Anxious? Hope is Here!

Life in 2020Our life here in America and throughout the world is changing rapidly.  The anxiety level is rising.  When we get through this pandemic, will we simply return to normal?  Was our normal . . . a good thing?  Perhaps, yes.  Perhaps, no.  Perhaps there are things in life we wish were different . . . perhaps now is the time to make strides in that direction.  Family & Faith.  Love & Laughter.  God comes to us in all these areas of life.  God is life.  God is our hope.  God is our peace for anxious hearts and minds.  Trust Him.  Follow Him.

In the midst of grocery store chaos, the bombardment of COVID-19 news, and the spewing forth of political poison by media’s talking heads, I’m hearing stories of families reconnecting and expressing their love for one another, sometimes of things long overdue.  I’m hearing stories from other pastors about their church members reconnecting with the elderly via phone calls, handwritten cards with words of encouragement.  I’m grateful to the people who are humble before God and express their love for others.  Along with anxiety levels rising, the important things in life are rising to the surface . . . even higher.

We are all doing things differently now.  Technology is now even more vital to our communication.   Online conference calls are rapidly growing in usage.  Churches who never videoed their worship services are now jumping into this reality.  Teachers are developing more and more lessons for online and being used at home (gives homework a new meaning.)  Through it all, God still reigns.  Through it all, it is well with my soul.  Through it all, Jesus is my hope, my rock, my Shepherd who makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  

Rejoice in the Lord, always, dear friends.  For Jesus is Immanuel (God With Us) . . . now.  Yes, even now.

God’s Desire to Save – Genesis 18

Righteousness.   A difficult word to explain.  A difficult concept to fully grasp.  Certainly connected to faith.  Perhaps one could say it’s a faith that is evident through one’s good works.  However you lean in your understanding of ‘righteousness’, we read in Genesis 18 about God’s desire to save people.  Yes, we see God’s desire to rid the world of sinfulness and wickedness, but we also see God’s desire to save…and if just 10 righteous (faithful) people could be found in two cities, God would spare them from His wrath.

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Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was great, God down came to “see”.  This doesn’t tell us that God isn’t omniscient (all knowing) but that He doesn’t act simply out of complaints (nor should we).  God is thoughtful, thorough, and, with what appears to be some haggling by Abraham, God demonstrates His true nature of desiring salvation of people.  Oh, if only the wicked would repent.  Instead, they seek to justify their sin and take pride in it.  But God will not be mocked.  Not by Sodom, not by Gomorrah, and not by wickedness today.

PRAYER:  “Almighty God, have mercy upon us.  Through the sending of Jesus You demonstrated Your desire to save all people.  Forgive us in our sinfulness, not just our deeds but our lack of faith.  Give faith to all the wicked so they turn from their ways.  Help those of us who live only by Your Grace to share the forgiveness we’ve received with others and to tell of Your marvelous love and salvation.  In the powerful, precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.”

Name Changes and the Cutting of Flesh – Genesis 17

It’s been 13 years since the end of chapter 16. Abram is now 99 and Ishmael is 13. Perhaps Abram thought God had forgotten about him and the covenant (solemn pledge) He made with him in previous chapters. Here God not only restates the covenant, He does even more.

First, God changes Abram and Sarai’s names. Abram (exalted father) now is changed to Abraham (father of many) and Sarai is now changed to Sarah (princess).

The second change is much more painful. Circumcision is God’s way of having His sign of the covenant ‘attached’ to His people. Strange, eh? Through this cutting of flesh, through the blood, the sign of the covenant is made. Where ever the Israelites go, they can be identified from the Gentiles (non-Jews). Those of Abraham’s people who do not get circumcised are cut off from the people. So, in one way or another, people will be cut…either cut on or cut off.

Thinking ahead to the time of Moses, God will first cut His Ten Commandments into rock. Looking much farther ahead, to the time of Jesus, we see God’s covenant of love through the cutting of flesh as Jesus was beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross to die. Through His blood, the payment of sin is made, for Jews and Gentiles alike.

PRAYER: “Cut on me, O Lord. Make my life pure in Your sight. I am far from perfect but by Your Grace, You make me holy and righteous in Your sight. By Your Spirit, help me live each day for You, trusting in Your promises of love and life…forever. In the strong and precious name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.”

Wild Donkey of a Man! – Genesis 16

Ever know a kid who is beyond energetic? A young man who doesn’t seem to get along with others well? One who seems to have a chip on his shoulder, has a victim mentality, and is aggressive to others?

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Ishmael, the first son of Abram, born to Hagar, not his wife, Sarai, was that kind of guy. God, through the angel, revealed much about Ishmael’s character to Hagar saying, “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (v. 12)

Interesting to note that the Muslims, in their Islamic faith, trace their heritage back to Abraham through the line of Ishmael, this son of Hagar. While Christians and Jews recognize the lineage of the chosen One to be found through Isaac, the son of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) his wife, the Muslims identify Ishmael as the chosen son through whom God’s promise is given.

