How Can I Know . . .

When God called Abram He promised him descendants and land. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Gen 12:2). When Abram settled in the land of Canaan the Lord said “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. Go walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Gen 13:14-17). Later the Lord spoke to him in a vision and reassured him of the promise. He told him that his offspring would be impossible to count – like the stars in the sky. And “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Then God told him “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen 15: 5, 7). And what was Abram’s response?  “Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know . . . ?” (Gen 15:8). From faith to doubt. Sound familiar? It does for me. I will believe God in the morning and be anxious by the afternoon. I can watch God work wonders on my behalf and wonder if He will come through for me in the next crisis. I have read His promises, even written them down, and forgotten them in the firey moment.

But let’s answer Abram’s question, “How can I know . . . ?” First, he was standing on the very land God had promised to give him – “this land” (v. 7). It was the same promise he had made at the beginning of Abram’s journey, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7-italics added). The land on which your sandals are resting, Abram. The land I had you walk through, Abram.

Secondly, because of who made the promise. The Lord, God Most High. The Creator of heaven and earth (Gen 14:22). The Sovereign Lord (Gen 15:2, 8). The One who had called him. The one he had followed all over Arabia. The same God that you can trust to keep His promises to you too. But you have one advantage that Abram didn’t. You have the cross of Jesus Christ. Because God’s ultimate promise of salvation was fulfilled there. God keeps His promises, Beloved. Every. Single. One.

God is With You

The Lord God told Abram (Abraham) “I will bless you . . .” (Gen 12:2) and at first glance, we see that God made Abram a wealthy man with “livestock, silver, and gold” (13:2).  So much so that he and his nephew, Lot, had to part ways because the land could not support them both (v. 6). That’s a lot of blessing! But the real blessing of God is found a couple of pages over. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). The greatest blessing God gave Abram was Himself.  The more I read the Bible the more I’ve discovered that the blessing God desires most to give us is the same.

To Moses, who questioned his ability to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). To Joshua, as he prepared to lead them into the Promised Land, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). To Gideon, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). To the disciples Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And when Paul was in prison, the Lord Jesus Himself “stood near” him and gave him strength (Acts 23:11). And Jesus promised that He was returning to heaven to “prepare a place for you . . . that you may always be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Forever.

But God’s presence is not just relegated to the past. Jesus promised His own Spirit would dwell in His followers so that His presence would never leave them (John 14:16-17).  That means when you accept Christ, you are given His Spirit at that very moment. The same God that was with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, the disciples, and Paul is with you. In you. What you and I need now is an awareness of His presence. That’s my prayer for us both today, that we would be acutely sensitive to the Spirit, keenly attuned to His voice and His leading. The most comforting words in Scripture are not, “it’s all gonna be okay,” but “I am with you.”

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

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?

Hebrews: Don’t Turn Back

“I wanna go home!” Joy wailed in my arms.  It was the last day of VBS and everyone was in the “big church” for the grand finale. She wanted no part of it.  I coaxed her into sitting on my lap, but it didn’t last long.  She was trembling when her mommy took her out after just a couple of minutes. It’s not unusual when facing challenges to want to run back to what we know is safe. Even if safe is not God’s will for us.

Hebrews says the heroes of the Bible considered themselves “aliens and strangers” not just in the new lands they settled, but “on earth” because they were “looking for a country of their own” (Heb 11:13b-14). The place of promise. Abraham was given that very promise and he did settle in the land of Canaan, though it was not his possession. The writer added, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15). They could have gone back home at any time. Case in point:

Abraham realized that he needed a wife for his son, Isaac, but not from the local, pagan women.  He tasked his servant with going back to his hometown to bring back a woman from his own people for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back . . . shall I take your son back to the country you came from? (Gen 24:5). Abraham answered an emphatic “No.” “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” (v. 6). Why? Because the promise of God was tied to the land of Canaan. If he went back the promise would be lost. Abraham was protecting the promise by his obedience (Gen 24: 6-8).

The writer of Hebrews was addressing Jewish believers whose conversion had caused heartache and struggle. Many abandoned their faith in Christ and returned to the laws and life of Judaism. They returned to a dead end. This world is the domain of the evil one; it will never be home for those who love and follow Christ. But our promised land is coming (more on that later). It’s tempting to take the easy way and return to the world. But the easy way is not the eternal way. “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”1. Beloved, you were made for eternity.

  1. John A. Shedd, 1928

What You See is What you Want

If you’re of my generation you know whom I’m talking about when I say, “What you see is what you get!”  Flip Wilson created his female character, Geraldine, who uttered that famous catchphrase as “she” danced to show off “her” full figure. Vision is a powerful tool to draw people in. Advertisers depend on it. Beautiful women sell men’s shaving cream.  A buff, handsome man in a flannel shirt sells paper towels. One of the most iconic images in advertising is the Gerber Baby whose face sold countless baby food products. That smile and expression grabbed mothers’ hearts, hoping to bring the same to their babies’ faces. They paraphrased Geraldine, “What you see is what you want.”

Satan counted on that too when he enticed Eve to take the forbidden fruit. And, of course, it worked. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Gen 3:6).  What Eve saw became what she wanted and she fell – and took the entire human race down with her. (Adam’s role in this is a whole other post.)

The start of sin for all of us happens when “our hearts are led by our eyes” (Job 31:7, paraphrased). Sin happens in much the same way as advertising: “We see it, we want it, and we buy it.” That’s why advertisers – and satan – put it in such appealing packaging. But sin also happens because we are looking for it.  James pointed out that temptation and sin tap into the evil desires in our hearts.  (James 1:14). Perhaps that is why the Psalmist said that he would “set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). Consider that verse in a world where “vile things” are available at the tap of a finger. If you want vile, you can get it any time of the day.

How do we break that sinful pattern? We “guard our heart” by “letting our eyes look straight ahead and fixing our gaze directly before us” (Prov. 23,25). At what? David knew. “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). If your eyes are always on the Lord, He will be the desire of your heart. And what you see is what you want.

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

Hebrews: A Forever Home

I don’t own a home. We rent a very nice house and love where we live, but now and then I wish I owned a place of my own. Homeownership is the “American dream.”. Renting seems like throwing money away, but really – all I need is a stable roof over my family’s head, and I have that now. And years of moving around as a military brat make me want to put down deep roots. But the truth is, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” The author of this song is unknown, but it could have been Abraham. 

Hebrews says that “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:9, 10). Abraham had the promise from God of a land – “All the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15). It was a physical place, real ground he could set his feet upon, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3). But for Abraham, it wasn’t “home.” Nor is it for those who follow Christ.

Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” And Peter said we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (1 Pet 2:11; also Heb 11:13). “Home” for the believer is nothing less than heaven. Jesus said because we belong to Him, we “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19).

He also said he was going to prepare a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). You can bet it will be better than any house man could build. And did you catch the reference to “foundations?” John’s description of heaven in Revelation 21 noted that our heavenly home has a twelve-layer foundation – each one of precious stones (vs. 19-20). You can’t get more stable – or opulent than that.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive homes and I confess to a twinge of jealousy. But then I remember that “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”* My forever and ever home. (*Ira Stanphill – 1949)

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.