The Gospel Changes Everything…Including Me

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” – Romans 10:9-11. 

You may be thinking that the gospel is pretty abstract. Yes, it applies to me but it doesn’t seem tangible, practical, or applicable. The gospel is all those things. The gospel comes to life in the stories about people who were heroes of the Kingdom. We want to be brave like David, who slew the giant with a stone. We want to be as faithful as Abraham, who did not hold back his only son. We want to be righteous like Noah, as wise as Solomon, and unwavering like Paul. But if we spend too much time reading stories of the heroes of the Bible, we may miss the greater story those heroes are pointing us toward.  

Throughout the Bible, God is telling one story: God’s plan to rescue His people from sin through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the gospel. And the gospel changes everything. 

 Somewhere along the line, we underestimate the role of the gospel. The gospel is words – we need to use words, and the word of God, to explain the gospel. But they are powerful words. God-breathed words. But the gospel is more than merely religious words and ideas that we get out and admire in church on Sunday, then we put them back on the shelf till next week. The gospel is a message of power, a message used powerfully by the Spirit of God, to convict people of their need for Jesus. The gospel message has the power to change lives.

We believe that it is just about us and Jesus and our external home. But the gospel is so much more. The gospel transforms societies, renews families, and heals relationships. It is a message of action. The gospel is not to merely inform but transform. The gospel should change our lives. Otherwise, we are left with mere words, mere facts, and mere formality.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says, “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you.”

We know that God not only loves you but has selected you for a special purpose. The gospel in action to the world is simply being real in love towards all men, women, and children: smiling, looking them in the eye, giving way to them, being truly kind, telling them God loves them, and praying for them. This is the gospel in action. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think of the gospel on a daily basis? If not why not?
  2. What can we do this week to make the gospel a part of our daily lives? 

Living The Generous Life

“ But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne…Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” – Matthew 25: 21, 34-36. 

Generosity is commonly associated with tithing to a church or an organization. When we look at the generosity of the Bible, though, we see it goes deeper than just the amount of money we’re willing to donate. It starts with the generosity of God. 

Many people do not view God as generous. Somehow we got the idea that if we begged God for help and if we were good enough, He might show us a little mercy. The opposite is true, God is amazingly generous. He made the first move of generosity toward us. And the second move and the third. God was the first and is the most generous Giver of all.  

He went above and beyond anything we could have imagined.  God loved people so much that He gave. He gave His best (John 3:16). He gave His Son for you and for me. This act of generosity began in His heart first. He loved so He gave. Titus 3:4-6 says, “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Jesus sees the love in our giving. Jesus was in the home of some friends when a woman came in and poured very expensive perfume over His head. Her generosity was significant because of the value of her gift: it was a great sacrifice and it revealed the depth of her gratitude. Jesus pointed out that this kind of generous gratitude and worship was to be forever connected to His followers.

We are most like God when we are generous and that generosity is tangible. Instead of speaking about money in Matthew 25, Jesus mentions food, water, clothes, and love. In 1 Kings 17, a widow offers the prophet Elijah her flour and oil, even though it’s all she has. It is a tangible, sustainable gift—not a financial one. In the same way, we can volunteer our time and resources in place or in addition to our finances.

Biblical generosity is also cheerful. God doesn’t want gifts motivated by a sense of duty or obligation. He wants us to give out of joy and compassion. If anyone knows generosity, it is God—who gave His Son to us freely, even when He knew we would abuse the gift. Our generosity should be founded in love, not duty.

No one is more generous than God. He’s the greatest giver of all time. And we should acknowledge that fact every day. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?
  2. Can you remember a time when your resources were very limited, and God provided for you?
  3. Identify one practical way you can be more generous in the weeks ahead. 

What Is Involved In Living The Christian Life?

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16 (NIV).

Our current sermon series is entitled Building a Better Future. It is difficult to build a better future without a sense of purpose and an understanding of the “why” as well as the “what.” What do we live for in the Christian life and why are we doing it?

We probably all have some ideas about how Christians should live in order to please God. We may think we need to try our best to do the right thing, do good works, or live up to some kind of moral or ethical standard.  The Bible tells us that Jesus encourages all believers to grow in relationship, commitment, and obedience to Him. This is the essence of how to live a Christian life. Our relationship, commitment, and obedience are done out of love. John 14:21 says, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Any discussion of how to live a Christian life should focus first and foremost on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The entire Bible is full of insight into who God is, our sinful predicament, God’s plan to redeem us, and how we should live in light of these realities. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says,  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Though Jesus taught about many topics, everything comes back to that ultimate goal of loving God and loving our neighbor. The best place to start when seeking to live the Christian life is to prioritize loving God above all else. If at the end of the day we can look back and feel like we loved God well, then we’ve accomplished the most important purpose for which we were created.

