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?

 

 

Still Faithful

nehemiah wall_final

God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

We come to the end of chapter nine…finally to the end of chapter nine! Have you felt like this was an unending journey? There have been times I thought that this chapter would never end. But like most things, it has an end. finding that end is a bit bittersweet though. I’m glad to be moving on but so humbled and challenged by what was here.

The ending to this chapter is as powerful – perhaps more powerful – than the rest of the chapter. Here we will see the consummation of the recounting of Israel’s up and down relationship with God. We will see the end result of that relationship. We will also see that, unlike this chapter and many other things in life, some things never end. We will discover the never-ending faithfulness of God remembered and praised.     

 

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:32-37 NASB

There is so much in this section of chapter nine I could write for a few more weeks. But I won’t. I promise. The richness that we have come accustomed to is prevalent here as well. Let’s take a look at some key words and key concepts written about in these first few verses.

The first thing I notice is how the people thought about God. Look at the words used to describe God:

He is Great

In the eyes of the people, God is great. The Hebrew word used, gadol, carries with it the idea of distinguished, great in magnitude or strength, and of God Himself. In other words, this is not considered faint praise. Imagine loud trumpets announcing a very important person arriving. Think of all the pomp and circumstance  associated with someone very important arriving. Now multiply that image a million times. Actually, multiply it by infinity. That is the idea of this word when used of God. He is so great He is beyond human comprehension. Wow.

He is Mighty

God is seen also as a mighty one. This word should make us think of a brave, strong warrior type. This is used to once again describe God in an interesting way. They thought of God as their protector – mighty and strong – able to defeat all who opposed. God was seen as so strong that the people realized that there were no accidents in their lives, only incidents. If God chose to prevent anything from happening to the people, He certainly could. The opposite is also true. If God lifted His protection, things could (and did) happen to Israel. So everything came from the hand of God.

He is Awesome

The word awesome is probably one of the most overused words in the English language. This word really packs a punch. We ought not use it so often that we cheapen or lose the meaning of it or how strong a word it is. This word has the meaning of striking fear, to honor, respect, to stand in awe. To call God awesome is to call Him worthy of awe, respect and honor. This is a powerful term that we overuse. While there are many wonderful things on this earth, very few (if any) are truly awesome. Truly, God really is the only One to Whom the word awesome should be applied

Now that we have set the stage regarding how God was viewed by the people, let’s take a look at how they reviewed their situation.

In this section the people plead with God to remember that the people’s troubles are not insignificant. Now what are those troubles? Captivity of course. Even though they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, have re-instituted the Law and sought forgiveness, they were still a people in captivity. And they asked God not to forget about their situation.

Remember in our discussion of God being described as mighty? Remember that all came from His hand either through His actions or His removal of protection. Well we see this truth acknowledged here:

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

The people recognized that God had been faithful with them while they had been unfaithful to Him. Isn’t that how it goes? God remains faithful while we rebel, stray and basically act like brats. But He is still faithful. His faithfulness should never be in doubt.

All that had come upon Israel – and us today (we are not Israel, but the principle is the same) – is the result of our unfaithfulness not His.

Again, the people recount the specific acts of unfaithfulness: they did not keep God’s Law, God’s commandments or His admonishments. They decided they knew better and went their own way. They lived in the kingdom God gave them yet did evil and refused to repent. And what was the result of their actions? You got it – captivity with a capital C. they became slaves. The kings over them ruled over their very bodies and their possessions. The people had no will of their own. They asked God not to forget them in their distress.

Writing it Down

Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

The final verse in this section is the codifying of their agreement. The people were under such conviction that they wrote the agreement down. This was not so much to remind God but to remind the people. It was a kind of living will. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how serious they thought these issues were.

The word used translated in the phrase making an agreement is the word karath. This is a fairly rare word in the Old Testament. It basically means to cut. It would most fit with the idea of cutting a covenant. Now what does that mean? When a covenant was cut, the agreement was made in this manner. Animals were cut in half and placed so that there was an aisle between the various parts. The two making the covenant would then walk between the bodies symbolizing two things. One thing that was symbolized was that the covenant was sealed. The terms were to be treated as the animals – dead. That meant that the terms could not changed – they were dead. The second thing in view is that each of the covenant makers were saying that they would become like the animals – dead – if they broke the covenant. So this was a big deal to the people. They wrote it down, memorializing their commitment to God and giving it the force of a cut covenant.

