Christianity 201

September 23, 2021

Always Onward and Upward for the Christian, Right?

Thinking Through Abraham’s New Beginning

by Clarke Dixon

Everything is always upward and onward for the Christian, right?

We experience a new beginning with Jesus, a new life with God! So everything in life will always work out better, right? We have God’s presence to direct in every decision, so no more bad decisions. We have God’s power to help with every struggle, so no more struggles. We have God’s provision to provide for every need, so no more needs. So it is always onward and upward, right?

Well maybe not.

Today we will think through the life of Abraham who was arguably one of the most God-connected persons on the planet in his day. He had the privilege of a great new beginning when God called him with an incredible calling. So let us see how life worked out for Abraham and if it was always onward and upward. Here are a few things of note:

First, Abraham’s call to go was also a call to leave.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.

Genesis 12:1,2 (NLT emphasis added)

Abraham was called to live out a big, unsettling change. There would have been the experience of grief and loss. There was not even a clear vision of what is coming up.

God’s call to a new beginning with Him is often a call to experience change, loss, and upheaval.

We may be called to let go of some old habits, some old ways of thinking, including favourite “security blankets.” We will soon discover that these were better left behind anyway. However, it can mean upheaval for a season of one’s life. For some, that may be a long season.

We may be called to let go of relationships. I remember a fellow seminarian sharing how receiving Jesus meant leaving his family, or rather being disowned by his family. While that happened to him in another culture in another place, even here in Canada following Jesus might mean losing respect from peers.

The experience of change, including loss, can be part of walking with God, and that can get messy and be difficult. In fact if we are never experiencing any kind of change, maybe we are not walking with Jesus, but just sitting with religion.

For Abraham, responding to God’s call did not mean that life was always upward and onward, indeed it began with loss, grief, and upheaval. It may not always be onward and upward for us either.

Second, Abraham waffled his way through life, quite a lot.

Geographically, Abraham did a lot of wandering about between Genesis chapter 12, where we first meet him, and chapter 25 where we learn of his death. He went to the promised land, but then he also did a stint in Egypt and upon return seemed to live here, there, and everywhere. Life was anything but straightforward.

Abraham also waffled about in life decisions. Twice Abraham got his wife to say she was his sister. Perhaps not the best thing to do? Abraham and his wife Sarah also tried to ensure a descendant through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar. While such arrangements were accepted within society in those days, that decision later led to great family dysfunction. Again, not the smartest idea, especially when God had a better plan.

If we feel like we are waffling about in life decisions, we are in good company. Abraham waffled about terribly also.

The Christian life is sometimes spoken of as if every day we can expect clear direction from the Lord in every decision. We are led to believe that there is always a clear path forward, a right path, and if you are a good Christian, you will see it, you will hear clearly from the Lord about it.

Reality is, life gets messy, even with God in it. We might need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and our ability to discern God’s will moment by moment. Abraham did not seem to have moment by moment direction from God. We might need to adjust our expectations of God.

If God made every decision for us, we would never learn to make a decision. We would never learn wisdom.

God, in his providence, worked it out for Abraham and his family despite the messiness of it all. God can work it out for us too. In the meantime it is not always onward and upward. Sometimes we waffle about.

Third, Abraham had questions for God.

So the LORD told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”
The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham. Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

Genesis 18:20-25 (NLT)

Abraham was not afraid to question God when God’s ways seemed, well, . . . questionable. And it was entirely appropriate. A relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship, which can include conversation and questions.

So when life gets messy and God’s ways seem questionable to us, shouldn’t our prayers get messy and honest? With God, life is not always onward and upward, with God’s ways always appearing to be crystal clear. Sometimes we have questions.

Fourth, it was never really about Abraham.

The call of God disrupted Abraham’s life. But Abraham was not the one who would receive the greatest blessing from his obedience:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (NLT emphasis added)

Are we aware that the call of God is not really about us? Christianity can become quite self-centered, especially as it often starts out centered on ourselves, beginning with “how do I get to heaven?” This is often the starting point, then the next question becomes “how can I get God’s power to work in my life, for my benefit?”

