Friday, January 29, 2010
I love the story of Rehab! To me, her story is such a beautiful story of redemption. Rehab was an innkeeper or prostitute and a resident of the city of Jericho. When Joshua sent spies into the land, he asked them to especially look at Jericho, so the spies went straight to Rehab’s house for lodging. It seemed like a good cover, but word of the spies reached the king and he questioned Rehab about them coming to her house. She hid the spies and sent the king’s men outside the city to search for them. She then explains to the spies in Joshua 2:8-13 why she sided with the spies and hid them. In verse 8 she says, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.”
Please notice the word LORD spelled in capital letters in Rehab’s statement. When Lord is spelled that way, it means his most holy name was used. We don’t really know what the Jews considered His real name because they guarded it as sacred and didn’t use it flippantly. In fact, if the information I have learned is correct, they didn’t even spell it out completely in their writings, so our best interpretation of the Hebrew word is Yahweh. I also want to point out that she didn’t use the phrase “your god” as many other Gentiles would have used; she said “Yahweh.” In fact she explains her faith in God even more in verse 11 when she says, “…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She didn’t say He is a powerful God; she said that He is God! What a statement of faith; she had never had an encounter with Him except for what she had heard of God’s works.
At that moment of faith, Rehab’s past no longer was significant. Who she was in God’s eyes was based on her faith in Him. Remember in Hebrews 11:6 when it says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Rehab didn’t just believe in God, she believed God! She believed that He would make the Israelites successful. Look how God used Rehab in Matthew 1:5. She was in David’s and Jesus’ lineage! She didn’t know God would honor her in such a way, but He did. Her past did not matter to God; her statement of faith mattered. That is an important lesson to take away, because the enemy has an incredible way of condemning us even when the Bible tells us that we are saved by faith through grace and not by the law. God can work with our past when we give Him our present.
Do you believe that God wants to work with you where you are now? Do you believe that your faith in Him matters more than your past?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
I remember when I was in college working on my degree for music therapy, I began my supervised clinical work. Part of my clinical work was learning to do my paperwork, which included writing goals and objectives and tracking my clients’ progress. My professor added extra paperwork for that process to walk us through the process so we would understand every step. I remember some of my fellow classmates complaining about it and pointing out that any professional job would not require all the extra steps, but the point was that we were not professionals and we were still learning to navigate the paperwork process. My classmates were right, in the “real world” we didn’t have all the little steps to complete, but without that guidance it took more diligence to remember what I needed to report on my clients. Life is like that, sometimes we have to do things that don’t always make sense and sometimes we can look back and piece it all together. Other times, we don’t ever get to understand why. The story of Jericho is like that.
Hebrews 11 tells us that the walls of Jericho fell because of faith, faith that no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed the Israelites still walked around the city for seven days. This battle was crucial to the Israelites because it was the first battle of many to claim the land of Canaan. The Israelites were fresh off an incredible experience with God when they crossed the Jordan River, but they were now entering a new phase of life with battles ahead of them. God never told them why they were to walk around Jericho for seven days, but they did it anyway. Maybe the people in the city thought they were crazy, but I think it scared them to see the Israelite army marching completely around their city for seven days. We will talk about Rehab tomorrow, but she does tell the spies that Jericho was afraid of the Israelites. I think that this was a process that God needed the Israelites to go through to build their faith. I also want to point out that God had the ark go first, a signal that God was leading the battle, not the Israelites. God had already told Joshua that they city was delivered to them; they just needed to follow Him.
I think this is an incredible reminder that when we are doing God’s work, we need to make sure that we follow His lead. Sometimes it may not make sense, but we need to trust that He will lead us to victory. The best way to know that we are allowing God to lead us is to spend time in the Bible, pray, and listen to Him. Our faith will grow as we follow God’s lead and not our own. I know I have talked a lot of spiritual disciplines this week, but that is the best way to hear God’s voice.
Are you spending time with God so that you can give Him the lead?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Have you ever been in a place in life where you needed to do something, so you prayed about it? Then you prayed some more, and then you prayed some more. But then you realized that nothing was going to happen until you started to take action. Prayer is wonderful and an important part of our walk with God, but there are times when we need to act. We see a perfect example of the faith that it took the Israelites to act when they crossed the Red Sea.
When the Israelites realized that they were being pursued by the Egyptian army, they began to complain. They yelled at Moses for putting them in that position. In Exodus 14:15, we see God’s response, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” It was time for action; God had heard their prayers, and praying was no longer what was needed. The Israelites needed to move; they needed to make progress. They now had to have faith that if God wanted them to move, He would make it work out so they could. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of how much faith and trust it took to cross the Red Sea when God parted it, but now as an adult I’m sure it didn’t seem very safe. Imagine how scary it must have seemed to have a wall of water on either side of you.
