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A Summary of Abraham’s Faith

By Pastor's Blog

Interestingly, an excellent summary of the patriarch Abraham’s faith is found in the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11. Abraham’s life is recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, starting in chapter 12. Within this summary are two powerful principles about faith that are helpful to each of us on our faith journey.

The author of Hebrews opens this faith drama with a definition that has been made widely known by Christ-followers since its proclamation, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). From this definition, we understand that faith is the solid certainty of that for which we hope, based upon reality and solid existence that has been tested and is essential. Therefore, our faith does not create reality but is based upon the reality of God’s sovereignty and power. This was the faith exhibited through the life of Abraham and his wife, Sarah.

Hebrews 11:8-12 speaks of the faith of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated when he obeyed God when He said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Abraham went, although he did not have any clue where he was going. There would have been those who had thought Abraham had lost his mind. Abraham left what was familiar to him, the land and people and family that he loved for years, and journeyed to a place unknown to him. When Abraham reached his destination, he lived as a sojourner, not an owner or possessor, but in tents of temporary nature. By faith, Abraham looked into the future. He saw with a faithful eye a city whose buildings had foundation stones, a symbol of the permanence of the promise of God, which contrasted with the portable and unstable tents of his current living space. Abraham foresaw that the builder and maker of that city would be God.

Sarah, Abraham’s aged wife, having long past child-bearing years, received the message that she would have a son. Her first response was not faith but laughter. She responded, “Imagine, I who am called barren, I am going to have a baby!” (Gen 18:12). It’s as if she is questioning if God’s messengers didn’t know her female condition or don’t understand about bearing children. However, the messengers persist in their promises with an intensity and honesty that put aside all doubt. Finally, she yielded, and a wave of belief swept over her whole being. What a work of God. By faith, Sarah received the power to conceive, and she bore the promised child – the promise came through obedient faith. In both accounts, we learn a powerful principle of faith, that genuine faith leads to obedience. Otherwise stated, by faith, both Abraham and Sarah walked in obedience.

The second powerful faith principle is found in Hebrews 11:17-19. We read that Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Imagine the anguish Abraham must have felt as he wrestled with the rationale of such a command. He had to have thought, “But Isaac is the son of promise, the one whom God is going to fulfill His promise” (Heb 11:20). But, Abraham acts in faith. We are told Abraham believed “that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead.” This is genuine faith! In the very process of the sacrifice, God provided by other means, sparring Isaac and showing the importance of obedience but at the same time His glorious provision for our needs. The second powerful faith principle is that God gets into the act when we act in faith.

So, we have learned two powerful principles from Hebrews about faith that can impact each of our faith journeys. They can be combined and understood that when we place our trust, our belief, our faith in God, it leads to obedience that releases the resources of heaven in and through our lives. When we act in faith, God, Who exists, is present and always working, is glorified, we are blessed, and others are blessed through us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Offering a Child

By Pastor's Blog

To fully appreciate Abraham’s account of offing up his son Isaac (Gen 221-18), we need to note that Abraham is a mere man, a husband, and a dad. Also, we have to admit this it’s an unusual account. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how it could be misunderstood. However, as we unpack it together, we learn from Abraham a powerful principle to help us on our faith journey.

This account is one of the most profound demonstrations of a person’s faith in a faithful God. Abraham is called to go to a place, God would later disclose, to offer up his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering (Gen 22:1-2). Some have misunderstood this account as addressing Abraham’s embracing of the pagan practices of the Canaanites. This is not accurate. The scripture is clear that “God tested Abraham.” The thought that God might test a person is beyond some.

Place yourself in Abraham’s shoes (or sandals) for a minute. He is a Dad. This son was a blessing provided to him in his old age (a literal miracle). Think about it. Abraham was asked to measure his faith in relation to his parental love for his son. No one can take such testing lightly. In addition, Abraham’s parental challenge was a deeply spiritual one. God had revealed to Abraham that his promise to him was intertwined with Isaac’s life. Abraham understood that if the promises of God were to be fulfilled, Isaac’s life would have to be preserved. Here is part of Abraham’s dilemma. The promise of God required that Isaac live while the command of God demanded he should die. For many a believer, when they are confronted with who appears to be a self-contradictory God, rather than trusting Him and with growing faith, wait and see God’s plan come to fruition, choose to in the least distance themselves from Him, and worst yet abandon the faith.