Ironically, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves!

Are we willing to respond to that call, to make our connection with God through Jesus and His Spirit, be for the benefit of others? Are we leaving space for the generosity of God toward others in how our call plays out?

When we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, others are blessed. When I respond to God’s call to be a good husband, my wife is blessed. When I respond to the call of God to be a good father, our sons are blessed.

If it was all about us, might we expect the perfect life? Now if God handed us the perfect life on a silver platter, would we grow? Would we ever really learn empathy and compassion? Might we not instead become even more self-centered?

The Christian life is not always onward and upward with respect to our feeling blessed. Sometimes it is about others being blessed through us and the changes God is bringing to us. Sometimes those changes come about precisely because it is not always onwards and upwards.

Fifth, Abraham was not in the driver’s seat.

There are moments where Abraham shows initiative and living with purpose. He did get up and move, he did show his willingness to do what God asked of him. But as for building a great nation through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed, only God could accomplish that! And it could only be done in God’s timing. There is no way Abraham could make it happen, no amount of effort, passion, or talent on Abraham’s part could bring it about.

We are called to walk with Jesus, not just now, but forevermore. Only God can make that happen, through Jesus, his death for our reconciliation, and through His Spirit.

The question is not “are we bringing about the call of God in our lives?”, as if it is something we can accomplish, but “are we cooperating with God in His call on our lives?”.

The Christian life is not always onward and upward as we do this, that, or the other brilliant thing, but sometimes it is resting in God, in His brilliance.

Conclusion

As we read through Genesis chapters 12-25, it becomes clear that for Abraham, life was not always onwards and upwards. However, it was a life of being faithful, and of depending on God to be faithful. Abraham is lifted up in Hebrews chapter 11 as an example of faith and faithfulness. The Book of Hebrews was originally written for a group of Christians facing persecution. Despite their new beginning with Jesus, life was not always onward and upward for them either! But it was a life of learning faithfulness to the God Who is faithful.

Let us remain faithful to and hopeful in the call of God, even when the path is anything but straightforward, even when life feels far from always onward and upward.

You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

September 4, 2021

Moving Past an Inherited Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced a new author to you, Hannah, who writes at Morning Glory Journal. Of three articles I looked at, I chose this one for us today, but you can discover more by clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the one in the header which follows.

Genealogies: Pitch Our Tents Near The Well

When neither of your parents are around you suddenly have to decide who God is to you. You suddenly need to figure out if you think He was just a fable they believed in, or if you will believe that He is real, alive, and loving just like they always told you. I think the journey starts while we are with our parents; that’s where the foundation is set. But it’s when we are alone that we decide if we believe in that foundation or if we will give in to our deceptive senses.

Abraham had lived a full and satisfied life. After Sarah’s death, he had married another woman named Keturah. With her he had Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. His son Jokshan had two sons Sheba and Dedan. And Dedan had three of his own: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. Midian, another of Abraham’s sons from Keturah, had five sons whose names were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. Now, because Isaac was the promised son, Abraham left everything to him. It was while he was still alive that he gave gifts to his other sons. He then sent them away towards the east, away from Isaac.

Genesis 25:7-11; NASB
7 – These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, 175 years. 8 – Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9 – Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 – It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.

He’d lived a good life and, just like God said he would in Genesis 15:15, Abraham died in peace at a good old age. The first man mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, one who was called God’s friend, was put to rest. And so, the torch was passed on to his son Isaac. Both of his parents were now dead, buried in the same cave. By now he must have been around his 40’s. But without his dad around, would he still follow God? Since his parents weren’t around to influence his decisions, would he still choose God?

I like to think he chose to simply because of verse 11. Let’s look at it again: “It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.”

