Wednesday, May 25, 2011

God Stoops Low

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. 
Genesis 12:10-20

In Genesis 12 we find Abram making one of the worst decisions of his life. Instead of trusting God, Abram fears man. In fear that the Egyptians will kill him to possess his beautiful wife, he convinces Sarai to tell everyone that he is her brother. (This was after all a half truth. Sarai was Abram's half-sister. cf. Genesis 20:12) Scripture says that Pharaoh took her to be his wife. (I have no reason to believe that this statement should be taken to mean anything less than what its full implications would suggest.) It is only once God plagues Pharaoh’s house that the truth is revealed and Abram and Sarai are sent away with much wealth.

It is important that we take note at the outset of what type of writing this is. It is a historical writing, which is immensely important. That tells us that this part of the Bible is a historically accurate detail of events. It is descriptive of what happened. It is not prescriptive, meaning it does not explicitly tell us what Abram should have done or what a person in his situation should do. Much of the Bible is prescriptive in that it commands us to do things. For example, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" is a command that tells us what we ought to do (Deuteronomy 6:5). But many other passages in the Bible make no statements about what should have happened, they merely report what did happen. We cannot assume that just because Abram was a hero of our faith that everything he did was right. 

One of Scripture's best qualities in fact is that it presents the heroes of the faith as they really were, human. Abram was not perfect. In this situation he was downright cowardly and others were harmed by his sin. "He's not a very good person to build a religion on," you might think. But that is just the point. Christianity is not built on Abram or Moses or David or any other Biblical hero. It is built on God and His Christ. Christianity isn't the story of great men who elevated themselves to high levels of righteousness and caused God to take notice of them. Many other (if not all other) religions are about this, but Christianity is not. On the contrary, Christianity is about a God who stooped low to show grace to wretched sinners. Even our greatest heroes are presented as wretched sinners...wretched sinners that were forgiven by grace and changed by grace. Scripture's persistent habit of telling the truth about our heroes' human failures constantly reminds us that Christianity is about a great God not about great humans.

It should be clear then that Abram acted in a way that is out of line with Scripture in this passage (cf. Leviticus 20:10 & Hebrews 13:4), but look at God's faithfulness. He has chosen this man Abram to begin a new work with humanity. He will build him into a nation that will proclaim God's greatness to all the people of the world. Eventually through this people he will provide a Savior who will remove the separation of sin and crush the serpent's head. Until then, He has chosen to start with Abram. God is faithful even as Abram is unfaithful and over time He will shape Abram into the man that he needs to be.

Remember this week that we serve a God who stoops low to meet people where they are. He shows them grace. He lifts them out of their circumstances and by His grace He shapes them into men and women worthy to bear His name. If you aren't there yet be comforted by the truth of Philippians 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts" (Psalm 95:7-8). He has stooped low for you. Humble yourself and submit your life to His faithful leadership.   

For further reading...
  • Acts 7:11-36 & Exodus 12:33-36: Is Abram's trip to Egypt a foreshadowing of the Exodus? In both instances God’s people entered Egypt because of a famine, they were taken into Pharaoh’s service, Pharaoh was plagued because of them, and they were sent away laden with riches.
  • Genesis 13:1-4: Abram goes back to a place he had been before where he had worshiped the Lord. Why does he return here now? Is this a physical representation of repentance from his sin?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Call of God

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram left, as the LORD had told him...
Genesis 12:1-4

Here is the beginning of God's work to set aside a people for Himself through whom He will save mankind from their sin. He chooses one man. But He doesn't choose someone who is especially righteous (like Noah was) or someone who is especially regal (like Saul was). He chooses Abram. A man 75 years of age, who had no children, and who was apparently unremarkable in any significant way for the Bible mentions nothing remarkable about him. In fact, the only thing that makes him remarkable is that God calls him. Surely it is the same with us. Paul says "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." You may not be special in any significant way in the eyes of our world, but God has chosen to use ordinary people just like you.