We discover that Abraham’s faith was not an example of reckless abandonment or some irrational behavior. He wasn’t uncaring or unloving or callous toward Isaac and what they were heading off to participate in – the sacrificing of his son. Abraham’s faith was steadfast and anchored in the fact that God is faithful and He is true to His promises. The New Testament book of Hebrews writer gives us some insight into Abraham’s thinking. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:17-19). Abraham had faith that God would make a way. Abraham pressed on, not always knowing the why, where, or when but always knowing the Who!

Eventually, the Lord leads Abraham and Isaac to Mt. Moriah. Mt. Moriah means “provided by God.” It’s located within a ridge that extends throughout Jerusalem with Mt. Zion to the west and the Mt. of Olives to the east. It was on this mountain that later Solomon would build the temple to the Lord. This was the place where Isaac was symbolically sacrificed. This is the place where sacrifices were made once the temple was built. Ultimately, all of this pointed to the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed on the cross thousands of years after this incident with Abraham and Isaac to pay for our sins. Once Abraham and Isaac arrived at the place God had shown him, he busied himself building the altar and preparing for sacrifice, still not sure what would happen. What he was sure of was that God would be faithful.

Abraham is about to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. Then God spoke, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen 22:12). God intervenes. This is a triumph of divine timing. God did not act a minute too soon, not a minute too late, but just in time. Abraham was taken to the point of no return, not only for God to see but for Abraham to see his faith for himself (not to mention Isaac witnessing all of this from his uncomfortable position). Add to this that God provides a ram for the sacrifice (Gen 22:13), and we have front-row seats to read a marvelous account of the glorious workings of our God.

My Mt. Moriah story and yours might not look like Abraham’s, but when handled in faith can produce the same positive results. The powerful principle we learn from Abraham is that faith in God will stretch us, but the stretching will serve to expand our capacity to know God and discover the great potential of life lived by faith. When God’s people, through faith, place themselves in God’s capable hands, He will deliver exactly what is needed at exactly the right time in exactly the right manner.

We would be amiss if we didn’t see this incident with Abraham and Isaac as foreshadowing the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ. He willingly submitted Himself without reservation to the Father’s will. In Abraham, we have an astounding picture of the Father “who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom 8:32), and in the ram a type of the lamb Who died as a substitute for the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). I have to be honest: I have a daughter and two sons, a granddaughter and grandson (3 children and two grandchildren), and I would not offer one of them up for any person? But God had only one Son, and He offered Him freely for the sins of the world (your sins and mine). He offered up His Son for each of us that did not even heed His action nor desire His grace or love.

Our faith journey begins with the first step, receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. It continues as we take one step of faith after another, following the Lord even when destinations are unknown, reasons are unclear, but knowing we are firmly in the hands of our God, who is known to us and can be trusted. I don’t know where you are on your faith journey, but whatever the next step is that the Spirit is leading you (whether the first step of receiving Christ or any other), won’t you decide to take it right now? After all, we know that our faith in God will stretch us, and the stretching will serve to expand our capacity to know God and discover the great potential of our lives lived by faith. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Made New

By Pastor's Blog

The Life of Abraham, recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, is packed with life lessons and principles we can apply to our personal faith journeys. This man of faith was just a man. The biblical record reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of his life. But, he presses on in faith in God, and for that very reason, his life is worth diligent study.

Among the many interesting accounts of Abraham’s life is that of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 18. God reveals a plan to destroy these cities due to their wickedness. This might seem like a pretty harsh situation, but we can’t overstate the devastating effects of sin and life in this fallen world.

We discover that Abraham enters into a conversation with God to mediate for these cities. He pleads with God to spare the righteous people who live in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord agrees to spare Sodom if only ten righteous people are found in the city. Unfortunately, there are not even ten righteous people found in Sodom. It’s noteworthy that Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom. Before Sodom is destroyed, Lot and his daughters are saved.

