Category Archives: Abraham & Sarah

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 260

09/12/15 – 260

Genesis 25:7-11 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.

And so we find ourselves at the end of a 100 year journey for Abraham. Remember he was 75 when God first called him to leave his family in Ur. But don’t you think that he had to be preparing for some time prior to that too, just to be ready to hear God when he called?

We learned a lot from Abraham and Sarah (I hope). They had their ups and downs, just as we do. Those spiritual hills and valleys, and the actions that followed, affected not just them but many other people. In fact, what they did with Hagar is still affecting the world today. Don’t ever think your sin is ‘nobody’s business but mine’.

We learned that even though we are living in faith, fear can trip us up like it did when Abraham lied about being married to Sarah to the Egyptians and later to Abimelek. Maybe that’s one of the reasons God tells us so many times not to be afraid, but to trust in Him. I know, easier said than done, right? Here’s the key – you’re not doing it alone. Whatever it is you’re facing, from money troubles to cancer – there are people God has put in place to help you, and His Holy Spirit within you to carry you through. Pray, pray, pray, and see what God will do.

We learned that rationalization doesn’t make right, as Abraham tried to do with Abimelek. Remember “well, she really is my sister…”. God’s judgment is not the judicial system we’re used to, with loopholes and extenuating circumstances. We are either guilty or not guilty – period. No excuses or rationalizing. And guess what. We’re all guilty. So the only question left is sentencing, and that is solely dependent upon whether your advocate is Jesus Christ, who has already taken the guilt for your sin upon Himself.

We learned that whether it makes sense or not, we must be ready and willing to give God everything if that’s what He asks of us. After all, Isn’t that what He did for us?

The last thought – just food for thought – was that in verse 9 (above) Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father. Maybe things weren’t always meant to be like this.

Let’s pray today that all of Abraham’s descendants would come to know and worship the true God and Christ the Redeemer, before it’s too late.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 259

09/11/15 – 259

Yesterday we read about Abraham purchasing a piece of land to bury Sarah. Scripture tells us she was 127 years old, which would make him 136. Just a side note – Sarah was the only woman in the Bible whose age was given or whose death was recorded. This simply tells us how much she was respected as the matriarch of the Semitic family. (The name ‘Semite’ means descended from Noah’s son Shem, that’s where we get words today like ‘anti-Semitism’ for hatred of the Jews.)

Genesis 24 barely mentions Abraham other than his giving instruction to a servant about finding a wife for Isaac – but that’s another story entirely. Chapter 25 is where this leg of the journey will end.

Genesis 25:1-2, 5-6 Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.

Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

The first question that comes to mind is, when did Abraham start taking in these other women? The answer is we don’t know, but it was obviously after the fiasco with Hagar and Ishmael, possibly not until after Sarah died.

The second question is this: why was it okay for him to marry another woman and have concubines (plural) when it was wrong for him to have had a baby with Hagar? After all, one was as culturally acceptable as the other in those days.

I think the answer lies in the fact that with Hagar, Abraham and Sarah’s motive was that they didn’t trust God to keep His promise. They thought He either wouldn’t or couldn’t keep it. So, they took matters into their own hands.

Also, by the firstborn son being someone other than the one God planned, Isaac’s birthright was threatened. Remember, God gave Ishmael a blessing pretty much equal with Isaac’s. Maybe that’s why. The children that would come later were in no way a threat to the birthright nor could they be construed as part of the covenant.

To his credit, we see no sign of mistreatment of any of these as we had with Hagar. Maybe another sign of spiritual growth? We see that Abraham took proper care of all of them, giving gifts to the sons, but still sending them away from Isaac. Why? It doesn’t say that either, my suspicion is that he wanted to keep Isaac’s bloodline pure.

We’ll wrap this story up tomorrow, and start fresh on Monday with the story of Esther. (The Spirit may have told me through my wife that we need to study a woman’s story.) For today, let’s pray for not just for understanding, but for understanding the Word in ways that we can relate it to our own lives.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 258

09/10/15 – 258

Before we move on from the story of Abraham and Isaac, I read something this week that was just too good not to share. In his book The Story of God, Michael Lodahl asks essentially the same question we did “Did not God truly know Abraham’s heart without subjecting him to such emotional torture?” His answer is amazing.

“human faith in God is a living relationship that must find expression in this world through human decisions and actions. Promises of commitment, pledges of allegiance, are insufficient. Faith in God is a faith tried, tested, and stretched in the crucible of everyday existence in this world, in the realm of real sacrifice, rather than simply in some inner sanctum of the heart. Relationship to God is measured in concrete actions, in our actual response to God’s known will.”

Wow. Let that sink in for a moment.