Where did he live? Close to “the well of the living one who sees me.” He and God were already building a unique relationship. He believed in the God who saw him in the midst of all the sorrow and pain that comes with life. Where will we pitch our tents? God wants to build a unique relationship with each of us today, right now. He’s not a blind god but the God who sees you and me. Let’s put our tents up near Beer-lahai-roi and start to really get to know the God we’ve heard so much about.

 

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Clarke Dixon’s regular Thursday column returns in four weeks.

Today again it’s our privilege to feature who writes at Feeding on Jesus where she has a following of many faithful readers who actively engage with her in her comments section. We chose this one for you today. Click the header which follows to read at source. There are also two more recent articles there on the subject of angels including some inspiring stories, and also a link to her devotional book, Feeding on Jesus.

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…(Rom. 4:19a; 20b, NLT)

We can draw much encouragement from how God remembers and memorializes Abraham’s life. I’ve always done a double take when reading this passage from Romans 4. The Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, makes the statement that “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise” (v. 20a).

I read that and my mind starts to protest: Wait, he never wavered? What about when he despaired of waiting and decided to take matters into his own hands? What about Ishmael? What about the poor boy he engendered that had to be sent off into the desert to almost die there?

Somehow, as God gives the overview of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, He chooses not to bring up the Ishmael incident. Apparently, it’s not relevant to the main point: that Abraham’s faith eventually completed the test. The extremely lengthy, prolonged process of waiting on God for His promise actually accomplished something staggering in Abraham. His initially shakeable faith became so resilient that he became renown as “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11).

At the culmination of Abraham’s faith journey, this is the description God gives us of him: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (v. 21). How do I know this verse is talking about the “end product” of the (twenty-five year) long process that went into the development of Abraham’s faith?

Well, just take a quick look again at the midpoint. That was when Ishmael happened. So clearly Abraham wasn’t fully convinced at that juncture that God was able. He kinda thought God might need some help. His faith was a bit wobbly yet.

However, even after that faltering moment, he didn’t give up on God. He didn’t give up on the process. He didn’t give up on what must have felt like an eternal wait. He kept on choosing hope when for all the world it didn’t look like there was any shred of a reason to keep on hoping (v. 18).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he kept pressing on. His body kept getting older and older. His wife’s did too. But he refused to relinquish God’s word to him.

Every night, he would look up at the stars and remember his Promise encounter. Over and over, he kept choosing to feed and edify his faith. He kept reminding himself of what God had said. He kept stomping on doubt by lifting up his voice and glorifying God (v. 20). He kept pushing through the process. Every. Single. Day.

The result? “Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…” And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and STRONGER!!!!

Here’s my encouragement to you today. Feeling a little wobbly? Not quite at the “completely convinced” stage yet? That’s okay!!! Just keep pushing forward! Be assured, your faith is not weakening; it’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger by the day. No matter how eternal the wait seems, you ARE going to complete this test. And when God is through with you, WATCH OUT WORLD!! I can’t wait to see the flattened mountains in your wake!!!

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Do you find comfort, as I do, in knowing that “the father of all who believe” started out with faith that needed to be greatly strengthened?

April 17, 2021

You Can Learn a Lot from Lot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In a blurb for the book Bad Boys of the Bible by Barbara J. Essex, the publisher summarizes, “Cain, Abraham, Adam, Samson, Lot, Jacob, and Jephthah are well-known men of the Bible who were strong and faithful, yet also weak and challenged.” That’s being charitable considering some elements of their story. Parents who have ever tried to purchase a children’s story book about Samson know that the publishers of similar series often avoid the character, and I would think even more so would books about Lot be few.

If you don’t know a lot about Lot, there is a summary at LifeMinstires.org.nz.

