Monday, December 28, 2015

WHAT IS THE SIZE OF YOUR ROBE?

A NEW ROBE FOR A NEW YEAR

The story of Hannah is found in the Old Testament of the Bible. I will not repeat the entire story here (the account can be read in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel), but I would like to use an element of the story to speak of something that is often missing in the lives of Christians.

Hannah had dedicated her son Samuel to serve in the temple since the time when he was a small boy. During all of those years, Hannah seemingly saw her son only one time per year, that at the time of the yearly sacrifice. Every year, when Hannah went up to the temple, she made a robe for her son.

It is the making of that annual robe that I would like to use as an illustration to speak of something that is very often missing in the lives of Christians today.

ANTICIPATING GROWTH

When Hannah made the new robe for Samuel every year, she tried to anticipate how he would grow during that year. Perhaps some years, the child did not grow as much as she thought that he might and she made the robe too large for him. However, in other years she may have made it too small. Samuel had grown more rapidly than she had expected.

But presumably, every year Samuel grew. Imagine how disappointed – no, how worried Hanna would have been if she returned at the end of one of the years and saw that Samuel had not grown at all during that year. This would have been extremely upsetting to her.

We expect children to grow. That is what they do. If they do not grow, then we know that something is wrong.

THE SAME ROBE, YEAR AFTER YEAR

Why is it then, that so many Christians do not grow in their spiritual lives? And possibly even more disconcerting, why is it that we do not even think that this is unusual? I do not have any statistics to back up my impressions, but it seems to me that the great majority of Christians in the United States, as well as in other countries where I have lived, never do grow very much in their spiritual lives.

If they are truly Christians, they have learned what it means to believe in the work of Jesus on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. A new birth has begun.

But then they stop. They do not grow. Their understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ never increases; it never develops, and never matures. It stays in an infant stage.
 
(To read the rest of the article, click the "READ MORE" link below)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

WHEN GOD SPEAKS, THE UNIVERSE LISTENS

This message is the final one of the four Advent sermons that I gave in our church. It really is a continuation of the three previous.

All of these four sermons of Advent  are on this blog site and are:

1 - Words Without Voices

2 - I AM and I WILL

3 - When God Fell Silent

4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens
 
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WHEN GOD SPEAKS, THE UNIVERSE LISTENS
(WHY DON'T WE ?)
 
In the centuries following the messages of the Old Testament prophet Malachi, there probably was not one person that was living in the vicinity of Judah and Jerusalem, or in all of Israel, who was not looking for the Messiah. At least none who was of a Jewish background.

What is a Messiah? The word actually means “The anointed one.” The Messiah was the promised one who had been anointed by God to come and set the world right. Many prophets in the history of Israel had foretold of the promised Messiah.

Isaiah did:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD… He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist. (Isaiah 11:2-5 NAS) 

Jeremiah did:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land… In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15 NAS) 

The Final Words

Several other prophets also told of the Messiah who was to come. Many of the prophecies mention that this Messiah would be from the lineage of King David, Judah and Israel’s greatest king.

Then the final prophet, Malachi, said something else concerning the promised Messiah. Not only was Malachi the last prophet whose writings are in the Old Testament, but these are his final words. Speaking for God, he writes: 

 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6 NAS) 

After Malachi

After Malachi closed his ministry, after he wrote his last words, several things happened to the nation of Israel. Not many of these were good things. Even as Malachi wrote his final words, the Persians were already in control of the Holy Land, and the people were living under their occupation. This situation continued until the Greeks displaced Persians, then the Greeks by the Egyptians, and then they by the Syrians.

During the occupation of the Syrians, the family of an aged priest Mattathias, along with his son Judas Maccabeus, led a revolt and gained independence. However, in the succeeding generations of the family, the family itself became so corrupt and immoral that other Jewish leaders finally asked the Roman ruler Pompey to come in and restore order. This he did in the year 63 BC. However, along with the restoration of order, Pompey also established Roman rule in Jerusalem and all of the land.

In short, for almost the entire time between the last words of Malachi to the first words of the New Testament, the Israelite people were an oppressed people. They were looking for someone to rescue them out of their misery. The Romans were still in control of the land of Israel as the New Testament opens. The Jewish people were waiting for the promised Messiah.




The Prophet Elijah


The people seemed especially to put a lot of significance on the words of Malachi that spoke of the coming of the prophet Elijah. These last words of Malachi had been left ringing in their ears.


