Choices and Hard Hearts

Scripture Focus: Exodus 7.1-5
1I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Luke 10.10-12, 16
10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Reflection: Choices and Hard Hearts
By John Tillman

Pharaoh’s heart is the prototypical story about hardened hearts in the Bible. His story affects how we see the topic and the process of how a heart is hardened. Nearly half of the occurrences of the word “harden” in the NIV text are in reference to Pharaoh or the Egyptians.

We also see hardened hearts and the response of Christ’s messengers to them in our reading from Luke. God used Moses as a stand-in and had Moses use Aaron as a prophet. Jesus sends his 72 followers out as prophets of his message as well. 

“Whoever rejects you rejects me and the one who sent me,” Jesus said. Whoever rejected the apostles or other disciples, rejected Jesus, and rejected God the Father. When Pharoah rejected Aarron, he rejected Moses, and he rejected Yahweh.

In both stories, God’s messengers carried his peace. They performed miracles, healings, and signs. Yet there were those who missed (or denied) the miracles. Jesus knew some would reject his messengers. God knew Pharaoh would reject his messengers. In doing so, these hearers were rejecting God himself and bringing judgment on themselves.

Before we think of ourselves as messengers of God, we first need to consider ourselves with sober judgment.

Are we people of peace (Luke 10.5-6) or Pharaohs relying on violence? (Exodus 5.14-15, 20-21) Are we rejecting God by rejecting his messengers because they don’t look the way or sound the way we think they should? (“In Amaziah’s Shoes: Amos 7.10-17)

The scriptures contrast moments of Pharaoh hardening his own heart and God hardening it. (Exodus 4.21; 7.3; 8.15, 32; 9.12-34; 10.20, 27; 11.10) Even Pharaoh gets multiple chances to do the right thing. When he fails to see the miracles for what they are and refuses to heed God’s messengers, God gives him over to the path of rebellion he chose. 

Hardened hearts happen in stages. Our choices matter. Our hearts are hardened or softened day after day. Do we hear and obey? Our heart will grow softer, more sensitive, and better able to obey in the future. Do we hear and turn away? Our heart will grow harder, colder, less able to respond to the loving call of God.

Softening your heart is something that occurs not in one single moment, but rather through a lifelong process. Untended, our hearts harden and lean away from God. Only by continual cultivation will the soil of our hearts remain soft, fertile soil for fruitful expressions of the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 68.28

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Exodus 7 (Listen – 3:29) 
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)

Read more about For Those Yet Unseeing — Worldwide Prayer
We assume that faith comes easily when we witness miracles. We are wrong.

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
His greatest miracles were helping the faithless to believe again. Helping the cynical to trust again. Helping the hardened to love again.

Circumstances Matter

Scripture Focus: Exodus 5.22-23
22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” 

Exodus 6.6, 9
6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment…

9 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor. 

Reflection: Circumstances Matter
By John Tillman

The people believed and accepted Moses at first, but then the suffering increased.

After Moses spoke to Pharaoh, Pharaoh cracked down hard on the people, repeatedly calling them “lazy.” (Exodus 5.17) Oppressors often accuse those who are longing for freedom of laziness. It is a well-worn argument and, usually, an ironic one. 

In Pharaoh’s case, the Israelites had been doing the hard labor of Egypt for generations. If anyone was lazy, it was Pharaoh and the ruling class at the top, not those at the bottom. Those who labor the hardest for the least are often accused of laziness by those whose labors are light while earning the most.

Pharaoh claimed they were lazy, but what he really feared was any thoughts of freedom. He sought, by increasing their suffering, to drive out these hopeful thoughts. To a certain degree and for a time, it worked. The Israelites were unable to listen to Moses in the midst of their emotional and physical trauma. (Exodus 6.9

God’s message to the Israelites is a gospel message. “I will bring you out.” “I will free you.” “I will redeem you.” But even the seed of the gospel can fail to take root in soil that is pressed down by hard traffic or, if it sprouts, can be choked out by the concerns of life. (Matthew 13.3-9)

For some, usually the wealthy and privileged, suffering can lead them to the gospel but for others, the downtrodden, forgotten, and abused, suffering can hinder the gospel. 

