Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

have faithAre you facing a seemingly impossible situation in your life? Is there an apparently irretrievable breakdown in a relationship? A health issue? An almost impossible challenge in your job? Is there a habit or addiction that you are finding hard to break?

Whatever challenges you may face in the year ahead, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Abraham was a hundred years old. His wife Sarah was ninety. God promised them a son. They said, in effect, ‘that is impossible’. This is the context of the great rhetorical question: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:14). The answer is ‘no’. If Sarah could conceive when ‘already very old, and … past the age of childbearing’ (v.11), then nothing is too hard for the Lord.

In our passages for today we see three great challenges that all of us will face in the year ahead. In each of these challenges we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

1. Resisting the temptations

Proverbs 1:8-19

Jesus never tells us to withdraw from the world. The challenge is to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. We are called to resist the temptations of the world around us.

The book of Proverbs gives us practical advice on how to achieve that balance: ‘Don’t let others entice you into sin’; ‘If bad companions tempt you, don’t go along with them (v.9, MSG). ‘If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood …” ’ (v.11), we are not to give in to them.

Before I knew the Lord, I noticed how many people were led into a life of sin by others saying to them, ‘Come along with us’.

In the midst of the global financial crisis, some banks in the US defended unethical practices on the basis that other banks were doing the same thing. In 2013, many celebrities from the 1960s and 1970s were defending past sexual offenses on the basis that the behavior was common practice at the time.

Don’t be led into sin by the fact that everybody else seems to be doing something – getting drunk, being promiscuous or avoiding travel fares. The book of Proverbs warns us, ‘Don’t follow the crowd’ – ‘Do not set foot on their paths’ (v.15). Something is not acceptable just because others are doing it. I can’t justify my actions on the basis that it is the way in which the world works.

In the end, if our ‘feet rush into sin’ (v.16), or we go after ‘ill-gotten gain’ (v.19a), it is a path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). ‘When you grab all you can get, that’s what happens: the more you get, the less you are’ (Proverbs 1:19, MSG).

Lord, the enticement of the world is very strong. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ Lord, I pray that in the year ahead you will give me the strength to resist all the temptations of the world and not to be enticed into sin in any way.

2. Living the Jesus lifestyle

Matthew 6:25-7:23

Jesus’ words are the greatest words ever spoken. They are so challenging. For example, he says, ‘Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them’ (7:12, MSG). This golden rule is beautifully simple but seems impossibly hard to live out.

The greatest challenge in reading Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount is not understanding them, but putting them into practice. His instructions are clear, but some of the standards seem impossibly high. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?

  • Stop worrying and start living
    Jesus commands us not to worry about our lives or material things (6:25,28–31). We are to think ahead, plan ahead but not to worry ahead. We are to trust in our Heavenly Father to provide (v.26). He knows our every need (v.32). Faith is the antidote to worry.

We cannot add a single hour to our lives by worrying (v.27). As Corrie ten Boom put it: ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow; but it empties today of strength.’

Live in day-tight compartments. Live one day at a time. Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow: ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’ (v.34b). Make a decision today not to worry about tomorrow. Trust God to provide for you each day at a time.

  • Sort out your priorities
    Jesus tells us to change our ambitions and priorities. We are to seek God for who he is and not for what he can do for us. Like us, God does not want his friends only to be only interested in what they can get out of him. He wants us to seek his ‘presence’ not his ‘presents’.

He calls us to take on a new set of responsibilities that are both exciting and challenging: ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be yours as well’ (v.33).

  • Do not be judgmental
    We are not to take pleasure in judging others, not to enjoy seeking out other people’s failings or presuming their actions spring from bad motives. If we knew what people had been through, their sorrow and their suffering, we would not be so quick to judge. Jesus tells us to get our own lives sorted out first. We are to change ourselves before we try and change other people (7:1–5). Rather than sowing harsh criticism and judgment, we are to sow mercy, kindness and love.
  • Persist in prayer
    We are not to be repetitious, but we are to be persistent. Jesus makes wonderful promises of answered prayer (vv.7–8). He promises good gifts as we pray (vv.9–11).
  • Choose to live a radical life
    Jesus tells us to stay on the narrow road that leads to life (vv.13–14). On the narrow road there is no room for pride, dishonesty, anger, hatred of enemies or un-forgiveness.

