A Given Life – Part 1

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Heb. 11:17-19

Let us read that again.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried…”

I don’t know whether Abraham knew that he was being tried. I don’t know whether he knew God would ask him to stay his hand at the critical moment. But, whether he knew these things or not, what is important is that Abraham realized he had to lose. And so when he knew this, when God told him to, in his heart he therefore offered up Isaac. It says that when he was tried, Abraham

“… offered up Isaac.”

In his heart he released Isaac from being his only-begotten son. He willingly let him go. He lost him. By the time the angel appeared and told him,

“Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him…” (Gen. 22:12)

in his heart Abraham had already slaughtered Isaac. That is why the Bible says in verse 19,

“Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

Abraham therefore experienced the pain of losing his son. Just as God experienced the pain of losing His Son Jesus, Abraham, in a figure, lost Isaac.

But let me go back to the words that drew me to this scripture in the first place.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried…”

Do we realize that when God asks us to lose something, that we are being tried? Indeed, the entirety of our call is a trial; for we have been called, without reservation, to lose. We are to go way beyond losing even. Consider the incredulity of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:38-45.

“38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Wow! What a heart! And, pray, who is capable of these things? But this is exactly the heart that God has. It is God’s character. And it is the heart we ought to have as children of God. But it can only be had through the revelation of the cross. It is the laying of our lives on the altar, in order that we might do the will of God, as opposed to doing the will of the flesh.

When we have laid our lives at the altar, and they are no longer ours, the Bible calls that faith. Just as we see with Abraham here.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac”.

[Oh, those songs!!]

Advertisements

Your Heart! – Part 3

17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.

18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;

19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride foolishness:

23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mk. 7:17-23

The freedom that we have in the Spirit can only be accessed through the cross. The cross working in our lives, that is. Any freedom outside of the cross of Jesus Christ is of the flesh. True faith, whereby this freedom is found, states with the Apostle Paul:

“19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live to God. 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19-20)

Notice the things that Paul says about himself. He is

  1. “dead”;
  2. crucified with Christ”;
  3. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”;
  4. “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the Son of God”.

Paul’s life was crucified! Paul no longer lived! On the contrary, Christ lived in him.

What profound facts! What a profound place to be! What an entirely different lifestyle from the humdrum and tepid Christian lifestyle that most believers live. We are so carnal, so selfish and so self-centered, and therefore we are deprived of the beauty and the power of the Kingdom of God.

Notice Paul says that because he was crucified with Christ, therefore Christ lived in him.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”.

The two cannot exist together. You cannot be alive and at the same time have Christ live in you. If Christ is to live in you, you must go. That was the revelation that Paul received from Christ.

And yet, as we see here, the truly wonderful thing about Paul was that, as he says in Acts 26:19,

“I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision”.

It is all about obedience. Paul could have received the revelation and sit there and begin wringing his hands and mulling over how he would one day crucify his life. He could have said, “What a wonderful revelation! I am now going to lay me down and sleep and I can come back next year and look at this revelation in a different angle. After which I will work out how to approach the cross. Oh, what a wonderful revelation!”

But no. Not this man, Paul. When Paul received the revelation of the cross, he crucified his life. He crucified his life with Christ, to the end that the life of Christ might be found in his mortal body.

This reminds us of Abraham who, when God told him to circumcise himself and all the men in his house, the Bible says:

“23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him… 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.” (Gen. 17:23-26)

On the very day that God told Abraham to circumcise himself, Abraham obeyed God and did so.

God is pleased when we obey Him instantly, as Abraham did.

The need for obedience is the reason why, in our key scripture, Jesus swoops in on the heart. It is such a waste of time, energy and resources to approach the things of God through form and the other natural avenues that we attempt to. The reason for all this preoccupation with these things is because we are nursing our disobedience. For this reason we will never arrive where God wants us to arrive at: His throne room of power, grace and wisdom.

But Jesus wants to help us to go directly to God and to receive from Him. We do this through obedience.

