Go!

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God calls us to exercise faith in Christ’s sacrifice of the cross.

 

Do you like leaving home in the middle of a moonless, starless night? I don’t. But I did exactly that when I was in Boot Camp aboard MCRD Parris Island, SC. I was in Individual Combat Training at an old airfield aboard Parris Island. This was to simulate a night movement when in combat. It was also meant to develop trust between us as recruits and in our leaders, the Drill Instructors.

We were roused from our sleep by one of our Drill Instructors. We had to break camp, pack our backpacks and form up along a road all in the pitch black darkness of night. It was so dark I could not see more than six inches in front of me. It was dark! I was able to tell where we needed to go by holding onto a strap on the pack of the recruit in front of me. It was this way for everyone. We had no idea where we were going but we had to go and we had to believe the one leading us knew exactly where he was going.

We went through the woods, up hills, down hills, around bends, and finally arrived at a resting place. But it wasn’t just some old resting place, it was Elliot’s Beach. What’s there? Gas Chambers. We had to enter a gas chamber, experience being blinded by that gas, and then trust the instructors to get us out of the gas to safety. That was a lot of fun. We then continued to march to our final destination. Throughout this ordeal, we would march at a near run (it was called a force march) clutching tightly to the strap on the recruit on front of us. We simply had to go where we were led. We had faith that the leaders would lead us where we needed to be. In essence, we were led by the grace of the leaders where we needed to go.

We had to exercise faith to get where we needed to go. We had to make a choice. God’s Radial Grace is a lot like this experience.

God’s grace leads us where we need to be. You can bet that if God has shown you His Radical Grace and bestowed it on you, He will take you where you need to be. Do you need an example? Would that help? Lets turn to Genesis 12 for what I believe is a wonderful example of just how God’s Radical Grace is guaranteed to take us where we need to be.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” – Geneis 12:1-3 NASB

In this passage we see the beginning of God’s plan to bring salvation by grace through faith into the world. While this passage pertains specifically to Abram, there is application to us today. Let’s unpack this and see what God wants us to learn about His Radical Grace this week.

 

It begins with a command

Verse one begins with a simple command that must have been difficult to hear: You go! God told Abram to leave the only place he knew as home, leave his family, his surroundings – Abram was told to leave.Basically God told Abram to leave all that he knew. Leave it all behind. That is no easy task. But surely God had something good in mind and would share that with Abram. Well, not really. Continuing with the passage, God chooses not to tell Abram where he is going at the moment. There is only a promise that God would lead Him to that place and reveal it to him at some later date. My journey in darkness in boot camp was a  lot like this. “Just follow me” God tells Abram. But this wasn’t all that was happening.

God made some specific promises to Abram if he did indeed leave and go where God was graciously calling him. God promised to make Abram into a great nation, God would bless Abram, God would make Abram’s name great, and Abram would be a blessing. Now those are some really good promises. Surely Abram had to do something to earn those things. Well sort of. But it isn’t what you are probably thinking.

 

The syntax here in Genesis 12 is interesting. There is what is termed an indirect volitive chain. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that this chain is a way of guaranteeing the outcome for an obedient heart. These syntactical devices begin with an imperative, followed by a series of other verbs.  This combination demonstrates that whenever the action that was commanded is performed, then the promises made in the following verses of the chain are guaranteed to pass.

So what was God doing? And what does this have to do with God’s Radical Grace?

God was implementing His plan to bring salvation into the world. Remember that salvation is by grace through faith. In a very real way, God’s Radical Grace gets its first publicity here. God is proclaiming His intention to save by grace by extending a gracious call to Abram. 

Look at what is promised to Abram. a great nation, a great blessing given, fame, and Abram would be a blessing. But how is all this somehow gracious of God?

Abram was descendant of Noah’s son Shem. He was polytheistic so he obviously didn’t share the same faith as Noah. He was just another one of many who believed there were many gods who controlled everything. But God chose to intervene in this one polytheists life and change the course of history forever. God graciously interrupted Abram’s road to nowhere, placed him on the road to heaven, and in the passing of time brought salvation to the world. Through the journey that Abram took once he left his homeland until he died, God graciously provide for his needs. Does this sound familiar?