Humility is the order of the day. You have to give, to pray, to exercise self-control and seek first the kingdom of God. It is a road of purity, integrity, honesty and forgiveness. It is a road where you are required to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ (v.12). You are to show good fruit – by your character, lifestyle, teaching, actions, impact and relationships (vv.15–23).

Lord, as I face the challenge of living the Jesus lifestyle this year, thank you that nothing is impossible with you. Fill me today with your Holy Spirit and help me to live the kind of life that deep down I long to live. 

3.  Trusting the Lord in difficult times

Genesis 17:1-18:33

The Lord appears to Abraham and says, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.  Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers’ (17:1–2).  God lays before Abraham a huge challenge – to walk before him faithfully and be blameless – and he makes a wonderful promise.  No wonder Abraham ‘fell face down’ (v.3).

God makes a covenant with Abraham.  He promises him the land of Canaan, and also that many descendants and nations will come from him (vv.4–8).  This promise is highlighted by God in the name change from Abram to Abraham, as Abraham means ‘father of many nations’ (v.5).  God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah – who was to be ‘the mother of nations’ (v.16).  The sign of the covenant was circumcision (v.9 onwards).

God does not just say once to Abraham that he would have a son.  He confirmed it time and time again (15:4; 17:16; 18:10).  We can expect God to speak to us about major matters in our lives and confirm them many times over.

Abraham’s relationship with God is very intimate.  God engages in conversation with Abraham.  Abraham pleads with him about Ishmael.  God’s response is ‘Yes, but …’ (17:19).  He says he is not only going to answer Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael, he is also going to do more than Abraham could have ever asked or even imagined (vv.19–21).

The third time that God made this promise to Abraham he sent the ‘three visitors’ (18:1–15).  As we read this through New Testament eyes, we can see an image of the Trinity here.  It is clear that there are three of them (v.2) and yet it seems they speak as one: ‘Then the Lord said’ (v.13).

God promises, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son’ (v.10).  Sarah laughs.  She thinks, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ (v.12).

It is encouraging that Sarah also had the usual human weaknesses.  The Lord says to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” ’ (v.13).  ‘Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh” ’ (v.15).  We all are tempted to lie to get ourselves out of trouble.  The Bible never presents the great men and women of God as faultless.  Only the Lord Jesus Christ lived a faultless human life.

The Lord’s response is to repeat his promise, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son’ (v.14).

Lord, thank you that, whatever the issues I am facing in my life, nothing is too hard for you.  Help me this year to continue to trust in you.

Never forget that Like Abraham, sometimes the walls around us seem to high to climb. They are if we try to do it alone, but  for the Lord, it’s nothing at all.

jacobIs it possible to pray without saying any words? Yes. Fasting, for instance, is a kind of prayer without words and yet it is very powerful. Kick that up a notch and you have possibly the highest prayer level: wrestling with Almighty God. Jacob engaged in such prayer and it changed everything.

Actually, before Jacob wrestled with God there was a “words” prayer that went first; prayer that was rooted in fear. He had good reason to be afraid. Jacob was returning back to the land of his brother Esau whom he had cheated of his birthright. He had also deceived their father Isaac into giving him his brother’s blessing. Even while obeying God in returning, he was shaking in his boots.

Jacob prayed this initial prayer on the way back home. “’O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who didst say to me, “Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,” I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to Thy servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me, the mothers with the children. For Thou didst say, “I will surely prosper you, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”’” (Genesis 32:9-12)

Notice how he repeats himself and reminds God about the prosperity twice. He also reminds God there are wives and children to consider. He humbles himself profusely. He acknowledges how God has blessed him abundantly and how unworthy he is of God’s great faithfulness to him so far. Also remember for later whose God he is addressing: the God of Abraham and Isaac.