Doesn’t God do that with us at times? Sometimes He requires action for us to get somewhere with Him, but it still takes a leap of faith to go and do it. Just as the Israelites had to trust that God would not let the waters come down on them, we also are put in positions that we need to trust that God is not going to let our circumstances overwhelm us. Looking back, it is incredible to see how God accomplished what seemed impossible at the time. Once again, it becomes an opportunity to grow our faith in Him.
Is God requiring action from you in a situation that seems impossible? Has God made it possible, but it still seems scary? Put your trust in Him and move!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Have you ever anticipated anything? Last night, we told the kids they were to eat their dinner quickly because we were going to take them to go see a movie they have been waiting to see. Usually, dinner in our house includes a lot of conversation and laughter and two of my children linger at the table because they eat slowly. I was amazed; they ate their meal in about ten minutes with very little goofing off because they knew that we were going to tell them very soon that it was time to go. When we needed to leave for the theater, they were ready to go. This reminded me of the way the Israelites were instructed to eat the Passover.
Hebrews 11:28 says, “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” Reading in Exodus 12, we can see that God gave the Israelites several instructions for the Passover that included killing a lamb for each household and sprinkling the blood on their doorframes. They were then to eat the lamb prepared with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. There are many symbolic things in the Passover meal, but some that I will focus on involved a statement of faith. The bitter herbs were a representation of the bitterness they experienced as slaves and the blood was their salvation from the killer of the firstborn (also a representation of Christ’s blood). They had to have faith that God would honor his promise not to harm anyone with the lamb’s blood on the doorframe. Exodus 12:11 says, “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s Passover.” The bread was prepared without leavening because they could bake it immediately and not wait for it to rise, and they were to eat the meal quickly with their clothes worn ready for travel so they could be ready to leave when God said. They had to have faith that God was going to send them out of Egypt that night.
Shouldn’t we be preparing ourselves spiritually to be ready at a moment’s notice? We don’t know God’s timing and when He will move us on to something new. Yesterday, I talked about building up spiritual disciplines, and being ready is the result of following spiritual disciplines. God may have shown you a plan He has for you, but you may need to take steps to prepare. Preparation for God’s plans takes a leap of faith because you have to trust that what He revealed to you will happen.
Has God shown you something you are waiting for with great anticipation? Are you preparing for the day when God says it is time?
Monday, January 25, 2010
“By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” When it was time to leave Egypt, Moses had already had several encounters with God. We read throughout the story, that he experienced God through the burning bush, and God spoke to him on many occasions. He also saw the power of God through the plagues He had sent on Egypt, including the Passover. Moses saw that God was powerful, more powerful than anyone including the Pharaoh. Moses had faith, so that when God said it was time to go, he knew that God would protect them. This makes me think of spiritual disciplines; because when we follow a pattern of spiritual discipline, our relationship with God will grow thus growing our faith. When we spend time with God, we become more aware of His work in our lives and we can trust His leading.
Let me define “spiritual disciplines.” I am not going to give a special formula on how to spend time with God, but I will explain what that means. Spiritual disciplines include prayer, reading the Bible, spending time alone with God and listening to Him, and serving others in love. How you choose to do this is your preference. I know some people enjoy spending time in nature when they are alone with God, others go someplace other than their house so they are not distracted by things at home. For me, some of my best conversations with God have been in the car when I am alone, I also enjoy worshipping through singing and playing my instruments. This blog is a result of my time in the Bible and my reflection after I read; since I enjoy writing, this is an effective way for me to focus on what God is speaking to me through His Word. I know someone who has a special corner in their house to spend time in prayer and reflection. I enjoy small group studies because I can learn from others as they talk about their experiences with God. John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” is an excellent book about developing spiritual disciplines and I would recommend reading it if you want to learn more about spiritual disciplines.
You see, Moses’ faith was grounded in his experiences he had with God, so he was ready to follow God anywhere. I firmly believe that if you ask God to reveal Himself to you, He will. Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” If actively seek Him out and spend time with Him, you will find Him and your faith will grow. If you want to experience God, ask and spend time seeking Him and you will experience Him in a way that is fresh every day. I am always amazed at how multi-faceted God’s word is, and how often I can read a verse that I have read for years and God shows me something new. I truly want to continue learning and growing as long as I am living.
Have you been spending time with God? Are you using spiritual disciplines to grow in your relationship with Him?
Friday, January 22, 2010
Being a musician, I enjoy watching the show, “Glee.” Aside from using music from my high school era, I can relate to the social struggles the show portrays. In my high school, if you were in marching band or orchestra, you were a “music geek.” In Glee, there are a few athletic people that have discovered that they not only enjoy singing, but they are good. They join the glee club at a social price; they become ridiculed along with the rest of the glee club. They have to decide if they are willing to be seen with the other glee club members and risk lowering their social status or dropping out of something they truly enjoy so they can be popular. Verses 24-26 of Hebrews 11 makes me think of those struggles.