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So what shall we do with all this then? We don’t have to cut covenants anymore, do we? Well I think the big takeaway from this entire chapter is that God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

Let’s learn from Israel’s examples. Let us not rebel anymore. Let us obey God. Let us rejoice in His commandments. Let us stand for His truth. Let us depend on Him and His Word rather than our own smarts. Let’s live faithfully to the One who is everlastingly faithful.

 

Relaxing and Reflecting, Part 1

nehemiah wall_final

 

Let’s rest, relax and reflect on what God has taught us through His servant Nehemiah.

In a little while I’ll be on my annual family vacation. We routinely head to the beach to rest and relax. I do those two things but I have another reason for taking a vacation: I need to reflect.

Life is busy for me with a full-time job, a blog, writing two devotionals and having a wife with seven children with us. Because of this crowded schedule, I have a tendency to get so forward-looking that I forget to look back and learn from my previous experiences. So in the spirit of a vacation from our normal week, let’s rest, relax and reflect on the lessons we have learned from chapter 1 through chapter 6 of Nehemiah. In order to keep this article to a reasonable length, these lessons learned will be short. But by all means, look back and re-read Nehemiah 1-6 and see if you agree with me.

I’ll break this up into two articles. This week we’ll look at the lessons we learned from Nehemiah chapters 1 – 3.

Prayer first, planning later – Ch. 1

There is a movement that seeks to make the church completely insulated from the culture. This is a mistake. We must be aware of what is going on around us if we hope to reach those in need. Being in touch with society doesn’t mean being part of it. In Nehemiah 1 we learned that Nehemiah was absolutely broken over the state of Jerusalem and the state of those still living there. The walls were down and the people seemed content in the rubble. This bothered Nehemiah greatly. But he didn’t rush off to fix anything. No, he went to God in prayer, pouring out his heart before our mighty God.

Nehemiah’s action should resonate with us in these days. When we see the broken culture around us – both in the Church and outside the Church – we must, before doing anything, pray. Far too often I tend to formulate a plan then ask God to bless it. But if I listen to what Nehemiah did, I will slow down – or even stop – and pray for guidance from God. We need to plan, that is for sure. But that plan must be preceded by prayer. We should always remember that “our plan” is the plan that God gives us after we pray. We should never approach God with a plan of action that is devoid of prayer.

We should always pray for God to bless us with a plan rather than asking God to bless our plan.

So how burdened are you by our society? When you see the broken down walls of the Church – compromising doctrine to attract people – are you broken by that? Are you so broken that it spurs you to prayer? In the craziness and fast-paced nature of life in general, it is  difficult to stop and pray. But it is the most important thing we can do.

Prayer is an indispensable part of the Christian’s life. DO it often.

 

Being real with God – Ch. 2

We find out at the end of chapter 1 that Nehemiah is a high ranking official. He risks that position – and his life – by allowing the king to see him when he was sad. This was a huge no-no in those times. The king required all his subjects to be happy around him. But Nehemiah was just himself – sadness and all – around the king. When the king asked why he was so sad, Nehemiah didn’t hold back. He let his concerns be known.

This is an important principle for us. Many times we go around and think that if we are sad that somehow God is going to thump us on the head. We try to lie to God when we pray by putting on a happy face, dutifully saying all our “Thee’s” “Thou’s”  and “Thine’s”. But God, of course, knows better. We need to be honest with God when we are sad and let Him know – the one true King – why we are downcast.

Seeing beyond the rubble

Far too often we see only with our eyes. We need to see with God’s eyes. If we see with only our eyes, the task of sharing Christ will seem hopeless. Our culture is in ruins. There are many who claim to know Christ yet they violate and try to vitiate his Word every day. We need to see beyond the rubble of all this and remember that God’s plan will never be defeated. We need to remember to always see beyond the rubble to what God has promised.

The right tools for serving God are already present in the church

The ministries of the Church are vast and numerous. We have outreach, discipleship training, prayer groups, small groups, preaching and teaching ministry. Then there’s VBS, Operation Christmas Child and short-term missionary journeys. The task for the church can seem daunting and discouraging. However, a lesson learned here in Nehemiah is that God has already given every tool necessary to finish the job.

Size of the task doesn’t matter – only the size of God

When we consider the task ahead of us – the evangelism of the world and disciple-making of Christian – is so much bigger than any one body of believers, we can get discouraged. But we should never focus on the size of the task. No, rather than seeing the size of the task we need t remember the size of our God. He is bigger than any task ahead or any opposition we face…even the boogeyman!