The website GotQuestions.org also provides the basic story outline, which weaves through chapters 12 to 19 of Genesis. His uncle was Abraham and much of his story includes interactions with the Jewish patriarch. The site concludes that Lot’s character is very much a result of geography:

Much of Lot’s life is a picture of the consequences of greed and the negative influence of a sinful environment. Lot knew God, but he chose to live among people who would lead his family into sin and complacency. But Lot’s story is also an illustration of God’s great mercy—in spite of Lot’s poor choices, God saved him and his daughters from a violent end in Sodom and preserved his line throughout the ages

Again, that’s a more gentle way of relaying some hard truths. The site BibleOdyssey.org focuses on the narrative involving Lot and his daughters (which it describes as an etiological myth) and includes depictions of that narrative in classical art which all involve scenes of nudity. Again, it’s a reminder that parts of the Bible are not PG-13. (I’m not sure what I think of this summary, but the other links today are highly recommended.)

Despite this, the Apostle Peter considers Lot a righteous man in 2 Peter 2: 6-8

Later, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. (NLT underlining added)

At the site WordsOfLife.co.uk there is a wonderful 7-part outline on the life of Lot which integrates his story with New Testament principles.

The scripture references… make very sad reading. They tell us about a man who was saved, … but he was only just saved; he… had a saved soul but a lost life, because he lived for self and was in bondage to the things of time and sense, and he became engulfed in and succumbed to the evils of his time.

Also at Words of Life Ministries, some of the points have sub-points. Sadly in a section on Lot’s influence in his time and place,

  • He had no influence with the men of Sodom. We learn this from Genesis 19: 1-11, and particularly notice in verses 7 –- 9 that they laughed him to scorn. The men of Sodom must have despised Lot, and the world despises a worldly, “make-believe” Christian.
  • He had no influence with his children. We learn this from Genesis 19: 8; this is a verse to make us shudder, but is there a sadder verse in the whole Bible than Genesis 19: 14?
  • He had no influence with his own wife. We learn this from Genesis 19: 26, which tells the solemn story of her disobedience and her tragic end

So honestly, why read and study the lives of men like Lot. The same website answers that with a reference to 1 Corinthians 10: 11-12

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. (NLT)

We must also remember that our choices and actions don’t take place in a vacuum. We are part of larger families and networks. A Roman Catholic website, Community in Mission, reminds us that Lot’s actions didn’t just affect himself, they affected his whole family:

But here is the risk that Lot takes: he turns his face toward Sodom and willingly exposes his family to the grave moral threats there. And it does indeed affect them. Ultimately, his wife cannot bear to leave, looks back, and is lost. His daughters escape, but later engage in the grave sin of incest. Lot, too, will find it hard to flee Sodom, finding God’s offer to save him to be too much trouble. He’d rather stay, whatever the risk.

If you’re going to swim in muddy water, you’re going to get muddy. And that mud gets in your ears and in your soul. This is what Lot risks and what results when he pitches his tent toward Sodom.

Many of us, too, think little about the risks that television, the internet, music, and culture pose to us and our children. Too easily we risk our eternal salvation and that of our children by pitching our tent toward Sodom through easy commerce with a world that is poisonous to our faith. Even if some things are troublesome, many of us make little effort draw back and limit, even in little ways, the influences that are contrary to our faith.

The consequences are noted at website EncounterLifeMinistries.org:

A man who has no honor cannot expect to get honor in return, can he? 

and mentions that later on in the story,

Lot reconsiders and thinks that maybe he should leave Zoar and head into the mountains. How many times have we been Lot in this very second? “God, I want to do it my way…wait…that didn’t work out…okay, let’s do it your way.”

As we said at the outset, Lot, like Samson and others is what we might call an anti-hero. But his life provides us with helpful warnings and good counsel. The words of Jesus recorded in Luke 17: 26-30 reminds us that,

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.”
(The Message)

 

 

January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Hands up if your Christmas tree is still vertical and decorated. Yes, I see those hands.

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not wrong – according to the worldwide Church calendar, Christmas isn’t over.

All around the globe, we observe this Sunday as Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men from far beyond Israel’s borders.

They weren’t there on the night Jesus was born. They probably never met the shepherds or heard the angels. Their journey may have begun that night, and they arrived up to a couple of years later when Jesus was a toddler, running around getting into everything.

