Tag Archives: Abraham

Traveling in Overalls

I’ve been on a special journey that began in early 1968. That’s when, during my freshman year of college, I woke up one morning and proceeded to write a letter to my folks that God had called me to the ministry. Since then it’s been 4 years of college, 3 years of seminary, and 43 years of ministry. I seldom set the schedule and never really chose the places. It’s been quite a journey. And my heart is full – full of gratitude to God for His faithfulness. God’s faithfulness is one of the most valuable and precious lessons I have learned along the way,

I wrote that letter in my dorm room not because I had been awake in a divine stupor all night, not because there was any dramatic fiery encounter with Jesus during the night. God had been at work from the day I was born – He had been busy fulfilling the promises my parents claimed when I was baptized as an infant, that He would take charge of my life. That morning it just quietly all came together. That’s why I identify so much with Abraham – God told me to go. He didn’t say where or for how long – He just said go, and to trust Him for the next step – He has never shown me more than the next step. He just said He’d be faithful.

And He has been. I see His fingerprints all over my life and His foot prints all around my paths. I had been born and raised in the church, in a faithful Christian family, and knew I was blessed. But God was teaching me there was more to life than how blessed I was. As Paul put it “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor. 5:15) Jesus didn’t die to make me comfortable, to make me happy, or to make me safe – He died so I could live for Him. I deeply appreciate the imagery that Evelyn Underhill provided when she said that life is not merely turning over the pages of an engineering magazine and enjoying the pictures, but it’s putting on overalls and getting on with the job. That morning of my freshman year I put on the overalls and got to work – and have been traveling in them ever since.

And God has reminded me over and over again that this is His journey, not mine. I never sought out any of the places where I served – He literally chose them all – even the part-time ministry I am engaged in during my retirement. And with each call God used an individual or a special circumstance to make His direction obvious. The absolute truth is we make our plans but God plans our ways. I still recall a conversation I had during my first year of ministry. Someone from Kalamazoo asked me if thought I’d ever serve in Kalamazoo – and I said ‘No way. You just don’t serve in your hometown.’ They then asked if I thought I’d ever serve in Michigan – and I said, ‘I doubt it.’ Well, never say never – less than two years later I was in Holland Michigan and 18 months later was in Kalamazoo! Never say never. Barb, my wife, actually told me, near the beginning of our relationship, that she would not marry a minister – there was no way she was going to a pastor’s wife. Never say never. God is faithful and plans our ways. As the Palmist wrote, “For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Ps. 108:4)

There’s a pattern to God’s plan. We make our plans but He plans our ways. Therefore to travel with God is always to go to a prepared place where God is already at work. That’s why traveling in overalls is a good thing – we focus on the work and God works it out. As I have travelled in overalls these 50 years God’s faithfulness has been incredible. Day by day, moment by moment. No wonder I long for what is yet to come – for even now Jesus has gone to prepare a place – for you and for me. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going thereto prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3) I’ll travel in my overalls all the way – because I know I can trust God – because He is faithful.

Precious Promises

She was our neighbor and a member of the youth group. She was also our occasional great baby sitter. I had been her youth pastor for about a year. I’ve forgotten the substance of our conversation but I remember her expressing concern that I would move to another church before she graduated from high school. I also remember telling her not to worry, that I would certainly be around for her graduation in a couple of years. A year later I took a call to another church in another state. She looked at me with her sad eyes and said, “You promised you’d be here for my graduation.” What could I say – she was right and we were both feeling pain. I broke a precious promise. And when I did that her trust was shaken.

Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to Moses encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses wanted a guarantee, a word of assurance that he could show to the people, that God could be trusted. (Exodus 3:67-9) God responded, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (I am the God who was present with your people in the past.) “At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…” (I am the God who is present with you now.) “… and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey-the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (I am the God who will be present with you in the future.) I am the God who has never let you down. I am the God who has never failed to deliver on my word. I am the God who is faithful to all my promises.

God is both a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. In fact, God has made a promise to be faithful to His covenant. We see it in His call to Abraham – God called him to leave everything he knew and had and head for a place he had never seen – all because God wanted to build a great nation through him. That’s all Abraham had – the promise, the word of God. But he discovered that God delivers on his word – from Abraham, a nation was born. And Moses was called to go face to face and toe to toe with Pharaoh – all because God wanted to rescue Israel from slavery. That’s all Moses had – the promise, the word of God. But he, too, discovered that God delivers on His word – for Israel was set free.

Centuries later, when it seemed as if maybe God had forgotten His promise to send a deliverer, the man named Jesus marched to a cross, shed His blood, was laid in a tomb, but rose again! God’s people – you and I – were set free! God delivers on His word. God is the ultimate Promise-Keeper! On His word, and His word alone, we are free to love and serve – because the future is guaranteed. As the Apostle Peter later wrote (2 Pt. 3:13): “According to his promise, we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth where everything will work right.” We are free to be faithful to our word.

God wants us to be covenant makers not contract makers. A contract states what each party promises to do – you do this and I will do this. But if either party breaks the contract it is null and void. A covenant states what one party promises to do, no matter what. When we are covenant promise makers and keepers, we are like God!

Just imagine what being faithful covenant makers and promise keepers would mean – in our marriages, our families, our schools, our workplaces, our halls of government, our churches. What if, in our marriages, families, schools, workplaces, government, and churches we truly promised, “I am the one who will be there for you” instead of “I will be there for you as long as you provide me with all the satisfaction I have coming?” To be like God is to keep our promises even when we are not getting what we want or deserve. Thomas Carlysle, near the end of his monumental history of the French Revolution, concluded that the revolution failed, not because of corruption in high places, but because ordinary people in their ordinary places neglected to keep their promises. Lewis Smedes wrote, “If we do not keep our promises, what was once a human community turns into a combat zone of (self-centeredness.)” We are free to be difference makers – we can keep our word because God has kept His.

