find very attractive? Like at a job, or a school, or an assignment you have? And day after day you have to resist and keep resisting the temptations? It’s really difficult. I often ask myself if I would’ve done as well as Joseph.

I complain about a lot less in my life. I whine, and complain to God. I too often struggle in unbelief, going by what I see, instead of the unseen. We all need to stop doing that. Stop going by what you see. Go by the unseen. That faith and trust in God that ought to be unshakable. Sometimes we are continuingly shaken, and shaken, in unbelief, with the goal that we will become unshakably faithful in God.

And understand this about Joseph’s story, which is our story, understand that you can do everything right and things can still go wrong. We live in an evil world. Sometimes we do what is right and evil is the result. And that shouldn’t shake your faith. Your faith ought to remain steadfast, strong, unmovable in God.

Yes, you can have that kind of faith in God. It’s not constantly out of your reach. You can have it and live it, as Joseph did.

So Joseph is now sitting in jail, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Yet he becomes a great leader n the jail. So Joseph was in jail with two people who had worked directly for the leader of Egypt, the pharaoh. And he interpreted dreams, by God’s power, for these two individuals. And later they got out of jail, and promised to help Joseph to get out of jail. But one of them was beheaded, and the other actually forgot all about Joseph. So two years later, two years later, wow, pharaoh has a dream. And the dream troubles him.

God uses this situation to bring Joseph out of jail and before the leader of the entire country of Egypt, to interpret this dream for the pharaoh. It was a mysterious dream, but God gave the interpretation to Joseph. 7 years of plenty were coming, lots and lots of food would be available. But then after there would be 7 years of famine in the land.

From Genesis 41:39-43 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command,[b] and people shouted before him, “Make way[c]!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

Joseph was a mere 30 years old when he was placed in charge of the entire country of Egypt. And he was given a wife in marriage named Asenath.

From Genesis 41:53-57: 53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

So during this time, Jacob and his sons were also in need of food. So they came to Egypt and sought supplies and were brought before Joseph. Joseph didn’t reveal himself to them until their second visit to purchase grain from Egypt. But eventually he revealed himself to his brothers.

From Genesis 45:3-10 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 

8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’”

And that’s how Israel ended up in in Egypt, flourishing and growing in the land of Goshen, a safe place, where they were protected from the famine across the world.

Realizing Joseph his beloved son was still alive and in Egypt, Jacob went to visit him. On the way there, something amazing happened.

From Genesis 46:2-4 2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

3 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

So Israel became sheltered by God in the land of Goshen during the wilderness. But as we’ll see next week, new leaders came up in Egypt, who had no respect for joseph, and Israel, and they would be turned to slaves in the land of Egypt. But even that God would raise up a deliverer, to lead them out of Egypt, and toward the promised land.