But their arrival marked some amazing good news for those outside the Jewish community. God had come for everyone. The borders of His Kingdom had shifted and expanded to include those of us who were, for so long, on the outside looking in.

So we find in the Scriptures this message:

The Lord led Abraham outside and said,
“Look at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.
Your family will be like that…

“I’ll make you into a great nation.

“I’ll bless you,
and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Until that promise was fulfilled
we Gentiles were without the Messiah,
foreigners to the promise,
without hope
and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus, we who were far away have been brought near.

Through Him we are no longer outsiders and foreigners,
but partners of the promise,
and members of God’s household,
built on a foundation of Christ Jesus Himself.

This great news was first made known to the world through Gentile wise men
who arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Now we are saved by grace through faith – God’s gift.

And even more –
As Abraham was blessed so he could become a blessing,
we are His creation, created for good works in Christ Jesus
which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Bold, and confident of more than we could ask or think.
His power. His riches.
Raised up by the fulfillment of one promise,
to be the embodiment of another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

 


References: Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3, Matthew 2


Previous devotionals on Epiphany:

July 14, 2018

The Purpose of Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Joanna Pierce writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. This is her second time appearing here at C201. As with our last visit, the scriptures are embedded within the post as links. The links take you to a KJV version of the verses, but once there, you have an option to switch over to two Amplified Bible texts.

Patience is a Big Part of Your Journey

Endurance and Patience

Jesus encouraged the disciples to endure until the end to see their salvation (Matthew 10:22, 24:12–13). But, what did He mean? Endure means to suffer patiently, or to last. So, what’s patience? Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Our salvation journey has a starting place and then continues until we reach Heaven. There’s a gate we enter and a way we follow once we start on our journey with God (Matthew 7:13–14). Patience makes up for a lot of our way!

Necessary for Salvation

How much is patience critical to our salvation experience? Is it as importance as repentance and baptism? Scripture tells us to add to our faith virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and lastly, charity (II Peter 1:5–9). If we don’t have patience, we’ll be unfruitful in God’s Kingdom; we’re called to bear fruit! If we lack all of these things, we’ll be blind and forget we’ve been purged from our sins. When this occurs, there’s a strong likelihood we’ll follow false truth or be bound by condemnation—all because we’re missing patience in our life.

It is through our trials and tribulations will our patience flourish. It builds experience in us which leads to hope (Romans 5:3–5). We are called to glory in our tribulations and how it aids our spiritual development.

3 Men Who Demonstrated Patience

Abraham

Abraham began his life in an idolatrous society, was childless, and God called him to leave everything he knew and follow Him. Because he believed in God, it was credited to him as righteousness. After given the promise of a child and being the father of all nations, he waits 25 long years. Then, 12–13 years after the birth of Isaac, he’s instructed to sacrifice his son. What a journey of trials!

But, Abraham had learned through every trial to stand on the promises of the Word of God. He knew at the moment of sacrifice, God would raise up his son (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham is our example of a person who waited, endured tribulation, and struggled to develop patience in his life. We must learn to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him no matter how long it takes and no matter what He tells us to do (Psalms 37:1–7).

Joseph

At the age of 17, God gave Joseph a dream of his future. From that moment on, he faced trial after trial. He was cast into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of rape and thrown into prison, and left to abide there, forgotten for years. However, through these experiences God was grooming Joseph into a vessel who could glorify Him.

At times, Joseph may have struggled to see God’s purpose in patience because he was in the midst of a 20-year long trial. But, at age 37, he winds up in the second most powerful seat in all of Egypt and it all becomes crystal clear. God never promised we’d have an easy life; our promise is that we will see a lot of trouble. But, God has also promised to give strength to the weary if we wait upon Him and not give up (Isaiah 40:28–31).

David

David was 12 years old when the most powerful prophet in Israel anoints him with oil as the future king. Even with this promise, David faces trial after trial in his life. He fights a giant, spends most of his reign running for his life from the murderous Saul, commits adultery and devises a plot to kill the woman’s husband, numbers Israel and causes the death of 70,000 people in the process, and the list goes on and on.