Circumstances matter. Housing. Food. Work conditions. Wages. Disease. Abuse. These affect not only the physical realities of people’s lives but also emotional and spiritual receptivity to the gospel. Work that churches, individuals, or governments do to alleviate these sources of suffering and pressure can be of great aid to the gospel.

We shouldn’t be bent out of shape when people reject our message due to extraordinary suffering in their lives. What happens to people, good or bad, can significantly affect faith. Many people reject the gospel for experiential rather than intellectual reasons.

May we have grace and mercy toward those who are suffering and work with them patiently.
May we not minimize their suffering or blame them, but seek to bring them relief, ease, and healing.
May we also consider suffering in our own lives and see whether the presence (or lack) of suffering is affecting our faith and our actions.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 6 (Listen – 3:15) 
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

Read more about Treasure in Our Sacks
We come to God with the false belief that we must buy blessings from him and the false pride that we have the means with which to do it.

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered.

A Bad Day Fishing

Scripture Focus: Luke 5.8, 10
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

From John: As someone who has had a lot of bad days and made a lot of mistakes at things I am supposed to be good at, I relate deeply to Peter. It’s so true to life that every time the camera of scripture is on him, he’s failing at fishing… For all of us in moments of failure, this post can remind us that Christ will be there for us.

Reflection: A Bad Day Fishing
By John Tillman

The Bible describes Peter as a fisherman but every time we see him fishing in the scriptures, he is failing at it. Peter never catches a fish without Christ’s help.

We shouldn’t assume from this that Peter was a bad fisherman. Quite the opposite. We are meant to assume that Peter was a good fisherman. These days are recorded because of their uniqueness, not their normalcy. This means that we see Peter fishing on the worst days of his career. 

You learn a lot about people on their worst days. The days when nothing seems to work…when the project loses funding…when despite our best efforts, we come up empty. We also learn a lot about Jesus on those days.

Imagine for a moment that all Jesus was there for on his worst day was to solve Peter’s problem. Imagine if Jesus granted him a windfall of a miracle catch, then left Peter there to continue as usual, but now flush with operating capital flopping around on the beach. If we are honest that’s the kind of miracle we want from God. “Just bless what I’m already doing, God. Don’t ask me to change!” 

Peter’s first recorded words to Jesus in response to the miracle are “go away.” 

Peter seems to believe that his sins disqualify him from the financial blessing he has just received and certainly from being a follower of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come to bless Peter’s business, he came to change it. Jesus didn’t ask for Peter to tithe a portion of the fish to his ministry, he asked Peter to offer his entire self, business and all, to “fish for men.”

Peter is fascinating. He seems prideful at times yet humble at others. He is outspoken yet hides when confronted. He lacks the ambition of the Zebedees but often takes initiative, leading other disciples and even attempting to lead Jesus.

Peter never seems to push directly for power or control. Perhaps this is precisely why Jesus specifically calls him to strengthen his brothers and places him in a position of leadership. Jesus, instead of solving Peter’s earthly problem made him part of Heaven’s solution to the world’s problem. He wants to do the same with us.

Jesus will show up on our worst days. He is calling us to fish. Peter never catches a fish without Christ’s help. And neither will we. 

Follow him today. Find out how he will direct you to fish.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
For your Name’s sake, O Lord, forgive my sin, for it is great. — Psalm 25.10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 2 (Listen – 3:18) 
Luke 5 (Listen – 5:04)

Read more about Recalling the Failures
The world calls us a bad debt. Jesus redemptively reinvests in us…Jesus has a following—a following of failures. Join us, won’t you?

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
He calls. He loves. He holds out his hand, and trusts the gospel, to all of us doubters.

Our Opportunistic Opponent

Scripture Focus: Luke 4.13
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

From John:
I decided to do a touchup and rewrite on this post from 2019 as it occurred to me that many of us have been through, or are still in, deserts of isolation and fear in the season of Covid-19 and quarantine. Devils often come out for us in the deserts. I pray that we all will remember Jesus’ example of resistance and, if we have failed, we will remember that Jesus takes back repentant Peter, just as he will take back you and me.

Reflection: Our Opportunistic Opponent

By John Tillman

I doubt that the devil has horns, but when considering demonic influence in our world, there are two horns on which we can be caught.