God's call requires something of Abram though. He is told to leave his country, his people and his father's household. He is to set out on a journey for a land that God will show him along the way. In fact, it seems that God is asking rather quite a lot of Abram. This is true of God's call to us as Christians as well. Those He calls are expected to leave their old way of life behind. They are to put off sin and step out on faith beginning their journey with Him. Yet people then and now are willing to pay that price because of the great blessings that accompany God's call.

God promises Abram that he will be blessed if he obeys. In fact, Abram is told that he will be made into a great nation and that his name will be great. All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abram... if he obeys. Abram counted the cost and decided it was worth it. But there are far greater blessings for us today. Believers in Jesus Christ are promised not abundance on earth but abundance in heaven. Our name may not be great here, but it will be written in the Lamb's Book of Life. We may not be given a great inheritance of land here, but we will be made co-heirs with Christ of all that our Heavenly Father owns. All of creation is our inheritance.

If you hear the call of God on your life today, count the cost. You will find that what you are expected to give up is worth far less than what you will gain. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

For further reading:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Building Your Own Glory?

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:1-8

At first Genesis 11:6-7 sounds like everything is going great. Man is working together and God Himself says that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Yet God sees it as a bad thing and decides to confuse their language. Why? The ESV Study Bible notes that "The Babel enterprise is all about human independence and self-sufficiency apart from God." Look at what the passage itself says their motivation was, "so that we may make a name for ourselves." Their desire was not for God's glory but for their own.

Babel was man’s first real attempt at idolatry. They were going to build a physical image to the glory of someone other than God (in this case themselves.) Though it is not clear that they intended to worship either the tower or themselves in the strict sense of the word, it seems doubtless (knowing the evil that is in man’s heart) that had the tower been built it would have eventually led to full blown idolatry of some kind.

So God is not against cooperation, unity or great things being achieved by man. But when men's hearts are unified against Him and when we choose to cooperate in sinning so that we can achieve even greater sin, then our righteous and loving God intervenes. He intervenes in righteousness because no one deserves praise other than Himself and He intervenes in love to prevent us from bringing harsher judgment upon ourselves.

So what about you? Are you spending tireless hours working for your own glory? Are you allowing other people to lead you into even greater sin? Has something crept into your life and stolen your focus from your Lord? If so repent and remind yourself that the greatest pursuit of this life is to be spent for the glory of God. The Lord is our strong tower and He alone is worthy of our praise!

For further reading...
  • Psalm 61:3 and Proverbs 18:10: The Lord is our strong tower.
  • Psalm 2: They wanted to be enthroned in the heavens like the Lord (Psalm 2:4), but like so many after them who have plotted to take the Lord's place our God laughed at them. 
  • Matthew 6:19-24: You can't serve two masters.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Your True Worth

And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."
Genesis 9:5-6

Many of you know that dollar bills are really worthless in and of themselves. Well, that's not entirely true. They are made of cotton and currently cost about 9.6 cents to produce.* So I guess a dollar bill is worth 9.6 cents. The point though is that it isn't really worth a dollar. It's value comes not from the cotton that it is made from but from the images that it bears. Those images show that the United States government stands behind it and guarantees its value. In Scripture, we find that we are much like the dollar bill. We are not made of some precious commodity. We are made of dirt. But like the dollar, our worth comes from the One whose image we bear. The Bible says that you were made in God's image. Sometimes you may feel like dirt, but you are most precious.  

This should impact the way we view ourselves, but it should also impact the way we treat other people. In the above passage of Scripture God explains to Noah and his family that the penalty for murder is death. But God doesn't base His judgment on the safety of society, on retribution for the family, or even on prevention of other murders. Instead He says very simply that murderers should be put to death because they have killed one who bears the image of God. The fact that people bear God's image should affect the way we treat each other because to a certain extent the way we treat one another reflects how we feel about God. Jesus takes this idea a step further in the New Testament when He says, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). So if you feed a brother who is hungry, you are really feeding Christ. If you cared for a brother who is sick, really it was Christ that you cared for. Likewise, if you mistreat your brothers, you have mistreated Christ.

It shames me to think of how we have treated those who bear God's image... especially those who have been purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Have you mistreated your brother? Is there someone you need to apologize to? If so, remember Matthew 5:23-24. "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." And be careful how you treat other people, you will have to give an account to the Lord. 

For further reading...