One practical thought in seeking to love God is to ask the question, “What does God find most loving?” That question can be a great driving force behind seeking to love God as best as we can every day.

If you want to follow the teachings of Jesus to live a Christian life, don’t overcomplicate things. Focus on loving God and loving others and let them guide the way you live each day.

God didn’t mean for us to live Christian lives in isolation. He calls us to community with other Christians. Together, we can help each other live grace-filled lives that bring glory to God. We need to help each other as we figure out what it means to live a Christian life in this crazy world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the key to living a victorious Christian life?
  2. Read Philippians 1:18-26: Paul says, “living means living for Christ.” How does for me to live is Christ impact my daily activities.   

When Small Things Become Big Things

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” – Galatians 5:7-9.

There are many things in life that initially seem significant. The one thing in your office you didn’t put away. The one task that you didn’t complete. That relationship you didn’t work on. The bill you didn’t pay. The deadline you let pass. No big deal unless you never get past the half-way, the almost, the in-between and the just about to address them. Most big problems start as small, easily addressed items. By not addressing them, you allowed them to grow into big issues.

Solomon was the wisest, richest man in the world. Yet, the bible tells us in 1 Kings 11:4-6: “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.”

Exactly how did the wisest man in the world forget God? I believe there are several answers that apply both to Solomon and to us today. First, Solomon left a little wiggle room in his commitment to God. Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. (1 Kings 3:3) Here’s the issue.There’s no such thing as a partial commitment. When you begin with an exception clause, you will never arrive at full devotion and the Home Run Life.

Secondly, assume that you’re an exception to the rule. God commanded: He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. (Deuteronomy 17:17a) Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines, and his wives led him astray. (1 Kings 11:1,3) God commanded that he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deuteronomy 17:17b) The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land …The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. (1 Kings 10:14,27) Do we believe we are the exception to some of the rules as well?

Finally, fail to deal with your predisposed weaknesses. “But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites— from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.” (1 Kings 11:1-2) For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. (1 Kings 11:4)

Sin has a way of creeping into our lives. A little activity here and a repeated behavior there can quietly become a habit in no time. Without being aware of it, sin can not only trip us up, but it can derail a person in short order, especially when we’re not paying careful attention.

Discussion Question:

  1. Solomon accumulated unprecedented riches. Look up Deuteronomy 17:15-17 and 28:1-14. Did Solomon go too far? Is extreme wealth a good thing or a bad thing?
  2. As Solomon grew older, he was a rich and established ruler, but he did not apply the wisdom that defined his early career. How can you continue to seek wisdom, even after you have experienced success?
  3. Did you ever let someone or something become more important to you than God? How can you show that God is important to you?
  4. Solomon’s failures began when he married women who served other gods. What advice would you give someone who is considering dating a non-Christian?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you eliminate small problems before they become big problems.

Letting Go

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove. I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.“ – Psalms 55:4-8

Psalm 55 gives us a different perspective of King David. We see a man terrorized by his enemies and concerned about what is happening in his life. His first reaction to his current circumstances seems to be to turn and run away. This seems a little out of character for the man who killed Goliath and fought with lions and bears. But is it? We can identify with David. Most of us have had successes. Some have had large successes. But in spite of what we may have accomplished, there are times when the pressure mounts and every fiber of our being wants to head for the exit. While David probably at least considered making an exit, stage right, he chose instead to offer an earnest prayer for relief. He chooses to fervently seek God.

We can feel his yearning for God in the first verse, “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!.” He is asking God to “lend His ear.” David is pouring out his heart to God and he’s pleading for Him to listen.

The Psalm continues and David expresses great pain. He is hurting deeply, but in the midst of his pain he is crying out to God in bold and fervent prayer. Verses 16 and 17 show us exactly how he prayed, “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.” David is confronting God and boldly proclaiming his need.

While everything inside him said, “run!” he chose to stay and seek God. My guess is he was probably on his knees in tears and shouting his prayers to his Father in heaven. And, when we feel like running away, we need to do the same thing. We all face a common desire sometimes to run away. We all deal with disappointments in life. We want to get away from hassles, from frustrations, we are weary of arguments, and bickering, and sometimes it seems like it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

Do why does David hang in there? The answer is in verses 22 and 23, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.”

