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.

Journeys with Abraham Part 1

January 29, 2014

Journeys with Abraham

I want to spend some time looking at Abraham’s life as an encouragement in our walk with the Father. I will begin by laying out some history and basic facts then look at his life from our perspective and from the Father’s perspective. Abraham is introduced in Genesis and most of what we know about his spiritual journey is found in Genesis. However to get a sense of how important he is in our spiritual history, he is also referenced in 1 & 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Act, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, James and 1 Peter. Quite a list!

So what do we know about Abraham’s background, decisions and walk with Yahweh? We know that Abraham was from Ur (Gen. 27:11-31, Neh. 9:7, Acts 7:1-4). We are also often told that he left a great city. It is more probable that he left a smaller less significant city. Ur was a large city on the banks of the Euphrates river about 50 km West of where it joined the Tigris and then emptied into the Persian Gulf. However scripture says Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, and as one commentary notes,

Ur of the Chaldees. It has been somewhat of a mystery why this southern city would be referred to as Ur of the Chaldees—since at this time the Chaldeans were settled primarily in the northern section of Mesopotamia. An alternative was provided when textual evidence from Mesopotamia began to produce evidence of a smaller town by the name of Ur in the northern region, not far from Haran (where Terah moves his family). This town could logically be referred to as Ur of the Chaldees to differentiate it from the well-known Ur in the south. This would also explain why Abraham’s family is always seen as having its homeland in “Paddan Aram” or “Aram Naharaim” (24:10; 28:2, descriptions of northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates). Bible Background Commentary – The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.

So Abraham appears to be from this northern city of Ur. From here the family moved to nearby Haran and then Abraham, Lot and their families moved to Canaan, which became modern day and ancient Israel. Here we have an anomaly introduced in how Abraham’s life is generally understood and it has implications for our walk with Jesus. To understand it we must be careful to let scripture interpret scripture.

It is generally taught that Abraham left Ur when he was called by Yahweh, we have that testimony in Hebrews.

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 (NKJV)

So it appears that we have a call by Yahweh, a response by Abraham and on we go. This seems to be affirmed by Stephen,

1  Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2  And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3  and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4  Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.” Acts 7:1-4 (NKJV)

Our anomaly is that while Hebrews 11:8 informed us that Abraham obeyed and left when called, and this seems to be affirmed by Stephen, a careful reading of Genesis suggests something different. Below is a passage of scripture that will clarify this.

27  This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. 28  And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29  Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. 30  But Sarai was barren; she had no child. 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. 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. Genesis 11:27-12:5 (NKJV)

An important point here is that Abraham is at this point known as Abram, Yahweh has not yet changed his name to Abraham. I will however simply refer to him as Abraham and cover the significance when we come to his name change. We know from what Stephen said that Yahweh appeared to Abraham while he was still in Ur. Whether this was a vision or an actual encounter we do not know. This appearance is affirmed in Gen. 12:1-3 where we even have recorded what Yahweh spoke to Abraham. However, verse one says Yahweh ‘had’ spoken to Abraham (in Ur) and then verse 4 says Abraham departed, however it says he departed from Haran. So we know from letting scripture interpret scripture that Abraham was called while in Ur and responded from Haran. So while Hebrews presents a picture of instant obedience (By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called) the chronology of history in Genesis does not support this presentation. In my next post I will get into why this is so and how it applies to our lives.

Walking by the Word

In my previous two posts I talked about the place of scripture in our lives. I want to take that a bit further and talk about what it means to walk by His word. Many years ago, actually over two decades ago, I decided I would write about what it meant to walk in the Spirit. Once I began I realized I didn’t really have much to say! I needed far more experience in walking with Him to be able to say something of value on the subject. Now that I have had a bit more experience I have a little more to say. However, I also notice that my frame of reference has shifted. Part of that shift is that I see a very strong connection between walking in the Spirit and walking by the word.

Below are two passages that reference walking in the Spirit (see also Rom. 8:9-14).

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 (NKJV)

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NKJV)

What we find in these passages is that when we walk in the Spirit we fulfill the righteous requirements of the law through Jesus sacrifice. We also find that our life is in the Spirit so we should walk in the Spirit. So how do we do that? There is an expression that most in evangelical circles will be familiar with. ‘The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.’ Let me suggest another version, ‘The Spirit of God will never lead you where the Word of God cannot keep you.’ Walking in the Spirit requires learning to hear His voice and discern His leading in our lives. Because He calls each of us into a unique relationship with Him our experience of His leading may vary but it will never contradict His word.

He may lead us through things like inner promptings, through highlighting a scripture verse or passage, or through someone constantly coming to mind (this is not an exhaustive list). Inner promptings may be a sense of something to do, or a sense to call someone. We may come across a scripture that speaks to our experience. We may keep thinking about someone and often that means He is calling us to pray for someone. We may meet someone who reminds us of someone we have not seen for a long time, it may be a call to intercede for the one we are reminded of. As we open ourselves to these experiences we learn to discern and how to hear His voice.

Let me share an example from a number of years ago that played out over a number of years but included some of the elements I mentioned above. We lived on an acreage and I had a sense we were to move so I began praying about it and bringing it before the Father over time. This process lasted about 3 years. This isn’t something I prayed about every week or even every month. It was an internal awareness I had and included regular prayer about it. Then at one point we decided to have a garage sale. At this point, 3 years into praying about this my wife and I had decided we should sell our home and had decided on a price. So back to the garage sale – I don’t enjoy them but on this occasion things were slow Friday and on Saturday morning it was overcast and at noon we discussed shutting down the garage sale. I, the guy who doesn’t like them, said I would keep it going for a while (I had an internal sense to continue). It then began drizzling, another indicator to stop. Yet I decided to continue for a bit. Shortly after that a couple came by and bought some plants. The wife then looked at our house and said something like, ‘I don’t suppose you would consider selling your house as well?’ In the end we sold our house, which we had not listed or advertised, to this couple. They paid right to the penny the amount that my wife and I had previously agreed upon.