In speaking to His disciples about the heart, Jesus was in effect saying, “Circumcise your hearts; that is enough with God”.

When we fail to circumcise our hearts, we are just going round and round in the wilderness like the children of Israel. They did so for 40 years and in the end they all died there!

What a tragedy. But yet, again, what a lesson for us.

We are to look at our hearts. Forget about form. God’s attention is fully centered on our hearts.

If you take a toothpaste tube written “Colgate”, although the tube is beautifully and ‘loudly’ adorned with all kinds of writings and drawings, yet you know full well that the “Colgate” (the toothpaste) is inside. You have to squeeze the tube to bring out the real stuff – the “Colgate” toothpaste.

In the same manner, God allows many circumstances into our lives to squeeze whatever is inside us out. Whatever we have inside of us is the life that we have in us, and that is what comes out when God brings people and situations to squeeze us. And so it is that when we have not the cross working in us, whenever we are squeezed we give out the “evil things” that Jesus stated here. These are the things that you will find in an un-crucified heart.

evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride foolishness”. (Mk. 7:21-22)

Jesus said,

“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (v.23)

What troubles God, therefore, is not the food we eat but, rather, on the contrary, it is when we have these “evil things” in us. These things are the result of a disobedient heart, a heart that does not want to be circumcised. A Christian who does not want to crucify his/her life.

But when we are crucified with Christ, whenever a situation squeezes us, we give out the aroma of Christ.

God be praised for the Apostle Paul who could write,

“I am crucified with Christ”.

These are the most beautiful words ever! Whenever the Apostle Paul went through a situation, he left behind the aroma (the knowledge, the grace) of Christ. He did not leave behind the putrid stench of the flesh.

Like fighting for his rights, etc.

We are to crucify the flesh. We are to crucify the rights of the flesh. We are not just to understand the revelation of the cross as Paul and the other saints understood it; we are to get ahold of our flesh and actually crucify it. We will never really get anywhere in the Spirit until we do that. The Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ”.

Paul was a man on the move.

[The Apostle Paul: a man on the move]

Image20716

Victory In The Cross

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 

23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Rom. 7:22-25

Even I am surprised at myself. I am very, very surprised at what I see in me. It is as if I am trapped on every side by the flesh. So much so that, in other words, I could only describe myself as a carnal man. The lusts of the flesh are all too clear in my life and they batter at me on every side!

And yet, at the same time, I find myself cheering at the things of the Spirit. When my spirit hears something Godly, it comes alive. It cheers wildly!

I find this juxtaposition hard to comprehend. Is it me who is cheering at the things of the Spirit and at the same time desiring so much the things of the flesh? How can the two things be alive in me? And so, so much like the Apostle Paul here, I find myself thoroughly flabbergasted and distressed by this state of affairs.

But I find also that Paul had an answer to this problem. In verse 25 he says,

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Therein – in Christ Jesus our Lord – lies the answer to this most complex of problems for the believer. In the following verses, Paul shows us that it is through crucifying the flesh. In Romans 12:1-2 he writes:

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

That means to crucify the flesh.

There is only one way to defeat the problem of the flesh in our lives: it is to crucify the flesh.

I never truly understood what Paul meant when he described Jesus as God’s “unspeakable gift” to us (2 Cor. 9:15).

But I have come to know its meaning. It is, simply, that the cross (“Jesus Christ crucified”) helps us to live the will of God!

When “Christ crucified” is firmly enthroned in our lives and we are living the crucified life, we will not obey the lusts of our flesh. In fact, we will live in a completely different dimension; a dimension where the lusts of the flesh are alien to us.

I recall there was a time when believers lived this kind of lifestyle. My elderly pastor often regales us with the story of the day when he proposed to his then wife-to-be. She burst out crying, “Oh my God! What have you likened me to? A harlot?”

In her mind, the thought of being with a man was alien. It had never crossed her mind!

