Genesis 22:1-19 – The Lord Will Provide

abraham and isaac

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

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 wouldn’t be unusual except for the facts that the couple were well advanced in age, and Sarah was incapable of having children.  Infertility isn’t just a modern problem; it has always existed.  But 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 makes the command coming from God so perplexing: Take your son, the child of the promise, and go to the mountain and sacrifice him there.  Huh? What the…!  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.

We can wonder what might be going through Abraham’s mind through all of this.  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 didn’t try and figure out God’s mind.  He didn’t get into a debate with God about the contradiction of ethics he was being asked to do.  He simply obeyed. He reasoned that it didn’t 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.

You and I don’t always know why we are facing the circumstances we’re enduring.  We don’t always 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, we don’t hesitate to respond.  We are convinced that God will provide.  Obedience for the follower of Christ is not a burden; it’s a privilege, even when we are being tested beyond our seeming emotional ability to do it.

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 provide.  My allegiance is to you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Samuel 15:10-31

“Does the LORD really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices.  He wants you to obey him” (verse 22), so said Samuel to King Saul.
God had given Saul explicit instructions on how to handle a group of people called the Amalekites.  Saul obeyed… some of the instructions, but not all of them.  He rationalized his behavior as worship.  But God would have none of it.  The Lord rejected Saul as king; He wanted no monkey business when it comes to obedience.
            I’d like to think I’m not like Saul.  But I sat a bit with this verse, and realized I sometimes do the same thing:
·         Whenever I say I’ll do something and then get busy and not do it, I sometimes rationalize my lack of follow through by explaining what good things I was doing with my time instead.
·         I sometimes justify a purchase of something I don’t really need but want with the excuse to God that I put a lot of money in the offering plate for Him.
·         Occasionally slandering another person, even though it is forbidden by God, with the knucklehead notion that I’m protecting and helping others from that person’s evil ways.
·         I sometimes keep quiet in the face of a bad situation when I should be speaking up, and dismiss the lack of engagement and involvement with the fact that I need to save my energy for people who want it….
I got too convicted to keep thinking about it anymore, but I could have kept going. *Sigh*
            Before we get too uppity about saying we are not like Saul and would never be like him, perhaps we ought to sit with this story and this verse of Holy Scripture for awhile and allow a mindfulness of any unacknowledged disobedience.
            Rationalization is the way of sinners.  Repentance is the path of saints.  Which road will you choose today?

 

Holy God, you expect obedience to clear instructions.  I’m sorry for all those times I’ve found creative ways to circumvent your teaching.  Help me not to avoid your good commands, but to own them with vigor and vitality through Jesus Christ my Lord in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Be a Doer, Not Just a Hearer

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV).
 
  “Obey God’s message!  Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it” (CEV).
 
 
 
            The Word of God has not been truly received until it is put into practice.  This is a consistent theme in the New Testament.  Paul warned the church in Rome:  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (Romans 2:13).  Our Lord Jesus himself stated the same truth:  Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28). 
 
The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears.  He can’t stand because he has no feet.  He cannot do anything because he has no hands.  Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes.  And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.
 
Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing.  Profession of faith in Jesus means nothing without a practice of that faith; learning the Bible is useless without living it; and acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up.  Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives. 
 
The danger is that we have the potential to deceive ourselves into thinking we are okay just because we know the right things and believe the right things.  Christianity is a vital love relationship with Jesus, and, so, is not merely a matter of hearing and affirming orthodoxy; it also involves orthopraxy, that is, having right practice, the doing of truth.
 
True hearing leads to true response.  When my firstborn daughter was still in the womb, I constantly talked to her.  I was in seminary at the time, and I would come home and read her fairy tales in Hebrew.  I spoke to her when I got up in the morning and when I went to bed.  I told her all about how God was going to bless her and do great things through her.  I told her of Jesus and his love for her.  I practiced my sermons and Sunday School lessons on her – all before she was born.
 