Moses was being raised as royalty in Egypt and did not need to associate with the Israelite slaves. Moses’ story in Exodus is long; however, I would like to point you to Exodus 2:11 where it says, “One, day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.” Two times in that verse we read the phrase, “his own people.” Moses knew that was where he belonged. Reading the story, Moses kills the Egyptian that had been beating the Hebrew. He runs away from Egypt and returns with God’s calling to be with the Israelites and help lead them out of Egypt. Moses did not have to live the life he lived, but he knew that there was so much more than being privileged.
Hebrews 11:26 says, “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” We are then encouraged in Hebrews 13:13-14 to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” God never said that following Him would be easy here on earth. We have to make choices that will make us stand out at times when we don’t necessarily want to stand out. It is so much easier to blend in, isn’t it? Sometimes we have to make a choice to not join in the gossip by the water cooler, or to stand up for the person who can’t stand up for themselves. Sometimes following God means that we have to make the unpopular choice. Sometimes we have to identify ourselves as Christians in a place that is unwelcoming. We can make the right choices knowing that there is more than what we see here on earth.
When you are facing a difficult choice to not blend in, ask God for the strength to endure through it.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Hebrews 11:23, Exodus2:1-10
I have a son with a severe food allergy. His allergy is so severe that even a trace of peanut could kill him. I discovered his allergy when he was only 13 months old when he swiped some peanut butter off his brother’s sandwich. That evening changed my whole view as a parent. As I watched his little body react to the peanut butter, worry changed into fear. The things that parents often worry about such as illness, child development, and social interactions turned into a real fear that I could lose my baby in just a moment. I could control his environment when he was with me; in fact, for the most part I trusted that my husband and I could be diligent about keeping anything with even a trace of peanut away from my son. But, when I had to leave him with someone else, fear of peanut exposure was always on my mind. I could educate and inform people, but I could not control what my son was exposed to the minute he was away from me. We have taught my son how to use an epi-pen and have taught him to look at the ingredients and never eat anything that could not list the ingredients, but human error is real, and even my husband and I could make a mistake. I had to remember that my son is really God’s child and that he is in God’s hands. I had to learn to trust God with my child’s life and see that his spiritual growth was a priority.
The story about Moses’ parents reminds me of how much more my faith needs to grow. For three months they hid Moses because he was “a fine child,” (Exodus 2:2). The Egyptians were under a decree by Pharaoh to kill any Hebrew boy that was born, but Moses’ parents hid him. After three months, his mother realized that she would no longer be able to hide him, so she put him in a basket and set him in the Nile River. Wow! She did not know what would happen to Moses, but she knew that God could use Moses and would not let the Egyptians kill him. We know that Pharaoh’s daughter found him and she even paid his mother to nurse him, but none of that would have happened if Moses’ mother didn’t trust God with his life. Moses’ mother risked losing her son in order to save him.
Where is the spiritual application? While being faced with the fragility of human life, I learned that it is absolutely important to raise my children to love God. I want them to have a real faith that is alive and growing. I don’t want them to believe in God because that is what they were taught in Sunday school, I want them to learn to apply God’s Word to their lives and desire a relationship with Him. I want their roots to be deep. I can’t shelter them forever, and I do have to send them out into the world every day as they go to school. I am not guaranteed that they will follow God their whole lives, but they will never learn to follow Him if I keep them sheltered. Isn’t that what God did for all of us when He gave us free will? He risked losing all of us so that He could have an honest and real relationship with us.
Obviously, as parents we need to keep our children safe, but we also need to give their faith room to grow. Are you giving your children over to God? Are you teaching your children to apply God’s Word into their everyday lives so they can learn to navigate through the world? Do you trust God’s work in their lives? I am still learning!
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Hebrews 11:22, Genesis 50:22-26
Once again, Joseph enters my study, but not in a part of his life in which he is well known. What I am looking at today is about his death. While Joseph’s life is not what I am examining, it is important to remember that he is in Egypt working for the Pharaoh. He was taken to Egypt forcibly because he was sold to slave traders by his brothers. God used Joseph to save his family later by giving him a position of high command for Pharaoh. Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt because of a famine, and Joseph made sure they were well cared for. As a result, Jacob’s (Israel’s) family grew in Egypt.
In Genesis 50:24-25, we get to read about Joseph’s great faith in God. I do find it interesting that Joseph lived a life of faith and accomplished great things even when he was at his worst points of his life, yet this is the part of his life that Hebrews focuses on when commenting on his faith. Joseph speaks of the fact that God will need to come to the Israelite’s aid when it is time for them to leave Egypt, and has them swear that they will take his bones out of Egypt. Once again, symbolic of the fact that Joseph knew he didn’t belong in Egypt, even though he had spent most of his life there.