Besides praying, he covers his bases in as many natural ways as he can too. What could it hurt to have a little extra insurance? Jacob creates gifts for Esau – ones that he hopes are too good to refuse. He sets servants off at intervals with flocks of sheep, oxen and donkeys etc. to cross the land and meet Esau and present them as peace offerings from himself.

Those people still left with him he divides in two. In case one band is attacked hopefully the other will survive. That should show us the degree of distress Jacob felt at the prospect of meeting his brother after so many years. Finally, he sends his wives, maids, children and possessions across the river until he is all by himself. “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:24)

What was this wrestling really all about? What was Jacob wrestling FOR? Was it still part of his petition to God over the fear he felt meeting Esau again? No I don’t think so. But fear played a part because it exposed a deeper issue. A crisis can often strip away our pretenses and bring us face to face with something we would rather not confront.

Who was Jacob?

Who was Jacob at the root? His name tells the story. Rebekah was pregnant with twins and even in the womb they were struggling against each other. She inquired of the Lord and he told her: “’Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.’” (Genesis 25:23)

Esau was born first but “afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.” (Verse 26). The name means “one who takes by the heel, or supplants.” Jacob’s name prophetically described his character, which was a deceiver, one who took advantage, a manipulator. Deep in his heart Jacob knew it was true: he was a crook. His actions had confirmed it and yet his actions had confirmed something else too. Remember that he valued the birthright so highly he designed a plan to manipulate it from his brother. Truly, Jacob was at war with himself as much as he had warred with Esau in the womb.

Now we come back to the essential question again. When he wrestled all night by himself with “the man” who was really the God of Abraham and Isaac, what was he wrestling to obtain? The Lord said to him near morning, “’Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But he (Jacob) said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” (Genesis 32:26)

Does that make sense? God had already promised to bless him hadn’t he? His prayer in the beginning confirms he saw how God had favored him at every turn. He had secured Abraham’s blessing from God when Isaac blessed him instead of Esau. God himself had spoken blessing to him: “’And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’” (Genesis 28:15)

We have a clue in something Jacob said after he had the dream of the angels going up and down on the ladder in the place he called Bethel (meaning house of God). This happened as he first traveled to his mother’s brother Laban in Haran. He said, “’If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.’” (Verse 21)

MY God. You see, evidently he had never yet taken God to be HIS God. He knew about God but he didn’t know God. He was contending for his identity. He was wrestling for his divine destiny. Not Abraham’s blessing, not Isaac’s blessing – no coattail blessings — but HIS blessing. In order to have it he had to give up himself in the struggle.

Jacob’s New Name

Why do I think that’s what happened? Because God gave him a new name. “And he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’” (Genesis 32:28) Israel means “he who strives with God.” He was no longer a Jacob; he was an Israel. This was not the stolen blessing from Esau but his own blessing obtained honestly in the wrestling match.

Yes, he now had it but not without price. He was left with a permanent mark of the struggle. God “touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” (Verse 25) He limped for the rest of his life.

Jacob’s limp is a good reminder to any of us who would aspire to wrestle with God. What though if our own identity is at stake? What if we look deep inside ourselves and find Jacob there? Is any price too high to pay? Dare we become Israel?

Few engage in this highest level of prayer. I understand it because the cost is great. The question for those who might try is this: how badly do you want a new name?

sinWherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinnedRomans 5:12

Can one man make a difference? Human history says it can, and has.  One man, one woman, one child can have an enormous impact, either for good or evil. Adam, by eating  the fruit which God said not to, plunged himself and all his future into sin. And the inevitable result of sin was death.

The world is full of “if onlys”. If only Adam had not eaten of that fruit! If only the people had listened to Noah‘s preaching! If only Moses had not lost his temper! If only Peter had stood up for Jesus!

On the other hand, the world is full of “what ifs”. What if Abraham had not faithfully followed God’s command? What if David had not stood up to Goliath? What if Paul had not written to the churches?

I pray that your life be empty of the “if onlys” that come from disobeying the clear instructions of God in his Word. May history be filled with the “what ifs” of your faithful acts of obedience to God.