Yes, in those early days when salvation was untainted, the flesh never had a chance. The cross was alive in God’s people’s lives. People’s consciences were alive! If someone needed to forgive, the hurriedly did so. They would not accept to live even one minute with unforgiveness because every minute they were beholding the face of God, and how could you possibly behold God’s face with unforgiveness in your heart?

Today, Christianity is largely lived on another dimension altogether. In the city of Dar es Salaam, I know of a preacher who has left his wife and married a younger girl. He is an “apostle and prophet” and he told his congregation that God had led him to do that. He sent his wife and children back home to her parents. And his church is still packed to capacity. I challenge you to believe it or not; but it is true.

In the early days of Christianity, when the revelation of the cross was in the church, such a thing would not only have been untolerable. It would have been unthinkable.

“Christ crucified” is the SINGULAR cure for the contradiction of the flesh and the Spirit in our lives. Because we have been born again, our spirits are alive to God and they desire the things of God. But the flesh, un-crucified, is right there beside us, doing exactly what Ishmael did to Isaac.

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. (Gal. 4:28-29)

Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. (Gal. 4:30)

We are Abraham’s seed. If Abraham had to throw out Hagar and her son, then we also have to throw out the law and sin in our lives.

And so, I have discovered the solution to my dilemma. I must crucify the flesh. There is no short-cut. And there is no middle way.

Have a victorious Monday, everyone!

“Angels Unawares”!

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13:2

Who are the “strangers” the Bible is referring to here? A Biblical stranger is any person – apart from yourself – who has a need. It could even be your next door neighbor. But primarily, here, it refers to people that we do not know or whom under normal circumstances we could hardly care about.

Our key scripture above refers, chiefly, to the account, in Genesis chapter 18, of how Abraham entertained total strangers who just happened to be the LORD Himself and two of His angels. Let us look at this account up close.

“1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. 8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. 9 And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. 10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.”

In this account, we can clearly see Abraham’s attitude to strangers in the way he treated the three men. Abraham had a heart of mercy. He lifts up his eyes and sees three men standing outside his tent “in the heat of the day”. This little detail – “in the heat of the day” – indicates that the men were tired, exhausted and hungry.

Abraham does not know they are angels. The LORD was not wearing a three-piece suit, nor did He roll up in a Jaguar. He came on foot and He looked tired and hungry.

Clearly, the men have come a long way and they probably have a long way to go. Abraham decides he cannot let them pass. He must do something for them! His heart trembles with mercy – and generosity.

But first, he must get their permission. Abraham has a servant’s heart. Just because he has something to give to these men, Abraham does not walk up to them with his hands stuck in his pockets and tell them, “I can see you are hungry. Now, sit down and let me see what I can do for you. And don’t make noise. I don’t like noise around my house.”

Bless the Lord, no. Abraham does not talk or behave like that. Instead, he tells them:

“3 My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant.”

Abraham calls himself their servant and deliberately makes these strangers his lords. To which they replied,

So do, as thou hast said.”

Abraham springs into action. Abraham has a large heart. Without thinking, his heart knows exactly what it needs to do to refresh these exhausted men. The rest, as they say, is history. The “morsel of bread” that he sets out to prepare for them turns out to be a banquet!

It could be that Abraham did not prepare a good and tender calf for every stranger who passed by… or, it may well be that he did. After all, not many people passed through the dry plains of Mamre in those days and Abraham’s heart was able to take care of anyone who had a need. But, whatever he did or did not do, Abraham’s heart to strangers, or people in need, is clearly revealed in these scriptures.

That is unlike so many of us. Many of us have an ‘accountant’ mind where keeping an account of the things we own is of more importance to us than helping someone in need. To many people, a stranger – or a needy person – is an intrusion into their lives! But it was not so with Abraham.

Has anyone passed by your house or your place of work lately, whom you felt was not deserving of your attention? They probably did not meet your (worldly) criteria of someone you needed to do a favor to.