Joseph lived a life of privilege once he was honored by Pharaoh, yet he knew there was more to this life than the material things it offered. By faith, Joseph remembered that God had a plan for his family, even though he was surrounded by good things. By faith, Joseph knew that honoring God was more important than comfort. He lived a life that demonstrated his faith and even ended up in prison because he chose to make the right choice, and we still see at the end of his life that his focus was on the promises that God made, not on earthly things. Joseph knew that God offered more.
It is so easy to get caught up in what this world has to offer, yet God wants us to keep our focus on Him. When our focus is on Him and not on what the world offers, we are able to honor God. I love David’s prayer in Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” David prayed for an undivided heart! We know that we can ask God for His help when we lose our focus. I want an undivided heart for God!
Have you lost your focus of putting God above what is here on earth? Use David’s example and pray for an undivided heart.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Hebrews 11:21, Genesis 48:1-22
There are certain facts that we know about the culture during the times that we have been studying. One of the facts is that birth order was very important. The firstborn son received the majority of the inheritance, and also received the blessing from the father. Yesterday, I focused on the blessing of Jacob, which was backwards since he was not the firstborn. Today, we get to see how God, once again put the younger over the older. I actually find it interesting that it seems to become a family history.
Jacob received Isaac’s blessing and had many sons. The son that Jacob favored was not his oldest son, Reuben; however, it was his second youngest son, Joseph. While Joseph’s story is full of many applications for us today, that is not our focus for this particular post. My focus is on Manasseh’s and Ephraim’s blessing. Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” Please read the account in Genesis 48.
We are not told why Jacob felt that Ephraim would be placed above Manasseh, but Jacob seemed to understand that was how God would have it. During the moment of blessing, Jacob gave instructions to Joseph about his inheritance. It is an inheritance that Jacob never even claimed for himself, yet he continued to trust God at His word. He told Joseph about a particular plot of land that he would receive as his inheritance in the land of Canaan. In Joshua 16, we read that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh did, in fact, receive that land as their inheritance. Jacob trusted God completely, to the point of naming which son would receive a certain part of the land. I love that!
Joseph’s initial reaction makes me think of how often I try to control my children’s futures, when I need to remember that they are really in God’s hands. Just as God had plans for the Ephraim and Manasseh, He has plans for us today. He knows us so well, that He knows what will be best for us. He also has plans for our children. No matter how much we may want our child to become the next great neurosurgeon, or the next president of the United States, God knows what would be best and we need to trust Him. The knowledge that God knows best enables us to be better parents to our children because they no longer need to live up to our expectations, but they can be guided by God’s wisdom. We are being used by God to help shape them and learn to grow in their faith.
Do you pray for wisdom and guidance from God as you raise your children?
Monday, January 18, 2010
Hebrews 11:20, Genesis 27:1 – 40
I have to admit that when I first read Hebrews 11:20, I was confused. What I remembered of the story of Jacob and Esau’s blessing was that Isaac was tricked. I didn’t understand how the writer of Hebrews could say that Isaac did it by faith. As I reviewed the story in Genesis, I began to understand a little better. Have you read the account in Genesis? If not, please do. I am going to focus on verses 27 – 40 in particular.
Jacob received Esau’s blessing and when Esau discovered that Jacob stole his blessing, he was very upset. He insisted that Isaac give him a blessing, too. Isaac’s response in verse 33 is what caught my attention, “Who was it, then that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!” I love Isaac’s faith! His faith that God would honor his blessing was shown again in Esau’s blessing. He prophesized that Esau would will serve his brother, “But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from your neck.” Esau never was a servant of Jacob’s, but he was bound to him in anger. When we harbor unforgiveness, we are bound to it. That also explains why Isaac said that he would have the power to throw off the yoke, because only the person hanging on to the unforgiveness has the power to release the yoke and forgive. The only person that is yoked is the unforgiver. Isaac prophesized about Esau’s anger toward his brother and his eventual forgiveness toward him.
God had already revealed to Rebekkah when she was pregnant with Esau and Jacob that the older would serve the younger. Now, as Isaac was older and ready to bless his son, he trusted that God would fulfill the blessing. Do we trust God in that way? Can we have faith that God knows what He is doing, even when the outcome is different from what we desire or expect? Once Isaac realized what happened, he seemed to accept that this was the way it was going to be. Please keep in mind that Esau was Isaac’s favorite son. He didn’t ask God to take it back or give Esau a similar blessing. He trusted that this matter was in God’s hands. He trusted that God would do what He felt necessary.
This makes me think of the boy who received a part in the school musical. He really wanted a particular part, but was much better suited for another. The teacher assigning the parts saw a much larger picture and gave him the part that worked best for him. Sometimes that is the way it is with God. We can only see a small part of a larger picture, but God can see all.