Genesis 23:1-6 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

The rest of chapter 23 is a kind of strange bartering session between Abraham and the Hittites. Abraham kept insisting on buying the land for a burial plot for Sarah, and the Hittites offering to let Him bury her there for free. The exchange finally ended with Abraham paying an enormously inflated price for the property.

Genesis 23:16-18 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.

17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.

Why was he so adamant about paying for the property, and why agree to such an inflated price? For comparison, Jeremiah bought a similar field hundreds of years later for just 17 shekels.

The short answer is this: although Abraham himself was still living in tents, he believed in God’s promise for future generations. Price was insignificant. What was important was the location (in Canaan – the Promised Land) and that the transaction was done in a way that would leave no questions as to who the true owner was. This was the first real ‘foot in the door’, so to speak.

Let’s make our prayer today bring all of this together. Let’s pray that our actions would always reflect our relationship with God in concrete ways, and that no sacrifice would be too great for us to show Him that we believe His promises.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 257

09/09/15 – 257

Yesterday we left the story at kind of of suspenseful moment, didn’t we, with Isaac being laid on the altar? Although, if I were a movie writer, I would have left in the next line:

Genesis 22:10-13 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Once again we might find ourselves asking why God would have tested Abraham in such a profound and unusual way. Just guessing here, but maybe it’s because He was using him in such a profound and unusual way. Let’s face it, up till now, Abraham has fallen down a few times. Maybe God needed to make sure that he was finally ‘all in’.

 

Although, would that really be necessary? After all, God knows the heart, so wouldn’t He already know? If so, then why the test? I think it’s because God isn’t the only one who needed to be sure. Abraham still had a lot of work to do in this world, as he would live another 50 or 60 years.

I think maybe Abraham was the one who needed to be sure of himself, that he had become a man that could truly keep his covenant with God no matter what the cost. That he could trust God completely, no matter how bad the circumstances appeared. That he was no longer the man that had to lie about his wife out of fear. That he was a man in full covenant with God.

Then God did another great thing for Abraham. He reiterated His promise.

Genesis 22:15-18 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Some say that this angel was Jesus Himself, as the text says ‘the’ angel rather than ‘an’ angel, and because he speaks in the first person. Makes sense. The other thing that makes sense is the last line – “because you have obeyed me”.

How often do we expect God to answer our prayers even though we are living in constant disobedience? How many of us are living in intentional sin, every day, yet complaining that God doesn’t seem to answer us, so He must not be real? Let’s make our prayer time today for someone close to you that is in such a state, that they would find a way to change their life for even a few days, and see if God doesn’t start listening.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 256

09/08/15 – 256

Genesis 22:6-9 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

When we tell this story, we usually focus on the faith of Abraham. That’s important, of course, especially if we consider that Abraham wasn’t just born this way. This kind of radical obedience and trust was the result of a lifetime of relationship with God, sometimes trusting Him, sometimes falling flat on his face. I think that’s critical for us to remember, as we all pretty much grow the same way – not all at once, but a step at a time.

Now, this is not to give an excuse for those who are not growing spiritually, rationalizing their lack of progress by saying ‘oh, we’re all on a journey’. It is a journey, but even if you make a journey to Disney World you plan your progress. You have waypoints and a destination, and a plan for how you’re going to get there. You implement that plan. You don’t just get in your car, sit in your driveway and wait, saying ‘it’s a journey’.

Anyway, I think we also have to look at the incredible faith of Isaac in this story. Remember he was pretty much a full-grown man by now. Abraham was probably 115-120 years old. I suspect that Abraham would have had a tough time tying him up and putting him up on the altar if he didn’t cooperate. And, I suspect that once the ropes came out, he probably figured out what was going on. Yet he allowed (maybe even helped) Abraham to do what he had to do, and willingly.

That is a radical faith, a radical obedience, a trust in God no matter what the sacrifice. Not only is this a great example of faith for us, but I believe it may be another one of those ‘shadows’ of things to come that God gives us.

What other event can you think of in which a father had to sacrifice his son, a son that pretty much had to go willingly, even though he didn’t really want to? He even prayed about it:

Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Both of these were called lambs. Both were raised from the altar to become a great nation of God’s chosen – all because of faith and obedience. Let’s pray today that we would grow into men and women of faith like this – that our spiritual growth would be steady and evident, never standing still.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 255

09/06/15 – 255

Finally we come to what may be the most famous part of the story of Abraham – the part subtitled by the translators as ‘Abraham Tested’:

Genesis 22:1-5 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Let me paint the picture for you. Since Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and this was “some time “ after he was weaned, and because he was big enough to carry enough wood to sacrifice an entire burnt offering, estimates put Isaac’s age somewhere in his late teens at this time.

It probably took Abraham quite a while to cut enough wood and load up the donkey, not to mention the 3 days of walking during which time he never mentioned the visit from God. We can only imagine what went through his mind as he turned this thing over and over in his head. Do you think he had some doubts? Some questions?

