Idol-Destroying Plagues

Scripture Focus: Exodus 9.13-14
13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.

Reflection: Idol-Destroying Plagues
By John Tillman

We have become jaded with the phrase “unprecedented” regarding the developments of the past year and have often seen catastrophes “of biblical proportions,” which is typically a reference to the Egyptian plagues.

The plagues are intentional, not random. They are God’s frontal assault on the Egyptian pantheon.

When we think about ancient gods and religions, we often think about them too mystically and “religiously.” There was no such thing as the separation of religion from public life in ancient times. Pantheons of deities were just a part of normal life — ordinary and practical. One example in the New Testament is paying taxes.

The tax the Jewish religious leaders questioned Jesus about was seen as a religious act. The coin was stamped with “Caesar is Lord.” Polycarp, would eventually be martyred for refusing to repent of saying “Jesus is Lord” instead of  “Caesar is Lord.”

Making direct analogies from the Bible to our experiences today is not typically helpful or wise. One way this is damaging is analogizing leaders as being similar to leaders in the Bible. Too many leaders and teachers, hailed as being like Moses or other biblical leaders, have abused those mantles. On the negative side, too many leaders have been falsely slandered as being like Pharaoh, Jezebel, Judas, or other wicked individuals.

Another way analogies are damaging is when we make false equivalencies with our modern struggles. We may feel like we have experienced the plagues but we really have not! 

It can, however, be helpful for us to look for patterns of sins or behavior that apply to ourselves, seeking the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit. May we partner with the Holy Spirit and determine how “plagues” can show us our over-reliance on earthly things. What we have suffered in 2020 and the first months of 2021 may not be a direct judgment from God, however, we can still examine whether idols or unhealthy patterns of our lives have been exposed as weak, useless, ineffective.

What has been destroyed? Confidence in supply chains? Trust in the market? Faith in human leaders? Belief in our own control and self-sufficiency? To what degree should we have been trusting in these things?

The plagues systematically and categorically destroyed everything that Egypt trusted in and worshiped. If we fail to tear down our idols, may the pantheon of all we trust above God fall to idol-destroying plagues.
 
Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life. — Psalm 110.145

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


Today’s Readings
Exodus 9 (Listen – 5:31) 
Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 10 (Listen – 4:44), Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)
Exodus 11-12:21 (Listen – 9:08), Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)

Read more about Idolatry of Identity

Old Testament people reverenced household gods for prosperity, wealth, and identity. Today we reverence household brands. It’s unclear which group is more deceived.

Read more about Balaam’s Success
No matter what sins or idols we are tempted with, may we approach God humbly, seeking repentance and redemption through Christ.

Cultivating Daily Bread

Scripture Focus: Luke 11.11-12
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Reflection: Cultivating Daily Bread
By John Tillman

What we think of as “daily bread” in affluent cultures is wealth beyond imagining in much of the world. Our lust for affluence has only grown more sharp-fanged since Richard Foster wrote about it in Celebration of Discipline in 1978:

“The lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy…Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.”

Our disenchantment with prayer does not come from asking our Heavenly Father for bread or a fish or an egg, and him refusing. Our problem comes from asking our Heavenly Father for snakes and scorpions and then being upset when we don’t receive them.

Daily bread includes not only that which sustains our physical life but that which sustains our spiritual life. Daily bread refers to a daily need for God and purposely highlights the need for spiritual disciplines that are required for us to grow in faith. 

Bread was a common symbol in Jewish culture of God’s Word and of spiritual nourishment and spiritual health. The purpose of food is growth and healthful energy. Our health and spiritual energy will be affected by our spiritual diet.

When it comes to our spiritual diet, we too often rely on packaged and processed foods eaten with little thought or art in preparation. In many ways, our spiritual health will benefit if we live less as spiritual content consumers and more as spiritual subsistence farmers—eating out of our own garden. 

What maintains our spiritual health? The spiritual food we eat.
What are we eating? We eat what we have reaped.
What are we reaping? We reap what we have sowed.
What are we sowing?  We sow the seeds we cultivate.

We pray that you will use the reflections we bring you each day to plant, tend, and cultivate God’s Word in your life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen – 5:07) 
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

Read more about Cultivation Means Tending
The seed of the woman, Jesus himself, is our salvation and we plant this seed in our own hearts.

Read more about Daily Bread for Others
Praying for daily bread includes an acknowledgment of our need for intentional connection with God and cultivation of his Word into our lives.

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.

Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: Luke 8:43-48
43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. 
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” 
46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” 
47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 

From John: Each Monday of Lent, Jon Polk will be bringing us a devotional highlighting a hymn appropriate to the Lenten season. For many of us, 2020-2021, with all that Covid has cost us, seems like one long year of Lent with no Easter in sight. We’ve had to give up so much and miss so much and suffer so long. And in the United States, especially, the season of Covid that we thought would be a few weeks has now stretched an entire year and is not ending anytime soon. I pray that in this season, these hymns and God’s Holy Spirit will bring each of you comfort, peace, and resurrection of what has been lost. Easter is coming.

Reflection: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

In the introduction to his collection of hymns published in 1759, Joseph Hart honestly describes his experience of spiritual emptiness.

“I hastened to make myself a Christian by mere doctrine, disregarding the internal work of grace begun in my soul by the Holy Ghost. I ran such dangerous lengths both of carnal and spiritual wickedness, that I even outwent professed infidels, and shocked the irreligious and profane with my horrid blasphemies and monstrous impieties. For having obtained by Christ a liberty of sinning, I was resolved to make use of it; and thought the more I could sin without remorse, the greater hero I was in faith.”

Born in London in 1712 to particularly pious parents, Hart was raised, as he described, with “the sound doctrines of the Gospel from infancy.” However, upon reaching his twenties, he began to struggle with the destiny of his soul.

Hart forced himself deep into religious practices, such as fasting, prayer and virtue, only to encounter vain superficiality. He then turned headlong to selfish pursuits and vices, taverns and drinking companions, describing himself as a “loose backslider, an audacious apostate, a boldfaced rebel.”

The first verse of his most famous hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” reads like his own autobiography.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity joined with power

What prompted Hart’s change of heart and recovery of the faith that had been nurtured in his childhood?

The power of Easter.

In his own words, “The week before Easter, 1757, I had such an amazing view of the agony of Christ in the garden, as I know not well how to describe. I was lost in wonder and adoration, and the impression it made was too deep.”

It is exceedingly easy for those of us who have been faithful Christians for a long while to experience spiritual amnesia, forgetting what it was like to identify with sinners and outcasts. We can develop a callous piety, a “holier-than-thou” attitude that prevents us from embracing our own continual need for a Savior, shielding us from the necessity of repentance.

The season of Lent purposefully reminds us that we are mere dust, that without the work of Christ and the grace of God, we are all sinners, poor and wretched.

In one of the original verses of the hymn not often found in modern hymnals, Hart beautifully sums up the significance of Christ’s sacrifice.

View him groveling in the Garden
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies
On the bloody tree behold him
Hear him cry, before he dies
“It is finished, it is finished, it is finished.”
Sinner, will not this suffice?

Music: Come Ye Sinners by Indelible Grace Music 
Lyrics: Lyrics from Hymnary.org 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.3

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 5 (Listen – 3:15) 
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

Read more from Jon Polk: The Slavery of Plenty
Although we may not recognize it, we are far too easily enslaved by our possessions, our comfortable way of life, or our status and authority.

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
The Jordan, where John baptized, is a river of decision. Will you cross over or not?  Will you repent? Will you enter the Kingdom of Heaven or not?

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