Most people will bend over backwards to extend their warmest welcome to people they know or to people who look important – or to people they want to help – but not to “other” people.

But God comes incognito. When the Lord decides to visit you in person He does not send a celebrity your way. Nor does He send your best friend around. On the contrary, He will send a type of person that you couldn’t care about – or the kind of person that you loathe. That will be your angel. God knows our hearts and He knows all the pride and selfishness in us. This is a test that He therefore sets before us. Being the God of heaven, He is not going to give us kindergarten stuff. God will give us something that will test us to the core, for He longs to mature us in the Spirit.

But this test comes with a blessing. According to His good purposes, God sometimes does bless us materially to the extent that we do the same to others. But it is not the material blessing which we are to seek after, and that is why it is not a law for God to bless us in that manner. It is the fruit of the Spirit that is God’s true blessing to us. The Bible, in Luke 6:38, says:

“30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. 32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. 33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Lk. 6:30-38)

That is God’s character. But, again, notice God’s many promises to us when we “entertain strangers”. And God is faithful, which means He will fulfill every promise of His.

It all hinges on the heart. Do we have a loving, tender heart? Or is our heart hard and selfish and judgemental?

I thank God for the many men and women of God the world over who have exactly this heart. I personally have had the honor of coming across some of them. They are not necessarily the people who can preach the cross very well. But they are brothers and sisters who can live it.

God will bless these people with a heavenly blessing.

 

Of God’s Grace And Strangers

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13:2

God sets incredibly high standards for us as His children! But again, such stringent standards are almost nothing compared to the responsibilities that He has reserved for us in heaven. Amongst them, the Bible says, is that we will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Now, we would hardly expect a person who will judge angels in heaven to be someone who does not care about the attitude of his or her heart – or his actions. That is why when such a person momentarily loses their faith and becomes careless in their actions, like Abraham did with Hagar, the repercussions reverberate far beyond anyone’s realm of sight. They are beyond catastrophic.

But, anyway, back to our subject.

Right at the outset, notice that this scripture is tied in with the exhortation to “Let brotherly love continue” (v.1).

A brother is someone whom you know, someone close to you. A stranger, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He is just that… a stranger. He is someone you do not know. In today’s violence-prone atmosphere, we could even fear strangers. But scripture here firmly instructs us that, while our first priority is to uphold brotherly love, yet we have a responsibility to those who are outside our fold. That’s a Godly charge. As people who have God’s nature in us, we should not only minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to strangers. There are believers (and church communities) who live such insulated lives they spend all their energy on themselves and their close ones.

But the Bible here tells us to “be not forgetful” because you can become so inward-looking that other people become of little value to you. You become insensitive to people’s needs, people’s suffering.

Hebrews 13:2 refers specifically to Abraham, among others. Abraham was a man such as you and I, but he entertained angels unawares. Now, you would expect that when angels visited men they would come in all their glory, trumpets sounding and golden wings flashing. But these came to Abraham’s tent in the form of strangers. Flesh and blood, tired strangers. Abraham’s story is well-known.

Here is the account in full:

“1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. 8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” Gen. 18:1-8

It is clear from this account that Abraham did not know that these men were angels (and the LORD was among them!) Abraham just saw three men approaching his tent “in the heat of the day”.

Under such hot conditions the men must have appeared tired and worn out. Upon looking at their dust-covered feet Abraham knew they must have travelled far and that they were hungry. And Abraham pleaded with them to accept “a little” generosity from him. The “little water” and “morsel of bread” that Abraham prepared for them turned out to be probably the biggest feast of their lives, and the service they received from this dusty nomad and his wife far exceeded what any modern man would receive at the top Hyatt hotel on earth.

“A morsel of bread”! God’s people are incredibly humble!!

It was not like Abraham spent all his time seated outside his tent forcing any Tom, Dick and Harry into his house to eat and wash their feet. But he knew when a man was in trouble, and he spared no effort in making them feel welcome and comfortable in his house. The heart that Abraham carried was what mattered.