Had it really been God’s voice? Why would God ask such a thing? Didn’t they have a covenant? How would he explain it to Sarah? How would he explain it to Isaac? And the big question Why?

Every stick must have felt like it weighed a ton, every step like walking through mud. Yet, Abraham knew that God had made him a promise. He was in covenant with him, a covenant that God would never break, even though Abraham himself had fallen short in the past.

We can see that Abraham trusted God by his statement to the servants in v5 “We will come back.” He trusted that God would not break His promise no matter how things looked. Yet, not knowing why God had asked him to do what He had asked, Abraham was obedient. That’s why he is now listed in Hebrews 11 as a ‘hero of the faith’.

But when we tell this story we often forget about another man of faith whose obedience was necessary to make it all possible. We’ll talk a little about Isaac’s part in this tomorrow. For today, let’s focus our prayer time on two things.

First, that we are able (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to remove the obstacle of always having to know ‘why’ when God calls upon us to do something. Second, that we would trust in God as Abraham did – that no matter how bad or bleak things look to us, God will always keep His promises to those with whom He has made a covenant.

Have you made that covenant with Him yet? This is more than simply ‘being saved’ – it is total surrender of your life to Him, just as He gave His life for you.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 254

09/06/15 – 254

John 4:23-24 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Have you ever had someone give you false praise, and you knew it was just empty flattery? Maybe they just wanted something from you. Maybe they were trying to impress someone else by making themselves appear nice, even though when you were alone they were anything but. How did it feel?

It’s true. Sometimes we’re so lonely or so hungry for love or approval that we are taken in by it. The problem is, it never lasts very long, and those relationships founded on lies go south pretty quickly and painfully. In my experience, it’s usually not the dishonest one who gets hurt; it’s the innocent one who only wanted to love and be loved, or to have a friend.

Although God knows whether or not we are sincere in our worship and our praise, I don’t think He likes empty praise any more than we do. In the passage above, ‘spirit’ means with your whole heart, ‘truth’ should be self-evident. These are the kind of worshippers He seeks; these are the kind of worshippers we must be.

So what do you do if you aren’t ‘feeling it’? What if today you have your doubts, or you’re upset? Start with prayer. Just because you are upset with Him doesn’t mean He’s upset with you. He loves you, first and foremost, and has sent His own Spirit to bring you comfort.

Talk to a trusted Christian friend, mentor or your pastor. Ask them for counsel, or just a listening ear, or to pray with you. Or all of the above. God often speaks through other people. Open the Word. Look up a topic that’s pertinent to what’s going on and see what the Bible says about it. You can do this at Biblegateway.com, or Google ‘topical Bible’ if you don’t own one.

Whatever you do, know that you can come to God honestly no matter what you’re feeling, and He’ll help you. He’d rather have you that way than all the false praise in the world. Get through it, and then worship Him with your whole heart – “in Spirit and in Truth”. Have a great Sunday!

Today, pray for yourself in you need it, pray thanks if you don’t, and pray for your pastor as he brings you the Word of God.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 253

09/05/15 – 253

Yesterday we read that Sarah told Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael because Ishmael was “mocking” Isaac, and because she was worried about Isaac’s inheritance. (Which, now that I think about it, is funny considering the size of Abraham’s estate and household. It’s not like there wasn’t enough to go around.) But this is where we see something really good in Abraham – a solid sign of spiritual growth. His conscience bothered him.

Genesis 21:11-14 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Abraham seems to be hearing God’s voice on a more frequent basis too, doesn’t he? That’s another sign of spiritual growth. I think that God speaks to us quite often in one way or another. It’s just that we can’t or won’t hear Him until we’re ready and willing to listen. So Abraham teaches us another important lesson here. We are never too old to learn. Remember, he was over 100 years old by this time.

He knew now that Isaac was the child of promise – the child of the covenant. Most commentators seem to agree that the reason God allowed Hagar and Isaac to be sent away (essentially telling Abraham to divorce her) was to make sure that there would be no confusion as to the bloodline of the chosen nation yet to come.

Abraham was worried because he still felt the responsibility of a father to his child. What a rabbit trail I could take on that one! But I’ll save that for another day. Normally, sending a woman and child into the wilderness with only a little food and water would be tantamount to a death sentence.

So what made this time different? Abraham heard God’s voice – and trusted Him! God made a promise to make of Ishmael a great nation also, although this nation would not be a part of the Abrahamic covenant with God. God promised, Abraham trusted, and God came through. Just when things seemed the lowest, God sent an angel to Hagar for the second time to rescue and care for her and Ishmael. Ishmael grew and had 12 sons, who grew into a great nation. Did God keep His promise? I think so.

v 20:  God was with the boy as he grew up.

