Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Son Is Promised to Abraham and Sarah

This was an astounding event when three man show up unexpectedly in front of Abraham’s tent, most people would have been frightened and would have either shunned three total strangers or would have at least treated them with great caution. Abraham recognized the Lord and welcomed them extending great hospitality towards them.
Both Abraham and Sarah were advanced in age and her child bearing parts had long since dried up.

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18: 1-15)

This is a story that is germane to this present time, a warning for future generations.

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomor′rah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the Lord. (Genesis 18: 16-22)

The testimony goes on of how Abraham pleaded with the Lord not to destroy the cities if even five righteous people could be found living there. With this act he displayed his willingness to stand as an advocate before God for sinners along with a great sense of compassion for others. He was in effect a shadow of the Christ that would come in a future time. The angels continued on to Sodom and Gomorrah and God remembered Abraham by removing Lot and his small family to safety before destroying the cities. 

The Apostle Paul would later speak of the similar likes of this in the following and still most timely commentary: 
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” (Romans 1: 19-32)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Man Of Faith (continued)

After God had promised him an heir and would make him the father of a great nation, Abram entered into a blood covenant with Him. And God said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chalde′ans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 
(Genesis 15:7-11)

Afterward God spoke to Abram in a dream giving him a view of a future time when his descendants would experience a great famine and travel to Egypt only to become slaves of the Pharaoh for four hundred years. God then promised to deliver them from their servitude. 
“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” (Genesis 15:12-15)

Remember how back in the days of Eden how Eve had not become fully invested in God’s promises and had listened to the voice of the tempter and had eaten of the forbidden fruit? Here history is repeated as Sar’ai once again circumvents God’s plan with one of her own and then blames Abram when it goes against her.

Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sar′ai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” (Genesis 16:1-5)

Even in those ancient days there was contentious moments in family life. Not willing to contend with Sar’ai’s drama Abram drops it back on her and tells her to deal with it.  But Abram said to Sar′ai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sar′ai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her. (Genesis 16:6)

What follows has become a bone of contention down through the ages between the Jews and Arabs, especially the Islamic nations as they assume that Ishmael being Abram’s first born would rightfully become heir to God’s promise to Abram, but that was not so as God plans will not be thwarted by the will of man.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar′ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar′ai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael;  because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “Thou art a God of seeing”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-la′hai-roi;  it lies between Kadesh and Bered. And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish′mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish′mael to Abram. (Genesis 16:7-16)

At the age of ninety-nine Abram had still not fathered an heir by Sar’ai as she was barren and they were well into their years, but God had chosen this couple and this faithful believer to become patriarch over a great nation from which God himself will eventually rule over the entire earth. Notice the reverence Abram has for the Lord as he falls on his face before him. I wonder how many even bow and go down on their knees in these times in which we now live.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17: 1-8)

God then established a sign of his covenant with Abraham ordering that every male child would henceforth be circumcised and He changed Sar’ai’s name to Sarah. 
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  (Genesis 17:17)

(To be continued)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Abraham Man Of Faith

This will be a multi-part series about a rather unassuming and yet unusual man who through his unwavering acts of faith became the patriarch of all who believe and trust in God. 

Abram was his original name, there was nothing especially unique about him. He was born in the Chaldean city of Ur in Mesopotamia, an area currently known as Iraq. Abram was a worshipper of idols until one day God appeared to him and he became a believer, that was his first act of faith. Abram took Sar’ai as his wife after the death of his father Terah. Then God commanded him to leave Mesopotamia for a new land that He promised to show him whereupon God made him a massive sevenfold promise.

God said, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Genesis 12: 2-3)

Abram departed Haram with his family entourage at the age of seventy five, this was the cement in the second leg of Abram’s profession of faith which always requires action as a response to the word of God to make faith valid. Who among us would pack up and leave our home of seventy five years for a distant and unknown land?
Abram was by this time a man with considerable possessions, flocks and shepherds in his employ, the prospect of moving to an unknown location must have been daunting!

Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
True faith requires action; “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” 
(James 2:14-17)

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sar′ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12: 4-8)

There was a famine in Canaan, Abram took his family and went to Egypt for a time and later returned to Bethel and worshipped God. This next event is fascinating and shows what character and how selfless Abram was, perhaps something we can all hope to build on and emulate in our own lives.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per′izzites dwelt in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo′ar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor′rah. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” (Genesis 13: 5- 12)

Abram’s act offers insight into his selfless character. God had given all the land to him and yet he offered the best portion to Lot. God renewed his promise to give Canaan to him so Abram moved to Hebron and built an alter to God.

Chedorlaomer was at the time King of Mesopotamia, while warring against the cities of the Plain at the Battle of Siddim, the King went to Sodom and Gomorrah to collect booty. At Sodom, amongst the spoils of war, he took Lot and his entire household captive. When Lot's uncle, Abram received news of what happened, he assembled a battle unit of three hundred and eighteen men who pursued the Elamite forces north of Damascus to Hobah where Abram and his men defeated Chedorlaomer. (Genesis 14: 11-17)

Abram’s action to save his kinfolk against great odds was the sign of a man with a shepherd’s heart. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie′zer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15: 1-6)

It is clear then that Abram’s faithfulness was key to his relationship with God. Would that we could hear God’s voice as clearly as Abram did? Perhaps we aren’t listening and have become desensitized by the noise of the world around us and the busyness of our own lives. The only answer we have in present time and circumstances is to spend a little quality time each day in the word of God, the holy bible. God said, 
“You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)
Know this, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17)

By God’s word we are convicted of sin and righteousness and what we must do to change the course of our lives and become pleasing to God.“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

As we grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ so grows our faith and our faithfulness which is the active response to the will of God as He reveals Himself to us. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

(To be continued)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Broken Heart Of A Man Called Ernie

I once met an Alaskan Inuit Indian named Ernie, he had been a rabid alcoholic who lived in the doorways and service alleys of a six square block area in a major American city. One of his legs was a full inch shorter than the other, he had been run over by a delivery truck as he slept under a large piece of cardboard in a service alley. It broke his leg so badly that sharp shards of bone protruding from his shin had to be removed and the ends trimmed. 

While he was in the county hospital he was told of a program at the University Health Sciences Building offering hard core alcoholics a certain amount of cash that would be paid following participation in a study. Participants would be given a number of glasses of whiskey each day laced with a radioactive iodine, and would be scanned daily to track where it goes and how it affects the organs of the human body. Ernie signed on immediately and went through the entire course. When the study was over he went to collect his money and they were astounded, the study was done on terminal alcoholics and he was the sole survivor.

Not long after that one of his siblings from Alaska who had been looking for him finally located him and told him that he needed to return to Alaska as their father was dying and wanted to see him. He was adamantly opposed and never wanted to see him again, because when Ernie’s mother passed away his father had put the children up for adoption, Ernie felt that they had been abandoned, his life went downhill and he was unable to forgive his father remaining estranged for many years. He knew in his heart that it was time to make amends and he returned to Alaska only to find that his father had passed away.

Ernie had been sober for several months, he had given his heart to Jesus Christ as he had been fearful of reverting back to his previous lifestyle and wanted his life to change. He sought out a Catholic priest who had been working with alcoholics and told him the story of his life, of his hatred for his father and yet how badly he felt at not being able to be reconciled to his father before his passing. The wise old priest told him to write a letter to his deceased father telling him that he forgives him for abandoning him and how he had lived his life in filth and squalor as a miserable alcoholic and then to bring the letter to him. Ernie wrote a heartfelt letter and brought it to the priest who was sitting in a chair, he had Ernie kneel beside him and read the letter to him. As tears ran down Ernie’s cheeks the priest placed his hand on his head and said, "Ernie, I forgive you in the name of your father."

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

As Ernie related this story to me he stood there clean and sober, shaved with a beautiful head of grey hair. He was wearing an expensive three piece suit. He had gotten his life together and was now the CEO of a very successful drug and alcohol treatment center for Native Americans. His own story was similar to the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32)

He is not alone, there are many prodigal sons and daughters in the world and all need a change of heart and cleansing of the soul that only a confession and a relationship with Jesus Christ will bring.