Genesis 22:15-18 – Faith, Obedience, and Blessing

Blessing to Abraham

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (NIV)

The biblical character of Abraham is synonymous with faith. And for good reason. God had told Abraham that he would have a son with his wife Sarah. This was especially unusual because the couple were well advanced in age, and Sarah was incapable of having children. Infertility is not just a modern problem; it has always existed.  Yet, despite all the contrary evidence of age and ability, Abraham believed God. Years later and with a mix of patience and impatience from the would-be parents, the promise from God was realized.  Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac.

“The child of the promise.” This was Isaac’s moniker – which made the command from God so perplexing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2). Huh? I can easily imagine Abraham saying to himself, perhaps not out loud, “What the [insert favorite expletive]!”  But it only seems strange and super-weird to us. We get no reaction from Abraham, no questioning, no talk back.  He just goes about the business of saddling up the donkey, chopping some wood for the sacrifice, and takes his only son with him on the journey to the mountain.

While you and I might try and figure out if we really heard God or not, Abraham had a history of talking with God. He knew God’s voice as well as he knew his own. Abraham was well down the road of relationship with the God he served. We get an insight from the author of Hebrews into Abraham’s thought process, a line of thinking that is consistent with a person who has a regular habit of talking with God:

“Abraham had been promised that Isaac, his only son, would continue his family. But when Abraham was tested, he had faith and was willing to sacrifice Isaac, because he was sure that God could raise people to life. This was just like getting Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-18, CEV)

Abraham did not try and figure out God’s mind. He picked no fights and chose not to debate with God about the contradiction of ethics he was being asked to do.

Abraham simply obeyed.

He reasoned that it did not matter if Isaac were killed because God could raise him from death. This, of course, is not what happened. It was all a test of faith. Abraham knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is the Lord who provides. After God stepped in and provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac, Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” (Genesis 22:14)

You and I most certainly do not always know why we are facing the circumstances we must endure. We very much are rarely privy to know what in the world God is thinking. Yet, like Abraham, if we have a spiritual history of walking with God and hearing his voice, there is no hesitation to respond with obedience. We are convinced that God will provide. Obedience for the follower of Christ is not a burden; it is a privilege, even when we are being tested beyond our seeming emotional ability to do it.

Blessings come through obedience. They are not willy-nilly thrown into a crowd like some cheap stadium trinket between innings of a baseball game. When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, this very connection between obedience and blessing was re-emphasized:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God…. The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 9, NIV)

A simple observation about the blessing of Abraham: It took nearly five-hundred years before that blessing was realized. Furthermore, in the Christian tradition, it then took another fifteen-hundred years before the blessing was fulfilled in the person of Jesus. And, I might add, all the promises of God to his people will be fully consummated at the end of the age when Christ returns. For a contemporary society which prides itself on timeliness and efficiency, taking the much broader scope of all history might seem unacceptable.

So, we come back around again to trust. Just as Abraham trusted God, even when it seemed like nonsense fraught with major moral implications, so we are to exhibit patient and persevering faith. Although the scope of history is massively large, the only moment we have is the now. It is now, today, in which we put one foot in front of the other and toddle forward into the next moment – by faith.

We simply obey.

Then, we obey again… and, again. It is in such continual small steps of faith and obedience that we will discover the blessings of God in the middle of our path.

Sovereign Lord, your ways are sometimes strange.  Yet, I know that everything you do is always right, just, and good.  It is to your gracious and merciful character that I know you will guide and provide. My allegiance is to you as I anticipate your divine blessings in my life through the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Trinity Sunday – The God of Wholeness

oak tree 2

We live in a fundamentally broken world. Systemic racism, political gridlock, social stratification, hate crimes, alcohol and domestic abuse, ageism, disease, malpractice, terrorism, and xenophobia barely scratch the surface of sad societal ills and we face living in this old fallen world. Indeed, it is all quite distressing. To realize wholeness and integrity will require operating the mechanism of blessing.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

This is the blessing I leave with my congregation each Sunday. A divine blessing involves the wholeness and integrity of the triune God given to us through grace, love, and fellowship. Holding each facet of that blessing together can sometimes be a challenge.

There was a time in my life when I golfed every day. Even though I played a lot of golf, it was rare for me to have an entire round where my driving, approach shots, chipping, and putting all worked nicely together. My typical experience was that when my driving was superb, my chipping and putting was awful; or, that when my putting was amazing, my approach shots were atrocious. Rarely did I have the whole package of a solid golf game put together in one seamless round. Instead, my game, along with most amateur golfers, is typically disjointed with a combination of brilliant shots and ugly shanks.