Today would be a good day to ask God to examine you, and see if you are showing clear outward (and inward) signs of spiritual growth – no matter how old you are. If you are, are you sharing that with someone (discipling)? If not, are you being discipled? I don’t mean attending church – I mean a one-on-one or small group, intentional discipling relationship. No? Then do something about it – today! It’s up to you.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 252

09/04/15 – 252

We’ve seen now that God had fulfilled the first part of His promise to Abraham and Sarah by having her bear a son in her old age. But, there was still ‘trouble in paradise’, as the saying goes.

Genesis 21:8-10 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Isn’t it funny how that one little sin just seems to follow us around, causing us no end of trouble? You wouldn’t think that God would let that happen, especially in this instance. After all, Sarah was the matriarch – the mother of the Jewish nation! So once again, we find ourselves asking ‘why’?

I can see 2 possibilities right off. First, Sarah apparently never repented of her sin of having Hagar sleep with Abraham to conceive a child. The second is simply that even when we do repent of our sin, that act of repentance, no matter how sincere, doesn’t erase the consequences of what we’ve done.

Remember, consequences are the natural result of an action or inaction – they are not a punishment. They can be good or bad. Sarah and Abraham decided to use Hagar (their slave) to have a child rather than wait for God, the natural consequence is that – you guessed it – there’s a child! And, as most people with 2 or more children can tell you, there is usually some rivalry or jealousy between siblings.

I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon on Sarah’s reaction to Ishmael’s making fun of little Isaac, possibly because there’s really not much good to say about it. It was within her power to re-assign Hagar and-or Ishmael. She could have simply treated Ishmael as her own child, which would have been culturally acceptable. She could just have disciplined Ishmael in a more reasonable way.

But although I believe she wanted this sibling rivalry (I don’t even want to use the word ‘bullying’ here because I think it’s too strong a word) to stop, my gut feeling is that she really just didn’t want to face the evidence of her sin and poor judgment every day – and that’s what she saw whenever she saw little Ishmael running around playing with the other kids. She had Isaac now, so Ishmael simply wasn’t needed. He was just a painful reminder of a really poor decision – and a potential threat to Isaac’s birthright besides.

I think we’ve all had those low points, made those poor decisions, and acted on them. Sometimes the consequences are short-lived; sometimes they follow us for life. Sometimes they are minor, other times they’re deadly. Even accepting Jesus as our Savior doesn’t erase the consequences of what we’ve done. But it does help us to know better how to be at peace with them.

Let’s make that our prayer today. If there is sin of which you still need to repent, there’s no better time than now. If there are consequences that are plaguing you, God can help you to find peace. Do the first before you ask for the second.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 251

09/03/15 – 251

Genesis 21:1-7  Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

After all the ups and downs of faith in both Abraham and Sarah, God came through anyway! All they had to do was to be patient and wait. But then, that’s often all He asks of any of us, isn’t it? Very often, it also seems to be the most difficult thing for us to do. Why is that, I wonder?

Many of us look at this story and are envious of Abraham and Sarah. After all, they had God’s voice at first telling them to leave their family and later, that Sarah would bear a son in her old age. Then they had God’s voice and visible presence in the covenant ceremony. Then the 3 angels who visited them, each time renewing the promise the He had made. Yet they had both laughed at the prospect of it coming true, and certainly acted as though it wouldn’t. At last, not without some help from them.

So why is it so hard to wait? Simply, and I don’t mean to sound judgmental here, but in my experience impatience is usually a sign of immaturity. An infant wants his bottle NOW. After 5 minutes a toddler wants to know ‘Are we there yet’? Even as adults, in our culture we want everything instantly. We even complain when our computers take a minute to start up rather than 30 seconds!

I think our inability to wait on God is a sign of spiritual immaturity, pure and simple. We want our prayers answered the way we want them, and we want them NOW! If that doesn’t happen, we are disappointed, and many will use that as an excuse to walk away from the faith. It’s almost as if they’re trying to punish God by ending church attendance, or for some, by finding a way to disbelieve or dishonor Him entirely.

But the absolutely critical thing to remember is this: He is God. You are not. He can do or not do whatever He wants, whether we agree or understand or not. He can answer prayers (or not) in any way He chooses. He is God. We are not.

Let’s pray today for forgiveness for those times when we took matters into our own hands, and ask His help in the future to give us the spiritual maturity to wait on His perfect timing, and accept His perfect will.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 250

09/02/15 – 250

Yesterday we read about Abraham and Sarah’s lie to Abimilek about Sarah being Abraham’s sister instead of his wife, almost resulting in disaster for Abimilek and his people. The whole situation was eerily similar to the much earlier incident with Pharoah when Abram and Sarai went to Egypt. Fortunately this time, God intervened by coming to the king in a dream to warn him, and he listened.