What a beautiful lesson in faith and trust in God! Oh, how I pray that I will always be willing to accept what God feels is best for me, even if it turns out differently than I hoped.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I think I can safely say that each one of us has been somewhere at sometime in our lives where we just didn’t feel like we belonged or fit in. Whether it was reality or just a perception, there have been times when I felt like I didn’t belong. It is a very uncomfortable feeling and one that makes me want to leave. I like to think the best of people, and I don’t believe most people want others to feel unwelcomed or left out, but it still happens from time to time. Today, we get to take the idea of not fitting in and apply it spiritually. The reality is we really do not have a permanent home here; we are just waiting to get to our home.
Abraham lived a life here on earth that forced him to feel like an alien or foreigner wherever he went. He was not living in his homeland, he was living in the Promised Land; however, he knew it still was not his. Abraham sums up his feelings in Genesis 23:4 after Sarah died. He needed to have a place to bury her, so he turned to the Hittites nearby and said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you.” He had to buy a plot of land and a tomb from the Hittites to bury Sarah. He lived his entire life moving and never really belonging. Hebrews 11:13 – 16 tells us that this went beyond the physical, but to the spiritual. Abraham was waiting for his Heavenly home.
I must say that I share that feeling. I love my family and friends dearly, but I look forward to the day when I get to sit at the feet of my Savior. Peter reminds us that we are no longer part of the world in 1Peter 1:1, “…To God’s elect, strangers in the world…” You see, when God changes our hearts, we no longer are part of the world even though we live in the world. We now belong to the kingdom of God. Don’t you ever feel it when you are watching the news? You know there is so much more to this life than what we see on T.V.
Please don’t think that I am saying that we are to live detached lives here on earth; Abraham was fully involved here on earth. If you read his full story, you will even see that he became involved in pleading for people’s lives and fighting in a battle. He didn’t need to do those things, but he still lived here and cared for others. In fact, I think that when you live life knowing there are better things waiting, it empowers you all the more to do Christ’s work here on earth. He called us to love those around us.
It is a wonderful promise that God has given us! When life seems overwhelming, try to picture the moment in relation to eternity. One of my favorite verses that got me through a very difficult adolescence is 2 Cor. 4:17 – 18, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I am not trivializing the problems we face here on earth; I clung to these verses when I dealt with sexual abuse and abandonment by my father. I am saying that we have an eternal hope that can change our focus. I also want to add that those verses were written by Paul who experienced many difficult circumstances.
Where is your focus? Are you focusing on the eternal hope God has given you?
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Hebrews 11:17-19, Genesis 22:1-19
I am skipping a little of Hebrews 11 and I will return to it tomorrow. I wanted to finish Hebrew’s account of Abraham today and talk about what I would consider Abraham’s most difficult act of obedience. Please read the section in Hebrews and then the section in Genesis if you have not already. This section of scripture can be confusing and difficult to read because it seems to contradict some of God’s law. Many people have also pointed out several parallels between this story and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. While I am no theologian, I will try to explain what I felt God was pressing on my heart.
I will address as best I can what seems to be a contradiction. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son (his promised son), yet God is very clear to the Israelites that He finds human and child sacrifice detestable. In my simple way of thinking, I feel that God was testing Abraham to see if he would be obedient, but He stopped him and provided a ram to sacrifice instead. I feel that God did not intend for Abraham to physically sacrifice Isaac, but God wanted Abraham to emotionally sacrifice Isaac and trust Him completely. In Genesis, when Isaac asked Abraham where the sacrifice was, Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Can I just say how prophetic Abraham’s words are? God provided the perfect sacrifice for all of us! Once again, Abraham’s faith in God was amazing!
We see the story ends well, but what was the point? God requires sacrifice as our faith grows. We sacrifice our human desires and learn to be content with what God provides. We learn to put God above everything else. We may have to learn to trust God with His provision; we may have to learn to trust Him with our time. Whatever our sacrifice is, we learn to put God first and our faith is grown.
What is in your life that may be coming before God? What is God asking for you to sacrifice?
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Hebrews 11:11-12, Romans -25, Genesis 12:1-4, 15:1-6
Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai) were an older couple in their seventies with no children. They had bore this burden and yet they continued to honor God. The part of the story we get to read today happens when Abraham is seventy five years old; God promised Abraham that his offspring will become a great nation (Genesis 12). In Genesis 15, we see Abraham coming to God about the fact that he has no children. When God reminded Abraham of the promise He made, the Bible tells us that “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (vs. 6) Romans – 22 explains why his faith was so powerful. Abraham was very old, as was Sarah, yet Abraham chose to believe that God would keep His promise.
As I read Abraham’s story, I was glued. I wanted to know when God fulfilled the promise He had given to Abraham. When I finally reached the moment that Isaac was born, Abraham was 100 years old! I can see why Sarah’s initial reaction was to chuckle at the thought of having a baby. We consider it a higher risk pregnancy when the mother is in her late 30’s through 40’s. I have to admit that I feel for Sarah bearing a child when she was near 100 years old. My point is that it took 25 years from the first time God spoke His promise to Abraham to the moment that Abraham’s son was born. But Abraham believed God regardless of their physical conditions.