It is unwise to make too much of Satan. We stumble into dualism when we think of him as an all-powerful, omnipresent evil. When we imagine Satan hiding behind every inconvenience and minor temptation in our world we deny our own propensity to sin and the omnipresent Spirit of God that truly is with us at all times.

It is unwise to make too little of Satan. It is dangerous to consider him and other evil spirits as mere phantoms of psychology or to explain him away as a metaphor of our inward sinfulness. This makes Satan less a dangerous foe and more a delightful fable.

No devil is needed for us to be tempted or tormented. We are sinful, deceiving and tormenting ourselves. We have broken our world, leaving sharp edges at every turn that cause harm. But we will encounter specific times of spiritual opposition in our lives.

Scripture warns that Satan desires to thresh us like wheat, that he prowls like a roaring lion, and that he has power to deceive the elect and to appear as an angel of light.

Satan is a limited, yet dangerous, creature of opportunity. It is wise to attempt to deny Satan opportunity by avoiding temptation, but being led by the Spirit does not always lead to safety. Jesus went into the wilderness to face temptation head on and Satan made the most of his opportunity. The Spirit will often lead us, as he did Christ, into deserts, alone, through times of testing. The devils will come out for us in our deserts.

The disciples, even when physically present with Jesus, were surrounded by, and succumbed to, temptations of greed, lust for power, anger, vengeance, selfishness, and self-righteousness. That’s leaving out Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s foul mouth.

Temptations are a time for us to come to terms with our limitations and recognize our sinfulness. In times of temptation, when we feel our limitations, there is comfort in knowing that our tempter is also limited. His opportunity to torment us will come to an end. 

By Christ’s mercy, we can resist Satan and he will flee. But just as when Satan left Jesus in the wilderness, he is only waiting for an opportune time to return.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in your be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Exodus 1 (Listen – 2:32) 
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

Read more about Pride and Shortsightedness
The tempter overcomes very many, by making them presumptuously confident of their own strength.

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
From the temptations in the garden to the temptations of Jesus and his followers, Satan encourages us to misapply and misinterpret God’s words.

Resisting Cultural Pressure

Scripture Focus: Genesis 50.24-26
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 

26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Reflection: Resisting Cultural Pressure
By John Tilman

Joseph assimilated a great degree into Egyptian culture.

It was impossible for Joseph to prevent or resist some assimilation to the culture he was unwillingly trapped in. Rising out of slavery did not make this easier. Greater levels of privilege create greater pressure to assimilate.

Joseph married into a powerful, prominent family. His father-in-law, Potiphera, was high priest of the Egyptian sun god, Re in the city of On, better known by its Greek name Heliopolis, meaning “City of the Sun.”

Joseph adopted Egyptian dress and cultural practices, including Egyptian burial practices for his beloved father and himself. (Genesis 50.2, 26)

However, Joseph maintained faithfulness to God and adapted to maintain his identity in many ways. He affirmed God as the source of his sexual ethic and his skills of interpretation. He named his children referencing his faith. He secured his family a separate area in which to live.

Regardless of his level of cultural assimilation or his comfort and privilege, Joseph recognized that Egypt was not his home, nor that of his descendants, nor that of the descendants of his brothers. Assuring his brothers that God would “come to your aid” (Genesis 50.25) meant assuming that they would need God’s aid.

Did “that dreamer” (Genesis 37.19-20) have another prophetic dream from God? If so, scripture does not report it. However, with or without divine revelation, Joseph saw trouble coming for his family in Egypt.

We also face these cultural pressures. Trouble is coming. Our culture does its best to get inside us and usurp our identity. Culture tells us that we are Americans first (or Indians or Europeans or Australians or South Africans…). Culture wants us to think we are primarily identified by our race or sexuality or gender or political party. (Galatians 3.28) But no cultural identity is our primary identity.

We are children of Abraham’s promise and carriers of his blessing to the world. That is our gospel identity. Anything else must submit to that or be swept away before it. We must adapt or avoid cultural mandates that conflict with our God-given identity.

Just as Israel claimed Joseph’s children as his, God lays his claim on us. We are not at home in this world or in our “home” culture. Let us not expect comfort but struggle, knowing that God will come to our aid and take us home.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:07) 
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
Ancient idols of silver and gold seem so simple, pagan, and foolish. How could people have fallen for them?

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Those who wish to regulate protests often say to protesters, “Not here. Not now. Not like this.”

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