Genesis 20:8-13 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.” 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’

This sounds a lot like the conversation Abram had with Pharoah in Genesis 12. But this time he added something.

v12-13: Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

Do you recognize it? We call it rationalization. In Egypt, He just said he was afraid for his life. This time around, he shouldn’t be. After all, he is in covenant with God, a covenant that was made in person and has not yet been fulfilled, right? Why would he not trust that God would protect him?

Then again, we do the same – quite often. Here’s the thing, though. We only rationalize when we know we’re doing something wrong. In fact, here’s the definition:

Rationalization: A defense mechanism whereby people attempt to hide their true motivations and emotions by providing reasonable or self-justifying explanations for irrational or unacceptable behavior

Don’t you see? There’s no need to make excuses for behavior we know (or truly believe) is right. So, a HUGE ‘red flag’ for us should be when we start to say things like ‘it’s OK if I do this because…’

We humans are champions at rationalizing just about anything. People do it to justify anything from overeating to murder. But the key word in the definition above, I think, is ‘self-justifying. You are only making it ‘OK’ in your own mind. Right and wrong haven’t changed.

Let’s pray today that the Holy Spirit would not let us fall into the trap of rationalization, no matter how big or small the decisions we face.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 249

09/01/15 – 249

Genesis 20:1-2 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

Well, the covenant has been made, and Abraham and Sarah have not yet had their son Isaac. But all I can say is that Sarah must have been quite a woman, that even at her age, she was so beautiful that foreign kings wanted to have her for a wife! But doesn’t this situation sound familiar – like when Abram and Sarai went to Egypt and told the same lie, for the same reason?

I think this just shows us how strong a fear can be. Even after Abraham had made this covenant with God in person, he feared that someone might kill him to take Sarah if they knew she was his wife. Fortunately, this time God intervened. Before things got out of hand, he came to Abimilek (the king) in a dream.

Gen 20:3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

Abimilek called Abraham to him and asked why he had done this. We’ll talk about that conversation tomorrow. Then, he gave Abraham livestock, and gave Sarah 1000 shekels of silver (@25 lbs) to make amends, and told them they could live wherever they liked. This is where we find out that God had touched the king’s household as well, keeping all women in the household from conceiving children until Abimilek had made things right.

So many lessons in this story, only time for one today. Abimilek was not a worshipper of Jehovah. But Jehovah was still God. The lesson is this: no matter what the culture says, if God is God, He is God whether you choose to believe in and be obedient to Him or not. If He doesn’t exist, all our believing won’t make Him real.

Find the truth. Abimilek found it the hard way, but it could have been a lot harder. When you find it, live your life according to the truth you find. No matter what the culture says, we don’t all get to live in our own little realities. There is a true God, and He is here, and He wants to be known by you. And me. And all of us.

Let’s make that our prayer today – that our eyes, or someone else’s – might be opened so that they can see the one true God.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 248

08/31/15 – 248

The next step in the covenant ceremony is placing a permanent mark on the body that shows proof of a covenant relationship. We see this in Genesis 17:10, when God told Abraham:

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised”.

Ever heard the phrase ‘That’s gonna leave a mark!’? We don’t know why God chose this as the mark of the covenant, but I am sure of one thing. No one was going to get it by accident, and no one would do it unless he was really serious about entering into this covenant relationship – especially as an adult. Why don’t we still do it this way?

More commonly, the mark of a covenant was placed on the wrist, so it could be easily shown to others as proof, or even as a kind of warning. As a stranger approached, you would raise your hand and show him your mark, basically saying ‘I’m not alone. You mess with me, you’re messing with my covenant partner as well’. Some say that’s where our modern tradition of waving comes from.

After Jesus came to earth, died and rose again, the whole meaning of circumcision for believers has changed.

Romans 8:28-29 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.

In the words of John Wesley, this means “that “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it”.

At the same time, I think we must keep in mind the original intent of the mark of the covenant. It was a visible, outward sign of the relationship with God – a mark of extreme obedience. Even though the circumcision of the heart is a spiritual circumcision, it should still be a sign that is evident those around us – a visible, outward sign of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a mark of extreme obedience – visible through a transformed life and the way we treat one another.

John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Let’s pray today that our covenant with Christ in us will always be evident to anyone looks our way.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 246

08/29/15 – 246

Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born to Hagar the slave. His wife Sarai would have been 77. God waited another 13 years to complete His covenant ceremony with Abram. Why? We don’t know. Maybe it was simply a matter of God’s timing, maybe Abram and Sarai still needed some time to grow spiritually in order to become the people God was calling them to be.