When the day came that God graced us with her birth, the nurses took her and she cried and cried.  She cried so much and so hard that I finally said to them, “Let me hold her.”  The minute I held her, I began speaking to her, and what happened next got the attention of everyone in the room:  little baby Sarah immediately got quiet.  It was like that the entire time she was in the hospital.  The only time she was happy was when I was speaking to her.  It would be no surprise for you to know that Sarah has always been a Daddy’s girl.
 
We respond to God’s voice when we recognize it.  If we are not in the habit of responding to God’s Holy Word, it is likely that we do not know his voice.  Baby Sarah did not need a lesson on how to respond to me; she knew exactly who I was:  her father.  Do we know our heavenly Father?  Can we distinguish his voice?  The greatest need that we all have is to be servants of God who hear his voice and respond to it, and not soakers who just sit and hear without any response at all.
 
Whenever we refuse to love the unbelievers around us, we are not hearing God and doing his will.  When we listen to the gospel, but then have no intention of sharing that same gospel with others, we are being disobedient.  When we hear about how God forgives us in Jesus’ name, but then we insist on not forgiving another person, we are not being doers of the Word.  When we read the Holy Scriptures as an end in itself without the expressed intent of doing whatever we find in it, then we merely hearing.
 

 

            The Bible is only boring and irrelevant when we read it with no intention of doing what it says.  This is why whenever we read it we need to write out what action we are going to do after having read it.  This is also why the church needs to corporately and collectively covenant together to act on what they hear from God’s Word as they examine it together.  Without this, we are only a random collection of individuals listening to a talking-head preacher.  We go home and forget what we just heard.  Instead, let us act in unity and purpose to do what we find in Holy Scripture.  Can you imagine even just one church who devotes themselves to such a sacred task, and what impact it would have in the world?

Revelation 3:7-13

            Over thirty years ago, Chuck Colson wrote a timely and influential book entitled Loving God.  In it, he presented a simple yet biblical premise concerning the life of every believer in Jesus:  The way to love God is to obey God, period.  Everything turns on our listening to God and doing what he says to do.  Jesus himself communicated to the church at Philadelphia (not Pennsylvania, but Asia Minor) and affirmed how they obeyed the message.  Because of their faithful and steadfast obedience, the Philadelphian believers would be protected and loved by Jesus. 
 
            The church at Philadelphia did much more than offer a confession of loving God – they affirmed that confession by obeying Jesus.  In my Christian circles, we call this “living into our baptisms.”  That is, it is one thing to experience the sign of baptism as being set apart by the Holy Spirit for a relationship with God through the person and finished work of Jesus.  It is quite another thing to “live into” this reality by knowing God’s Word and obeying it.
 
            There is much complexity to humanity and its psychology, sociology, and history.  But there is at least one simple straightforward Scriptural truth that we all can live into:  To love God is to obey God.  Therefore, it is quite necessary for us to spend extended times reading our Bibles in order to know them well so that we can obey what it says. 
 

 

            Gracious God, thank you for the message of good news that in Jesus Christ I have forgiveness of sins.  Help me to hold onto this gospel through all of the vicissitudes of life so that obedience springs from my heart in all things by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Love and Obedience

 
 
Throughout this week, as I reflected on the lectionary text of Scripture from John 14:15-21, my thoughts kept coming back to my late brother-in-law, Todd Dawson.  In the Fall of 1992, Todd was on his deathbed in a small sterile hospital room at the University of Iowa, his body ravaged by AIDS.  At the time, I was pastoring a small Michigan congregation.  My parents came and stayed with our girls as my wife and I went to be with Todd since we were told he did not have much time left.  As it turned out we were in Iowa City for a week, spending our days at the hospital and only leaving his room to sleep for the night.  It was my habit during those days to rise about 5am, make my way to Todd’s room where we would spend some quiet unhindered time with each other for a few hours before other family members arrived.  Todd was deathly ill and could barely communicate anything above a whisper.  But those hours with him were incredible times of spiritual bonding and true Christian friendship.  To think that only a year before Todd and I had a strained, difficult, and awkward relationship as he was about as far from God as anyone could be and very much a person who had given up on the church.  Yet, here I was with him; we were now devoted brothers to one another.  Through a series of circumstances that can only be ascribed as God’s gracious hand, Todd had given his life fully to Jesus Christ just six months before his hospital stay (that conversion is a lengthy story for another time).
 