David rested and trusted completely in God’s promises and knew that the Lord would uphold the believer in their life struggles. David knew that when he called upon God, He would listen, and He would give us what we need to get through the struggle, no matter what was happening in his life.

So when we want to run away, run to God, and let give life’s struggles to Him. Learn to let go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 55: What feelings are described in Psalm 55? Describe the image of God that you find in this passage.
  2. What were David’s complaints before God? In other words, with what problem or difficulty was he dealing?
  3. How often does David say he prays? How often do you pray?
  4. We often have a negative response to our “negative” feelings. What thoughts do you typically have in response to your feelings of anger, depression or fear? How does it affect you to know that God is near to you when you are in pain? Have you ever wanted to just leave your problems and fly away?  Share what you learned at a time when you stayed despite the desire to leave.
  5. Responding to God: Be honest before God with your own feelings today. Perhaps you are in a good place, as were our psalmists who wrote the psalms of confidence; or you may be in a difficult spot and feel much as David did as expressed in Psalm 55.

A Psalm Of David

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is one of the best known texts in the Bible. It is rich with the image of the shepherd and what a shepherd does. Comforting, soothing words that we need to hear in our journey through life. It is also extremely powerful in its simplicity. By using the word shepherd to describe God, David was introducing one of the most personal and wide-ranging terms found in the Psalms and perhaps in the Old Testament about God. David often used terms like fortress, deliverer, shield, and rock to refer to God; but here he used a word-picture of one who lives with his flock and is everything to it.

Psalm 23 starts with, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v. 1). In other words, I have everything I need in Jesus. Where my own desires for acceptance or my pride lead to a heart left in shambles, He restores my soul, establishing a new foundation of righteousness and hope. When I am worried about the future, I now know the ending, regardless of circumstance.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (v. 4). When anxiety and worry start to consume my life, Jesus is with me, lifting my chin so my eyes rest on Him rather than my problems. His presence means that He is in control, and I am under His care.

Psalm 23 concludes with this promise: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (v. 6). We can find find our rest in Jesus today and in an uncertain future. His love and our identity in Him will overwhelm our fears.

David was the son of a shepherd, had been a shepherd himself, and would even become known as the Shepherd King. David knew this title was applied to the person who was ultimately, on a very personal level, responsible for the care and well being of the flock. David was saying because the Lord is my Shepherd, He satisfies my needs, and I do not lack any good thing. That is the very place our Savior wants to bring us to, so that we are dependent on Him and Him alone. In real terms, we can’t make it without a shepherd, so we must allow the Shepherd to rule our lives.

Jesus Christ says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) If you are a Christian, Jesus Christ is your Shepherd and He cares for you and will never let you go.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why do you think Psalm 23 become the most famous of all the Psalms? What is it that makes this Psalm so enduring?
  2. David did not have the privilege of knowing Jesus Christ who said: “I am the good shepherd.” Read John 10:7-30 and list what other insights you received into the shepherding of his people. How are these relevant for your life?
  3. David talked about how God leads us through dark valleys. What are some dark valleys you walked through? How did God demonstrate His faithfulness to you? How did that time in your life affect and shape you into who you are today?
  4. What does “fear no evil” mean for you? How is this possible? Do you find it easy or difficult?
  5. What does it mean to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever?” Is that something to experience here on earth, or just in heaven?

David and Goliath

“And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” – 1 Samuel 17: 2-11

This is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is a climactic combat, winner takes all competition where the hero is the underdog. It pits the big guy against the little guy. The little guy triumphs and goes on to even greater glory. What’s there not to like about this story.

The Philistines have entered into Israelite territory looking to increase their territory and also to place the Israelites in subjection to themselves. The Philistines are feeling pretty confident about their chances. And the reason for their confidence lies in a champion that has risen, quite literally, among them. His name is Goliath, a name that has ever since then always been associated with someone who is tall and large in stature. With Goliath as their champion, the Philistines believe they will win the battle.

That is how the army of the Israelites saw it too. Goliath has had the desired effect on the army of Israel. Israel has allowed themselves to be intimidated by this Goliath. And no wonder. Look at the details we are given about Goliath. He stands over nine feet tall. This guy is two feet taller than Shaquille O’Neal. This guy would not even have to jump in order to put a basketball into the basket. All he would have to do is reach up and slam it home. He is no skinny giant either. He is strong. He has to be strong. Look at the armor that he wears. The coat of armor that he wears to protect his chest and back weighs 125 pounds. The point of the spear that he threw weighed 15 pounds all by itself. So, judging from the description that you have of this guy, this is not a guy that most people would want to battle with to the death. No wonder no one in the army of Israel was willing to step forward and say, “I will take this guy up on his offer and fight him.” He was huge and intimidating. And the Philistines used him well to gain the psychological advantage.

