Fickle Hearts, Persistent God - Exodus 8
Click here for the Word Doc..
Click here for the PDF..
Fickle Hearts, Persistent God – 07.31.2022
Once upon a time there was a store manager working near the cash registers in his store. And he overheard his clerk tell a customer, “No, Ma’am, we haven’t had any for a while, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be getting any soon.” Horrified, the manager came running over to the customer and said, “Oh no Ma’am, of course we’ll have some soon – we placed an order last week.” Then the manager drew the clerk aside and scolded him. “Never, never, never say that we are out of ANYTHING. You say we’ve got it on order and it’s coming. Now what was it she wanted?” And the clerk replied, “Rain.”
Have you ever made a promise you never meant to keep? Have you ever made a deal with God? Back in grade school, you get to the day of the test – and you didn’t study, so you pray to God – just help me pass this test and I will live my entire life for you. I will honor you in everything I do, I’ll go to church every single Sunday. I’ll be the top volunteer. We do this thing where we reduce our relationship with God to a transaction. God if you give me this thing I want, I’ll care more about you. You see it in sitcoms a lot. Something terrible will happen, and a character will start praying, “God, if you will just answer my prayer – give me what I want, I will turn my whole life around.” And then in the middle of the prayer, they’ll get a text message or a message or something that tells them they got what they want, and so then they say “oh, never mind God – we’re good.” SO much of our life, so much of our faith is just us trying to figure out, “okay, how do I get that thing that is out there – how do I get it to do what I want?” Which is not a relationship – there’s no actual love there, it’s just a transaction.
Today we are continuing our sermon series in the book of Exodus. We’ve been reading all about the Israelites coming out of slavery, and we’ve just started exploring the ten plagues. And last week we saw that God is being a little bit dramatic, but he’s doing it on purpose to really grab Pharaoh’s attention. This week, we’re going to see Pharaoh, he recognizes God – he knows God is out there, but he is still operating on a transaction mentality.
Let’s check it out. [read v.1-4]. This is the second plague. Frogs. And I feel like it’s very clear. Verse 2 – frogs are coming. Verse 3 – like a lot of frogs. Verse 4 – no, seriously they’re going to jump on you. Verse 6, [read v.6-7]. So the frogs show up, but just like the first plague, the magicians are able to copycat the plague. They are also able to do pied piper some frogs up into Egypt. I wonder how they did it? Maybe they have like a dog whistle for frogs, or like a duck call or something – a frog call. Like you just blow it, and all the frogs come running. But then, [read v.8]. Pharaoh’s begging – get rid of the frogs and I will let you go worship God. And again I want to point out that the freedom they seek is freedom to worship God. It’s not just blanket freedom, this is freedom so that they can worship. And Moses is probably feeling pretty good at this point. Wow, it only took two plagues to break Pharaoh – well, that was easy. Verse 12, [read v.12-14]. (laugh). They pray for the frogs to go away, and so they all die. It’s not like they hop back to the creek or the swamp or whatever. They just drop dead wherever they are. So they pile up the dead frogs and apparently a giant pile of dead frogs is very stinky. BUT [read v.15]. As soon as Pharaoh gets what he wants from God, he no longer cares, and he turns his back on God. This is a key teaching, not just for this story but for our lives as well. Comfort breeds complacency. A lot of people think, “well – you only turn your back on God when things are bad,” but it is actually MORE common for people to turn away from God when things are good. When things are tough, we CRY OUT to God, but when things are good we convince ourselves we don’t need God anymore. Comfort breeds complacency. Maybe a better wording is that luxury makes us lazy. When things are going really well we take God for granted. Luxury makes us lazy, comfort breeds complacency. Pharaoh turns his back on God as soon as he gets a little bit of relief.
[read v.16]. First off, the dust of the land turned into Gnats. Think where they are. Egypt. If there was one place in the world where I would think there is an abundance of small particles that you might call sand or dust. Yikes. All the dust in the land turns to Gnats – gross. [read v.18-19]. Huh, so the magicians can’t copy this one. It’s not in their bag of tricks – they cannot replicate the miracle, and so they cry out, “this is the finger of God!” And I know that in this ancient context it probably meant something different, but I can’t help but wonder which finger is God giving them? You’re going to copy my plagues? Copy this.