Just as David had been their greatest king in history, many considered Elijah to be their greatest prophet. The Elijah of their earlier history, as you remember, never did really die. The way that his departure from this earth is described to us is that he disappeared into the sky in a “chariot of fire” in the midst of a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).


Another thing about Elijah is that he had also done many dramatic and fantastic miracles in the days of his ministry. He challenged 850 false prophets of Baal and Asheroth to a contest on Mt Carmel, where he called fire down from heaven to consume the offering that he had presented to God. After this demonstration, he had all 850 of the false prophets put to death, then outran the chariot of King Ahab before the rain came to end the three-year drought that he had predicted just before the beginning of the drought (1 Kings 18).


He raised a widow’s son from the dead. He was sustained in the wilderness by ravens bringing him food (1 Kings 17). Twice, when the king sent a detachment of soldiers to Elijah to capture him, fire again came down to heaven to consume the soldiers (2 Kings 1:9-17).


In fact, everything about the life of Elijah was fantastic and amazing. He lived mostly out in the wilderness, sometimes in caves (I Kings 17:3, 19:9), went one period of staying in the wilderness for 40 days and nights without eating any food, and is described as “a hairy man who wore a heavy leather belt around his loins (2 Kings 1:8). 


John the Baptist


The Jews who lived after the prophecy of Malachi considered all of these factors when they were looking for the Messiah. That is why, when John the Baptist appeared on the scene some 400 years after Malachi’s prophecy, they associated him with the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist was similar to Elijah in many ways, both in his preaching and in his appearance. (Matthew 11:7-8; Luke 7:24-28). Some even thought that he indeed was Elijah, who had returned from heaven (Matthew 16:14; Luke 9:8).


In some ways, they were correct in their thinking, but in other ways, they did not understand. Just as people today take prophetic portions of Scripture and misinterpret or misapply them, so did they. That is why John the Baptist had to make it clear to the people who he was.


“I am not the Christ,” he immediately said (John 1:20). With all the teachings of Elijah, some people apparently believed that it would be Elijah himself who would be the long awaited Messiah, and that John the Baptist was he.


There was also a teaching of the day in association with the Messiah, that a great prophet would arise at this time. This belief came from the writings of Moses where he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).


“I am not the Christ…I am not Elijah…and I am not the Prophet,” John told the people. 


Anointed for What Purpose?


This misunderstanding of these prophecies was not the biggest mistake that the people made, however. The greater error was that they misunderstood the very purpose of the Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the nations that had oppressed them, the present nation being that of Rome. They wanted independence, and they hoped for a Messiah who would save them from their foreign oppressors.


But this was not to be the purpose of the Messiah. He was not to save the people from any foreign oppressor. Rather, he was to save the people from what was enslaving them from within. As the angel had told Joseph, the husband of Mary, she would give birth to a son “who would save the people from their sin.” That was the real source of oppression for the people. It was their own sin. The people misunderstood what the real problem was.

Your Own Situation or Your Own Sin



We now look back on those days of 2000 years ago. At this point in our history, we have the advantage to be able to read all of the writings concerning the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles regarding what the true purpose of Jesus coming to us. As we study the times and the conditions of the people back then, along with what Jesus did on their behalf, it should be a rather simple matter for us to see how most of the people were mistaken in those days. They were looking for salvation from their situation, while Jesus was instead offering them salvation from their sin.


However, even if we are able to see their misplaced priorities, it seems that we have not learned a great deal from their mistake. What the people were looking for in a Messiah in those days is also exactly what most people are looking for today! We want salvation from our own situations.


We want a Jesus who will answer our prayers for health – that is true. We also want a Jesus who will supply the money that we need to make our monthly payments – that also is true. We may even want a Jesus who will answer our prayer to win the lottery, because after all, unlike those other people, we will do good things with the money and not just spend it on ourselves. That is the kind of Jesus we want – nothing more than this.


We are not greatly concerned about the sin in our lives. We just want salvation from our situation! We want a savior who will make our lives easy. Do you not see that we are making the very same error as the people in Jesus’ own day were making? We want a champion for our own cause, not a Savior who will give us the power and ability to join his cause.


And just like the people of the first century, we take Scriptures and use them to support what we think that we need instead of using the Scriptures to see what God intends for us to learn from them. We misinterpret the Scriptures and misapply them to support our own personal agendas and desires. We are just like the first century Jews.


