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Archive for May, 2014

Of Tents and Altars

May 30th, 2014

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.

Genesis 12:7-8

Abram and Sarai, with Lot traveling with them, came into the promised land, as they followed God’s plan wholeheartedly. They did not stay on the fringes or the edges of the promised land, but they traveled to its heart, until God told them, “To your descendants I will give this land.” How the Lord appeared to him we are not told, but Abram knew it was God who had called him.

For himself and his companions, he pitched a tent, a temporary structure that they used to move from place to place. Our physical condition requires some protection from the elements, but Abram chose the slightest, and though the tents of that day could be quite elaborate it was still a temporary structure that illustrated his life of migration as he followed the plan of God.

But for God he built an altar, a permanent structure set onto the land. And the disparity between tent and altar shows a profound understanding in Abram’s thinking. Abram would come and go, but the presence and worship of God must be permanent throughout the land. To build an altar is more costly in terms of materials and effort, but Abram’s priorities were established in his heart - the worship of God was infinitely more important than the living conditions of Abram.

The altar was a place of sacrifice, where Abram could perform his worship of God by going to Him through making sacrifices of animals. The shedding of the blood of animals pre-figured the sacrifice of Christ - “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Heb. 9:22) - the cross was the real altar of God that truly removed the sin of the world. Abram’s worship was similar to the worship of Abel and Noah, and among the people of God there was an awareness of their sin, and of the personal relationship they had with God.

He called upon the name of the LORD, and though that name was re-affirmed later to Moses (Exod. 3:13-17), God identified Himself as “The LORD, the God of you fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” There is in the knowledge of His name, an awareness also of His Being. John Calvin wrote, “the altar was erected for the purpose of calling upon God. The altar then is the external form of divine worship; but invocation is its substance and truth.” So the simple worship was also profound and still relates to us today: the confession of sin, the belief in a means of gaining forgiveness (for us the cross of Christ), and the renewal of the relationship between the Creator God and the worshiper.

Here is a principle that people of faith grasp - God must have the first priority in my life. He is not a convenience that I have come upon, some good luck charm that might help me when I need it. He is the all-wise, omnipotent Creator and Redeemer in whom all my hopes lay. He is the First and the Last, My Savior, My Lord, and the Shepherd of my Soul. Dare I do less than Abram did? Dare I build a house for myself, anything of substance, before I have first sought to build a place of worship for my God?

Our lives will not have the proper balance, everything will be in some disorder, until we have established this priority - God must come first! Christ said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). Give Him the first and the best part of your day, tithe the first part of your income, let Him be the first love of your heart, and you will find that your day, your money, and your heart’s affections will be in more order and balance than before. Your day will be ordered by God, and you will find that you have time for all that you require. Your money will be more wisely spent and more sincerely made. And your love for those around you will actually grow stronger.

Christian Giving, Gleanings from Genesis , ,

Abram’s Call

May 29th, 2014

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from you relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.”

Genesis 12:1-2

With the recording of these words a new phase in redemption history begins. The events recorded prior to Abram are precious to our hearts and also part of God’s redemptive story, but with Abram’s call the storyline narrows and points ultimately to Christ and our salvation through Him.

The call to leave half-way measures: Chapter 11 ends with telling us that Terah, Abram’s father, had already moved the family out of Ur to Haran, further west in the fertile crescent, and a first step toward the land of Canaan. The reasons for this are unclear, whether Terah knew already of Abram’s call or perhaps he was God’s instrument to help Abram think of the land west of him, or maybe just some wanderlust in his own heart, we do not know. But as with all ventures of obedient faith, there is a danger of going only half way, or even less.

They settled in Haran for a period. Often in our lives we hear a call of God and what should be just a stopping-off place becomes a settling place in our spiritual growth. God intends us to go further, but we are content with only a half-way effort. I have known of some to think that they have satisfied a call to world missions by going on one short mission trip. But the callings of God are not given on temporary things, but on the matter of a lifetime commitment (Rom. 11:29). Discipleship and following Christ means a complete commitment, not a partial one.

To fulfill God’s plan for him, Abram needed to go further than his father had gone, or his relatives had gone. The same is true for us; we cannot let another person determine for us what our commitment to Christ will look like. It must come from Christ! Christ said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). Speaking in hyperbole (strong words for emphasis) Christ meant that He must come first and obedience must be radical. Often, even when we are adults, our family may try to interpret what our obedience will look like, but we must determine to follow only Christ. We love and respect our relatives but we owe Christ our complete obedience.

The call to an adventure of faith: Every time I read this story I get excited about life and ministry. Abram like anyone else was busy with the concerns of this world. Then God came and called him to something greater and grander than the world offers. There is nothing wrong with making money - it is, in fact, the responsible thing to do to take care of one’s family. But all life here is temporary, earthly interests fleeting things, but with God is eternity. The call of God, whether it is to believe in Christ or to serve Him full time, is a call to know and experience life beyond the limitations of earth!

Abram could hardly imagine the challenges and the blessings that awaited him. He would make his share of mistakes, but God would also begin to do something through Him that would bless people for all times. There were three dimensions of Abram’s faith: He knew who is Master was, and he knew what his Mission was to be, and he had a Mate that was also committed to follow the will of God. He and Sarai started out looking into the future with hope and expectation.

The vulnerability of Abram and Sarai: Another point that is fascinating is how often God calls vulnerable people to play pivotal roles in salvation history. What we have in this duo is simply an elderly couple, childless, and with the financial means to travel. They are not young. Much of their lives are already lived, memories made, friendships gained and lost, and their fate as childless accepted. But then God entered in and called them and blessed them.

If nothing else this tells us that as long as we live here on earth our lives have unlimited potential. When God calls us - and He calls us all in Christ to come and follow Him - everything is new. The old is not just passed away at our salvation, but every day part of the old life dies and there is newness and hope at each stage of life, regardless of what has gone on before. Today is a day that God desires to show you His greatness, to bless you in your life, and to use you to bless others.

The greatest thing that has ever happened to your life is when Christ called you to know and to follow Him. You are now oriented for eternity and everything on this earth will gradually be revealed to you as merely temporary and fading. “The world is passing away, and (also) its lusts, but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). The most precious and meaningful things we do is to point others to God, leaving a legacy of faith.

Gleanings from Genesis , ,