God calls us to exercise faith in Christ’s sacrifice of the cross.

God further states that if we exercise faith, our destination is secure and waiting for us – eternity with Him in heaven. All we need to do is obey that call. There is no promise that the road we will walk is going to be easy. There is no promise that we will not experience sadness or challenges. God promises that our destination – heaven – is sure. God promises to show us that place one day. Until that day we need to hang on to God as He graciously leads us to Him.

God chose to bring us to Him. God chose to bring salvation to the world even though the world rejects Him. God chose to love us in spite of our being unlovable. Just like Abram, we were on the road to nowhere good and God intervened and interrupted our lives to offer us a way out. A way to spend eternity with Him as His friend.

God did all this, just like He did with Abram, by His grace.

God’s grace. It is radical!

 

 

 

The Need

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In my previous articles I have presented grace as a necessary attribute of God and an action of God towards us. In order to fully grasp grace – at least as fully grasp it as we can – we must first understand that we are sinners in dire need of grace.

Now what do I mean by “We are sinners”? Well, we are a rebellious people who desire their own way rather than God’s way. We are bent toward evil, not good. Every perception we have, every inclination, every thought is tainted and influenced, and, if we are honest, driven by the will to do our own evil bidding rather than what is right.

God, through the Apostle Paul, states that

There is none righteous, not even oneThere is none who understandsThere is none who seeks for GodAll have turned aside, together they have become uselessThere is none who does goodThere is not even oneTheir throat is an open graveWith their tongues they keep deceivingThe poison of asps is under their lipsWhose mouth is full of cursing and bitternessTheir feet are swift to shed bloodDestruction and misery are in their pathsAnd the path of peace they have not knownThere is no fear of God before their eyes. – Romans 3:10-18 NASB

Seems pretty clear to me. We are not righteous, we don’t understand, we don’t seek after God. We have turned from God and His ways, we steal, murder, curse and we don’t know peace, This is a pretty ugly picture of mankind, isn’t it! There is no room for pop psychology or warm fuzzy feelings for felt needs in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He paints a bleak picture of humanity. But wait, there’s more!

Just in case you were trying to figure a way of reading the previous passage without using the word sin, Paul takes care of that in just a few verses:

 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23 NASB

The word All means you and me. It means every Jew and gentile. If you are human, you are included in this. Oh boy, now I’ve done it. We are actually equal. We are equally corrupt, equally sinful (though the expression may be different), equally under judgment, and equally worthy of hell for eternity.

ALL of us humans are equally under the condemnation of God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23 NASB

Payday is coming, folks. Each of us will receive what is due. In Romans six Paul clearly and unequivocally states that death is the result of sin. The term death does not imply or mean cessation of existence. No, it simply means separation. Physical death is when the material and immaterial parts of a human are separated . When that occurs, the body ceases to function and the spirit or soul leaves.

Spiritual death occurs when we stand before God and are judged. Not one of our works – regardless of how good it may seem – is going to do anything to keep us from being separated from God for eternity. Once our soul leaves our body we cannot ever be reconciled to God, unless we experienced that reconciliation prior to that moment. We are most definitely in a pickle. All of us.

This is where grace enters into our lives. God offers His salvation by His grace. We must appropriate His grace through faith. Salvation – the freedom from sin and its consequences – is granted by God by His grace through faith

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and ]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8 NASB

God’s grace changes our trajectory in eternity.

Though we were destined for eternal separation from God because of our sin, when God invades our lives and grants His salvation by His grace through our faith, our destiny is changed., Forever.

No longer are we destined for eternal separation from God. No, we are now destined to an eternity in the very presence of God. God’s grace does that. God’s grace is THAT powerful.

Comfort for the Afflicted

‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;

Lately I have been reading quite a few messages, emails, and stories about the trials and tribulations of life. Some are quite sad. Some make me want to run out and fix something or someone. Mix in with this the silly season of politics and we have plenty of reasons to fret. We hear accusations and counter accusations from the candidates. We see bullying that I thought was left on the playground in 5th grade. And the language. Oh, the language. All this can lead to despair. Life these days can be trying.

The issues in life today can seem out of control. We feel helpless. We feel afflicted. We despair.