(Side note, just in case you don’t know, God sent an angel to Hagar, who told her to return to Abram and Sarai, and she did. Ishmael would become the ‘father’ of Islam. Muslims trace their family lines back to him just as Hebrews trace theirs back to Jacob (Israel).) The next step in the ceremony is the exchange of names. In modern times we see it as the bride taking the last name of her groom.

In some cultures, the groom takes the bride’s last name to be his middle name. and vice versa. We see something like that happening here. This is called ‘the confusion of identities’. In simpler terms – the ‘two become one’.

Genesis 17:1-5 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “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.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

 The letter ‘h’ in the middle of Abram’s name represents the Hebrew name for God, ‘Yahweh’. From this point on, we never see God simply referred to as ‘God’. Now He becomes ‘the God of Abraham’, later ‘The God of Joseph’ and so on. He does the same with Sarai in verse 15:

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Have you ever thought about this? We still do the ‘Exchange of Names’ today. When we enter into covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, we begin from that point on to take His name. We call ourselves ‘Christians’. The Bible says that He adopts us as sons and daughters. Adopted children are legally members of the family with all the same rights and responsibilities as any biological child, and so the parents become ‘Sue’s mother’ or Bobby’s father’.

This is a big deal. When Jesus said that many people will do things in His name but do not know Him, he was using covenant language. He was saying that people would use His name when they had no right – they were not living in covenant with Him, but still calling themselves ‘Christian’.

We’ve all seen that. We have nice words for it today, of course, to be politically correct. ‘Nominal Christian’ (name only) is one. People ‘on the journey’ is another. You get the point. Today as we pray, first make sure you are living up to your end of the covenant you made with God. Don’t call yourself by His name unless your life truly reflects all that it means. Then pray for someone else – someone who says they are, probably even thinks they are Christians, but don’t really seem to have a clue.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 245

08/28/15 – 245

 Genesis 16:4-6 When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

So, let’s get this straight. It was Sarai’s idea for Abram to sleep with her slave Hagar, for the specific purpose of conceiving a child. He did, it didn’t quite go the way she thought it would, so it was his fault. So much so, in fact, that she is actually expecting that if God came to judge both of them right then, Abram would be completely guilty and she would be completely innocent. All right, all you married women can stop smiling and nodding now.

Actually, the ability (or lack thereof) to conceive a child was a really big thing in those days. Most women found their self worth in this alone. Even so, for the matriarch of a household such as Abram’s, it was not uncommon for a slave to be used as a surrogate. But then as now, people were people. Hagar began to feel superior – and evidently let it show. Sarai was most likely hurt, then angry. Interestingly, instead of punishing Hagar (the slave) she lashed out at Abram. He, being the patriarch of such a powerful household that his people had just defeated several kings’ armies to rescue his nephew Lot, handled this in a manly fashion.

‘Do what you want to her – she’s your slave’, he said (my paraphrase). In other words, ‘it’s not my problem’. I wish I could say that Sarai rethought her position and talked things out with Hagar, but instead she simply took advantage of her position and treated her badly. The text doesn’t tell us exactly what she did, but it must have been pretty bad for Hagar to choose to run away rather than continue to take it, since potential punishments for running away tended to be pretty harsh – like death.

Needless to say, this episode was not one of Abram & Sarai’s best moments. But, I think we have to remember where it all started – with disobedience. Funny, isn’t it, how it always seems to snowball? Hmm…. Maybe that’s why we need to be obedient to God all the time, not just once in a while. Obedience (holiness – living a life set apart only for Christ) is not – cannot be – just a ‘sometimes’ thing. Being a Christian is an all-or-nothing, full time proposition. Partial obedience is disobedience.

The other thing is, I don’t know why we fight that concept so hard. I remember fighting it as hard as anyone, still can’t give you a good reason. But I can tell you this. Once I stopped fighting and surrendered, started living that life of obedience to the best of my ability and letting Him help me with the rest, my life became better than I ever imagined it could be. How could it not? I’m living in covenant with the living God!

Your prayer today will be extremely personal. Ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Is there anything you need to let go of, any area in which you are still doing things your way instead of His? If so, you know what to do. If not, pray thanks for a God that accepts you as you are, and pray for all the others who are sharing this devotional today.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 244

08/27/15 – 244

Abram was well on his way to completing his formal covenant with God. He had been trusting and obedient in most things (like most of us), but still had his doubts in other areas (also just like most of us). But keep this in mind as we read on – God never says that it’s sinful to have doubts. The sin is in our behavior. In other words, we can doubt at times, but that doesn’t justify disobedience. We must still follow God’s laws – period. Abram and Sarai? Well. . . they were. . . . just like most of us.

Genesis 16:1-4 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

Wow. There’s so much happening here, but so close to home! God has promised several times, in person, that Abram and Sarai would have countless descendants. But Sarai figured she knew better. She thought she was too old, and God either could not or would not make good on His promise. (Because He’s broken so many?)