There’s much we can learn from this account. However, it’s Abraham’s caring heart for people, including those far from God but so close to His heart, that really sticks out to me. As we read the account, there’s no doubt that the people of Sodom are wicked. But, Abraham still pleads for them. He does this while respecting God’s right to cast judgment. Abraham’s faith in the Lord led to him yielding his will to God’s will.

When I look at this account, I’m challenged to share Abraham’s heart for people. I, too, ought to love those in Christ as well as those who have yet to receive Him as Lord and Savior. Also, like Abraham, I need to accept God’s judgments, even when His decisions differ from my preferences. I have to admit this can be difficult. It can be a real test of faith.

Ultimately, I must remember that there is a God, and I am not Him. I may not always understand why He makes the choices He does, but a God I can totally grasp is not a God worthy of my worship. The good news is that God has revealed enough of Himself to me to believe He’s good, faithful, and worthy of my trust.

It’s easy to read the account and question why we ought to mediate for others if, at times, like Abraham, we don’t see the answer we desired. But, first, I am reminded that prayer is not about changing God’s mind but ultimately about leading me to bring my will into alignment with His. Also, let’s not forget God did rescue Lot and his daughters. Yes, the cities were destroyed, but Abraham’s nephew and nieces are saved.

Again, there is a lot we could unpack from this account. It’s kept theologians and skeptics busy alike. People like to point to this passage and make all kinds of implications. I would encourage a careful examination noting the context of the account and, of course, taking the whole of Scriptures teachings to bear on this account.

Looking at this passage, I seem to always go back to prayer. Abraham’s prayer on behalf of others is worth emulating. His prayer on behalf of others was important. So too are ours. As I pray for others, like Abraham, my caring for others grows. My heart is formed into a likeness of our Lord’s. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Abraham’s Four Altars

By Pastor's Blog

When we explore the account of Abraham’s life in Genesis, we discover four altars he built on four different occasions. I believe there is much we can learn from these altars that we can apply to our own spiritual journeys with Christ. For example, we discover the first altar that Abraham erected in Genesis 12:1-7. This account recalls Abraham’s call and the scope of divine blessing. Abraham arrived in the Land of Promise, and he was immediately faced with a problem – “the Canaanites were in the land.” The Canaanites were a cruel, corrupt, and callous people. Abraham had left the familiar and relatively safe environment of his country, kindred, and family for an unknown land that happened to be filled with a people (Canaanites) who represented all kinds of problems and threats to Abraham’s safety. This place of spiritual blessing, the Promised Land, is found amidst real threats. In a similar sense, new believers discover that faith in Christ has led them into a sphere where evil forces operate against them as followers of Christ (Eph 6:12), yet finding in this same sphere spiritual blessing and the ability to flourish in the Lord.

We discover that the Lord is with Abraham, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him” (Gen 12:7). The Lord was with Abraham in the land, and a divine vision and voice welcomed Him there as God affirmed His promise to Abraham. Abraham’s fears were relieved, the promise was renewed, and Abraham was reassured. His response was to erect an altar of praise. What is biblical praise? Biblical praise is focused on the Lord, based on the truth of who He is as revealed through His word, not imagination, and is proportionate to our knowledge and experience of Him. The Hebrews writer offers this insight, “Through him (Christ) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb 13:15). Every believer, like Abraham, needs to erect an altar of praise in their faith journey.

We note the second altar in Genesis 12:8-13 as Abraham progresses in his journey. We discover that Abraham pitches his tent between Bethel (meaning house of God) and Ai (meaning heap of ruins), perhaps signifying his devotion to God and how that devotion is intended to impact the world (worship and witness). We discover that he is a pilgrim as the Hebrews writer informs us, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Abraham did not just pitch a tent, but he built an altar, “From there he moved to the hill country 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” (Gen 12:8). This second altar Abraham erected was for a time of prayer – “He called upon the name of the Lord” (v. 8).