Are you afflicted with physical pain?

There are times – almost all the time – that my back hurts.  My knees ache, I have bone chips in my left ankle. I hurt continually somewhere. But hey, I’m 52 years old and did stupid stuff when I was younger. I should feel some pain now. But sometimes the pain gets the best of me. The pain make me want to have a pity party and say to myself (and others) “woe is me! I’m in such pain.” But you know what? I shouldn’t do that. I have good reason not to focus on my physical pain.

I have good reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with chronic illness?

I have diabetes. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, an arrhythmic heartbeat, and an immune dysfunction that cause my immune system to attack my own body from time-to-time. I’m a wreck! If I was a car, I’d be recalled for being a lemon.  I have these chronic illnesses. I won’t get rid in this life of them unless God intervenes and performs a miracle. I take nine pills each day. Nine pills just so I have a chance at a slightly less abnormal life. In looking at these many chronic problems I have, I could despair. I could give up knowing that I have no realistic hope that I’ll ever be rid of them, the pills or the pain they cause me on a daily basis.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my chronic illnesses. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with depression?

Do you have clinical depression? I do. Having it is a beast. Feelings of worthlessness, overwhelming powerlessness come up over and over. I have even contemplated suicide. My past won’t leave me alone and at times my future – at least the one I thought I was going to have – eludes me. I get bummed. I start to focus on the issues that surround me and not where I should focus. Then I think I’ll never climb out of this pit. I’ll never have a day where I genuinely feel good.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my depression. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with unfulfilled dreams?

I love to preach. I love sharing God’s word and encouraging those listening to do something with what they learn. The greatest compliment i ever received was when someone told me they acted on an issue because of what I said from the pulpit. But, sadly for me, I feel my preaching days are over. I’ve taken some hits – some stinging criticisms.  The person(s) who feel this way haven’t talked to me about their perception of me, but they have talked to others.  I have become a stumbling block to that person (or persons) learning when I preach. So I would rather not preach than to cause someone to stumble. And that fact – that I am a stumbling block – saddens me. My love for preaching goes unfulfilled now.  Perhaps you have yet to find your place in the Body of Christ. Maybe you’re looking for a job – any job – and can’ seem to find one. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired and your heart aches. Maybe, like me, you focus on your loss and you begin to despair.

But I have reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with financial struggle?

I have a wonderful wife and seven – soon to be eight – children living under one roof. My house can be loud, messy, and dirty. It can also be a madhouse. But it is my house – the house God has given to me.

My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. She manages everything so well, home schools our children and gets more beautiful by the day. She is wonderful. More than wonderful. I don’t have a word for her she is so wonderful. She is my heartbeat, she is my life.   My children are great as well. They are growing so fast. My oldest is nearly 13(!) and my youngest is about to be born in May or June. They are generally loud, running, jumping, active kids. And I love each one of them more and more each day.

But we struggle financially. We are a single income family. That is a choice my wife and I made before we got married. You may have made a different choice and that is OK. Maybe you struggle too. There are some months we don’t have two nickles to rub together. Other months we are better. But whether we have plenty or not, we have each other. Sometimes though I wonder. I wonder about the future, our paltry savings. I see the economy in the US faltering and wonder when I’ll be out of a job. I worry. I start to despair. You probably do too.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to worry about our finances or future. And so do you.

The Reason?

My Good Reason is simple: God is sovereign. Period.

 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.       Psalm 115:3 NASB

God does what God pleases to do. Since God is holy and makes no mistakes, I should take comfort in that fact. And so should you.

In Isaiah 46:10 God says

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

You see God will accomplish all He plans to accomplish. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

I mess up every day. I sin. I fight against God. I struggle through His grace. Then I get frustrated that I’m not as holy as I’d like to be and should be. I wonder sometimes if I have crossed some line in the sand that causes God to have had enough of me. Then I read John 10, Jesus says

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-20 NASB

Jesus claims to be God here. He claims sovereignty over my life. If you are a Christian he claims sovereignty over your life too. You can’t be lost once you are found. And neither can I. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

Finally, in Romans, Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 NASB

There is plenty in these few verses but I want you to focus in the first one. Everything in life is worked together for good by God for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means you Christian. Whether you are afflicted by physical pain, emotional strain or financial stress,

God is working it out for good in your life.   And we – WE – should take comfort in that.   No, we MUST take comfort in that.

