Journeys with Abraham Part 5

I want to camp a bit on a couple of concepts as we continue our journey because these concepts marked Abraham’s journey and are usual patterns, especially the latter one, when we begin purposefully walking with Jesus.

I have worked in the human services field for over three decades and started out working with children and youth. One of the things I was taught in college and at work was that children need rules, routines and structure. These things provide a sense of safety and structure that help them navigate their world and move through developmental stages. Not too far into my career I realized that adults need the same three things – rules, routines and structure. We tend not to think about them as much but they sit in the background ordering and guiding our lives and helping us navigate life stages.

The denial of the idea of rules, routines and structure is like the foolish idea “you can’t legislate morality.” Our heart attitudes cannot be legislated but legislation is just that, rules about what we can and cannot do, about what is right and wrong. For example, speed limits, the Criminal Code, or tax laws. An example of a structure that helps to order our lives is how we drive. In Canada we drive on the right side of the road and with traffic lights stop on red, go on green, and yes, accelerate on yellow! Now imagine driving to work with these rules arbitrarily changing every day, when you wake up in the morning you don’t know if you are driving on the right or left side of the road today and don’t know if today you are stopping on the green or red. A drive on a busy day would be terrifying, if we got anywhere at all!

In addition to traffic rules we have all of the social structures and routines that guide our lives, the familiar relationships and places. Abraham left all this when he went out ‘not knowing where he was going.’ He left his familiar culture and routines, his friends and family, his social supports. In our western culture, although there are now concerns with them, we have old age security and pensions. In Abraham’s world old age security was your children, he had none. Following children, it was your extended family, he was to leave his.

Many of us may have been raised in a Christian home or culture. Though in recent decades our society has been growing increasingly intolerant of a Christian biblical worldview, we are for the most part not stepping into a wholly unfamiliar world when we choose to follow Christ. We can usually depend on some social and cultural supports. This is why what Abraham did was such an act of faith. He went out acting on Plan A with no Plan B – which is why he is known as the father of faith.

The other concept I want to look at is the role of testing and trials in spiritual maturity. Abraham arrived in the land, encountered Yahweh and was promised the land he was in for his descendants. He now began to worship and pursue Yahweh through worship. This is when we would expect that everything should go well for Abraham. Does it? No!

8  And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9  So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. 10  Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:8-10 (NKJV)

What blessing does Abraham encounter in the land of promise as soon as he becomes a true worshipper of Yahweh – severe famine! Seems like a great bargain. However, if we examine scripture we see this pattern repeated over and over; a promise, then a test that seems to be the exact opposite of the promise. How many of you have received a prophetic promise you rejoiced over and then suddenly everything started going in the exact opposite direction?

Why does this pattern exist? He wants us, like Abraham, to commit to walking by faith and believing Him in spite of our circumstances. We see the pattern in the life of Joseph, great dreams, accompanied by some obvious pride, and then slavery followed by prison. The scriptures say,

18  They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. 19  Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. Psalm 105:18-19 (NKJV)

The Psalms in describing this event say Joseph was “laid in irons” but the Hebrew literally says Joseph’s “soul came into iron.” It says this came about because “The word of the LORD tested him.” This refers to the testing of the prophetic promise, the word given in Joseph’s dreams.

In the scriptures we see David, anointed as the future king, his subsequent victory over Goliath and being honoured by the nation, then not long after being chased around the wilderness as a fugitive.

As Mark records the events this pattern is the most obvious in the life of Jesus.

9  It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11  Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 12  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. Mark 1:9-12 (NKJV)

Upon His baptism Jesus is publicly affirmed by His Father through an audible voice then immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to have this word tested. As the Son in human form He still had to respond to the same question Eve failed to deal well with, “has God said?” When our walk is tested it is always a question of whether we still choose to believe the word He has spoken about our life and circumstances. What is He speaking in our lives? Do we believe what He is saying about us through His written word or prophetic promises?

Given this pattern is evident in the lives of the descendants of Abraham, even Jesus, should it not mark our lives as Abraham’s spiritual descendants? We should learn from the experience of the children of Israel, the fastest way through the wilderness is obedience. Paul said these stories from history were given as examples for us to learn from (1 Cor. 10:1-11), may we learn them well.


Journeys with Abraham Part 4

We continue our journey with Abraham. So what is the significance of the land Abraham was called to go and possess? The language in Genesis is very interesting.

6  Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. 7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:1-7 (NKJV)

When Abraham arrived at his destination Yahweh appeared to him. Scripture notes that the Canaanites were in the land but simply points out that they were at that time in the land, not that is was their land. Clearly Yahweh, as creator, saw the land as His and He had a plan and purpose for it. He said the land belonged to Abraham’s descendants, something that is still an ongoing issue today, and that we will explore further later.