I want to point out that Abraham didn’t just believe in God and believe who He was; but He trusted that when God said He would do something, God would do it. This is credited to him as righteousness. What does that mean for us? If we continue to read on in Romans 4, verse 23 says “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” That is powerful stuff! Once again, it is by God’s gift of grace through faith that we are justified. Romans 4:5 says, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Do you believe God?
Do you believe that there is nothing you could do that would justify your sins? Do you believe that when God says that if we believe in Him and that Jesus’ death and resurrection was for our justification, it is true? If not, call out to God like the man in Mark 9 :24 who said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Hebrews 11:8-10, Genesis 12:6-7
Have you ever known someone who was involved in a long-distance relationship? Maybe you have been in a relationship like that. I met and dated my husband while I was in college, which meant that I would have to spend the summers away from him. I always dreaded going home in the summer having to be separated from him (yes, I was a desperate romantic). There were a few things that I did to help the summer pass such as writing him letters and calling him on the phone. When I would get his letters, I would read them and re-read them several times. I still missed him, but it helped me to hang on to the hope of seeing him soon (of course, at the time it felt like eternity). Reading his letters and staring at pictures of him helped remind me of the good times we had together.
While reading the story of Abraham’s call to go to Canaan, I noticed that there were two places in chapter 12 where he built an altar to God (vs. 7, 8). In verse 8, it seems he built the altar as part of worship to God, but in verse 7 it seems that he built the altar to commemorate the spot where he had an encounter with God. It is in this spot, at the tree of Moreh, where God promised Abraham that his offspring would inherit the land. Often, people would build altars or put up “standing stones” in spots to show that something of great significance had happened there. The point of the practice was so that the person who put up the altar would come to the spot and remember what happened, or so that other people would ask why the altar or standing stone was there.
I think it is a great practice to have a way to commemorate a great moment with God. In Abraham’s example at Moreh, God had made a promise to Abraham that he would never get to see in his life, but he still clung to his faith that God always kept His promises and built an altar to commemorate it. I think it is a lesson to take with us in our daily lives. God has made an eternal promise for us (John 3:16), but do we have something that will help us keep our focus on it? Maybe God has planted a vision that will take a long time to come about. What do you have to remind yourself that you are doing God’s work? God has several other promises for us in the Bible that I know I have clung to during difficult times. My standing stone is sometimes as simple as a bookmark with a Bible verse on it that reminds me of a promise, or it could be a poster on a wall. Remembering what God says and what He does inspires hope and motivates us to press on.
How is God working in your life today? What has he done in your life? How can you commemorate those moments?
Monday, January 11, 2010
Hebrews 11:8-10, Genesis 12:1-8
Have you ever made a major move? I’m talking about a move where you are uprooting the whole family and moving to a completely new area, new jobs, new school, and new church. My husband and I have made a few out of state moves and it is never easy. One of the more emotionally easy moves was when we moved from Kalamazoo, MI to Grand Rapids, MI because those cities were only an hour apart. Even though we wouldn’t see our friends in Kalamazoo often, they still didn’t feel very far away. One of the harder moves for us has been the most recent move, which was from Grand Rapids, MI to a suburb of Buffalo, NY. This move was emotionally more difficult because we were leaving jobs we liked, and leaving behind many friends, both from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. This was also harder because the kids were older and were doing well in school both socially and academically. I don’t want to sound gloomy about our move, because we were very excited about all the new possibilities God placed before us as we moved to New York. He had made it very clear to us that He wanted us here. We have adjusted well to the move, and God has already blessed us greatly here in New York, but it still doesn’t take away the pain of leaving behind what is a source of joy and comfort. Facebook has been a wonderful tool for us to keep up with all our old and new friends. As I read this next section in Hebrews, I could feel the pain Abraham and Sarah must have felt when they had to leave the land they knew and leave their family.
Abraham’s story is still different from ours; he didn’t necessarily know where God was leading him at the time, but he knew God had said that it was time to go. With my husband being a pastor, we have had other pastor friends feel God telling them that it was time to go, but not given any clear direction as to where they were to go. By faith, our friends would leave their church and trust that God would lead them to where they needed to be. It has always been incredible to watch God honor their faith and provide for them during their time of transition. We have seen our friends find a new church to serve, and we have also seen some friends start new para-church ministries. For me, their stories are an example of the calling God gave Abraham. It is interesting to read these sections of scripture, because I have never read Abraham saying to God, “Move, really? Why do you want me to move? I like it here, my family and friends are here!” Instead, we are told that Abraham “obeyed and went” (Hebrews 11:8, Genesis 12:4). I have to admit that when we have been called to move, I have found myself asking God why; however, I have also been blessed when I have obeyed the call.