The next item of note is how easily Abram agreed with her. Now, in all fairness, what they did with Hagar was very common and acceptable in the culture of the day. If a woman couldn’t have a child, she could use a slave to conceive and bear a child for her. It was

To me this is a perfect example of many issues we as Christians are facing today, that the culture has come to accept as OK, but the traditional church disagrees. Cohabitation without marriage, divorce for non-biblical reasons, and homosexuality are just a few that come to mind. Yet many churches have bent to the culture and come to accept behaviors that the Bible clearly describes as sinful, in the name of tolerance or outreach.

We humans really are champions of rationalization. We can justify or excuse anything, given a little time. But we’re only fooling ourselves. We aren’t changing God’s mind. He doesn’t hear our excuse and say ‘Oh yeah. I never thought of it that way. I guess it’s OK then’. Another thing – all our rationalizing doesn’t change reality – we will still suffer the natural consequences of whatever it is we do.

Today as we go to prayer, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to examine us once more for any of those areas in which we’ve managed to blind ourselves through excuses and convoluted rationalization. Ask Him to clear our eyes to see God’s will clearly, and help us to have the strength of faith to be obedient to it – even if we think we know better.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 243

08/25/15 – 243

A couple of days ago we said that the next part of the covenant ceremony was for the 2 parties to walk between the halves of the carcasses of the sacrifices, signifying dying to self and putting the other first. Abram would certainly have done his part, but how would God represent Himself? We read on:

Genesis 15:17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Notice the text does not say that Abram had another dream, or another vision – something it has been pretty clear about up until this point. So, it’s a safe assumption that the writer didn’t suddenly change his style, but that this was an actual historical event rather than something only Abram could have seen, such as his dream about the future of the Israelites.

And there God goes again – talking about all those descendants! But all the while Abram was thinking ‘Yeah, right’.

It’s always amazed me how the people of the Bible could be physically present to witness God’s miracles, then turn around and doubt Him immediately afterward. We love Him when we’re in trouble, but when we’re not. . . .

Then I realize that we’re no different. We witness His miracles every day – and yet we doubt.

You say you don’t? Just open your eyes. Have you ever seen a newborn baby? When my son Joshua died shortly after birth, one doctor asked “Do you realize how many billions upon billions of things have to go exactly right in order for a healthy baby to be born? It’s a miracle that any baby is born healthy.”

Medical breakthrough? People being healed of disease for no apparent reason? Weather changes that make no sense? People talk about miracles all the time. I’ll admit, some of them sound pretty lame. “I almost got hit by a car yesterday. It’s just a miracle he stayed off the sidewalk.” But others? A “mysterious voice” which led police to discover an 18 month old child who survived for 14 hours, upside down in a submerged car in an icy Utah river in March of 2015.

It seems that the $65,000 question is then, why is our faith so weak? How can we watch God work a miracle in one moment, then doubt the next? I have a feeling there are many reasons, but here’s some food for thought.

Maybe it’s not always that we doubt God’s ability to do something, but that He will do something, because we so often base our expectations on what we would do in His place. If we don’t think we deserve the miracle, we don’t expect to receive the miracle. In other words, our doubt is in ourselves, not in God. But the end result is the same – we miss the miracle!

Today as we go to prayer, let’s ask God to place on our hearts the fact that His blessings and miracles for us are NOT based on whether we deserve them (let me remove any doubt – we do not), but rather on His unfailing love for us. Then go ahead. Step out in faith. Pray for the miracle you or someone you love so desperately needs.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 242

08/25/15 – 242

Genesis 15:12-16 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

It’s critically important that we make sure to keep what is said here in its proper context. God is speaking to Abram in the middle of a covenant ceremony. This means that whatever is said here isn’t simply symbolic – it is a promise – a vow – a commitment that must be carried out. This is a pretty specific promise of what is going to happen to Abram’s yet-to-be-born descendants over the next 400 years. We know now that everything that was said here came true.

The Israelites (Abram’s descendants) went to Egypt and spent 400 years there, where they became slaves and were badly mistreated. Anyone who’s ever read the book of Exodus or watched the movie ‘The 10 Commandments’ knows that through Charlton Heston (Sorry, I meant Moses) God punished the Egyptians with 10 horrific plagues, and the people finally left with much livestock, gold and silver – enough to start over as a new nation.

We learn a little about God here as well. As much as He wants to give this land to Abram, He doesn’t displace innocent people to do it. When the Israelites return from Egypt, the sin of the people living there will have reached the point where God will say “no more!” and remove them from it. Completely.

