Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year! 202: The Year of the Desert?

I want to heartily wish you all a happy New Year!  Wow.  No one will miss 2020, I am sure.  

Yet, maybe 2020 was our time to leave Egypt and be led out into the desert by God through these trying times.  

Let's unpack this analogy for a minute.  Ray Vander Laan does a wonderful teaching on the book of Exodus.  He points out that the Israelites lived in the land of Goshen--and it's a beautiful region in the Nile Delta.  The Israelites were "extremely powerful and filled the land." (Ex. 1:7)  

But they were not in the Promised Land and serving the God of their ancestors--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Instead, they were surrounded by temples, statues and monuments that proclaimed that the gods of Egypt were supreme and the Pharaoh was a god as well--the embodiment of divine power to bring about and sustain maat.  He brought order--maat--to chaos and all of Egypt knew he kept it by obeying the dictates of the gods.   

The Israelites saw nothing else but the enormous monuments that shouted of the supreme power of the gods and Pharaoh. 

Then it got ugly.  A new king, who didn't know the history of Joseph and his contribution to the welfare of Egypt, came to power and was shocked about how many Israelites there were.  Then he condemned them to slavery.

Stop for a moment.  How so like us?  We live in the slavery of a sinful nature, but let's be honest--it can be like Goshen.  It's not so bad.  The "fruits" of the flesh are beneficial to us, for we have a kind of freedom to do what we want, when we want--in other words, it takes no effort to live by the values of the flesh: 

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21 NIV)

So Goshen is easy.  Easy to forget why we are here.  Easy to forget the value of one another.  Easy to forget that we are not meant to live in accordance with the flesh, for it is fallen and hostile to God.  God gives us purpose, not following the pursuits of our flesh.  We are not in the Promised Land when we are living in the Goshen of our flesh.  

Ray Vander Laan makes the interesting observation that God, through an angry Pharaoh, allowed slavery to take over the lives of the Israelites.  Otherwise, they never would have left Goshen--there wasn't a reason to--but being enslaved and subjected to state-sponsored infanticide was the catalyst for the people crying out to God.  But as Vander Laan points out, they just cried out--to the heavens:

Years passed...But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery.  They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He looked down on the people and knew it was time to act. (Ex. 2:23-25, NLT).

They didn't know their God nor their purpose which was to be in a covenant relationship with God--to be His people and live in the land He chose for them long ago.  He wanted them to be His, in His land, under His forgiveness and in His way of life.  

So Goshen had to become miserable for them to want to leave. 

The flesh and sin have to become miserable for us to want to leave.  We hear God's call for reconciliation and restoration, but we have to feel the weight of the flesh--the bondage of our nature before God's call becomes a song of freedom.  

Deliverance requires a Deliverer.  God sent Moses.  He tried to liberate the Israelites on his own, by striking dead an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite.  He murdered the man when no one was looking and then hid the body.  When we try to slay the flesh, one sin at a time, trying to be good, hiding it in the sand, so to speak, we end up more miserable as before.  Moses did.  He was afraid after he received taunting the next day from two of his fellow Israelites, and he ran away.

So do we.  To the desert of guilt and shame. Yet, even there, even there, God waits for us.  He waited for Moses in the burning bush.  He waits in Jesus on the cross.  He calls us, tells us who He is and how He sent Jesus to die for our sins.  He wants us to be in Him, living out the purpose He chose for us long ago.

The desert transforms our focus from just being about us, to realizing we cannot survive on our own--our character, tainted and marred by sin--is a liability in the desert.  Why?  In order to survive, we must be entirely dependent on God for spiritual food, water and guidance.  Manna, quail, and pillars of smoke or fire are metaphors for this time we experience in the desert.  Yes, we want to flee back to Egypt, where we know the lay of the land and how easy it is to live according to our nature. 

But Egypt isn't the Promised Land.  In between the two places is the desert.  The desert builds our character--for it strips away all superfluities--and causes us to look at our lives.  It schools us to see how fragile life is, how the world mistreats us and how our value vacillates depending on what group we are consigned to or how we allow others to treat us.  

Was God leading us out of Goshen--a materialistic, narcissistic America where money trumps integrity--into a desert of a pandemic, civil unrest, brutality, lawlessness and verbal abuse to make us stop and reevaluate who we are?  Sure, we want to go back to the slavery of Goshen--it's sure a lot better than the unknown aspects of the desert...right?

God, using this year of the desert, 2020, asked us:  "Who are you?  Why are you here?  Do you have purpose?"

God will use 2021 to continue to call to us.  

Take a few minutes and listen to this short ten minute video.  It really captures the one thing our sin nature can never give us:  purpose.  That Egypt, with all of its wow factor, will not bring order to our chaos.  Man's efforts are mere silent stones and will not lift us out of the chaos of our culture. 

Listen, enjoy and I wish you all a happy New Year, in Him.  Tell me what you think.

Via con Dios.  

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