Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

This Little Light of Mine

The power went out at our house for five hours during a very strong storm last week. We immediately started grabbing flashlights. There’s something about darkness that is unnerving. Maybe because the Bible equates darkness with sin and evil and emptiness. Before God created all that exists, there was only darkness (Gen 1:2); the first thing He did was call forth light (v. 3-4). But He didn’t create the sun and moon and stars until day four (v. 14-19). So where did that first light come from? From Himself. It was His light breaking through the dark, empty void.

When men were lost in darkness and sin, and could no longer see the light of God, He brought His light down to us. John said that Jesus, the very Son of God, is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9). John also said, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). When we turned on the flashlights and lanterns the darkness dissipated. It was driven away because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. Wherever light shines, darkness cannot exist.

The same is true spiritually. Consider this – Jesus declared that He is “the light of the world.” He added, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Did you catch that – “will never walk in darkness?” That is both a hopeful promise and a statement of character. Jesus brought the light of God so that we won’t stumble in darkness and sin. But John also said, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6). Simply put – Christ-followers WON’T walk in darkness. And if we do we should recheck the validity of our claim. If we have the light of Christ, there should be no place for darkness in our lives.

Paul says that we are “sons [and daughters] of the light . . . We do not belong to the darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). We belong to Christ. Darkness and all it implies have no authority over the believer. Our testimony in the world is the light of Christ. Jesus said that now “we are the light of the world” (John 5:14). That means that you, Beloved, need to let your little light shine.

Silver Vases and Chamber Pots

When I was a very young girl, and we visited my grandmother we experienced true “country living.” We slept on real feather beds (John Denver anyone?), helped granny pick and snap beans for supper, slopped the hogs, and on cold mornings huddled around the coal-burning stove.  And during the day – when [ahem] the need arose – we visited the outhouse.  But at night, no one wanted to traipse out in the dark and cold, so granny had pans that sat under the bed for our nightly needs. 

Where am I going with this? To Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He said, “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21). 

Keep in mind that Paul is addressing Christians – not the world. He is talking to people God desires to use in Kingdom work on earth. He is saying that how God uses us largely depends on how we live.  We can be “an instrument of noble purposes” if we strive for holiness in our daily lives. Think of a silver vase that holds beautiful flowers in God’s throne room or the golden goblet from which He drinks each day. But if we pursue “ignoble purposes” – if we live for the world and our flesh we will be good for nothing more than an iron dustpan, or a tin mop bucket in the King’s great house. Or the pan under my granny’s bed.

So how do we endeavor to be vessels for noble purposes? Paul continued: “flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 22). We run from things that lead us into sin. We cultivate desires for the things of God, and we align ourselves with believers who are on the same path. If you are in Christ the Father has cleansed you with Jesus’ blood, clothed you in robes of righteousness, anointed you with the Holy Spirit, and set you apart for a holy purpose.  Beloved, how will you be used in the house of God?

Hebrews: Broken Promises?

I’ve wrestled with a lot of Scripture in my lifetime. Some have been difficult to understand. Some have been hard to submit to. Some say things that just grate on my nerves. But the passage we’re looking at today has been one of the most challenging. The writer of Hebrews said, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13). “But,” you wonder, “I thought you said that the foundation of faith is the faithfulness of God.” I did, I still do, and I always will.

So what are we supposed to do with this seeming contradiction? God is faithful, but these people didn’t receive what they were promised. There are things that I am convinced God has promised to me. Salvation for a lost loved one. A future as a real writer. From my current vantage point, neither seems likely, much less possible. What do I do? I wait. And I hope. How do I keep my hopes up in the waiting? By looking beyond what I can see and looking ahead to what I cannot see.

Abraham was promised a nation of descendants that outnumbered the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. He died with eight sons (Ishmael, Isaac, and the sons Keturah bore to him – see Genesis 25:1-4) – and only one of those was the “promised son.” Not exactly a nation. He was promised land on which his family could settle. Abraham died in a tent owning nothing more than the plot where his wife was buried. Doesn’t sound like God kept His promises, does it?

One reason I struggle with this is because of the western perspective of individuality. In Abraham’s world, the deceased lived on in his descendants. Promises made were not limited to fulfillment in the individual’s life. It would be the sons of the sons of the son of the son of Abraham who would become a nation. It would be many more generations after that before they would take possession of the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t see it happen, but he believed with all of his heart that it would. That’s the kind of faith God can build on. Beloved, is that the kind of faith you have?

