About other gods

Steve DeNeff

It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it but because this was his plan long ago before the world began. So whenever God acts, you would expect him to act according to his plan.

So when the events of Exodus occur, understand this: God is not “winging it” this is his plan. He waits for the moment and executes. This is important for us to understand.

What God does in Exodus is his plan. The plan will be repeated again and again and again in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t come out of the blue, he came as the deliverer. He still does this today. God will never say, “What am m I going to do now?” God waits and executes his plan.

God is never overwhelmed. There’s security in that! God has figured this out and he has control.

About this time every year, our leaders send us a form asking us to report the most vital statistics in the church. They’ve told us the three most important stats are (1) people saved, (2) people baptized, (3) people who joined the church.

I have no problem with a couple of these. It’s easy to count the ones who are baptized, they’re the ones who are wet when the service is over.

It’s easy to count the people who joined, they come on stage and shake our hand. They’ve joined.

The first one gives me fits, the number of people saved. I don’t know how to count them. Do we count the amount of people who said the prayer, made a profession of faith, signed a card, or made eye contact with the speaker? Do we count them or do we count the people whose lives have actually changed?

And what do we do with someone who prayed the prayer but their life didn’t change? Do we have an “almost saved” category? Or those whose lives have changed but they haven’t prayed the prayer? Or the ones who prayed the prayer, had a life change, but that was six months ago and it changed back? Is there a “once saved” category? Or what about those who came to church for a long time but then went to a camp to be saved? Who gets to count them? The camp? How fair is that?

We’re learning that the idea of being saved in a moment comes more from our past and the way we read the Bible than it is in a moment.

Growing up attending camp, I remember the speaker who would go on and on and on and then have an altar call. There’s nothing wrong with this, it comes from history in the late 1700’s. We weren’t aware of it, but going to camp was taking a year’s worth of spiritual growth and compressing it into a week’s worth of camp.

We didn’t do this on purpose, it just happened that way. We thought of our spiritual lives as a yearly camp-to-camp experience.

I went to a camp like this in New Brunswick. It was a big show! Cars were lined up and they make a big deal about people attending. It creates a high expectation. And we take a year’s worth of spiritual growth and jams it into a week. So then at the end of a week there’s an altar call and it’s a matter of moments.

It’s not that way in Exodus. It takes salvation and stretches it out. You are saved and will be saved. It’s a long lifetime journey.

God’s people went to Egypt and then leadership turned over and they didn’t know Joseph. That made things different for the Israelites.

Exodus 1:11-14
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

In Chapter 2, Israel groaned under their slavery and they cried for help. So God gave them Moses.

“I’ve come down to save them from the land of the Egyptians, so go… I who sent you.
when you have brought the people out of Egypt you will worship God on this mountain.

Chapter 3, God tells Moses that they are to be freed from pharaoh so that they may worship

“Let my people go” was the phrase that occurred over and over. “Let my people go so they may worship me.”

Moses went before pharaoh to report the conversation from Yahweh. Pharaoh wondered why Moses would take people away from the labor at hand. The Israelites were forced to work harder.

Moses had good news/bad news for his people:
Good news – God is going to set us free so that we may worship him
Bad news – It’s gonna take a while

The Israelites were upset about this because their work got harder. They were upset with Moses, “May God judge you for what you have done for us.” They should have directed this judgement to pharaoh! Not Moses! Pharaoh was the one preventing them to worship God!

The Israelites were frustrated with Moses. They said (loosely), “You said we’d be saved, but you’ve done nothing.”

In Chapter 6, God speaks again. This time he tells Moses what he’s already done and what he’s going to do. He’s already appeared to Abraham and made a covenant. He remembered that covenant.

There are seven “I will” statements in there.

The first three have to do with Exodus

  1. Bring you out
  2. Free you
  3. Redeem you

All three of those phrases can be translated with “save you.” Hebrews have lots of words for salvation and these are three of them.

“Whatever predicament you are in, I will get you out of there” is what God is saying.

The salvation isn’t over yet. He says he will take the people to himself. God is adopting his people. He’s taking them to himself in exchange for being the only God for the people.

Afterwards, God says “I will take you into the land I promised you and I will give it to you as a possession.”

We have somehow thought of salvation in only two ways

  1. Getting out of Egypt
  2. Getting into the Promised Land

But there is a whole stretch in between getting out and getting in where God is up to something. He’s trying to take us to himself so that he may be our only God!

1. Did you notice this all began with a call to worship?

We are never called out of Egypt until we are called to worship. He never says, “Let my people go.” He says, “Let my people go so that they may worship me.”

All of our spiritual lives is a call to worship. We must get this right. We spend so much time trying to get away from the Egypt we created when we need to focus our energy on worshipping God.

Words “to serve as a slave” and “to worship as a son” are the same root word. So, in some ways, the Exodus is not about busting out it’s about service and worship. The question at hand is, “Who or what are you going to worship?”

Will you serve pharaoh or will you serve God?

Salvation is an exchange of loyalties. Let’s be clear about this. What God is trying to do from the moment we are saved is to develop in us new loyalties for him. Because we had a ton of loyalties in the place we used to be.

Salvation is not exchanging a predicament or place. It’s not being taken from hell to heaven. Salvation is about taking us away from the pharaohs and the gods we’ve become addicted to and freeing us so we may serve and worship him as it is.

This is positive!

I grew up in a church where they tried to beat the pharaoh out of me. When I really needed a vision of worship! I really needed to know what worship was!

Worship is not a service. It’s a festival.