What if you really trusted God? What would your life look like? What would you do if you really trusted God – truly believed that He is with you? What would you do if you really believed that God is – that He makes things happen, that He is the answer to all your needs? What would you do if you truly believed that God was faithful to His word? What promise would you claim? Are you willing to trust God? A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied a matronly woman sitting under a beach umbrella on the sand. He walked up to her an asked, “Are you a Christian??” “Yes.” “Do you read your Bible every day?” “Yes.” “Do you pray often?” the boy asked next. And again she answered, “Yes.” With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?” What quarters do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus. Lay before Him your needs, your fears, your challenges, your dreams. Give Him your quarters – whatever they may be. For you can trust Him!

Ever Failed a Test?

We all have memories of certain tests we have taken. I still remember the only test I failed outright. It was in 7th grade English. We were diagramming sentences (I’m not sure this is even done anymore – although it should be!). On a straight horizontal line we would put, first, the subject of the sentence, then a perpendicular line, then the verb, and then either a slanted line followed by a predicate nominative or a perpendicular line followed by a direct object. Well – I got the straight and slanted and lines at the end reversed. So every sentence was wrong – even thought I really knew the answers! So I got a big, red “F”.

There have been many tests since then, tests that have been far more important. That’s why I frequently turn to Abraham who once had a faith test – and it wasn’t for a grade, it was simply pass or fail. His test began when “Some time later (after these things) God tested Abraham…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.” (Gen. 22:1-3)

God tests us. This whole scene is a test. But notice when the test occurred – “after these things.” After Abraham had, at the command of God, left his native home and headed towards an unknown land; after God had promised him a son, an heir, so he could be the father of many nations; after Abraham had rescued Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah; after Abraham had waited many, many years and in his old age had a child by his servant; after God rejected that child as his heir; after God had finally blessed Abraham with a son by his aged wife, a son named Isaac. After all these things God tightened the screws even tighter on Abraham. He tested him. All his previous trials and tests had merely been preparation for this mother of all tests.

A good teacher never tests us on things she has not taught us but only on those for which she has prepared us. So it is with God; whatever the test, remember that God never tests us without first preparing us for the test. How is God currently testing you? Where in your life is He tightening the screws? Don’t panic – you are ready for it. God has prepared you.

Notice that Abraham passed the test because he was obedient. Obedience is always the primary issue for God. And we cannot obey partially – with obedience, it’s all or nothing. Obedience is total, not partial. The key is to understand why was Abraham so obedient. “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”. (Genesis 22:7-8) Abraham was obedient because he trusted God. He had high expectations of God because of God’s past performances in his life. (What, by the way, are your expectations of God? How long has it been since you considered his past performances in your life?) Abraham knew that God had never failed to deliver on a promise; he was willing to trust in God’s continued faithfulness. Abraham knew in his heart of hearts that God would not lie. Abraham did not need to understand, but only to obey and leave the details to God.

Remember that God’s goal, the purpose of his tests, is to lead us to trust Him fully and therefore be willing to walk forward even in the darkness when we cannot see our way. As the author of Hebrews put it, “Faith is… being certain of what we do not see.” (12:1) Jack Hayford wrote: “People who have to see the sunrise to be sure another day is coming are people who will live in the fear of the dark forever. But people who know that God has ordered the course of this world – and that the sun is going to come up – don’t worry about the darkness of the night. They are secure in the confidence that another day will dawn.”

And sure enough, God was faithful – He provided a lamb. Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac. A lamb in a thicket was God’s designated replacement. It’s not so much that Abraham was faithful as that God was faithful. God had tested Abraham, but Abraham had tested God – and both passed! Yet it gets more interesting. Many scholars claim that Moriah, where this all took place, was eventually a place called Calvary – where God also provided a Lamb.

God had another, more permanent designated replacement. And whether or not Moriah is Calvary, the other Lamb, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed. We do not have to sacrifice anything to receive God’s provision. The Bible proclaims, “Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32 NLT)

So Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac; but he needed to release him. We do not have to sacrifice anything to receive God’s provision, but we need do release everything to Him. But notice that Abraham was in Moriah when God provided the lamb. GOD PROVIDED THE LAMB IN THE PLACE OF OBEDIENCE! When God commands us to slay our Isaac, He is really asking a question: “Are you willing to let go of what I’ve given you before, to receive what I have for you now?” We experience the provision of God when we stand in the place of obedience. Are you willing to be obedient to God? Are you ready to release your dearest treasures, your most passionate love, your greatest accomplishments to God? Can you surrender your control of what you were never meant to control? Can you commit what is not yours to gain what you cannot lose? I invite you to release that which you are withholding from God. Whatever it is – your greatest love, your wealth, your job, your time, your accomplishments; your sexual desires, a special relationship with someone, your marriage; your sin, your guilt, your grief; your pride, your selfishness, your ‘rights;’ your anger, your bitterness; your unwillingness to serve Him, your hesitation to obey Him, your fear of trusting Him; your attempts to control your something in your life – lay it on the altar and release it to Him. Unless you climb Moriah, you will never see the heights nor experience the riches. God has already provided the Lamb – now He’s waiting to provide for you. “We never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for them who will trust and obey.” (1)

(1) Trust and Obey, John H. Sammis