Immediately after this account, we read that Abraham goes to Egypt to escape a famine. Abraham then made a selfish proposition to his wife Sarah and was prepared to put his wife in danger to save himself (vv. 11-13). Abraham’s expedition into Egypt resulted in fear, falsehoods, and failure. It appears that Abraham’s trust in God wavers. God intervenes and delivers Abraham and Sarah from what could have been a genuine personal hazard. What does Abraham do after such an incident? We read, “And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 13:34).

Abraham retraced his steps to Bethel, where he pitched his tent and built his first altar to the Lord. We believers, too, need to return to the point where we are mindful and accept our security in Christ to learn from our moral and spiritual failures and be restored to the Lord. Notice that Abraham again “called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 13:4). Every believer, like Abraham, needs to erect an altar of prayer in their faith journey. Whether seeking the Lord’s direction for our lives or needing to repent and ask for forgiveness (that is always graciously given), we need to erect an altar of prayer in our faith journeys.

Later in Abraham’s account, recorded in Genesis 13:1-18, we read that God has blessed Abraham and Lot extraordinarily with abundant flocks, herds, and people. Unfortunately, this leads to strife and division between Lots herdsmen and Abraham’s, making it unreasonable for them to continue to dwell together. Abraham and Lot decide to separate. Abraham graciously allowed Lot first choice of the land. We discover that the graciousness of Abraham diffused the situation and is rewarded by being given further assurances by God that all the land within his vision would be for him and his decedents. Abraham is free of the horrific situation in Egypt and the strife between Lot’s herdsmen and his own, so he builds an altar (Gen 13:18). Abraham built an altar to the Lord to enjoy the peace and presence of God. Every believer, like Abraham, needs to erect an altar of peace in their faith journey. We believers must invest more time in God’s presence to be mindful and enjoy God’s peace and company.

This next altar Abraham builds is found in Genesis 22:9-14. Abraham built an altar on Mount Moriah to offer his only beloved son to God – his son was to be an offering on the altar. Abraham, by faith, obeys God’s command to offer up his son of promise, Isaac. Isaac is Abraham’s heir of promise. Isaac is placed on the altar. Abraham raises his knife while believing “that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb 11:19a). What was thought to be a moment of death became a moment of triumph – a substitute, a provision, was provided by God. As we read in Hebrews, Isaac was sparred, “Abraham considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:19). Abraham’s faith had been outstandingly tested and rewarded. This altar was constructed as an altar of sacrifice but became an altar of provision. Every believer, like Abraham, needs to erect an altar of provision in their faith journey.

We discover in this account a glorious type of Calvary, where God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom 8:32a). So then, “how will God not also with him graciously give us all things” (Rom 8:32b). Ultimately, we understand that God did not really want Isaac but Abraham’s heart. Abraham was really on the altar, not Isaac. As believers, are we on the altar for God? Paul challenges us to respond rightly to all God has provided for us in Christ in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). When we come to Christ, we may begin by thinking we have laid ourselves on the altar of sacrifice but genuinely come to realize that it’s actually an altar of provision. Jesus has made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can experience the ultimate provision of abundant life.

It is no wonder that, under God, Abraham became the founder of a nation, the friend of God, and the father of the faithful followers of Christ. Abraham was not perfect. He made mistakes, yes, and sinned. But, he faithfully turned to God. He built the altars of praise, prayer, peace, and provision. You and I should, in our spiritual journey as well. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Covenant Promise