When Abraham had his encounter with Yahweh and again received a promise he responded with worship, he built an altar and began to seek Yahweh’s face. To this point Yahweh had been the pursuer and initiator, as He is in all of our lives. It is important to see how Yahweh’s promises built as Abraham responded to His heart. At the beginning of chapter 12 the promise was tied to a destination but Abraham did not know he would be assigned an inheritance in the land he was going to – only that he was to go to a specific location. Once at the destination the promise was expanded to land.

How does this apply to our lives as we journey with Abraham? We need to consider where He has called us to function? If He has a plan and purpose for our lives then we will only function optimally when we are engaged in it. Many quote Romans 8:28 but don’t examine it in detail.

28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

This promise has an important condition, all things work together for our good when we are walking according to His purpose. We know His purpose is to shape us to reflect the image of Jesus, His character. Yet just as He does not force us to choose salvation He does not force us to cooperate with His purposes in our lives. The New Testament letters are replete with warnings about the loss we suffer if we fail to continue to follow Him. A simple example is the famous salvation by grace passage.

8  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9  not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

Our salvation is by grace through faith, we cannot earn it. However, the following verse lays out the next steps.

10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

We should walk in the things He called us to but we have the freedom to choose. A similar passage is below.

12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13  for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV)

The above passage could be paraphrased as, “Do the things I taught you so that His purpose will be realized in your life.”

So, back to Abraham. Our land, the place of promise in our lives, is found in walking closely with Him and being where He wants us to be. However, as we studied, Abraham’s obedience was not complete and utter, he was however walking in the right direction and growing in faith and encountering Yahweh as he stumbled forward. As soon as our heart seeks to walk in obedience He meets us.

Let’s resolve by His grace to continue in the direction of His calling and purpose and like Abraham to worship and seek His face wherever we find Him.

Journeys with Abraham Part 3

I said that in this post I would look at how the first portion of Genesis 12 lays the foundation for the covenant Yahweh would later make with Abraham, how Yahweh began to call a people out of a people, and how the foundation was laid through Abraham for the eventual nation of Israel to become connected to the land. I will also look at the application for our lives.  Here is what Genesis says,

1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3  I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4  So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5  Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. 6  Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. 7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:1-7 (NKJV)

In this passage there a few things to consider. Yahweh essentially says, ‘Do this and I will do that.’ The promises being fulfilled are contingent upon Abraham’s obedience. Abraham is being offered something but first has to exercise faith and go somewhere to find out what he will receive. 12:1 tells us that Yahweh spoke to Abraham and Acts 7:2 includes the further detail that it was in the context of an appearance that Yahweh spoke. The promise is incredible; if Abraham will obey his obedience will affect all of humanity, a pretty lofty promise. He is to be the source of blessing for everyone on the planet. Now at this point Abraham’s world was small by our standard. He couldn’t fly around the planet in a day or know how many people and nations he would affect. At the same time, I’m quite sure an encounter with Yahweh was a little different than your neighbour popping over to say hello!

What is also significant is that the promise was tied not to leaving but rather to going to a specific place, the where being more important than the what. There is something important about where Yahweh wants Abraham to go. Over the years there have been variations of a popular saying in our culture, ‘The journey is more important than the destination.’ A nice sounding platitude, but very misguided. I think the intent is to help us enjoy the journey, and in many things in life that is true. However, the most important choice we can make has eternal consequences – where we are headed? It is nice to enjoy the trip but I would rather have a difficult trip and arrive at the right place than enjoy the trip and arrive to an eternal horror!

So Abraham obeyed and went. He knew that he was to head to Canaan, a geographic area, but that was all. When he obeyed and left and subsequently arrived he again encountered Yahweh. This encounter was in spite of his partial obedience. I referenced in a previous post how his father Terah may have been initially called to do this and how though Abraham was called while in Ur he didn’t actually obey until he was in Haran, furthermore, he was told to leave his home and family, which in the culture of the day meant to leave his security and familiarity. However, he took part of his extended family along, Lot and his family, which later led to a ‘lot’ of trouble.

What do these things tells us about our lives. When Yahweh calls us He begins a separation in our lives. Just as He divided light from darkness in Genesis 1:4 when He created, He seeks to do the same in our lives. He both calls us out of something and to something. In the New Testament Paul was a Pharisee before He encountered Jesus. Pharisee means a ‘separated one.’ The focus of the Pharisees was on being separated from things. Romans 1:1 is very instructive here.

1  Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

After his conversion Paul describes himself as separated to something. Prior to encountering Jesus his life was built around what he was separated from. He now focused his life on what he was separated to, his purpose and calling in life. The same was modeled by Abraham. He had to walk away from something, not by focusing on his current life, but by focusing on what he was going to, he had to be future focused. We need to remain aware of where we came from but our focus needs to be on where we are going to!

If we have walked with Jesus for any length of time we will be able to look back at how He began to separate light from darkness in our lives. We will be able to see where we have cooperated and where we have drawn back, and if we are wise will receive wisdom to walk more purposefully into our future.

Doing this requires vision and a sense of purpose. One of the challenges in our culture is the emphasis on comfort. Adventures are not comfortable. Making a path where there is no path is hard work. Climbing spiritual mountains is hard work. Pressing into His purposes is hard work. Yet is it all worth it for it is tied to a promise. Hebrews 11 is instructive here because it tells us how Abraham did it.