Since God is sovereign in my life and in your life, we need not fret about those things that so easily distract us and stress us. Whether those things are temporary or chronic; whether they are physical or emotional; whether they are tangible or intangible; we should – we MUST – reject the control they desire over us and rely on on God.

 

We must find comfort in the absolute sovereignty of God for it cannot be found anywhere else.

Built on Committment!

The Path Less Traveled Final

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed?

This  week we will consider only two verses in  Genesis 22. I chose only two verses because of the many important things that occur in these two verses. To appreciate the importance of Genesis 22 as a whole, we must understand the importance of these two small verses. So off we go into the adventure of Genesis 22:11-12.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

The strong adversative But begins this section. This means there is a contrast to be illustrated in the words following the But. To fully understand the importance of this we must look at what immediately preceded the But here. Remember just prior to this Abraham had journeyed with Isaac, walked up s  mountain, built an altar, and assembled the wood for the sacrifice. He had just bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. And then he took the knife he had and probably placed it to Isaac’s neck. Now think about this for a  moment.

Abraham had not only followed God to the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith by walking with Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, but so did Isaac when they came to the altar. Isaac, remember, is probably a late teen by this time. He could have resisted at any point and Abraham would have been powerless to stop him.

But Isaac followed his dad and God to the point of death.

That brings us to the But in this week’s passage. And boy it is a big But. Imagine this scene: Isaac is bound and on the altar. Abraham has his knife in hand. Abraham takes the knife, stretches his hand out to place the knife on Isaac’s throat. He is ready to slice Isaac’s throat and burn his body as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Enter God’s But.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

Before Abraham could do harm to Isaac, the angel of the Lord interrupted him. Whether this angel was the pre-incarnate Christ or not is not important. Because the angel most definitely had the authority of the Lord in order to speak the way he did. If this was merely an angel sent to speak to Abraham and not the Lord Himself, that angel carries the full authority of the Lord. So the words here carry the same weight. So what did this angel say?

Do not…

The angel said not to stretch out his (Abraham’s) hand against Isaac. The angel was calling off the sacrifice. He said “don’t cut the boy’s throat.” That is quite a statement for the angel to make. This angel had to come with the Lord’s authority for only the Lord could say stop. Abraham was now not to do anything to Isaac. Why?

For now I know….

The angel of the Lord said that he knew that Abraham would not withhold the son of promise from God in any way, shape, matter or form. So what about this: did the Lord learn something about Abraham here? Oh boy, this opens a can of theological worms!

Without spending the next few months wading through that subject, let me say that God did not learn anything about Abraham. It was Abraham who learned something about himself. The context of this passage indicates this. It was in v. 1 that God tested Abraham. God decided to test Abraham’s faith. It seems to me that if God was testing Abraham, then God already had the answer but Abraham had not yet discovered this about himself.

So through the test, God was testing Abraham so that Abraham would learn the extent of his faith in God.

Parents do this to their children all the time. We ask our children questions, place them in situations, so they will react. We already know how they’ll react but they have yet to discover this reaction. When they react the way we knew they would react, have we learned anything? Nope. But we may say something like what the angel said to Abraham.

Abraham learned the extent of his faith in God. Abraham learned that he trusted God to the uttermost. He learned that nothing would ever replace his commitment to God, not even family. Abraham learned that he really did belong to God and would follow Him at whatever the cost. that is a good thing to know.

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed? If God called me – or you – to a place of sacrifice, would we go? You know, we should know that answer already.

God has called us to be living sacrifices. He has called us to take up our cross and follow Him. He has called us to leave all we know to follow Him on the narrow way into heaven.

We are at the place of sacrifice. Have we – you and me – discovered the extent of our faith? Just like Abraham, have we come to lay all on the altar in worship of Him?