[read v.20-22] Alright, now there’s something important I want you to see here. The first plague in this chapter hit everyone, and the magicians copied it. The second plague hit everyone, but the magicians could NOT copy it. The third plague doesn’t get copied and is ONLY going to hit the Egyptians. The Israelites are safe from the flies. God is slowly revealing his power to Pharaoh – this isn’t occult illusions, this is the real deal. [read v.24-25] So it worked! Pharaoh cries, “Uncle, uncle!” He says, okay – go sacrifice to your God. But then the chapter finishes up, [read v.29]. So Moses is like, “okay… I’m going to pray and God will get rid of the flies, but you’re not going to change your mind again like you did last time, right?” I think we all know how this chapter ends, [read v.30-32]. Have you ever seen that old Charlie Brown comic with Lucy and the football. She holds the football out and then at the last second she pulls it away. Every. Single. Time. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m pretty sure over the life of that comic, and maybe even in the movies – Charlie’s foot never makes contact with that football. You’re going to pull the football away – no, I’m not – okay - *flip* lands on his back. Pharoah makes a VERY good Lucy. We’re four plagues in and these hardships have revealed a LOT about the character of Pharaoh. He’s not a man of his word. He’s not someone who can be trusted.
The good news this morning is that God persistently enables worship. God has given you the freedom to worship him. No matter what comes in your life – good days or bad days. Days when you get to the end and you want to put a stamp on that and say, “yeah, that was a good day.” And other days when you want to crawl into bed ashamed of the day you just had. In every situation, God enables you to worship. We can worship God both in the rain AND when the sun is shining. There is never a moment in your life when you are unable to cry out to God. No matter how far away you feel, no matter how long it’s been, no matter the mistakes you have made – God is there. Ready for you to come to him. No matter how good things are going – sun is shining, finances are solid, relationships are strong, all is well with the world – still God is enabling you to worship him.
See, here’s the thing I realized this week – like, I know this story very well. Pharaoh is the bad guy, he’s the mean overlord, and God’s going to free his people. Right, the Israelites are living in slavery and God is going to set them free. And so every time I hear this story I have always identified with Israel. Right? I am a slave to my sin, just like Israel was enslaved in Egypt and God is going to set me free. And that’s a really good interpretation. But when I slowed down and walked through the text more intentionally – I realized that maybe… just maybe, I am Pharaoh. I mean, we’ve got this guy who doesn’t really know God, everything is going great in his life. Things start to go wrong, life is falling apart – so he cries out to God. He gets a little relief, and he puts God back on the shelf. I don’t need him anymore. And then things go wrong again, and so he cries out to God – give me relief from my troubles and I will do whatever you want God. I’ll go do sacrifices every Sunday, I’ll volunteer at all the stuff and I’ll give 10% of my income, I’ll become the perfect, model follower of God. Oh I got what I needed? Nevermind, I’m good. I don’t need God anymore. I’ll put him back on the shelf. How many of us only pray when we need something? How many of us only show up at church when we’re feeling bad and we want to feel better? Tough times drive us TO God, it’s actually during seasons of comfort and luxury that we need to be the most careful. We turn away, just like Pharoah, the moment we get relief.
There’s a phrase in the New Testament that says we are “judged in the sunlight.” And apparently, I was reading this this last week – that phrase is English that comes from the Latin “sine cera” which literally means without wax. And there’s this whole story about the phrase. To be judged in the sunlight is to be judged “without wax.” Back in the days when art was flourishing in ancient Greece, it became common practice to repair statues or vases with wax. A rich man or a high ranking official might employ a sculptor to chisel his bust out of marble. But if the artist was careless, if the chisel slipped, the end of the nose would be chipped right off the face. Rather than go to all the trouble of making a new bust, the sculptor would mend the features with wax, so that flaw could not be detected. If the client happened to be a knowing person, he would carry the finished statue out of the studio and into the open before paying for it. Examine it carefully in the sunlight. Otherwise, if you brought it home, in the heat of the sunlight in your house – the wax melts and the nose would fall off. The statue was not “sincere” it was not “without wax” and could not stand up to the careful scrutiny in the sunlight. The latin phrase “without wax” is translated – judged in the sunlight.