By Pastor's Blog
It is said that there is a scarlet thread running through the Bible that points to Christ from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation). This is true enough. It speaks of God’s redemptive plan from the very beginning of humanity’s fall when sin entered the world, and we became desperately in need of saving.
To give a very broad brushstroke of this scarlet thread, I want to look at the blessing of Abraham, which is a crucial moment in redemptive history. But, first, let’s look at its historical context. This divine blessing is recorded for us in Genesis. “Now the Lord said to Abram (Abraham), ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen 12:1-3). Abraham is blessed, but not merely for his own sake. Yes, he will prosper. He will be the father of a nation. But, we also discover that “the nations of the world” will be blessed through him.
The ultimate fulfillment of this Abrahamic blessing is found in Jesus Christ. We read in Galatians, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Gal 3:16). The blessing of Abraham is ultimately fulfilled not in the mere establishment of a nation but through a new redeemed people who place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
The Bible records how this blessing of Abraham leads us to Christ. Abraham gains a great reputation and prospers. His descendants became numerous and even became the nation of Israel (God’s chosen people). The Lord sends prophets who foretell of the coming Messiah (Christ). They were pointing to Jesus. When Jesus came, all the prophecies culminated in the only One who could perfectly fulfill them since, after all, they were speaking of Him.
God’s plan to save humanity is Jesus. We read, “He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The tree was often used as a synonym for “cross” in first-century Judaism. The unique, substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus is described here as healing. The healing mentioned is not physical but the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ death and resurrection should lead to a profound change in the lives of those who place their trust in Him, believers. Those once separated from God due to sin are through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross reunited as His people given new life and a new destiny, eternity with Him.
No doubt, the blessing of Abraham was a benefit to Abraham himself. He prospered in many ways. His descendants were blessed by becoming a nation, Israel. Both Abraham and his descendants had a unique role to play in redemptive history. They were blessed. But, they too would bless the nations through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, from the nation of Israel, Who offers salvation to all who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
Interestingly, the Scriptures teach us that we are made right with God through faith (belief) in Christ. Further, those who have faith are spiritual children of Abraham. God’s intent from the beginning was not merely to save Abraham’s physical descendants, Israel, but Gentiles (non-Jews) as well. As Paul rights, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentiles). For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:16-17). This fulfills the blessing spoken by God to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed through him. In this sense, the Abrahamic blessing is our blessing (those who are in Christ) as well. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone!)

On Being a Multi-Generational Church

By Pastor's Blog
I served for eight years as a student pastor upon graduating from college. Then, I continued to serve an additional four years as an itinerant preacher to students and young adults. I have been a pastor for nearly thirty years. Still, today I have the privilege of not only leading a church that highly values our students but regularly serving them as I preach during our Sunday, large worship gatherings, where they are participants.
Here at Crosswinds, our students serve. They don’t merely serve within our student ministry but throughout the church. This makes sense. After all, they are not the church of tomorrow. They are part of the church of today. God has gifted and equipped them as part of His body, the church.
Crosswinds has had a long history of placing the needs of our children and students above that of adults like myself. This is reflected in our building on our Canandaigua campus. It is expressed in our choice of music during our worship gatherings and in our budget and staffing.
The death of any church is when adults stop thinking about legacy and begin placing a higher priority on themselves. Thoughts like, this is what I want, versus what will raise up generations of believers is stifling to growth, both in depth and breadth. A church’s decline can be seen in leadership striving to be heroes rather than hero makers.
This does not mean that all generations aren’t important in a multi-generational church. In fact, another hindrance, I believe, to the advancement of the gospel through a local church is a church that doesn’t have a multi-generational presence. However, without a willingness of the older generation, which I am a part of, to sacrifice wants and desires for the ability to reach the generations that follow, a church is headed toward declining kingdom influence.
I know I am preaching to the choir, so to speak. Our church family is so appreciative and supportive of our children, students, and their parents, as well as our ministry to them and with them. I believe God has honored this and will continue to do so for years to come.
One verse I have been mindful of as a parent and pastor is Deuteronomy 11:19, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” It’s crucial that we disciple the next generation. Imparting God’s Word to them. The two pairs of opposites (sitting/walking, lie down/rise) suggests any and every time, place, and activity, we are to be mindful of sharing the gospel in word and deed to them.
I can’t overstate how much I appreciate being a part of a church that keeps the main thing the main thing: knowing God and making Him known. We don’t waste valuable time and energy arguing about carpet color, décor, music style, or volume. Instead, we realize everyone is working hard to serve in their areas, giving their utmost for His highest and ensuring God’s workings in and through us ripples for many generations to come.
One last note. Our students face challenges to their faith today, unlike many in past American generations. So join me in praying for strength, wisdom, and God’s power for them and their parents, mentors, and caregivers. Perhaps, even prayerfully consider serving in Crosswinds children’s ministry or student ministry. The impact you make today will make a difference for years to come.
God is at work throughout our church family. We are making a difference in our homes, workplaces, schools, community, region, and beyond. God is being glorified, we are being blessed, as others are blessed through us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Blessed to be a Blessing