In looking back at this there was no scripture verse that said anything like ‘hold a garage sale’ or ‘stay out in the rain.’ Yet there is a scripture that says we are to ‘walk in the Spirit’ and a scripture that says, 14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NKJV) I sought over time to be led by His Spirit and the fruit in this instance was the sale of our home.

The Place of Scripture Part Two

In my last post I included what Paul wrote, 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV). What does this mean in practice and what is the role of the Holy Spirit? The scriptures, Old and New Testament, are our rule for faith and practice. I want to look at how we apply this to our lives and also address Jesus saying below.

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29 (NKJV)

What did Jesus mean when He made this statement? Many years ago I wrote a note in my bible beside this verse. “They stood before the Lord of life and could not discern Him because they loved philosophy more than truth.” We should ask ourselves whether we truly value our opinions or His? His are found in His word.

In my own journey, in my early years of walking with Jesus I spent a great deal of time in the Word, and still do. At the same time I sought a genuine relationship and ongoing encounters with Jesus, both good goals. As I journeyed this way I met a man who seemed to have a deep walk with Jesus and who lived from a place of deep contentment. I spent a lot of time with him and though he had something real there was also something not right. Over time he continued in spiritual experiences but not only moved far away from the truth of the Word, he did many things in direct opposition to the scriptures. I believe this happened because he began to interpret the scriptures through his experiences rather than his experiences through the scriptures.

In applying 2 Tim. 3:16 we need to hold to the truth that the scriptures both point us to Jesus and also mediate our relationship with Him. The scriptures, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, are meant to lead us into a relationship with Jesus and they are meant to keep us in a relationship with Jesus.

In my own walk with Jesus I have at times begun to walk down the road of error, whether in a simple decision or in larger theological issues. What has always gotten me back on track is the whisper of the Holy Spirit drawing me back to align my behaviour and thinking with His word. I find when I hear sermons or listen to people share in groups I instantly start to weigh what I hear against scripture. In my early years of walking with Him this often turned into judgment. Over time I learned to use a filtering process – do I like this person, do I respect this person? I had to learn not to add things when I liked someone or take things away if I disliked their style or presentation. It is important to separate the message from the messenger and weigh the message against scripture. We cannot build doctrine or live our lives from a place of subjective experience. To do that is to make ourselves gods and the arbitrator of all experience.

Having said that, I believe we need spiritual experiences, after all, the scriptures are meant to point us to the one who is the source of all life! How could we ever walk with Him and not have spiritual experiences! At the same time deception is also always looking for an entry point into our lives. We need to measure our experiences by the Word while not replacing adherence to written words with encounters with the Living Word. When our experiences are genuine they will be aligned with the scriptures.

To close this post let me go back to what Jesus said. “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29 (NKJV). The word ‘mistaken’ is the Greek word planaō and it means to,

Lead astray, mislead, deceive, seduce; go astray, be deluded, err, deceive oneself, sin.

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary.

To keep from being led astray we need to know the scriptures and His power. The scriptures are the anchor. However, if we know them without knowing Him we are in a dangerous place. After all, the scriptural experts in Jesus day were unable to recognize the one the scriptures pointed to and they were the ones who engineered His crucifixion.

The Place of Scripture

Jan. 7, 2014

In my first entry in Wisdom from the Word I want to address the title. Down through church history there have been varying levels of adherence to the truth of scripture. Since the Reformation over 500 years ago Protestant churches have generally held to the idea of the scriptures as our source for ‘faith and practice’ and most evangelical statements of faith reflect an adherence to scripture as divinely inspired in the original autographs. What does that mean for our faith and practice? Some say things in the scriptures are either too hard to do or too hard to understand. There is no question that there are difficult sayings and teachings in the scriptures and we need one another to understand and apply them and more importantly we need the Holy Spirit to help us understand them generally and more specifically for our lives.

His word is filled with wisdom to apply to our lives. We can learn about faith, love, obedience, giving, sacrifice and a multitude of other things that we need to live effective lives grounded in the scriptures. We can know and apply them if we spend time in them and sit with them with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. There is a life in the Word but it is only effective when we take it and apply it in our lives. As important as the scriptures are they only have true meaning for those who know the author. People who do not know the Lord can apply scriptural principles and be successful because the scriptures reveal how our Father designed relationships and creation to function.

If we look at the early church they valued the scriptures immensely. They started with the Old Testament as their only bible because they were writing the New Testament. Once it was written it was so valued that even if we did not possess the early manuscripts almost the entire New Testament could be recreated from the writings of the early church fathers because they quoted so extensively from it. Down through the centuries many have died to keep the scriptures available or to make them available. Through their sacrifice, when the printing press and the Reformation took place the light of scripture brought Europe out of the dark ages.

While not many seem to place that value on the scriptures today and many in our culture would like to see them gone, they will never disappear. Jesus said, 18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18 NKJV). Paul told us, “14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NKJV)

Given the importance of the scriptures I want to look at the place they have in our lives and how the wisdom in them is designed to guide our lives. In laying this foundation I will also address the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to scripture. After all, while the book of the Lord is important, the scriptures are designed bring us to the place of encountering Jesus and then keeping us in that place through our adherence to them. Next week I will look at how we keep the two in balance and explain the importance of what Jesus said,

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29 NKJV)