What I’m trying to say here with Pharaoh, is that we too will be judged in the sunlight. The authenticity of our faith will be revealed on the good days when everything is hunky dory, fun in the sun. And we will find out - are we like Pharaoh, only crying out when we want something – immediately forgetting him once we have what we want? When we step into the sunlight, when life is good and the rain clouds disperse – does our faith melt away? Or are we faithful? Are we “without wax,” are we sincere? Are we people who will love God, even when we don’t need anything from him? God persistently enables worship, and we can turn to him in the rain AND when the sun is shining.
Now, of course, we will always need God. He sustains our existence, but practically in our lives there are moments when we feel like we need him more than at other times. And when God feels far away, when things are falling apart – we’ve gotten pretty good at clinging to God. He’s our shelter in the storm. It’s like when we did fourth of July a couple weeks back. For my family, we kept it really small, just a few small fireworks in the driveway. And the older two boys were really excited - look at the sparks! Wow, it’s so loud – this is fun. But Ezra, baby number three, he was not having it. Soon as we lit one of those sparkler fountains off, he ran behind mom’s legs and then Oma picked him up and he had a death grip on her neck. Just hugging her so tight. Because when we’re scared, or things are going poorly – we cling to security. But how do we hang on to God when things get fixed? How do we stay close to our creator when we’re not afraid any more? There’s actually a mental shift we can do in our faith walk that helps us with this. We have to move from terror to thankfulness. When things are bad, and we’re scared - we cry out to God for hope – we cling to God for strength. But when things are good we need to cling to God in gratitude. In your faith walk the key to persistent worship is gratitude. An easy way to remember that is simply, “with good things comes gratitude.” Being grateful for the things we have helps us to stay faithful.
When I do my sermon planning, I plan it out months in advance, and I know the direction I’m going, but every week I sit down with the text and sometimes God really surprises me with what I find. I did not expect, in a series about the ten plagues, I did not expect to be identifying with Pharaoh. I did not expect to see myself in his selfish, fickle behavior. The good news is that God is persistent – rain or shine we are able to come to him in worship. And so the challenge for us today is that we have to stop trying to turn your relationship with God into a transaction. We have to stop saying, “God if you bless my life THEN I will worship you.” “God if I get what I want, then I will make time for you.” “God if you take away my troubles, if I need you to fix my problems - THEN I will give you glory.” We have to stop offering our lives as a payment for God’s love. We don’t want to be Pharaoh, fickle and unreliable. We want to be children of God. We want to be faithful people who praise God no matter what happens in life. Stop turning your relationship with God into a transaction – let your friendship with God be a real friendship. Let your love of God be true. Relationships are not designed to be transactions, and your connection to God is no different.
You know, I keep seeing news stories about the lottery – because it’s getting absolutely humongous lately. Over a billion dollars. But it reminds me of this survey I read about, where people were asked “What would you be willing to do for 10 million dollars?” And then they asked these people to do horrible things. Would you do this for 10 million dollars? 16% said they would give up their American citizenship. 16% said they would leave their spouses. 25% said they would abandon their church. 25% said they would abandon their entire family. 10% said they would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free. 3% would even put their children up for adoption. Now I realize that 3% is not very many, but it’s about 3% more than it should be. And I think the reason we have such a strong reaction to those statistics is that we know, underneath it all that relationships are not designed to be transactions. If we want to be different than fickle hearted Pharaoh, we need to have a sincere authentic relationship with God that is not based on transactions. We cling to God when we are in the midst of the storm, and then when the sun comes out, and goodness fills our life – we cling to God in gratitude.
Frogs, Gnats, and Flies. Plagues 2, 3 and 4 – there’s a lot going on in chapter 8 of Exodus. We see the character of Pharaoh when he cries out for relief, and then immediately turns his back when he gets what he wants. We see the character of God in his persistence and his faithfulness. He is not going to give up and leave his people in slavery. He is true to his word and always follows through, and that teaches us something about God and about who we could be. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you abandon transactional relationships. Be authentic and turn to God in worship in the rain AND when the sun is shining. May your connection to God be judged in the sunlight, sine cera, without wax. May God’s steadfast, unwavering presence inspire you to live a life full of gratitude for all God has done for us. Amen.
 James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth, 1991.