We are self-centered and self-seeking in our motivations. Jesus came to be our King, but most people do not want that. They want to remain king of their own lives and simply have Jesus to be their main ally and supporter.


If this is your idea of a savior, then you are missing the whole point. Jesus did not come to save you from your present situation; he came to save you from yourself! 


When God Speaks, the Universe Listens


It is probably difficult for you to remember, but four weeks ago, I began this series of lessons by referring to the opening lines of the book of Hebrews. Here is what it says: 


Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV) 


After four hundred years of silence, God came to his people with his greatest Word. He spoke to us through his Son. The Apostle John writes: 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him, mothering came into being…In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.


There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory; glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14 NAS) 


The Apostle Paul tells us that within the body of Jesus Christ when he was walking on this earth, dwelt the entire fullness of the Deity. (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). Do you believe this? 


What kind of Savior are you looking for in this Christmas? Is it one who will give you some relief from your present circumstances and, in fact, fulfill all your own desires for yourself?


Or is it one who will save you from yourself – one who will save you from your sins?


Let your delight be in a Savior, not in your own aspirations.


God said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)


 

 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

WHEN GOD FELL SILENT


This post is actually part 3 of a 4 part series that I began to put up on this blog site on December 2. They are the sermons that I gave in our church for the four Sundays of Advent. 
These four sermons of Advent are:
1 - Words Without Voices
2 - I AM and I WILL
3 - When God Fell Silent
4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens

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WHEN GOD FELL SILENT

The first sentence in the book of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken to us at many times and in many ways. Throughout history, God has spoken to us through his creation in all that he has made, and he has spoken to us through his own words. These words were given to us by his prophets, as well as given to us by the written word. To those people who are open to receive his words, God reveals himself to us in manners that are increasingly personal so that we can come to know him better. These things were the themes of the previous two postings (Words Without Voices and I AM and I WILL).

Unfortunately, most people have not learned the lessons of seeing God’s message in the creation. They have learned nothing about God by what they have seen in nature and in the cosmos. They have also ignored the words of God, spoken by the prophets and written for us to read. This general unreceptiveness to God’s word was lamented by many of the prophets of old, Jeremiah being one of these.



Speaking for God he says, “O foolish and senseless people,
The Prophet Jeremiah - Michelangelo
who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear…This people has a stubborn and rebellious heart…they do not say, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for harvest” (Jeremiah 5:21, 24).

Unresponsive to Love

In the previous couple writings in this series, I have given some examples that show how getting to know God sometimes is not much different than getting to know another person like ourselves. Certainly, there are also some aspects in getting to know God that are not the same, but as we make this comparison again, think about what your reaction might be if time and again, you made great efforts to get to know another person, and that person continually rejected you.

Perhaps you did may favors for this person, running errands and even buying gifts to give to him or her, but not only did this person not say “thank you,” they refused even to acknowledge that these things were done by you. You called them on the phone, but when they saw your name on the caller I.D., they did not answer. Neither did they respond to your voicemail. Letters and emails that you wrote to them went in the trash.

How long after this continual and constant refusal to return some of your overtures of friendship would you keep all of this up? How long before you would give up and you would simply fall silent? Would you try for thousands of years?

God did. For thousands of years he rained not only water on the crops of those he was calling to know him, as Jeremiah wrote about, but he rained favors and protection and blessings of all sorts. However, all of these calls that he made to his people were not only left unanswered, but the people further insulted him by instead of attributing the good favor that they saw to God, they attributed them to idols.

Jeremiah said, “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out libations to other gods in order to spite me” (Jeremiah 7:18 NAS).

God’s Words through the Prophet Malachi

The last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. It is difficult to put an exact date on when the book was written, but it was at least 400 years before the birth of Christ. After thousands of years of speaking to his people and with ever decreasing response, this letter would be God's last words for four hundred years. After this, God fell silent. Too long were the people unresponsive to his words and to his acts of love. God would speak no more, at least for many generations.

What did God say in these last words that he spoke through the prophet Malachi before he would fall silent for 400 years? What would he say with this last message? 

“I have loved you,” said the Lord. That is how he opened this letter.

In the silence of hundreds of years that were to follow, God wanted these words to remain with his people. He wanted his people to know that he was committed to his love for them. Despite this great love however, God had come to the point where he knew that further demonstrations of that love would do nothing to draw the people to him.