One Man entered history 2,000 years ago and lived a life free of “if onlys” so that we might live lives free of regret and full of joy, in his service and to his credit. Jesus unwound the “if onlys” of Adam’s sin and its effects and wove them into a beautiful tapestry of grace, to the glory of his name.

trustGod is God and He is Able — Mo Matter What the Circumstances Are God Can Do It

Fear is the believer’s greatest enemy. When a believer has fear, he cannot have believing faith. Fear paralyzes, frustrates and cripples. Fear also involves torment as as 1 John 4:18 states. Someone said, “Fear is the prison of the heart.” Trusting God in hard times requires refusing to be frightened, refusing to be immobilized, refusing to panic.

In his first Inaugural Address in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt said these famous words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Regardless of one’s partisanship, these words still ring true.

God’s Word is filled with powerful exhortations to not be afraid. In Deuteronomy 31:8, Moses said, “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” Isaiah was told to “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 35:4; 41:13)

In Genesis 26:1 and following, God’s Word records that there was a famine in the land. Abraham may have told his son, Isaac, about the famine he had experienced years before as recorded in Genesis 12:10, and how he had gone down to Egypt. Now Isaac was experiencing for himself a severe famine, and may have considered taking the same action. But God told Isaac, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I will tell you. I will be with you and will favor you with blessings.”

Isaac obeyed the Lord and stayed where he was, trusting God. Verses 12 through 14 state that “Then Isaac sowed seed in that land and received in the same year a hundred times as much as he had planted, and the Lord favored him with blessings. And the man became great and gained more and more until he became very wealthy and distinguished; He owned flocks, herds, and a great supply of servants, and the Philistines envied him.” Isaac could have panicked and reacted out of fear. Instead, he trusted and believed God, and defied the negative circumstances surrounding him.

God is God, and He is able. Period. No matter what the prevailing conditions are, God can still do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20 promises, “And [God] Who provides seed for the sower and bread for eating will also provide and multiply your [resources for] sowing.” (2 Corinthians 9:10 Amplified Bible)

The lesson in Genesis is to not thoughtlessly react, but to listen for God’s quiet whisper and to have a hearing ear to hear His specific guidance tailor-made for the given situation. What worked before may not work now. Isaac could have just packed up and gone to Egypt, but God told him to stay right where he was and plant, even in famine. The results were fantastic, but God is the God of the fantastic.

Author and speaker Dale Carnegie once said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Today’s hard times necessitate trusting God. It may be disastrous not to. Whatever happens, refuse to fear, don’t panic, but first seek God’s counsel. If it is unclear at the time, seek the counsel of proven Christian people. God can speak through them, too. No matter what is going on, remember what Jesus said. “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

Jesus walked upon this earth. He was born and He died. How do we know this? We know it for three reasons.

The Personal Witness Of The Saints

Acts 10:39-41 says, “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead.”

Over 500 people saw Jesus after His death and most of these died because of their belief. Let me say, a man may live for a lie, but would he die for one?

The Prophetic Witness Of The Scriptures

Acts 10:43 says, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins.” When the writer says “all the prophets,” he is talking about the prophets from Genesis to Malachi (remember, the New Testament hadn’t been written yet).

In Genesis 3, we read about the One who will bruise the head of the serpent. In Genesis 12, He is going to come from the seed of Abraham. In Genesis 22, we read about the sacrifice of Isaac on the very mountain where Jesus was later crucified! The entire book of Leviticus is filled with pictures of blood-atoning sacrifices for sin. You’ll read about the prophetic crucifixion of Jesus in Psalm 22. In Micah 5:2, it is told clearly that Jesus will be born in Bethlehem.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is: there is but one plan of salvation in all the Bible and that is through the blood-atoning sacrifice of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The Powerful Witness Of The Spirit

The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and says, “Amen. It is written. It is truth.” I thank God that I don’t have to try and talk you into believing Jesus. If there’s anything I can talk you into, there’s someone who can talk you right out of it!

1 John 5:9-11 says, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”

Taken from “Our Mediator” by Love Worth Finding Ministries (used by permission).