The Christian life can seem the same way – with the ability to show love and grace, be open and caring on some days, and not so much on other days. We need God – the triune God. Within God there is complete wholeness, a total well-rounded divine Being.  As we connect with this Being, then we can experience God’s wholeness and integrity, which leads to our own consistent daily wholeness, with no divided herky-jerky self.

The Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – provides us with a model of wholeness and displays how it all comes together in a solid consistent life of blessing. There is a beautiful connection between the Trinity and our lives.  It is a path to wholeness that involves healing, hope, and spiritual health based in the triune God.

Healing

The grace of Jesus enables us to pull ourselves together. Jesus is the one who has brought reconciliation and restoration – he has made the bridge and connection to God. In response to this grace we aim for perfection (not perfectionism) pull ourselves together” and restore and heal ourselves. Since Jesus is the Reconciler, the one who restores and heals, we are to allow that grace to wash over us and seep deep into our souls so that we experience reconciliation, restoration, and healing.  When we are broken and disjointed, the grace of Jesus sets us back in place again.

Tim Hansel

The late Tim Hansel was a teacher and mountain climber. He wrote a book many years ago entitled, You Gotta Keep Dancin’: In the Midst of Life’s Hurts, You Can Choose Joy! Hansel lived with chronic debilitating pain for thirty-five years after a climbing accident where he literally fell off a mountain and shattered most of the vertebrae in his back. In his long journey of coming to grips with his painful existence, Tim Hansel discovered that wholeness can certainly come through brokenness. Healing can happen with pain still present. Maturity can occur through painful growth of the human spirit. He constantly said to people, “Pain is inevitable; but misery is optional.” He explained to others, “Character is developed through adversity and pain. That adversity can either destroy us or build us up, but it will not leave us the same, depending upon our chosen response to it.  Pain can either make us better or bitter.”

Even if you do not experience the kind of healing and restoration of body or soul you are looking for, maybe, like Tim Hansel, you will receive grace and freedom that the loving triune God gives. God himself lives with observing the terrible pain of humanity’s hurts every day. The more we participate in the life of God, the greater is our ability to deal with pain – our own as well as the pain of others.

Hope

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit enables us to receive comfort. The Spirit is the Paraclete, the one who encourages by coming alongside and helping. The Spirit works with us, intimately participating in our lived everyday experiences. The Spirit is God’s means of experiencing wholeness. The Holy Spirit lovingly appeals to us in ways we can understand and act – speaking words of comfort and exhortation with the commitment to a faithful presence. Since the Spirit is committed to helping us, thus, we are to help others through living in fellowship with them.

John-Wesley

When John Wesley was a young Christian, a seasoned saint advised him, “Do you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” Wesley took that advice to heart. Convinced that the pursuit of personal holiness was impossible apart from Christian community, he carefully organized the Methodist movement (a reaction against solitary religion) into societies (congregations), classes (small groups of eight to twelve), and bands (accountability groups of three to five).

We are meant to receive the encouragement of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not hold back in providing us with the help we need to live the Christian life in the form of other believers. We are all important. If we are not healed, we hurt and then hurt others. However, with healing comes hope, and hope encourages us that it will not always be this way – there are better days ahead.

Hope helps us to see beyond the immediate pain, hard circumstance, or adversity to what God can do through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. Just as there is complete and whole fellowship within the triune God, so there can be wholeness of fellowship with us. Christianity is not a solitary religion; it involves companions and fellow disciples for the journey.

Health

The love of God the Father is our peace. God’s unconditional love brings spiritual health to the Body of Christ and to the world. Within God there is complete and total love – a wholeness in which everything God does expresses loving-kindness.

Unity and peace happen when there is health in the church and the world. It is the fruit of love. Love for one another brings unity of prayer and purpose. It is love that brings about peace and harmony. It is love which solidifies compassion in circumstances of adversity.

We are meant to receive the Father’s love. Love brings people together and enables them to become conduits of the loving nature of God to others. There is no other path to spiritual health and sanity than the journey of love.  And love most often gets messy because we get into the muck of people’s lives with all their needs and hurts. Sometimes it takes a tragedy before some folks show love. So, live each day with no regrets as if it were your last and Jesus was coming today.

The Trinity

God the Son, Jesus Christ, brings healing because of his grace.

God the Holy Spirit brings hope because of his encouragement.

God the Father brings health because of his love.

Because of the Trinity, our work is clear:

The Body of Christ brings healing to the world because it bestows grace.

The Body of Christ brings hope to the world because of its encouragement.

The Body of Christ brings health to the world because of its love.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever. Amen.