“A son honors his father and the servant his master.” God continues, “Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect? (Malachi 1:6) 

God’s Words Through the Prophet Hosea

The prophet Hosea lived even earlier than Malachi, in fact some two hundred years before him, but his message to God’s people was much the same. Actually, the message had been the same even hundreds of years before that. This was because the people had long refused to acknowledge all of God’s favors to them.

“My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God” (Hosea 4:12).

This little book of Hosea is one of the most revealing books in the entire Bible when it comes to understand how God, in his deep love, struggled for his people. In the book, God is portrayed as a husband whose wife had left him for a life of prostitution. Even after her unfaithfulness, he would go to get her and went to great lengths to help her be faithful to him. Nevertheless, she continually sought other lovers.

In this book, God is also portrayed as a father with a deep love for his sons, sons that have scorned him, who have rebelled against him and in other ways have hurt him deeply. In these verses, when God refers to Israel and to Ephraim, he is speaking to all who are called by the name of the Lord.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son
But the more my prophets called to them, the more they went away;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms,
But they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love.
I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
And I bent down to them and fed them… 

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?...
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim;
For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.
I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 1:1-4, 8-9) 

In the light of what God was saying about the spiritual condition of the people, Hosea tried to inspire and encourage them to change their ways. I have to include these words of Hosea in this writing, because they are some of the most beautiful in the Bible. The prophet urged the people: 

“Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
“He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him.
“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) 

Nevertheless, even with these words, any reformations brought about by Hosea and by other prophets had very limited effects. 

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early. (Hosea 6:4)

Vanishing Commitment

So it was with any reformation that took place. Urged and encouraged by a prophet of God, the people may have returned to God for a time, but as imperceptibly as a morning cloud on a hot day or like the dew on the grass, their commitment quickly vanished.

By the time of Malachi, the priests still were fulfilling their duties, at least outwardly, but God told them that they were despising his name by giving God only what was the most undesirable for an offering. “How tiresome it is,” the priests said of the duties that they were supposed to perform in the name of the Lord. They offered only what was taken by robbery or what was lame or sick.

“Should I receive that from your hand? God asks them. “Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?”

With resignation, God finally says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” 

God was about to fall completely silent. He said all that he could say, at least for the present time. But before he completely closed this chapter of history, he offered one bit of hope. Even in this, it was a hope that was also tempered with warning.

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord…will suddenly come into his temple…But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. And he will sit as a smelter and a purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:1-3). 

It was soon after these words were written that God fell silent. He would not speak again for four hundred years, at least not in ways that many people might be able to hear. This does not mean that religious practices stopped during that time, but the religion became based less on what God had said, and more upon the rules that men made. Men were not willing to hear God, and they made up their own words. This was the era that the Pharisees and the Sadducees began their teachings. They built a religion based upon their own laws.

Through the Prophet Amos

But through it all God remained silent. This is the time that yet another prophet, Amos, wrote about:  

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12) 

In time, God would speak again. It would be in a way that was unlike any other way that he had spoken in the past. He told the people that his next time of speaking would be announced beforehand by a special messenger.

This communication from God, when it came, would be the greatest and clearest of all communication. But it would come in a most unlikely manner. Most would miss it completely. Only those who were intently listening for the voice of God would hear. 

Are You Ready to Hear?

Next time I will tell about that communication, but first I want to ask you a question. What has been your history of hearing God’s words to you? In the past couple of weeks, I have written of some of the ways in which the Lord has been trying to talk to you. Have you heard him? Have you responded to him?

Perhaps you are like the Israelites who said many times, “I will return to the Lord, I will change!” But change did not come. They were insincere and uncommitted in their resolve. Have you been like the Israelites of long ago, who after just a few days after making great resolutions to change, found that their life had not really changed at all?

If this has been your experience, then I am afraid that you would have been among those who would have missed this next communication from God. We like to think that we would have been different than the people of those days, but actually, we are no different. If you do not hear God now, you would not have heard then either. At that time, it was only those who were constantly listening for his voice who heard this next message when it came.

We will hear about it next week. Be prepared to listen.