 

 

Built on Obedience

The Path Less Traveled Final

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.                            – Genesis 22:9-10 NASB

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

 

The journey that Abraham and Isaac had been on had come to it’s apparent end. Evidently God revealed to Abraham where he was to sacrifice Isaac since Abraham recognized the place. Imagine the feeling Abraham had. how would you feel if you had arrived to a place of sacrifice of your son? I can’t imagine the various emotions that  would be raging through me.

I suppose that as I came to the place of sacrifice my eyes would search all around to see a different sacrifice. I would be scouring the countryside for a lamb. ram or some other sacrificial animal. I imagine that i would be slowing down a little as I came to the place of sacrifice. “Where is the lamb?”

Abraham builds the altar. The thoughts running through his head must have been myriad. Abraham was building the altar upon which his son would be sacrificed. Wow. But Abraham did not stop there. He arranged the wood that would consume Isaac’s body.

Now pay close attention to the next part. Abraham bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. Isaac was probably a teen not a child if I’m reading the Hebrew correctly. So why does this matter?

Isaac could have resisted. Isaac could have run away at any point in this journey. Isaac could have said no and left his father Abraham. He must have known by now he was going to be the sacrifice. There is no record of Isaac negotiating with his father. There is nothing in the record that leads me to believe that Isaac objected in any way. Isaac was totally submitted to his father’s will. Ultimately Isaac was submitted to his Father’s will – God’s will.

Isaac was resolute in giving his all to God. There is no other way to interpret this. He was resolved to follow God’s will up to and including the point of death. How would I react to this? As either Abraham or Isaac, how would I react. How about you. Hmmm.

But Abraham’s actions did not end there. Look at the text – he (Abraham) stretched out his hand, took the knife with the intent of slaying his son. Abraham was following God’s call to the very end. Isaac was submitting to God’s call to the very end – the end of his life.

Now remember that Isaac was the son of promise. This is the son through whom God will make a great nation. This is the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah even though they were old. This was God’s miracle child to Abraham and Sarah. And now he is going to kill him and burn him on an altar by God’s command.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What was Abraham demonstrating? Well, we really have two main options. Abraham could have been demonstrating faith. He also could have been demonstrating obedience. let’s look at each of these.

 

Abraham’s Faith

He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac.

Abraham has demonstrated faith throughout this journey to sacrifice his son Isaac. Certainly he is at the very least demonstrating faith in this part of the journey. He would have to be a man of faith to go this far. He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac since God promised to make Abraham a great nation through this son and all the nations would be blessed through him. so yes, Abraham was demonstrating faith.

 

Abraham’s Obedience

Look at what Abraham did, not just believed.

Abraham was also demonstrating obedience to God’s call. He followed God’s instructions without question, debate, or compromise. He followed not only with his mind but also with his feet. He obeyed God. Look at what Abraham did, not just believed. Abraham took his son and servants and set out on a journey to an unknown place. God said “go!” and Abraham went.

Abraham ascended the mountain with his son, wood, fire and knife for the sacrifice of his son. Abraham took the tools that would lead to his son’s death and ascended to the place of the sacrifice. In fact he loaded the son with the wood that would consume his son’s body.

When he arrived at the place of sacrifice he built an altar. He put the wood on the altar. He bound his son and placed him on the altar. He took the knife and planned to cut his son’s throat and sacrifice his son.

Abraham did all these things. This is what I believe is being stressed here. Abraham – and Isaac – obeyed God to the uttermost. What a lesson for us today.

 

So how are you at obeying God? I’m not concerned with what you say, I’m concerned with what you do. When God calls you to a difficult place, do you complain?

What if God calls you to a physical ailment to demonstrate His grace. Do you complain about your situation? Or, do you take your physical ailment in stride knowing that God is the One who sustains you.

Maybe God calls you to the difficult place of joblessness. Perhaps He calls you to a life where you live without a spouse. Maybe your dream is not what Gods wants for you. Will you obey God’s call and release your dream? Definitely food for thought.

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

Make sure that your actions always support your professed faith. Our path of holiness is one that is built on obedience. As James stated in his epistle, faith that does  not have works is a dead faith, In other words, if you proclaim faith in God yet do not obey Him, then your faith is questionable.

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

 

Built on Trust

The Path Less Traveled Final

Are you trusting with your mouth or with your feet?