Exodus 5:2
Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 8:23-34
I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”

24 And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.

25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”

26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.”

28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”

29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”

30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

Worship is service and sacrifice. This is what God is doing through salvation.

2. The obstacle is not so much our sins but our gods

When I say that God isn’t trying to rescue us not from our sins but from our gods, that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard for some of you. You don’t think you have gods.

The problem in Egypt was that they had lots of idols. An idol is something you make and bow down to. It’s purposeful and the person is fully aware of it. They knew the idol they built. Then they would appeal to the gods asking them to fill the idol.

The idol was a point of access for these people to gods.

Israel never changed gods, they just added them. They never did this on purpose. What they did was they lived in the culture for 400 years. And when you live in a culture for 400 years nobody needs to tell you to do anything. Values are assumed and everyone follows, otherwise you’re criticized. Just being around a culture of multiple gods isn’t created, it’s just breathed.

You never say, “Well we just don’t believe in Yahweh anymore. You say, ‘Well how did that happen? I guess it was hard work!'” A degree, discipline or some other explanation. It’s not that you don’t believe in Yahweh, it’s that you’re using a different explanation for what is happening.

What do you  trust? What do you fear more than anything in the world? If you were to lose everything and everybody but still had “this” it wouldn’t make you happy but you’d be okay. What would that “this” be for you? Your career, family, education, what is it?

What have you come to love? When you lie in bed at night and you begin to adrift and the mind wonders, where does it go?

What do you imagine when you think of the “good life?” Money, family, or health?

You know you have other gods on you hand whenever you go to explain something and you use virtually every other explanation except Yahweh. That’s the tip of the point. The truth of the matter is the gods are not all in Egypt and they’re not all in America.

What happens in Exodus is while God is saving his people from the other gods, the ones who have seeped into their lives, he goes through the process of introducing himself to his own people.

This is why God says over and over and over, “I am the Lord your God.” Do you know why he does this? Because nobody in The Book knows him!

Moses didn’t know who was in the burning bush. Moses wondered how to tell his people about God. And he went before pharaoh and said, “Yahweh said let my people go.” Pharaoh replied that he didn’t know Yahweh. So neither Moses nor pharaoh knew Yahweh.

And through a series of plagues, God was targeting the false gods of Egypt. The Nile River was a god. Osiris, the god of the fields, was plagued. The sun went dark in a plague. God was saying, “There are no other Gods!”

If you want to learn God, you can’t learn Him in a class on theology. This might make you mad, but God is not learned in a series of propositions. God is learned in life. If it took theological propositions to learn God then the faith of a child can’t save you, but it can! So God must be learned in life. We must give him credit and blame, he’s not afraid of either one.

The purpose of theologians is to come alongside us and help articulate what our hearts are trying to say.

There will come a time in life when God will start to point out your other gods if you don’t know them.

On September 11, our enemies attacked our gods. The government, the military, and the economy. They didn’t take out our churches. I could be wrong, but I think they were targeting what they thought were the idols of Western civilization.

Since that time, we’ve seen all three of these entities stumble. The government, the military, and the economy. Will someone stand up and say, “This has been greed and it failed us.”

I could be wrong, but maybe God was picking off our gods. Are we going to acknowledge that? The government doesn’t have all the answers. The military can’t keep us safe. The economy is not secure. Can we acknowledge this? Instead, we’ve doubled down and tried to make these things the answer. How is it going?

My reason for telling you this is to call it out that these things have seeped into it and we think it’s the next greatest answer. We pursue careers and salaries the same way the Egyptians do.

In my first church we were visited by a gentleman. I preached on “No other Gods before me.” After the service he asked to take me to lunch. I agreed under the circumstances that my wife is with us. He agreed, but asked to drive with me separately. So we drove together and my wife drove a second car to the restaurant.

When I went to get into his car I couldn’t open the door because it was smashed in. I had to get in the car through the driver side. I was creepin’ out. I asked what happened to the car. He began to tell me his story about working for the airlines. He had a transfer in position from Minneapolis to Detroit. He followed God but he knew he had other gods too, even identified them.

Note to self: Never do this. If God is going to pick them off, let him identify them.

I asked what he told God. His response was a list of five things that were important to him:

  1. Girlfriend who he wanted to marry
  2. Job that was his bread and butter
  3. Family in Minneapolis
  4. My car
  5. God

What happened?

A few weeks ago I got a call that I had to move from my current job in Minneapolis to a fragile job in Detroit. I had no choice because if I didn’t take the transfer then I’d be out a job. My girlfriend found out I was leaving so she left. I got moved away from my family. I’m in Detroit one day and somebody rammed into the side of my car.

I realized I only had one thing left. “In two weeks, God took out all the competition.”

Whenever God does this, we can get angry and hard. Pharaoh did that, hardening his heart ten times. We’ll say pharaoh is a bad person, but the last  time God took it out on one of my gods I was pretty ticked too.

We never just lay down our gods, do we? It’s always a fight.

I’m asking you to look over your life. What are the things you value, trust, and love? What is your security? Do the hard work of seeing whether or not those gods have crept into your life, maybe they have. This can happen to anyone. Do not be deceived, if you breathe it can happen. We must always go through the hard interior work of resisting other gods.

We must confirm each day that God is the only priority. You can say it today, but you will have to say it a couple of days from now as well. Say it again and again and again.

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College Wesleyan Church

This message is from Rev. Steve DeNeff,
Teaching Series Lent 2015
Title: “God Separates”

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