Leaving Your Household Gods

By same - Phoenix Ancient Art, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48034605
By same – Phoenix Ancient Art, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48034605

. . . . . Rachel stole her father’s household idols and took them with her. (Gen. 31:19b)(NLT)

The Bible says in multiple places perhaps most notably in the Ten Commandments that God is to have preeminence in our lives.  The first commandment reads “You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods (Exodus 20:3 – 5a)(NLT)

Christian and many non-Christians alike are familiar with this commandment.  While non-Christians might consider the Ten Commandments a good moral code, Christians know these commandments along with the entire Bible provide guidelines for how are we to govern our lives.  The struggle of placing God singularly and supremely in our lives has been around since the Garden of Eden.  Satan enticed Eve by saying, “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).  God, knowing the lure of other gods, call us them to leave them.

Jacob was swindled by his father-in-law Laban to work for him for 14 years.  By this time, their relationship had started to sour.  When Laban was shearing sheep, Jacob seized upon an opportunity to leave. He called to his wives, Leah and Rachel to muster their children and belongings to go with him to his homeland of Canaan.  It is unlikely that Leah and Rachel had previously traveled far from their home, so despite being treated like outcasts by their father, Rachel felt compelled to take some of the old life with her.  In packing up her belongings to leave, she stole her father’s household gods.

It is human nature to want to cling to the remnants of the past, regardless of how good or bad that the past may have been.  We tend to romanticize the past, often referring to it as the “good ole’ days”.  We conveniently forget the hurts, headaches and disappointments of the past.  We are most susceptible to this when we are confronted with present day struggles or our way forward seems unclear.

After God emancipated the Israelites they found themselves in the wilderness and they could not always “see” how he was going to provide for them. This caused them to look longing back to their place of bondage, “we remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt.  And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted” (Numbers 11:5)(NLT).

Jacob did not have to twist the arms of Leah and Rachel to go with him.  When Jacob spoke to Leah and Rachel about making a run for it, they responded, “That’s fine with us! We won’t inherit any of our father’s wealth anyway. He has reduced our rights to those of foreign women. And after he sold us, he wasted the money you paid him for us.” (Genesis 31:14-15)(NLT)

Yet Rachel persisted is taking her father’s household gods, a reminder of her old, painful life with her.  Beyond that, she lied to her father when confronted about the theft.  This is often our reaction when our father God confronts us about those household gods in our lives, be they career, children, reputation, material possessions or whatever.  We may be blind to our household gods and we may not become aware of their place in our lives until we’re threatened with their loss.

God calls his children to a new way of life.  As God led the children of Israel to the Promised Land, it was a way in which they were unfamiliar.  Joshua reminded the Israelites as they set to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land they had “never traveled this way before” (Joshua 3:4).  Nothing can escape the clenched fists that we use to hold onto the past, but sadly and conversely, God cannot place into our open hands the promise of hope and a future.

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The Saddest Word in the English Language

Paul makes appeal before King Aggripa (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Paul makes appeal before King Agrippa (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. – Acts 26:28 (KJV)

Several sources I checked estimate there are just over one million words in the English language. I profess to know only a fraction of those words so maybe I cannot speak authoritatively, but I do have my candidate for what I consider to be the saddest word in the English language.  No, it is not the word saddest or any of the synonyms for the word including unhappy, despondent, disconsolate, discouraged, depressed or downcast.  My vote is for a word you may not even associate with sadness, it is the word, almost.

Ask any rabid sports fan and they will tell you the heartbreak associated with the word, almost when their team almost won, the game, almost made the playoffs or almost won the championship.  Ask the salesman about the sale they almost closed.  The only group I know who have come to terms with the word, almost are fishermen as they spin yarns about the size of the fish they almost caught.  “Let me tell about the one that got away.”

Almost conveys the sense of being on the doorstep of victory only to have it snatched away at the last minute.  Almost is like a mirage to the thirsty desert traveler, you are so close to the source of refreshing water that you can just about taste it, only to see it vanish before your very eyes.  Almost in the pin that pops the balloon of hope.