I will be looking at Abraham for a few days, but I guess what I am pulling out today is the call of obedience to leave our comfort zones comes from faith. Sometimes that means a change in jobs, sometimes that means answering a call to ministry, sometimes it means following God’s call to move. Whatever it is, at some point in our walk with God, He is going to call us to take a leap of faith and make a move from what is comfortable. We then come to a place where our source of comfort comes from the peace that surpasses all understanding when we are walking in faith in God. I will be the first to say that I often find myself finding comfort in my friends, family, and the predictable rather than turning to God. It is when I am taken out of my comfort zone that I find myself relying on Him. So in essence, stretching the limits of my comfort zone also stretches my faith.
My prayer for today is that I would not become too comfortable or complacent to follow God’s call wherever that may be.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Hebrews 11:7, Genesis 6 : 9 – 22
Have you seen the movie Evan Almighty? It is a modern-day version of Noah and the ark. God visits Evan, a freshman Senator in Washington DC, and tells him to build an ark. Strange things begin to happen to Evan as he fulfills God’s command and he is mocked and ridiculed along the way. Evan endures this for months before the ark is finally completed.
Now, the story of Noah isn’t played out the same way in the Bible; however, the movie gives us an idea of what Noah may have had to endure. Keep in mind that before the flood, it didn’t rain. No one had ever seen a flood before, let alone a flood that would cover the earth. The Bible tells us that everyone living on the earth (Noah being the exception) were evil. I’m sure Noah had to endure some mocking and ridicule from the people as he and his sons worked on the ark. The commentary in my Bible says that it took Noah and his sons 120 years to build the ark. This was a long-term and difficult commitment and Noah remained faithful to the call. I also want to point out that this call that God gave Noah was a call that God had never given to anyone before or since that time! This was a one-time call, yet that didn’t diminish the call.
Sometimes God can give us a call that seems impossible or too difficult to carry out. We may even reach road blocks along the way, such as misunderstandings or human error. Sometimes the dreams God places on our hearts are something no one has seen before so it is hard to find support. Hebrews 11:7 says, “…By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Sometimes our obedience to the call will point out others’ disobedience and that can put us in difficult situations. Sometimes our call takes years before we see the fruits of our labors, yet God wants us to continue.
Think about this, a lot of things that are commonplace to us now began with a dream God placed on someone’s heart. God gave Martin Luther a vision to translate the Bible in German so all people could read and understand the Bible rather than have a priest translate parts of the Bible from Latin. Through that and other acts of obedience, Martin Luther lost his standing in the Catholic Church. Galileo was put in prison for saying the sun was the center of the solar system. At some point a church decided to use technology and put their services on T.V. Charles Wesley decided to use tavern songs and change the lyrics to worship God so people could learn them quicker, which are hymns that are still sung in many churches today.
These are just a few examples of callings that were new ideas at the time. What makes us think that God has stopped giving calls that are new, creative, and at times difficult? Sometimes obedience isn’t easy, but God will give us the strength to complete the project. We need to trust Him. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Has God given you a vision that is feeling stagnant because of difficulties or what seems to be a road block? Where does God want to see you persevere? Pray for the strength to finish the project.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Hebrews 11: 5 - 6, Genesis 5 : 21 – 24
Genesis 5:22 – 23 tells us that Enoch walked with God and that he did not die because God took him away. I always wonder how intimate that relationship must have been between Enoch and God; it must have been beautiful. I can look back at times when I know God was asking me to do a little faith walk with Him and I didn’t answer; oh, how that must have broke His heart! I can also see times when I did answer the call and it wasn’t always easy, but how much closer I grew to Him in those times. Looking at Hebrews 11:6, I know when I have “faith walks” with God I am pleasing God. “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” In order to please God, we must have faith.
It is easy to look at some of the other heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 and think that great actions show a great amount of faith; however, I don’t think that is necessarily true. Genesis does not tell us about any amazing leadership that Enoch demonstrated except that he walked with God, yet he is listed in the “Hall of Faith.” Let’s dig a little deeper and see what faith requires of us.
Romans 1:5 says, “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” We see obedience in a faith walk. What do we need to obey? Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We also see that a faith walk has us living the life Christ lived here on earth. John 14:12 says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith will do what I have been doing.” What was Christ doing? John 13:34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We see love is important in a faith walk. I Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We can see how faith shows obedience which will then show love: Matthew 22 : 37 – 40 says, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
A faith walk with God requires love. We will not all be great leaders like Joshua or become the next Billy Graham, but God honors a faith walk of obedience and love. This may be making a meal for a sick neighbor, or showing kindness to the person that only returns cruelty. This pleases God! Are you convicted yet, because I am! I can think of all the little things that God asked me to do and I didn’t. One last note: James 2 : 16 - 17 says, “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” The Bible is very clear that actions do not save us, it is God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2 : 8 – 9); however, the Bible is also showing us that faith in God is going to change us and requires action.
Wow! What is my faith in God going to require of me today?