 
 

Monday, December 7, 2015

I AM and I WILL

This post is actually part 2 of a 4 part series that I began to put up on this blog site on December 2. They are the sermons that I gave in our church for the four Sundays of Advent. 
These four sermons of Advent are:
1 - Words Without Voices
2 - I AM and I WILL
3 - When God Fell Silent
4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens
 

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I AM and I WILL

Last week I spoke of how all of us, all men and women, every adult and every child - we are all able to learn a lot about God just by observing the environment around ourselves and by contemplating the complexity and personalities of our own being. God is one who creates, and through his creativity, he teaches us much about who he is. It is not much different than when we are coming to know another person. We can learn a lot by seeing the things that this other person makes, whether practical and utilitarian items, or creative and artistic works.

However, if we are truly to know a person, that person must speak to us. We must learn about him not only by what he makes, but also by his words. He must explain his thoughts to us and he must tell us with words about himself. If he does not do this, our knowledge of him will always remain superficial. We may even find ourselves assuming things about him that are not true.

So it is also with God. We may be able to learn a lot about God with our contemplation of the cosmos, but it will only ever be a superficial knowledge. What is more, by knowing God only at this level, we will begin to assume things about him that are not true. This is what has happened numerous times throughout history.

To get to know God on a deeper level, it would require God to speak to us. And this is what God has done.

How is it that he has spoken to us so that we may know him? 

The Early Days

I think that in the first days of creation, God speaking to man was not a difficult task. In those early days, God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, presumably having conversation with the first man and woman (Genesis 3:8). However, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s sovereignty, that fellowship was lost. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, and those days of easy conversation came to an end.

For the first time, there was estrangement between God and his creation. This separation from God has been the natural state of man ever since that time. Even today, we remain in this state of estragement until we make an effort to try to get to know the Lord. For his part, God is doing, and has always done his best to reconnect with us.

Some people may question this fact. Some may think if God were only to do something more, or to do something different, such as speak directly to us or to answer our prayer for healing when we are sick, we would more likely to believe in him.

But this is just not true. Any reading of the Biblical stories and narratives show us that belief in God is not a question of evidence. Rather, our belief is a question of our willingness to respond to the evidence that we do have. It is a question of our acceptance of what he shows us.

If we are sincere about our desire to pursue a knowledge of God, we will try to learn what God is telling us about himself. When we show that we accept God on one level, he will then open up more about himself to us.

Again, it is not so much different than getting to know another person. When you first meet someone, that person does not immediately tell you all of his deepest hopes and dreams. They do not immediately tell you their most intimate thoughts. Instead, as the friendship deepens, this person increasingly begin to trust you with who he is. He begins to open up more to you about himself. 

Abraham’s Journey to Know God

Concerning a relationship with God and learning who God is, a very good example of this is the Old Testament story of Abraham. When we first learn of this man, he was living in the city of Ur, which was near the Persian Gulf in present day Iraq and on the opposite side of the Arabian Peninsula as present day Israel. Ur was the city of one of the earliest advanced civilizations that archeologists have been able to excavate. In those explorations, they have found some astounding evidences of progress in that ancient city.

This was the home of Abraham when God called him to leave all that he had, to go to a place where God was going to direct him (Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2-3). I do not know how much information about this future home that God gave Abraham at that time, but apparently, before that time, Abraham had never been to this “promised land” that God spoke of. I would be surprised if Abraham really knew much at all about what God had in mind.

We often do not think about the implications of the decision that Abraham was asked to make. Abraham seems to have already been a rather wealthy man in the city of Ur. It is probable that he could have chosen to simply stay there and have a comfortable life – comfortable at least by the world’s standards. Or he could believe God and go to this unknown place of unsure future.


Our Own Journey to Know God

In a similar situation as that of Abraham, what would have been your choice? Actually, as you look back on your life, what have been your choices in the past? The consequences that you have faced in the past were undoubtedly not as severe as those of Abraham’s, but nevertheless, did you choose the safety of your present circumstance at the time, or did you choose to believe God?

It does not mean that this decision was moving to a different and unknown place, but it may have been something as simple as whether to study the Bible to try to find an answer to a question that you have about your life, or watching TV. It may have been as simple as choosing to get up on Sunday morning so you can make it to an 8:30 AM church service, or rolling over on your pillow and sleeping in.

The manner in which you answer questions like that will give you a good indication of how you would have responded if you had been Abraham.

Abraham chose to get up. 