            In that week I watched in the background as day after day, cousin after cousin, and relative after relative came into Todd’s room to see him for the last time.  The majority of those cousins were much like Todd before giving his life to Jesus – having made a profession of faith as children they had long since outgrown their belief and lived for the most part as they wanted.  With each and every person, as frail as Todd was, he would grab a hold of the relative, pull them close and say into their ear:  “Look at me!  I am dying.  Is this how you want to end up?”  And then he would say this to each and every one:  “If you are really a Christian and love Jesus, obey him and live your life for him.”
 
            Love and obedience – they go together in Scripture like a hand in a glove.  Chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John are our Lord’s final words to his followers before his crucifixion – this is quite literally Jesus’ deathbed message to those he loved.  In other words, these are the words that Jesus did not want his disciples to forget.  Those disciples were distressed and troubled over the reality that Jesus would not be with them, and they needed some words of both comfort and focus in order to live effectively with encouragement in the days and years ahead.
 
            The job of obedience is so importantly huge that Jesus did not ascend to heaven and leave us like orphans wondering where our next spiritual meal is coming from.  Instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves, Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit in order to help us have the attitudes we are supposed to have, and live the way we are supposed to live as commanded by Jesus.
 
            Jesus has given us another “Counselor” to be with us forever.  The term “Counselor” here is translated in various ways in different versions of the New Testament.  The reason for this is because the Greek term “Paraclete” is a rich word that is hard to encompass with just one English word.  So, we get terms in other versions like “Advocate,” “Comforter,” and “Helper.”  They are all accurate words to describe the Holy Spirit.  Yet, I think the best term to really portray who the Holy Spirit is for God’s people is the term, “True Friend.” 
 
            A true friend is the kind of person who you can call in the middle of the night and they will answer and listen.  A true friend is the kind of person you can contact and they will drop everything to come and be with you in a time of need.  A true friend is the kind of person that will say hard things to you in love so that you can be a better person and have a better relationship with them.  A true friend is there for you and maintains a committed and consistent relationship with you.  And, a true friend is simply a person you enjoy and are deeply thankful for having them in your life.  That is what the Holy Spirit is – He helps us when we need help; He encourages us when we are down; He comes immediately to our side when we are in need; and, He gives us good loving kick in the pants when we need it.  The Holy Spirit is our True Friend, our Best Friend in the world.  And that is the best way to understand Him as being described as “the Spirit of Truth.”  That is, the Holy Spirit is true to us and constantly speaks truth to us and leads us into truth.  It is the Spirit that will come alongside and apprentice us in the faith and guide us in grateful obedience to Jesus.
 
            Christianity, then, is neither just a warm-hearted love with obedience as optional, nor is it a life of drudgery in just gritting-out sheer obedience with no love behind it.  Instead, Christianity is both duty and delight – and they go together with perfect harmony.
 

 

            On June 18, 1993, at 29 years of age, Todd Dawson went to be with his Lord.  Not in my lifetime have I personally seen such a complete turn-around of a person so far away from God to a man in whose every thought and word reflected the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.  And never have I had such a relationship that was totally changed from one of distance and animosity to a relationship that could be characterized as “true friend.”  Todd lived through his deathbed experience in the Fall of 1992 by the gracious hand of God who was not quite finished with him yet.  What Todd’s Christian life displayed to me more than anyone I have known is that loving assurance and trust in Jesus leads to a radical no-holds-barred obedience that is grateful and joyous despite the most awful of circumstances.  And because of his love for God he has seen Jesus.  I look forward to seeing Jesus with him someday.