“Come on buddy” I coaxed my son. “Jump. I’ll catch you”

I was in the pool and my son Daniel was along the edge of it. He was hesitating.

“Dad, I’m scared. What if you don’t catch me?”

“I’ll catch you Daniel. Do you trust me to catch you?”

“Yes” he said.

“Then jump.”

I could see the struggle wanting to trust me yet the fear of the water. Daniel jumped. I caught him. We laughed and splashed in the water. His trust of me was demonstrated when he jumped. Are you ready to jump?

Trust is a funny thing. If I truly trust someone or something, that trust will have an action associated with it. True trust always – ALWAYS – shows itself in actions not just words. Here in Genesis 22 we see a wonderful example of trust in action.

This trust – the kind that leads to action – is the one that we exercise both choosing the path of holiness as well as walking on that path of holiness. Let’s take a look at biblical trust and what we can expect when we wholly trust the right One.

God’s call to Abraham began in verse one. It was a call to obey God that was built on a relationship between Abraham and God. Now that call continues where Abraham’s response to God’s call is built on trust. Do you trust God enough to follow His call on your life?                Are you ready to jump?

 

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Genesis 22:3-8 NASB

After God’s call in v. 1, here in v. 3 Abraham responded to God’s call to sacrifice his sin – the son of promise – on a mountain yet hidden. He got a donkey, loaded it with wood, took a couple of young men in addition to his son Isaac. This group travels for three days and somehow it was revealed to Abraham that they had arrived at the place of sacrifice. Abraham tells his servants to remain while he and his son continued to ascend to the place where they will worship God.

During this journey, one may infer that Isaac was trusting his father Abraham for the past three days to take him to the place they need to be. I can imagine that Isaac had put together that there was going to be a sacrifice when they continued on their journey. Notice what Isaac says

Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

So Isaac sees everything but the lamb for the burnt offering.  Now I want to make an important point here. Isaac was probably at least 15 or 16 years old. How do I know this? The Hebrew gives it away. I know this is not a child because the word lad in Hebrew is na’ar (pronounced na-ar). This means a young person, a youth or something similar. If Isaac was a child the word would have probably been yeled (pronounced ye-leth). Why is this important?

If Isaac was a youth of 15 or 16 he certainly had the physical strength and will that could prevent anything from happening to him that he did not want to happen to him. Isaac could have simply refused to go on this journey with his dad. He was carrying the wood for the sacrifice. Abraham was carry a coal or some sort of fire that would provide as the starter for the fire to consume the sacrifice. But no lamb.

Abraham responds with assurance that God would provide a lamb for His sacrifice. This is Abraham showing faith in God. Abraham trusted God to 1) either provide a different lamb for the sacrifice or 2) use Isaac as the sacrifice but resurrect him somehow (based on Abraham’s statement to his servants as he and Isaac left). Abraham and Isaac were both trusting God not with the words of their mouths but with the actions of their feet. Are you trusting with your mouth or with your feet?

This passage ends beautifully with the phrase So the two of them walked on together. Here they are, father and son walking together to fulfill God’s will for them both.

 

I wonder how much we are committed to following God. Do we really trust God? Do we trust Him with our very lives? Our family’s life? I’ve used the phrase “Talk is cheap but actions are expensive” before. And it is applicable to this as well. We can talk about trusting God all we want but until we do something with that head knowledge, all the talk is simply cheap talk. Just like my son in the story I shared at the beginning of this article, we must do something with our trust if we do indeed truly have trust in God.

That may or may not include leaving where we are now. It may mean various things. But are you ready to demonstrate your trust of God?

Immediately after God called Abraham to take the son of promise to a mountaintop to sacrifice him, Abraham takes action. Notice what is missing. There are no negotiations and no special pleadings by Abraham.

We can talk all day about trusting God and having a great relationship that is built on trust. But talk is cheap. Actions are expensive.

Do something with your trust. Do it today.

When Fear Collides With Faith

nehemiah wall_final

Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

So we come to the end of our journey through Nehemiah. These last few verses we will examine this week provide a nice summary of all that Nehemiah accomplished. God used Him in a mighty way not only to reestablish His people in His land but also His law in His people’s heart. Lets take a look and see what God does in the final verses.