The rest of the story is found in 1 Samuel 17: 41-51:And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”  Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,  and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand. When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.  And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it.

Remember what the Bible says, “Greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.” Greater is He, meaning Jesus, who is in me; than he, meaning Satan, who is in the world. That is who we have to fight with us and for us. That’s who David had at his side and why he won the battle.

Discussion Question:

  1. Are you afraid of anything? What is required to get rid of fears? Do previous encounters make us stronger and less afraid in the future?
  2. Why was David so confident that he could defeat Goliath?
  3. Is being the underdog a disadvantage? Are disadvantages really advantages when God is involved?
  4. Are there challenges you faced in the past that prepared you for more important challenges later? Can you trace a gradual strengthening of your faith?
  5. Pray and ask God for the courage to face up to your fears.

Without Fail

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your wordsand blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” – Psalm 51: 1-6

Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet David? It would be an extraordinary experience for sure. If we only had a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor. Even a few minutes with him would be great. Why? Because he killed Goliath. He killed lions and bears. He was a man after God’s own heart. He fled when he was the rightful king. He showed grace to Saul. He loved his son Absalom when Absalom wanted him dead. And finally, out of his lineage came our Savior, Jesus Christ. David was a biblical rock star.

But as with the case with so many larger than life figures in the Bible, David also had some items in the negative side of the ledger. He committed murder and adultery. In fact, David had struggle after struggle. Many of those struggles were his own fault. He sinned greatly, like many of the people we cherish in Scripture. Yet, he discovered that God is gracious beyond what he deserved.

Throughout the Bible, God used people in spite of, and after their greatest of failures. Simon Peter preached his greatest message and had his greatest ministry after he denied the Lord. Samson sinned against God, yet he slew more Philistines in the end of his life than he had during his entire ministry. Abraham lied, yet he was used by God. There are many others that we could add to this short list. But these are sufficient to show that the Lord can take those who have failed in the past and that He can still use them for His glory today, and into the future.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to find Christians to arrest and to take them to their deaths. He was filled with hatred and wanted nothing more than to completely destroy anyone or anything connected with the name of Jesus Christ. Yet, in spite of all this, the Lord was able to change this man and to use him for the glory of God.

God can do the same thing in your life and mine. He can take us, with all the baggage that we carry, and He can use us for His glory. We all bring certain liabilities to the table. Some have the tendency to stray from the truth like Abraham. Others are filled with pride like David. God is able to take us exactly where we are, change what needs to be changed and then use us to further His kingdom.

Despite David’s sin, he was always a man after God’s own heart. People would always judge him for his actions, but God always loved him for who he was. And he loves us for who we are and in spite of our failures or shortcomings.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Everyone has shortcomings, failures in life. The question is do these failures or shortcomings keep us from being used by God?
  2. What prevents us from being used by God?
  3. Why as Christians do we continue to make mistakes and why do we struggle to confess our failures?
  4. Sometimes we live in our own little stories of life rather than God’s story. What does this mean and how does this hinder us from being part of what God is doing in the lives of others.
  5. Pray and ask God to help you use your gifts to further His kingdom.

Put To The Test

“ After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-8.

In a story that can be called unusual from just about any perspective, Abraham is tested by God. If you grew up in the church you have heard this story many times. God tells him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Abraham goes about doing just that. You can read the story in Genesis 22, but to give you the Reader’s Digest version, Abraham never does it. He doesn’t sacrifice Isaac. He gets close, too close I’m sure for Isaac’s liking. But an angel calls off the test before Abraham has to decide to obey or disobey.

Hebrews 11:17-19 (TLB) says: “While God was testing him, Abraham still trusted in God and his promises, and so he offered up his son Isaac and was ready to slay him on the altar of sacrifice; yes, to slay even Isaac, through whom God had promised to give Abraham a whole nation of descendants! He believed that if Isaac died God would bring him back to life again; and that is just about what happened,  for as far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was doomed to death, but he came back again alive.”