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Hebrews 11 : 4, Genesis 4 : 1 – 16
The story of Cain and Abel is very disturbing to me. As a mother, I can’t even imagine how painful it must have been for Eve to lose one son to murder and another son to sin. Cain didn’t have a physical prison in which to spend his life; however, he had an emotional prison of being banned from the people he knew and never meeting success in his livelihood (farming). Let’s examine Abel’s story in Genesis 4.
We are not told how Cain and Abel knew what an appropriate sacrifice would be for God, but God’s reaction to each sacrifice shows us that they understood. Cain was the firstborn and gave God some of the items he grew in the field. Abel gave God the best portions of the firstborn in his flock. I think part of the issue was that God read their hearts. Abel was willing to give up the best of his first fruits, where Cain gave God “some of the fruits of the soil.” Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” God then instructed Cain to be on his guard for sin. Cain chose not to listen to God and murdered Abel.
There are some interesting points about Abel that are mentioned in a few places in the Bible. Genesis 4:10 says, “…Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Matthew 23:35 says, “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” Please read Hebrews 12 : 22 – 24. Hebrews 12:24 says, “To Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” I find it very interesting that it is Abel’s blood that is mentioned and we are told of blood that speaks a better word. Genesis 4:10 makes me feel like Abel’s blood was calling for revenge, or punishment. However, we are told of a new covenant through Christ, whose blood speaks a much better word. What could that word be? I think it is forgiveness.
Abel knew by faith that a sacrifice was needed for justification. While Abel provided God “a better sacrifice,” God provided us the perfect sacrifice through Jesus and showed that He had power over death through Jesus’ resurrection. We need to believe by faith that Jesus’ blood “speaks a better word;” that is our justification.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Hebrews 11:3, Genesis 1
The first two verses of Hebrews 11 give us a picture of faith. We are then reminded of a basic truth that we have to believe by faith in verse 3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Let us visit the creation story and remind ourselves of the incredible power of God’s word. Please read Genesis 1. What does the Bible show us every time God added something new to His creation? I love this! The Bible tells us, “And God said…” God spoke everything into existence! That is amazing! We have to believe this truth by faith because there was no one around to witness the creation.
My husband and I were just talking about creation with our children the other day. How easily they accept by faith that God created the world. This is so important to believe. How could we possibly believe the Bible is God’s Word if we cannot believe the first chapter in the Bible? God started out with the power of His spoken word. If He says it, IT WILL HAPPEN. This is not a trivial matter. We have to believe what God says is true. We have to believe that even though we can’t see it, it is truth. That is faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
I am sure of my hope that someday I will get to worship my loving Father in heaven because Jesus stood in my place and took my punishment. I am sure of my hope that there is more to this life than being a good person here on Earth. I cannot see my future, but I am certain that when God said in John 3:16 that God loved us so much that if we believe in Christ we will have eternal life, it will happen. Look around you! The world we live in is evidence that God’s Word has power; God’s Word is life!
Don’t miss out on God’s power in your life! Is your hope grounded in God’s Word? Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” If God’s word is living and active and we have faith that God’s word is truth, then our faith in God also will require change and activity in us. I like what David Wolpe said in Why Faith Matters (Harper Collins, 2008) as he commented on his struggle with doubt and his return to his Jewish faith. “Increasingly I was less concerned with what God might be than with what faith in God might make me.” How is faith in God shaping your life?
I am excited to read what happened to people when they believed that what God said was true. Are you?
Monday, January 4, 2010
If you haven’t read through Hebrews 11, please stop and take the time to read it now. This is such a powerful and inspiring chapter of the Bible. All the people mentioned in this section of scripture were credited for their faith, not their actions. I want to emphasize that important point; you see, what they did and accomplished is not what has them in this chapter, it is their faith! Read what the Bible says before each person is named, “By faith…” Yes, they did incredible things; however, they were not doing something incredible to make a name for themselves, they had faith! When we believe and trust God, our actions will show it. How we behave, act, and what we do is the evidence of our faith in Christ. Our faith will affect our actions!
What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 – 2 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. “ Looking through Hebrews 11, the people listed were not able to see with human eyes how things would turn out, several of these people didn’t necessarily see how they could accomplish the tasks set out before them, but they trusted God anyway. There are many things we have to believe by faith such as God is the one and only god, our salvation is through Jesus (who is the Word made flesh), promises/prophecies not yet fulfilled will be fulfilled, and so on.
Once again, these heroes were commended for their faith; what they did is merely the evidence of their faith. In fact, Ephesians 2 : 8 – 10 says, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by work, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved by God’s grace which was given to us because we believe God. As God works in our hearts, our lives should show the work He is doing. These heroes of faith lived lives that showed how their faith was an active faith.
There are examples in the Bible where believers were commended for their work that was produced as a result of faith. I Thessalonians 1:3 says, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I want to live a life that shows my faith and I am looking forward to read about the unique calls that God placed on the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11.