I know we don’t like to think about this, but we have to. Can we ever get to that point with God as individuals? The point where our sin has become so much a part of who we are, our rejection of Him so complete that He simply gives up on us? The sad and scary answer is, yes. Absolutely. Even this all loving, all tolerant, all forgiving Messiah Jesus of the New Testament has been and will be at that place with many of us. He’s given us many examples in the Boble. Show me one scripture in which He forgave someone who did not want His forgiveness.

Mark 3:28-30 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

The word translated as ‘blasphemes’ here doesn’t mean bad language or even heresy. It has to do with rejection, which makes absolute sense. The person who will never be forgiven is the one who will not accept Christ’s forgiveness. It is a gift – freely given, but never forced on anyone. We can take it or leave it – literally.

In this case God knew when the Amorites would get to the point of no redemption. Let’s pray today not only that we never get anywhere near that point, but I feel strongly that today would be the day to pray for that loved one with the hard heart also – that the Holy Spirit would find a soft spot to work with. If not all, a start.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 241

08/24/15 – 241

If you recall Saturday’s installment, 2 things are true. First, your memory is better than mine. But that’s OK, soon I’ll be able to hide my own Easter eggs and you won’t! Second, you’ll recall that God had just reiterated His promise to Abram that his descendants would be too many to count, and that the land he saw would belong to them.

Genesis 15:7-8 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

 Abram was getting on in years, and even though he was willing to accept what God said to him, he needed a little reassurance. Rather than get angry at the question, God was more than willing to provide it.

 Gen 15:9-11 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

 What we are seeing here is the beginning step of a true biblical blood covenant. The animals being cut in half represent what has to happen in order for the true commitment to be made – both parties have to die to themselves and put the other first from that point on. It also means that there is no going back – the sacrifices are dead, their blood is spilled – period. Does any of this sound familiar, like it might be a picture of something that might happen later in scripture?

The next step is the walk between the halves. Once a person walks between the halves of the sacrifices to meet his new covenant partner on the other end, there’s no going back. Well, I should qualify that. You can go back on a covenant – people do it all the time, especially when they make a covenant with Christ. “Yes, I know I promised not to click on that website anymore, but just this once…’, or ‘Somebody at church hurt my feelings, so I’m done giving those people my money!’ Things like that. But covenants – especially those we make with the Living God – come with 2 things:

  1. Wonderful blessings for those who keep their end of the deal.
  2. Horrible curses for those who don’t.

These blessings and curses may come in this life or the next – but come they will. I think the problem with many of us is that we really don’t understand the significance of covenant. We tend to think in terms of our American legal system, where we can pretty much get away with anything if we can find a technicality somewhere or a crooked lawyer to represent us.

Let’s make it our prayer today to ask the Holy Spirit to help us look back at all those covenants we have made with Christ – especially the big ones (hint – they may have had something to do with salvation and/or sanctification). Ask Him the hard question – have you kept your end of the deal? Are you now? If not, Ask for His help to change. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. It’s just too important. One day’s delay on earth could mean eternal consequences.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Abraham & Sarah – 234

08/17/15 – 234 – Abraham & Sarah

It’s amazing to me how many of the Old Testament stories – the favorites – came from the first couple of books. In the New Testament, most of the favorites seem to come from Matthew, but that’s not so surprising. Matthew portrayed Jesus as a man who was the Son of God. He showed Him to us in a way that most of us can relate to.

Samson (who we just studied) may have been one of those farthest away from God spiritually, even though he was born for a specific purpose – to be used solely by God as a Nazirite and judge of Israel. For those that don’t believe in free will, a re-read of Samson’s story may give you pause. But Abraham was different, wasn’t he? After all, he’s Father Abraham, one of the great heroes of our faith.

Hebrews 11:8-12  By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Well, I think that if we take a closer look at Abraham’s story as we did with Samson’s, we might find some of the same human weaknesses and failures as we’ve experienced in our own lives there also. Let’s take the journey and find out, shall we? By the way, if there is a particular Bible story or area you would like us to study, please let me know, I’ll be happy to add it to the schedule. Just click on the contact link.

Anyway, Abraham wasn’t always Abraham. He started out as Abram, Sarah as Sarai. His story begins in Genesis 11:26. His father was Terah, his nephew was Lot, whose wife would later become famous for turning into a pillar of salt. We know really nothing about his childhood or even his adulthood up to that point, except that they had no children and lived with his father. The Bible tells us he experienced a call from God when he was about 75 years old!

Genesis 12:1-5  The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household 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 went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Have you experience a call from God lately? Or have you ever had the thought that you’re too old to start a new ministry for Him? Maybe there’s a reason we don’t live so long any more – we tend not to be available for God anymore after a certain age. This concept of ‘retirement’ snuck in, we feel we’ve done our part, paid our dues, whatever. My news for you today is that our responsibility and obligation to be available to God for whatever He asks of us will never end. Maybe that’s today’s prayer. Ask Him if there’s a call waiting for you.