Just Obey

Joy has a fascination with our cat. Celina does not share the same feelings. She chases her, picks her up, and totes her around the house. All the while we are telling her to “Put that cat down!” It’s not that Joy doesn’t know she shouldn’t aggravate the cat. She has been told countless times to leave her alone. She has sat in her time-out chair multiple times and has taken a couple of swats to the behind over it. And she’s gotten a few scratches from said cat. She knows very well that she is not to harass the cat but she is determined to do it anyway. Joy has trouble obeying.

She is one small example of the human race. Paul said you and I know the reality of God. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because has made it plain to them” (Rom 1:19). And we know God’s law. It has been written on every person’s heart (Rom 2:15). We know what sin is; we are without excuse (Rom 1:20). We know that sin brings death (Rom 6:23). And yet we disobey. And we do so with pride. Why? Because like Joy, we want what we want and we will break every commandment on our way to get it. And we will pay the price for it.

There is a better way, you know. Just obey God’s Word. The Psalmist said, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands” (Psalm 119:60). When God handed down the law through Moses he didn’t say, “Here are ten suggestions for a happy life,” He said, “These are my commandments,” meaning they are not optional. Writer and speaker Priscilla Shirer said, “God doesn’t speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.” Believe me, I am preaching to myself here. I know God’s law – I’ve studied it for many years, yet I still have trouble obeying at times. Like Paul, I know what is right, but I still do what is wrong (Rom 7:15-23). And if you’re honest, you will admit the same. There is great blessing in obedience. The Psalmist said, “I run in the path of your commands, for You have set my heart free” (Ps 119:32). Peace. Joy. Freedom. Beloved, let’s walk the path of obedience together.

Hebrews: The Way to the Promised Land

Roger Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West are my heroes. Why? They are the creative minds behind the  Global Positioning System. Oh, how I thank God for my GPS. I am directionally challenged. My mom said you could take me to the backyard, spin me around twice, and I couldn’t find my way back to the house. My husband would agree. His favorite thing to do is take me on unfamiliar roads and ask – “Do you know where you are?” And I never do. I depend on my GPS like a drowning man depends on a life preserver.  No matter where I am, I can punch in where I need to go and this magical device not only shows me the way but tells me what lane to get in and says, “Turn right.” Thank you, Roger, Ivan, Bradford, and Gladys!

There is a man in the Bible who could have used a Garmin. The author of Hebrews said, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (11:8). Genesis reposts that all God told him was, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (12:1). And Abe went just like that. “Okay God, lead the way!” Literally, every step he took was a step of faith.

Abraham takes up a lot of space in this Hall of Faith. We’ll be keeping company with him for a while. He did some pretty amazing things in his lifetime. He is the father of the Hebrew people. He truly is a hero. But his life points to the one he followed and trusted. The one who led him step-by-step-by-step. Sure, he did some foolish things along the way but even his mistakes speak of a Redeemer and Rescuer. And so can yours.

You probably won’t be called to leave everything and everyone behind and set out on an unknown path, but you will be called to live a life of faith. It seems overwhelming at first, maybe even frightening, but you’re not doing it alone. Just as God led Abraham, He will lead you. And just as Abraham did, you will find the Promised Land. For him, it was a physical plot of ground. For you Beloved, it’s so much more. It’s your Father’s heart.

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

Waiting for the Sunrise

Psalm 130 is a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word, I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (v. 6). This is not just aimless waiting, it means “to hope in, to look for, to expect.” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sunrise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who put his hope in the word of God while he waited. He was confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment. If you know his story (Genesis 37, 39-50) you know that while he waited he served and ministered wherever he was – in Potipher’s house and even in prison. He knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise.

What has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more wonderful than you ever imagined. God never forgets His promises, Beloved. He is forever faithful, and even more dependable than the sunrise.

Wisdom

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  Eve was tempted by the serpent with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6). She succumbed to the “wisdom” that James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)”  The wisdom that the devil and the world offer to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful, deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

Listen to the contrast James offers: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13, 17).  The wisdom from God is life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful, and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness, and consideration we show to others in Jesus’ name.  Godly wisdom is peace-loving which, in the original Greek, is a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety, and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration.

When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom from worry and frustration.  A gentle, kind, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  James encourages us to seek wisdom, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). This was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than taking the wisdom the serpent offered.  Beloved, do you need wisdom – real, godly wisdom? All you have to do is ask.

Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.