Tag Archives: abraham

How to have faith that pleases God

10 Oct

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Do you know what faith is?  Do you know if your faith is pleasing to God?

Yesterday I mentioned a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.  After teaching that description of faith, the writer of Hebrews begins to describe some of the heroes of the Bible and how they demonstrated faith in God. First he mentions Abel and Enoch.

Then in verse 6 he says this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” 

That’s pretty serious.  If we want to please God, we have to have faith.  What kind of faith? How much faith? What will it look like or feel like?  Will we know if we have true faith that pleases God?

The writer goes on, still in verse 6: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It seems to me that the writer is mostly talking about the intellectual side of faith.  The New Testament often refers to it as “belief”.  It is saying, “I believe God exists.”  That alone is quite an astounding thing to say and believe in this day and age.  Statistics point to a rise in those who do not believe in God.  Belief in God can be construed as crazy.  “You believe in God?  How quaint.”  In our scientific world, belief in God can be ridiculed, or said to be a crutch for the weak minded.  So when we believe in the existence of God, we are stepping out in faith.

Faith, then, is a matter of my mind, what I believe.  But that’s not all the writer of Hebrews says about faith. Look at the last part of the verse.  He talks about “those who earnestly seek” God.

He describes an active faith, how we live our live. God rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As we continue along in Hebrews 11, this concept of an earnestly lived out faith is what the writer of Hebrews wants to illustrate for us through more heroes from Bible stories.  He has already mentioned Abel and Enoch.  Now he mentions Noah.

I want us to think about Noah’s faith.  Was it just a belief in his mind?

Not at all.  Noah did something totally bizarre.  He built a giant boat in preparation for a great flood.  And the only reason was because God told him a flood was coming, and he better build a boat.  For those of you that are woodworkers, carpenters and builders, what would you do if God came to you and said, “I want you to build the Titanic out of wood, because I’m sending a giant flood?”

If I heard God say that, my first thought would be, “Uh…what did you say? I don’t think I heard you right.”

But Noah?  He started building a giant boat.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Noah did.

Next comes Abraham.  Abraham, an old man, gets a wild promise from God: “You and your old wife Sarah are going to be the parents of a great nation.”  In other words, “You are going to have a baby.”  Those of you who are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, what would you do if you had a dream, a vivid dream, and in it God says to you, “You are going to have a baby?”  Many of us would laugh, just like Sarah did.

But in the end, Abraham and Sarah believed and followed through, and God gave the a son.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Abraham did.

Interestingly the Old Testament Hebrew does not have a strictly intellectual concept faith or belief. Instead the Hebrew is the word “faithfulness”, which is active.  Noah’s faith was pretty active wasn’t it?  And Abraham’s faith was too.

Our picture of faith is starting to fill out.  Faith is intellectual beliefs, and it is physical action.  How does your belief and life match up to this picture of faith?

Would your family wait 500 years for God to fulfill his promise? (Surveying the history of Israel up to the time of Deuteronomy)

30 Aug

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500  years!  What if God made you a promise; a promise to you, your family and descendants?  How long do you think your family could stay faithful to God if it started to seem like his promise wasn’t coming through?  10 years?  50?  How long could they make it after you passed away?  What would you do to help prepare them to be faithful, even after you pass away?

That scenario is essentially the historical context of Deuteronomy.  This is a story of a family that is waiting a long, long time for God to bring his promise to fruition.  Let’s take a look:

In chapter 1, verse 8, we read God saying this:

“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Who are these guys?  The Lord calls them the fathers of the nation of Israel.  Let’s race through the history of Israel and see if we can place these guys.

First, there was Abraham.  If you want to read his story in detail, start at Genesis 12.  Here’s the gist of it: God promised Abraham that if he would leave his home in Haran and relocate to the land of Canaan, Abraham would be father to a great nation through whom God would bless the whole world, and his family/nation would be given that land.

So Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their household leave their home and travel to Canaan.  But here’s the kicker: they have no kids.  How are they going to be the parents of a great nation?  Time drags on, and they get really old, but still they have no kids.  It seems like this “great nation in a new land” promise is becoming a big sham.  So Abraham, with Sarah’s permission, has a baby with Sarah’s servant girl Hagar, a son named Ishmael.  Sarah becomes jealous and kicks Hagar and Ishmael out.  God intervenes and arranges for Hagar and Ishmael to return to Abraham’s family.  Ishmael himself would go on to become a great nation, the father of Arabia, but that is not the family/nation with whom God would keep his covenant promise to Abraham.  13 more years go by, and still Abraham and Sarah do not have an heir. They’re in their 90s now! God steps in, Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant in her old age, and they have a son, Isaac.

Isaac grows and marries Rebekah.  You can read Isaac’s story starting in Genesis 21.  They have twin sons, Esau the older and Jacob the younger.  Jacob is sneaky and steals the birthright inheritance traditionally given to the firstborn, Esau.  Esau, as you can imagine, is really upset, and Jacob has to flee the family.  He travels to relatives where he meets his wife, Rachel.

At this point in Jacob’s story we’re now in Genesis 27.  Jacob eventually starts to see the fulfillment of part of the promise God made to Abraham, to make his family into a great nation.  How so?  Well, Jacob has four wives who bear a total of 12 sons.  Baby boom!  God then gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and we’re at the point where the new family nation should be sounding familiar.  Israel had 12 sons.  The nation of Israel has 12 tribes. See where that is going?

Jacob/Israel eventually moves his 12 sons and their families to Egypt to avoid famine.  400+ years go by. During this time, Israel as a family nation grows exponentially, to the point where the Egyptian king, called the Pharaoh, feels threatened by them, so he enslaves them.  He uses them to build great works of architecture. In the process he treats them horribly. You can read all about it starting in Exodus 1.

The people of Israel are slaves, oppressed, forced into grueling labor, dealing with genocide (because the Pharaoh was afraid they were getting too numerous).  They cry out, and God sends a deliverer. This deliverer is a wild card, one of their own, Moses, who through a miracle grew up as a prince of Egypt.  If you continue reading in Exodus, you’ll see that it takes a while, including some amazing meetings with God, for Moses to agree to this new national savior role.  Eventually, though, he steps up.

Moses visits the Egyptian king Pharaoh, who he likely grew up with. Like the movies, some scholars believe Moses and Pharaoh would have considered themselves brothers or cousins.  Now many years had passed, and imagine the awkward family reunion when Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” If you are following along in Exodus, this story is found in Exodus 7.  The Pharaoh is not keen on letting his massive labor force go, and he says, “Not a chance.”  So God steps in again and sends plagues on the land, wrecking Egypt, and finally after the last plague results in the death of his firstborn son, the king bitterly sneers to Moses, “Get your people out of here.”  The entire nation of Israel, likely over a million strong at this point, leaves and heads out through the Red Sea and into the desert. But the reality is that they are following a God they probably barely knew, a leader they weren’t sure they could trust, to an unknown destination.

That destination? The Promised Land. Canaan.  They were headed back to the land God had promised their forefather Abraham about 500 years before.  Will God keep his promise?  Starting in Exodus 12:31 and continuing through Leviticus and Numbers, you can read how they follow God’s direction via a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, Moses leading them all the way.  They have many adventures, many missteps.  There is no way it should have taken 40 years.  God allowed their journey to the Promised Land to take that long because of the nation of Israel’s disobedience.

That is the historical context for Deuteronomy. The nation of Israel has arrived on the border of Canaan, the Promised Land.  The generation that left Egypt has given way to the next generation.  The new generation of Israelites will be the ones who actually enter the Promised Land.  Not even Moses will be joining them. Instead Moses sits down to remind this next generation of God’s promises and all the family nation has been through.  More on that tomorrow as we dig into the book of Deuteronomy.