When we are taking up our cross and following Christ, we will do the same. A stranger is someone who in a sense is at our mercy. A stranger is a man or woman who has a need. And he does not have to come from our denomination. The Bible is actually talking about people who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we have the heart of Christ, who died for us while we were yet strangers, all because of mercy.

Meeting such a person’s need, therefore, requires a heart of mercy. May we not harden our hearts. Some, the Bible tells us, have entertained angels unawares.

In the final analysis, I wonder what a full, contented angel would do by way of thanking us? No doubt, much more than we could ask or dream! Such was the blessing that befell Abraham.

[Abraham took a heifer “tender and good” – the best – from his herd and prepared it for total strangers]

Image6515

Faith and Obedience

9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Gen. 21:9-12

Long ago, we used to sing a song:

Trust and obey

For there is no other way

To be happy in Jesus

But to trust and obey.

There are many beautiful and spiritually satisfying songs that we used to sing in the old days.

But let’s get down to this post…

Abraham is called the father of faith. He is also called the friend of God. Let’s see how much of a friend Abraham was to God.

When God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, His was a top-secret, highly classified military operation. He had no intention of informing anyone about His mission. But something made God to stop in His tracks, so to speak.

“And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do” (Gen. 18:17).

God came to a decision. He decided He could not hide from Abraham the thing He intended to do. Abraham pleased God so much that God decided to reveal His plans to him!

That was how much a friend of God Abraham was.

God is no respecter of men. He certainly wasn’t with Abraham. But somehow Abraham was able to please God through his faith, and they became intimate friends. That is an incredible feat.

We all love to think that we are pleasing to God. But we can only please God when we have faith, and faith goes with obedience, as we are about to see with Abraham.

We can see from the scripture above that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. One, Ishmael, was born by his slave, Hagar; the younger, Isaac, was born by his wife Sarah through a promise of God. As is normal with most men, the first born is always very dear to them, for he is the first-fruits of their strength. And so it was with Abraham. His heart lay with Ishmael, his firstborn son.

But we can also see that Abraham’s love for Ishmael clouded his spiritual sight. Now Abraham was seeing things in the natural. He was very happy for Ishmael. At 13 years old, Ishmael must have been a strapping, promising young man and Abraham’s pride most likely was fully vested in him.

But Sarah saw in the Spirit, and she saw Ishmael “mocking”.

Now, “mocking” is not a good word at all. The word “mocking” indicates a revulsive, worldly spirit. It speaks of contempt. It is a spirit that has no boundaries; it cannot define the sacred from the unholy. It is the spirit that we are increasingly seeing in the world today – an anti-God spirit.

That was not a good thing this boy was doing. In fact, it was downright evil. In Galatians 4:29 it says that Ishmael “persecuted” Isaac.

Sarah saw the evil in Ishmael. She decided the boy and her mother had to go. She spoke to Abraham about it and Abraham, poor man, was loathe to send them away. It appears that, left on his own, Abraham would have given his inheritance to Ishmael! We thank God for Godly women like Sarah who can put the brakes to the madness of their husbands. Sarah takes much credit here.

Abraham tried to defend his choice to remain with Ishmael, but God told him, “Listen to Sarah.” Listening to Sarah meant Ishmael and his mother had to go, and this was extremely painful to Abraham. But painful as it was, Abraham obeyed. He sent Ishamel and Hagar away.

That was faith! Through losing in the natural, Abraham proved his faith in God.

We have no idea where Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac would have led to. Probably Ishmael would have kept on bullying the younger boy until Isaac would have become a vegetative youth of no consequence. Or he probably would have killed him outright once he became strong enough.

In casting out both the slave and her son, Abraham suffered, but he obeyed God. He kept his faith.

And in that, God must have been very happy with him.

The word “happy” is not a word that we can easily apply to the relationship between God and the church today. It is no secret that today the church is too much in cahoots with the world. There is too much compromise with the world! So much so that “Isaac” is about to be buried under.