 

Working for Christ according to MY gifts and talents – Ch 3

We see here in chapter three the use of various talents and gifts to build the wall around Jerusalem. We should learn from this that God supplies all we need to complete the mission God has given us. Rarely though – perhaps never – are all the necessary gifts and talents reside I only one person. We need each other. We need our diversity. While I may be strong in one area, you may be strong in another area. And each area of ministry is necessary and important. Furthermore, even of we share the same gift, we need to remember that the expression of the gift will be different because the life experiences are different for all of us. And this fact is a blessing. Imagine all the workers in Nehemiah’s time were only stone masons. Who would have guarded? Or if they were all military types? Who would have built the wall?

My wife is a stay-at-home mom. That role is quite often reviled in the culture of the US. Sometimes it is even reviled in the church. But my wife is so gifted in caring for our children and teaching them (we homeschool), that I can’t imagine her doing anything else so valuable. That is why we have only one joint bank account. She has equal access to the money I earn because without her I would not be in a position to earn it. In many ways, her job is much more difficult than mine. So relax church, the many gifts and talents are necessary for the good functioning of the church.

Diversity in gifts and talents is a blessing, not a curse.

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So how are you doing with these lessons from Nehemiah? Are they as convicting to you as they are to me? There is much more to learn from this wonderful book. But before we learn new things, next week we’ll look over chapter 4 through chapter 6. So, let’s take a vacation from our normal hectic life and relax and reflect on the wonderful truths we have learned in Nehemiah.

A Successful Day

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

My dad gave me some of the best advice I ever received so that I could consider each and  every day a success. My dad told me over and over to learn something new every day. If I did that, I could view that day as a successful day rather than a wasted day. I’d like to say that I aways heeded that advice but, sadly, I haven’t always learned or wanted to learn something new each day. This is even more important when we consider our progressive sanctification. Am I really dedicated to learning God’s word each and every day of my life? Does the Bible even address this attitude that my dad tried to instill in me? Let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture and observe some important points regarding our learning His word.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:15-19 (NASB)

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. I want to consider a few important truths regarding how we should learn and what the effect of learning not only the proper things but also the proper way. Let’s dive in and see what we can observe regarding this very important topic of learning God’s word.

The first observation I want to bring to the front is that this passage is about false teachers. Paul dealt with people like this all the time. He worked on defeating them and did battle with them willingly. But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the steps we can take in order to be prepared for each and every challenge of life – each and every challenge to biblical Christianity.

In v. 15, NASB translates the beginning as “Be diligent”. Some other translations use the word “study” here. So which is it? The Greek behind this word means “to hasten, exert ones self, or to give diligence.” So both ideas could be included though I personally like “be diligent”. I think it captures the idea here better and the emphasis is on exerting one’s self toward be properly prepared. So the first thing I want to observe about learning is that it is a process that takes effort on our part.

We need to work at learning – and stick to it – to be properly prepared. There are no shortcuts. Learning God’s word is hard work. It is rewarding work, but hard. Don’t be afraid to embark on a new study. Don’t be intimidated by it. Embrace the challenge and be diligent in pursuing to know the truth.

The next thing I want to draw your attention to is the idea of “accurately handling the truth”. This is really important to understand. To handle the Word of God is one thing. To handle it accurately is whole  different thing. Simply memorizing the Bible is not enough. Simply memorizing some Greek terms to impress others is not enough. To accurately handle the Word of God means that we research it. It means we look into the background of it. It means we endeavor to understand the various contexts of it – the culture it was written in, how it was written, and the grammar used to write it.

Once we understand these things, then we can observe what it says, interpret it correctly and then apply it to our lives. If we miss any of these steps, we may as well not even try. Whatever conclusion we draw will be incomplete at best and at worst dead wrong and false.

We are not to mess around arguing about a word here and there. We are not to have empty conversations about nothing edifying. We need to be diligent –  theres that word again – to seek out the essential and true meaning of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t diligently seek to understand His truth, then we will teach what we think is correct. We will teach the bias we have. We will teach what we think is right and it may not be right.

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

 I must be willing to change what I know and change what I believe in order to conform myself to His truth. Then, and only then, am I truly learning the truths of His word. Then, and only then, can I accurately handle His truth. Then, and only then, may I share His truth with others.

After all, isn’t that the goal of learning something new each day. To share it with others so that they are then able to pursue the truths of God’s word for themselves.

Now THAT is what I call a successful day!