9  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:9-10 (NKJV)

Abraham did not find all that he was looking for but his heart was anchored in an eternal promise. What he received in Genesis 12 was a promise that later became a covenant in Genesis 15:18. A covenant tied to a land and a people. (What has He promised us that we can anchor our hearts in?) Through Abraham Yahweh began to separate out for Himself a people from all other peoples and began the shaping of a nation for His redemptive purposes for all mankind, Israel.

While I did not cover all I desired to in this post, our Journey with Abraham will continue and we will get there.

Journeys with Abraham Part 2

Journeys with Abraham Part 2

So we have an apparent conflict between what Hebrews says of Abraham and what Genesis records. Prior to resolving the difference, let me pose a question. How many of us have instantly obeyed the Holy Spirit each time He has spoken to us? Whether He spoke via scripture, a dream, vision or prophetic word, how many of us have instantly obeyed? If you are like me, many of you have struggled at times with obedience to His call upon your life in both great and small things. In fact in talking to people I believe this is the testimony of most Christians. Yet we are often told of Abraham’s great obedience and how he simply and obediently walked out his call from Yahweh. We also often hear of the instant response of His disciples when Jesus called them. Just this past week I heard a radio preacher talking about how the early apostles immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus when He first called them; he then held them up as the standard of how we should live.

My only issue with the idea of these early apostles instantly dropping everything to follow Jesus when He called them is that it isn’t true! It appears some did respond instantly, but if we look at Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James and John away from their fishing we need to look at the timing and location. This took place at the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel and is recorded in Matthew 4:12-22, Mark 4:14-20 and Luke 4:38 -15:11. Matthew and Mark record the 4 of them immediately leaving their nets after they were called. However Luke provides more detail. We find that the day prior to these events Jesus was in Peter’s (Simon) house and healed his mother in-law. The next day he taught out of Peter’s boat before calling them and they were aware of the miracles He performed before He called them. More importantly, Matthew and Mark record that these events took place after John was imprisoned by Herod. Why is this important? It is important because after Jesus had been baptized by John we find in John 1:29-51 that two of John the Baptist’s disciples left him to follow Jesus, one of whom was Andrew, Peter’s brother, he immediately went and got Peter and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus then called Philip, who was from the same town as Andrew and Peter and Philip went and recruited Nathaniel. So what we have is a group of at least 5 people called to follow Jesus, probably all disciples of John the Baptist at this point. The fifth of the four was likely John as he narrates these events. All of this happened prior to the events recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some, if not all of them, had already been following Jesus and had returned to fishing before being re-called.

How does this apply to Abraham and Hebrews and our lives? It goes to grace. What Hebrews records and what actually happened are at odds. Yet are they? Just like we have ‘halls of fame’ in sports, music or the arts, Hebrews 11 is the great hall of fame of faith and concludes as follows.

39  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40  God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NKJV)

It says they all ‘obtained a good testimony through faith’ and Samson for example is included in the list. What does it tell us? It tells us that in the final record of our lives the Lord focuses on how we obeyed Him! He views even weak and faltering following as a great example of faith. Our success depends on Him in us anyway. He asks us to keep following and when we fall to fall forward into His arms so He can pick us up and point us in the right direction again. This is not using grace as a license for sin. It is acknowledging the reality of failure and the need to keep looking to Him and His strength to be found faithful to follow Him. The key is not how we start, it is how we finish! The more we become accustomed to hearing and obeying Him the deeper we walk into His heart and purposes.

Another important point is that at times I think we fail to understand the opportunities we have in Him. It may not fit with your theology but I believe scripture teaches that many things are more open ended than we may believe. Genesis 11 records an important point.

31  And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. 32  So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:31-32 (NKJV)

This passage tells us that Terah was the initiator in taking his family and leaving Ur with the intent to go to Canaan. My question is whether Yahweh initially called Terah to do what Abraham did? I believe Abraham did what Terah failed to do. Below is another scriptural example of what I am referring to.

13  And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:13-14 (NKJV)

When Saul fails in his role as king Samuel then informs him that if he had made the right heart choices his kingdom would have been established forever. He lost this and what Saul lost was given to David as spoken through Nathan the prophet to David.

12  “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NKJV)

What David was given is what Saul had. I believe that those we read about throughout scripture and those who follow Jesus are the ones who said yes. He gives great opportunity to all and the question is, no matter how feebly, are we saying yes when He calls? A couple of years ago I shared with a friend that I had the same birth date as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and commented on how much he had accomplished compared to me, she commented, “Yes, but you’re not dead yet.” Like you, there is great opportunity before me!

In my next post I would look at how the first portion of Genesis 12 lays the foundation for the covenant Yahweh would later make with Abraham, how Yahweh began to call a people out of a people, and how the foundation was laid through Abraham for the eventual nation of Israel to become connected to the land.