Abraham et al

I do not intend to go through the entire story of Abraham at this time, but would only like to focus on two places where God took great care in order to allow Abraham get to know him in ways that spoke to his deeper needs.

The first of these times was when Abraham had just won a great victory in battle. At that moment, one would think that Abraham would be celebrating his victory. But Abraham was not celebrating. He instead was somewhat in despair. Abraham was in need of some assurance from God.

The Lord came to him in a vision, and told him, “Do not fear Abram (his name at that time), I am a shield to you and your reward will be very great” (Genesis 15:1).

Abraham’s fear was not that he would be overrun by some army, but he despaired because at that time he had no descendants who would carry on his legacy. To this need, the Lord responded, “I am the Lord who brought you out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land and to possess it” (Genesis 15:7).

God then had Abraham go outside so that he could see the
Hubble Telescope Image
myriad of stars in the clear desert sky. “Count the stars if you are able to do so,” God told him. Of course, Abraham could not. The stars were far too numerous to even begin to count.
“So shall your descendants be,” God told him.

You will have to read the entire story in the Bible to get the full implication of the lesson, but what I would like to point out is that as Abraham moved ahead with faithfulness in his life with the Lord, God revealed more of himself and his plan to him.

But the promised descendant did not immediately come. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, he still had no children by his wife Sarah. During a period of weakness in his faith, he had fathered an illegitimate son, but God had made it clear that this was not to be the son of promise.

God again appeared to Abraham. “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,” he told him. He continued… “Walk before me and be blameless, and I will establish My covenant with you, and I will multiply you exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1-2 NAS).

In this statement of God’s, I would like you to notice especially two phrases: “I am” and “I will.” God uses these phrases together in other parts of the Scriptures. In each of these places, by saying “I am,” God reveals and confirms who he is. Then, based upon who he is, with the “I will,” he tells his intentions to do something.

It is very worthwhile to study Abraham’s life. His was a real journey of faith, a faith that resulted in knowing God in ways that few other men have ever known him. So close did their relationship become that he became known as “the friend of God” (James 2:23).
 
Abraham’s story may be extraordinary, but it is not unique. You can also study the story of Jacob, or of Moses, for instance, and see how God increasingly revealed himself to these men as their relationship grew. And it not only is men, but I have also learned much from some of the women of the Bible. Ruth the Moabitess, for instance, or especially significant in this Christmas season, Mary the mother of Jesus.

Their stories and others found in the Bible are life lessons for us. We neglect our own spiritual growth if we do not study them. Simply to read about these men and women and others in the Bible is not enough. You need to study their lives.
 
You et al

However, now I would like to talk about your life. How has your relationship with God been progressing? You got out of bed this morning in time to make our 8:30 service, so that is a good sign. But I am going to ask you to take an honest look at your life.

Are you progressing in your relationship with God, as did Abraham and the others? To be progressing does not mean that you never have doubts or periods of weakness, as any reading to the lives of these Biblical characters will show. However, it does mean that when the difficult decisions come, you will choose to believe and to follow God.

Do you need assurances? Abraham did, Moses did and Mary did. They all did. We all need assurances. Sometimes we all need to look up at the stars, so to speak, so that God can demonstrate his promises to us. 

I AM and I WILL

There are many places in the Bible where we can read of God’s promises, but place that I turn to from time to time is in the book of Isaiah. Here, God is speaking as if to Israel and to Judah, but he is actually speaking to all those that are following him. I am going to quote only a few verses of this portion, which begins in the forty-first chapter and continues for several chapters, but you can read it more closely later. I want to focus on two phrases in these chapters – the phrases that I mentioned earlier. “I am,” and “I will.” 

Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (NAS).

To those who want to get to know God and who have decided to trust him, he says, “I am with you and I am your God.”

What will he do? He will strengthen you, he will help you, and he will surely uphold you with his righteous right hand.

As you read on, you begin to see the innermost heart of this one who wants you to get to know him. God continues: 

“Since you are precious in my sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.”

“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth. Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (Isaiah 43:5-7 NAS).

All throughout history, God has been calling to out to anyone who would hear. When was the last time you actually took the time to hear him? He shows us his power and majesty by his great creation, and he affirms time and time again by his words that he is calling to us.

Although the passages are quite numerous in the Bible where God couples the “I am” with the “I will,” I want to mention just one more verse. This one is from the book of Psalms:

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 ESV).

It is time for you to exalt him in your life.