In our culture today, there are many talking heads in politics; national and religious leaders and the like. In the sea of rhetoric chaos, the divisions between the people of the middle east (Muslims, Jews and Christians) and across the world can all be boiled down to this fork in the road: Ishmael or Isaac? In our reading of Genesis, Isaac won’t be born for another decade (but we’ll get there soon enough in our reading). 😊 Until then, let us be reminded of God’s promise to Ishmael as well. Not only was his hostile character revealed, but also the fact that God promised Hagar very similar blessing as He did to Abram . . . that Ishmael’s descendants would be too numerous to count. (v.10)

Amidst the blessings and chaos in our sin-filled world, we see God at work…working out His Will, His Story (in History) to bring about blessings and life for all who humbly trust in Jesus, the One sent for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike!

PRAYER: “Heavenly Father, Your word is full of Your wondrous and wise work in the midst of the lives of sinful people. For that I am grateful for my life is far from perfect. Have mercy upon me and all Christians, all Jews, and all Muslims. Bring us all to trust in You, through the one and only savior, Your Son, Jesus, the Christ. In His strong and precious name I pray. Amen.”

Let’s Make a Deal? – Genesis 15

Ever wonder about how your life will turn out? Will you be married? Go to college? Have children? Retire comfortably? Go to heaven? God reminds us, as He reminded Abram, that His plans for us are good and we need to trust Him. Abram believed in the promises of God and because of this faith, God credited it to him as ‘righteousness.’ Being righteous is a matter of faith, not deeds. Deeds stem forth from being righteous (i.e., having faith). Abram, a sinner, is also righteous. Good news for us today, too.

Note how God made the covenant with Abram. God didn’t say, “Let’s make a deal” and require things from Abram in equal exchange for the things of God. No, this covenant is a Divine Covenant, meaning that it is a “one way” covenant, a deal made by God and kept by God because of His word and promise, not depending on anything from Abram. God will make it happen. Period. We read of the foreshadowing of the Exodus in the days of Moses (vv. 12-15). With a torch and fire pot, God passes through the halves of the slaughtered animals, sealing the deal. In ancient times, the parties who were crafting a deal/covenant would walk through the blood and the slaughtered animal pieces to show their commitment to the other. Here, we see only God moving through the blood and pieces of flesh. Abram is just sleeping. Again, this is a Divine Covenant; a one-way deal where God promises the blessings upon Abram and his descendants forever more. The rest of the Scripture is about all this unfolding. Wow! Now that is interesting way to look at it!

PRAYER: “Almighty God and Father, long ago Abram looked up at the star filled sky and You showed him that his descendants would out number them. I suppose thousands of years ago, Abram saw a star You had lit for me (v.5). Help me take time to listen to this song as a prayer from my heart to Yours. Amen.”  “Step by Step” – Rich Mullins (note especially the 2nd verse)

Winter is Coming – Chapter 14

It seems like a story line from GOT. Kings aligning themselves against other kings. Battling for territory. When Lot, his family and possessions are captured, Abram then gets in the mix. He recruits men from his own family and men who are born in his household (318 in all). They go defeat Kedorlaomer and the kings aligned with him, rescuing Lot, family and possessions.

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The King of Sodom wants to give him a generous cut of the victory but Abram doesn’t accept it. Could this be a bit of humility? It could be that Abram doesn’t care too much for Sodom and their livelihood. He doesn’t want to be indebted to them, or to have people say that Sodom made Abram rich. Remember, Abram was already wealthy. He didn’t need any more possessions and thus no need for an unwanted alliance with what had become a wicked city. Abram is just glad to have rescued his nephew and more.

PRAYER: “Father in heaven, thank You for rescuing me. Not leaving me in despair but remembering me, seeking me, and through the blood of Jesus, paying for my sins and helping me to have a new life in Christ. Help me be content and live honorably in Your grace, peace and joy. In the strong, rescuing name of Jesus. Amen.”

A New Beginning . . . Again?! Genesis 13

Ever need a ‘new beginning’? Especially after some difficult times? Bad choices? Following the encounter with Pharaoh, where Abram made some bad choices, he is on the move again, going from one place to another and he returns to a certain place between Bethel and Ai, where he first built an altar to the LORD after receiving the initial call from God (chpt 12). Abram left Egypt with an abundance of wealth, and so did his nephew, Lot. When they realized the land couldn’t support them and their herds

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(along with the fact that their herdsman were quarreling), Abram and Lot decided to separate. Lot was given the opportunity to decide where he and his family would settle. He chose one direction (near Sodom, before it was destroyed) which was a very fertile land, well watered and lush (yet the hearts of the people were wicked). Interesting how people can live among great blessing and yet their hearts grow wicked toward the LORD.

Abram heard the LORD’S call again, saying all the land which he could see would be given him. God is basically restating the covenant He made with Abram of land, offspring and a blessing to the nations. Abram goes forth and settles in a new spot, near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Again, another altar built. Again, in a new spot. Again, time for a new beginning.

You’ve had those moments too, haven’t you? Where you needed a new beginning and God led you to a good place where you had the opportunity to be faithful to Him. Today may just be that day. A day for you to build an altar to the Lord in your heart and worship Him. Perhaps it is finding a local church that believes God’s Word and worships Him in truth and Spirit. May God lead you to a new beginning, to His glory & your good.

PRAYER: “Gracious God, You have led Your people for generations. Help me to see the direction You lead me today. Help me to trust in Your ways. Help me to use the gifts You’ve blessed me, my wealth, intellect, passion, etc., to honor You above all things. For in this world, it is difficult to be faithful. So, by Your Spirit, strengthen me. In the strong and precious name of Jesus. Amen.”