Particularly, these three things are there in the church today:

  • Sin
  • Worldly influences, especially celebrity worship/Christianity and political correctness
  • Law and principles. Far from having no power to enable God’s people to live a victorious life, law binds them even tighter in the bondage of sin.

But we must strive to please God. We must separate the spiritual from the worldly in the church. The church must walk under the full power of God’s grace.

In order to achieve what he did, Abraham walked in the revelation of the cross. There was total denial of self involved. Abraham took up his cross and followed Christ.

When we, too, walk in the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ we are able to cast off the old man of the flesh through crucifying it on the cross, and only through the cross can we hope for “Isaac” (the spiritual man) in us to be free to inherit.

If we do not cast out the flesh through crucifying it, we will see the influences of the flesh and of the world increasingly manifesting themselves in our lives, a scenario that is becoming more and more a reality in God’s people’s lives today.

[Below: Dar es Salaam: In the afternoon heat, passengers in city buses take time to snooze]

Image2583

Sharing In Abraham’s Reward Through Suffering

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Lk. 16:19-23

Notice that when Lazarus died he was carried by angels straight into Abraham’s bosom. That little piece of news has deep spiritual implications. It means, first, that Lazarus had the same faith that Abraham had. Secondly, it translates to the fact that, ultimately, Lazarus shared in Abraham’s spiritual promise.

But Lazarus must have paid a heavy price for his faith, and this is the essence of this post. His physical condition must have been the butt of his neighbors’ jokes. I actually give this rich man credit for allowing Lazarus to be laid at his gate. But, obviously, he would not allow himself to interact further with such a lowly species.

But, as he sat at his neighbor’s beautifully-emblazoned gate waiting for the crumbs, Lazarus must have shared his message of salvation to anyone who cared to listen. He preached! The rich man’s words in verse 27 indicate he was aware that Lazarus could deliver a message. He must have heard him share often of the hope that he had in him.

But I can imagine people shaking their heads as they passed by and saying to Lazarus, “If you have a God, where is He? How can you be in such a condition and claim to have this all-powerful God?”

They would have told him, “Look, man; you have a wonderful message, but we don’t see much of this great God you talk about!”

And Lazarus probably would have tried to explain to them that God is not found in outward conditions but in the things that have to do with our hearts. But people look on the outside. Few would have paid any attention to him. As far as they were concerned, he was not representative of an all-powerful God.

People of the world cannot see into God’s spiritual Kingdom. They cannot discern the deep inner work of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart, a work accomplished through suffering. Unfortunately, this worldly spirit has also crept into the church. God’s people no longer see in the Spirit. They look on the outside. They see God only in blessings. You will hear people say, “So-and-So is so blessed! He just bought a new car.”

Well, we thank God for cars for they can take you from point A to B much quicker than walking on foot or riding on a bicycle. But cars are hardly the blessing that God promised Abraham. When you die, the fact that you owned a car will not usher you into Abraham’s bosom.

In most churches today, if someone is poor, or if they are suffering in one way or another, it is automatically translated that they do not have faith. And yet, it is in this very crucible of suffering that God works on us to perfect us! Sometimes God will even allow a sickness to stick with us just so He can work in us through it.

And so, in the midst of his very difficult situation, Lazarus kept his faith. As people jeered and wondered aloud where his God was, Lazarus allowed God to perfect His work in him. He kept his faith.

When he died he was received in Abraham’s bosom. He shared in Abraham’s reward.

As children of God, we cannot allow outside circumstances to dictate to us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who also suffered in the flesh. Jesus suffered in His flesh, but He kept His faith. He is our example. We must be ready to identify our lives with His, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

[Below: On some routes in Tanzania, “bora ufike” (just as long as you arrive) is the key word. In this photo, to the left, in a space reserved for only one passenger, four more are crammed in. The lady on the near right side is seated directly on my lap]

Image6679