In my last post, I spoke about the cost of indecision.   Indecision is in a sense a decision.  If I decide to not file my income taxes or decide not pay outstanding parking tickets, I have decided by my indecision to expose myself negative consequences.  This is the position King Agrippa found himself in after Paul’s impassioned presentation of the Gospel (Acts 26).  Agrippa, who was the grandson of Herod the Great, was as Paul points out, “well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies” (Acts 26:1)(NIV).  This would have included Christianity which at the time was considered a sect of Judaism.  Agrippa’s indecision therefore was not based on a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of the will.  If we examine our own indecision it is generally not the result of insufficient knowledge, but rather an unwillingness to make a decision based on fear, stubbornness or other factors.  Whatever drove Agrippa’s indecision, he missed out on exchanging his temporary earthly kingdom for an eternal, everlasting kingdom.  In fact the earthly reign of the house of Herod ended with Agrippa’s death.

I believe the reason that Satan is such a vicious foe is that he knows the frustration of being on the losing side of almost.  He thinks, at least in his mind, that he almost overthrew God in heaven, that he almost thwarted God’s plan for mankind in the Garden of Eden and that he almost defeated Jesus on the cross.  Truth be told in the struggle between Satan and God, “almost” isn’t even an appropriate descriptor.  Satan may have temporary power, but God possess all power for eternity.  One of Satan’s chief tactics is to get Christians to buy into the myth of almost, to doubt the certainty of victory, but with God the outcome to our struggles is never in doubt.

If you are a Christian living in a world of almost today, I pray that you will renew your mind (Romans 12:2) and not fall prey to the enemy’s message of defeat.  Satan is a worthy but already, vanquished adversary.  If you are not a Christian living in a world of almost, your position is even more precarious.  I pray you will be open to and accept God’s offer of eternal life.

As Pastor Tony Evans has rightly said, “For a Christian, this [meaning this earthly life] is the only hell you will ever know and a non-Christian, this is the heaven you will ever know.”

 

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God’s Thread

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Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. . .1 Samuel 14:6b (NIV)

It seems everyone loves a good suspenseful movie. You know type I’m talking about where the hero or heroine finds themselves in a life-threatening, precarious situation with no visible sign of escape.  If you need a mental picture think of the popular Indiana Jones movie series.  Even if you’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies in their entirety, you’ve likely seen short clips from them showing Indiana Jones being chased by a giant boulder or attempting to outwit a cobra.

Taking a look at redemptive history, it appears that God too has an appetite for suspense.  A pattern seems to emerge where God will make a promise to an individual or community and then either orchestrates or permit events to occur that would seem to undermine the promise.  The Israelites had been in bondage for 430 years in Egypt when God emancipated them and promised to lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  However the escape route that God intentionally chose for the journey was an apparent dead end leading them to be trapped by the Red Sea.  The Egyptians pursued the Israelites and had them boxed in.  The Israelites had two means of escape, one would involve turning around, doing an about face and running headlong into the teeth of the advancing Egyptian army.  The other means, which seemed even more improbable, would be to escape by swimming across the Red Sea, which was 221 miles across and 1,600 feet deep.  This was playing out to be a true cliff hanger if there ever was one, clearly besting anything that Indiana Jones might face.  Why would God place the people he swore to deliver in such peril?  God reveals the answer to Moses, “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:3b)(NIV).  While God shared his plan with Moses, apparently that word had not yet spread throughout the entire Israelite camp, because the people reacted in fear. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:1-12)(NIV). 

God did not abandoned his plan to save is his people.  Instead of utilizing either of the two apparent options of rescue; a.) the Israelites turn and face and Egyptian army head on or b.) the Israelites swim across the Red Sea, he created a third more miraculous option; c.) part the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk across on dry land and cause the Red Sea to revert back to its original form and drown the Egyptians when they attempted to follow.

We all like a suspenseful drama provided we’re in the audience and not acting it out. But God does not exempt us from his casting call.  He will see to it that we are protagonists in our own spine tingling stories apparently hemmed us in on all sides with no visible means of escape. Sooner or later we will all find ourselves hanging on by God’s thread and that thread will appear to be fraying. But God’s salvation does not rely on appearances.  He often does his best work when situations appear most dire.  He can save by many or by few.  Even if we are saved by what seems like a hair’s breadth the outcome is no less secure than if we had been saved by a mile.  The more dramatic the rescue, the greater the faith lesson taught to us and the greater the witness to God’s glory.

The Israelites’ lament when they saw the Egyptian chariots approaching turned into a song of praise when they saw those same Egyptians washed up dead on shore of the Red Sea, “who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)(NIV). 

Do you feel like you are in a tight spot with no visible means of escape?  Remember that God is just helping you to compose your song.

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