The Restoration of the Sabbath

In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, [m]by profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18 NASB

It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. Then I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness. Nehemiah 13:19-22 NASB

 

We see in vv. 19-22 the continuation of Nehemiah’s actions from earlier in this chapter. Nehemiah is obviously concernd with the spiritual state of the people. He continues reintroducing elements of the Law to the people so that the Law can be reintegrated into the life of the nation. In these three verses we see that the Sabbath was restored. Why is this important?

Remember the Sabbath was a day of rest for the nation. They were supposed to recuperate from the previous six days of labor. This was patterned after the seventh day of creation when God chose to set the example of taking a day off after six days of labor. Though God didn’t need a day to recuperate, He intended man to take one because He knew what would happen if mankind didn’t take time off. For His people Israel, the Sabbath was a stress management tool. Evidently the nation had been neglecting this for some time. Nehemiah, determined to reestablish God’s rules for His people wasted no time in reestablishing the Sabbath.

He emphasized the Jerusalem would shut down commerce for one day a week. He got irritated with the merchants that would come to Jerusalem to sell their stuff. They were so desperate to sell their stuff that they camped outside of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. This served as a temptation to sin for the people. Nehemiah was having none of this. He threatened force  against these merchants if they continue to camp outside the city gates on the Sabbath. Was Nehemiah correct? I think so. Remember that the people were in captivity. They had lost their freedom at least in part for their neglect of God’s Law. Nehemiah determined to avoid that same issue coming up again. So he took extreme measures to ensure that the people not only did not sin but also that the temptation to sin was removed. Good job looking out for your people Nehemiah.

How often do we place temptation in front of ourselves and then get surprised when we give into it? Far too often in my life. How about you? Perhaps we should take extreme measures like Nehemiah in order to avoid the temptation to sin.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

In those days I also saw that the Jews had [q]married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, [u]because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Nehemiah 13:23-29

Nehemiah now prohibits intermarriage. Well, actually Nehemiah reminds the nation that God had prohibited intermarrying with the nations. Why? Was Israel so special that they couldn’t marry anyone they liked? Yeah, they were. God identified with Israel. He chose to glorify Himself in this tiny nation who were surrounded by other much larger and stronger nations. So God wanted them to be totally reserved for Himself. He had set them apart. He expected them to act like the special people He made them. They were not like the nations that surrounded them. They didn’t worship idols. They didn’t trust in themselves. They didn’t act like them, believe like them or live like them. Now Nehemiah was determined to make sure that they remained pure. There were even priests who defiled the priesthood though intermarriage. Nehemiah drove all of them away.

Now while the commandment not to intermarry with other nations does not apply to us today since we are not the same as Israel, there are some things that we need to learn from this episode. We intermarry with the world when we make church about us. The gathering of the saints is for the corporate worship of God not our comfort or control. We intermarry with the world when we make their priorities our priorities.When we focus on the outward appearances of success – money, possessions and position – we intermarry.

We pollute the purity of our life of faith when we focus on these temporal things. Is it time for you – and me – to divorce ourselves from our unfaithfulness?

The Summation of Nehemiah’s Actions

Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:30-31 NASB

The final purification has been accomplished. Israel has been restored. Pure worship in the Temple is happening, the walls surround the city. Respect for God’s commands is paramount once again. Israel is back. Nehemiah has accomplished his task and he asks that God remembers Him.

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When Nehemiah’s fear collided with his faith, he relied on God and doing what is right rather than giving into fear. Fear is a part of life. It comes and invades us. It collides with our faith. So what is our choice when face with seemingly insurmountable odds? Should we cower in fear, forgetting all that God has done for us? I don’t think I really need to answer that question.

We must remember that our priority is the glory of God, not the glory of our local Church or our own personal glory. This is hard to do sometimes. Honestly this is hard to do most times because we live in such a fallen world. But this difficulty doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to glorify God every step of life. Let’s dedicate ourselves to glorifying God not ourselves. Let’s renew ourselves to build the kingdom of God through glorifying Him instead of building our brand. Let’s be people of the book rather than people of the bank account.

Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

And may our faith overcome our fear, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

 

Remember us God, for good…