If all that we had about Abraham was what we find here in Hebrews, you might think that he was an incredibly stalwart man who unflinchingly followed the Lord in a totally uncompromising manner. However, that is not the case. Rather, we find Abraham to be a man who was just like us in many ways. But we also see God never gave up on him but rather continued to work in and through him to bring him to a place of deep brokenness and repentance. As a result, Abraham grew spiritually to the point of fully trusting in the Lord and obeying Him in faith, regardless of his circumstances. God was at work guiding, protecting, and breaking him in order to bring him to the point where he would become the man of faith God intended for him to be.

Abraham had complete confidence in God. Let that sink in for a moment. Complete confidence. So can we. But if I took a moment to do a self-evaluation: Yes, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus is God’s son, the Messiah foretold in scripture. I’ve placed my faith in Him, in His sacrifice on the cross, in His resurrection from the dead, in the forgiveness of my sins. But I would be hard pressed to say, especially when roads seem closed, doors are not opening up fast enough, relationships get a little strained, and other life issues are demanding my attention, that I exhibit complete confidence in God. No, sometimes I feel like I need to pitch in. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt God’s ability or plan or promises. In those moments, I try to remember a phrase Abraham said to Isaac in Genesis 22:8 (TLB): “God will see to it.” My prayer is that we will understand that God will see to it in every aspect of our lives if we trust in Him.

Let me end with a quote from Andy Stanley’s book “Deep & Wide”: “At its core, Christianity is an invitation to reenter a relationship of trust with the Father. At the cross, sin was forgiven and we were invited to trust. It makes perfect sense that salvation comes by faith, not obedience. Intimate relationships are not built on obedience. They are built on trust.”

Discussion Question:

  1. Twenty-five years after God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:2), his son Isaac is born.What do you think it was like for Abraham to hold this child of promise?
  2. Why do you think God tested Abraham with the command to sacrifice Isaac? What do you think Abraham was thinking as he heard God’s command?
  3. Why do you think tests like this happen in our lives? Do you feel like you’ve ever been tested by God?
  4. What do you learn about Abraham from the events in chapter 22? What do you learn about God?
  5. What are the things that are most important to you? Would you be willing to remove them from your life if God asked you to?

No Lie!

“Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” – Genesis 12:11-16.

A famine had drove Abraham, his wife Sarah and their flocks into Egypt. They are now in a foreign country, unsure of how they will be treated by the Egyptians. Abraham is worried that Sarah will attract men’s attention because she is strikingly beautiful. So Abraham decides on a strategy. He will pass her off as his sister, not his wife. This way, men will be more likely to treat the group well. If they see Abraham as her husband, they may try to kill him to get Sarah.

Sarah agrees. What Abraham feared, happens. Reports of her beauty reaches Pharaoh. Accustomed to getting whatever he wants, he has his soldiers take Sarah from her family, and pleased with her, he places her in his harem.

This doesn’t seem like the behavior for the father of a nation and a friend of God. No it doesn’t. Even in the face of Abraham’s half-truth, God was there to deliver him from himself. God has a long-range plan, and He is not going to let Abraham or a lie or half-truth change that plan.

So Pharaoh and his country become afflicted with plagues, and when he finds out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife, he views his misfortune as punishment from the gods. He hastily restores Sarah to Abraham, and pays compensation – even though it is clearly Abraham who is at fault. Pharaoh’s generosity contrasts sharply with Abraham’s deceptive behavior.

Before we judge Abraham we need to ask ourselves if we ever told a lie in order to get out of trouble? Or fabricated a truth to get something from someone? Or told a little white lie to gain acceptance. Of course we have. And on more than one occasion.

But as Abraham learned, along with all of us today, lies undermine our integrity in a tangible and often harmful way. Lies are a burden to manage. Lies tend to lead to more lies which ends in them being out of control. And finally there are often consequences to the lies we tell. Lies can harm relationships, friendships, even community within the church.

I encourage you to practice telling the truth. Honesty is always the best policy. I know this is a little cliche, but it is true. Lies can start out as a little misrepresentation or little white lie. But, lies lead to more lies and the Bible makes it clear, “Your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

God doesn’t discard Abraham because of this episode in Egypt. God’s grace did not stop at that point. Nor does God’s grace stop in our lives when we stray from the truth.

Discussion Question:

  1. Can you think of a situation or circumstance in your own life where you experienced what Abraham did by telling a half-truth? How did it end?
  2. What forms of lying are easiest for Christians to justify, and why? In what kinds of relationships or situations do you most find yourself tempted to distort the truth?
  3. In what everyday situations are you called to stand up for the truth?
  4. What makes gossip, flattery, exaggeration and other forms of dishonesty so damaging?
  5. Pray and ask God to speak to those areas of your life where you are dishonest.