At the death of his child, the product of his adulterous relationship, David still gets up and goes to the house of the Lord to worship. In his trials (and mistakes) David was in the process of learning patience. God was shaping him into being a man after His own heart.

Purpose of Patience

Every trial we experience is for our good (Romans 8:28); it’s working patience in us! Scripture tells us we need patience to complete the will of God (Hebrews 10:36). Ultimately, we sill be saved if we have patience (Luke 21:19)—patience is part of the way, not the gate to Heaven.

As in the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and David, we are put through trials so our lives can bring God glory (I Peter 1:3–7). What an example we can show to others of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and transformative power. What God can do in us can be done in someone else!

God pushes patience so we will have 1) reduced stress, 2) fewer times we hurt others, 3) more joy, and 4) help to keep us on our journey with Him. We need to allow patience to have its perfect work in us (James 1:2–4). It’s all to get us ready (and patient) for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (James 5:7–8).

 

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

January 16, 2017

On Speaking Things into Existence

As I grow older, one of the striking things about the distinctions between denominations is not the doctrinal beliefs per se, but rather the terminology used which differs from church to church. For many of you as well, the phrase speaking things into existence probably sounds like something you would hear in a Charismatic or Pentecostal context. The implied message in these congregations is that this is something we can do.

The origin of the phrase begins in Romans 4:17

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (NIV)

On a forum at Biblical Hermenuetics the challenge is spelled out:

Rom 4:16-17:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)

This last part reads, in NA-28:

καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα

I’m having a hard time arriving at the English given above (which is consistent with most translations [but see below]), which seems to entail a reference to creation ex nihilo. The phrase is literally something like:

calling that which is not being as being

Unclear to me are both the meaning of καλέω (to call) is this context and the meaning of the ὡς + participle construction, which seems most often to indicate “as [if] being/doing X”.2 Interestingly, the KJV gives:

and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

While this English isn’t exceptionally clear, I at least understand how it relates to the Greek…

I decided to investigate this verse in various commentaries.

  • The NIV Study Bible reminds us that the context in Romans 4 is Abraham, and notes that the birth of Isaac is an example of God creating out of nothing.
  • The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (p. 934) continues this theme. Paul “introduces the historical fact that God in his mysterious providence and testing kept Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a son until long after human conception and birth was physical possibility, thereby heightening the miracle of the event and the absolute necessity of faith. It was Abraham’s trust in God as true to his word in spite of appearances and the fact that he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
  • The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary (p. 1024) notes that the speaking things into existence is a divine attribute and that actually two are listed, the other being giving life to the dead. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily something we can do.
  • The International Bible Commentary (p. 1325) reminds us that God “can both renew life and issue his creative call.” There is a reference to Isaiah 41:4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'” (NASB)
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p. 1125) spends a little longer with this verse: “This is the Lord’s power to create. It could also easily be translated: God calls into being what does not exist as (easily as he calls) that which does exist. No mortal can comprehend the divine creative power. The bringing of animate and inanimate objects into existence and their maintenance is God’s activity . The nature of the objects may be discussed — mind, matter, energy — but the why and how of their existence can be known accurately only to the extent that the Lord reveals them.

At the website Heartland, we’re presented with a much longer Bible study on the subject of God speaking things into existence which focuses on three examples:

  1. Creation
  2. Sin (an interesting concept to consider; I had to read this one twice)
  3. Salvation

…So can we speak things into existence?

I started out by saying this verse gives birth to certain phrases commonly in use in certain types of churches. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to ask God to increase our faith. I believe we are to pray in faith. I believe in a God of miracles. But I’m not sure its right to import particular words or expressions into situations they were never meant to address. It certainly sounds spiritual to speak of “speaking it into existence” but it might be misappropriation of that particular verse.

In a sermon this fall, Willow Creek Discipleship Director Rick Shurtz said, “If you have to speak it into existence you’re not trusting God, you’re playing God.”