By Pastor's Blog
Let’s explore one of my favorite scriptures in Abraham’s story as God promises to bless him to be a blessing. We are going to discover that our blessings, like Abraham’s, are not just for us but are to be used to bless others. In the opening verses of Genesis 12:1-2, the Lord tells Abram, later to be called Abraham: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Notice that God’s promise to Abraham is accompanied by a further explanation. The Lord’s blessing of Abraham is just the first step in God’s divine plan to extend blessing through Abraham to all the peoples of the earth.
No doubt God intended to bless Abraham and his descendants but never meant for his blessing to be exclusive. God’s selection of Abraham and his descendants out of the humanity who had strayed far from Him was a tactical move. God’s decision to call Abraham and later the setting apart of the nation of Israel was not the end itself, but a means to an end. What am I getting at here? God did not bless Abraham simply to bless Abraham. God did not establish Israel as a nation and bless them with a unique revelation through His word and presence to simply bless Israel. In fact, God has not blessed any of us who are part of His church to simply bless us. God blesses us to be a blessing. Blessings flow from God, but they should never stay with us. They come to us, then flow through us.
In seminary, I was able to sit in a class where noted missionary and missiologist Don Richardson spoke. He referred to these twin promises in Genesis 12:1-2 as the top line (“I will bless you”) and bottom line (“and you will be a blessing”). They remind us that everything we have received from God is ultimately to be used to glorify God, yes, bless us, and for the benefit of other people. These “other people” especially include those yet to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, in the hope that they will enter into a saving relationship with the Lord. So, again, we are blessed to be a blessing.
Here are some blessings, to name a few, for us to consider. First, think about comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4), forgiveness (Col 3:13), and love (1John 4:11). We receive these from the Lord so that, in part, we can share them with others. Next, consider justice and charity (Prov 27-28). We are to do good by using the resources and influence that God has granted us, to see justice prevail, and to offer charity to those in need. God’s blessings are not meant to be totally consumed by us. Paul writes, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:11). A simple definition of generosity is blessing others from the blessings we have received from God. I wonder something. I wonder, using Don Richardson’s language if we’re in danger of being so focused on the top line – all good things God has given us – that we have forgotten the bottom line, and the bottom line is this: we have been blessed to be a blessing.
Let’s take a moment and focus on the greatest blessing of all. Those of us who know the Lord personally, who have received the gift of salvation, are called to share the good news with others in word and deed (Matt 28:19). The central task of the church, those who have received the blessing of salvation in Christ, is to share the good news with others in the hope that they, too, will receive the blessing of salvation.
The blessings God gives us are intended to be shared with all, beginning with the inestimable blessing of salvation in Christ, as well as all the other good things the Lord has given us. You might not think you have much to offer. You lay all you feel you possess on the table, and perhaps you feel lacking. But, I encourage you to consider what God brings to the table. What He brings to the table fills the table and overflows and continues unending. Remember, you, plus God, are always more than enough.
In all honesty, I know I have been greatly blessed in so many ways. I am a blessed man. If you, like me, are a believer, then whatever your circumstances, you’ve been given not only salvation but hope, forgiveness, and love. Those of us in Christ have been given everything that is eternally worthwhile. What is the Lord’s intention in giving us these things? God’s blessings are not meant to be totally consumed by us. We are blessed to be a blessing. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

God Showing Up

By Pastor's Blog
As I was preparing to share this writing with you, I pictured initially parents as they read my words. Then, as I began to look a little deeper at what I was sharing, I realized that this is for everyone. Like so many truths in God’s Word, they apply to a variety of people in various situations.
At first, I pictured parents because the account from Genesis I was studying concerns a mother and her child. In Genesis, we discover that God has promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations but has a barren wife. At his wife’s suggestion, he tries to hurry along with God’s plan by sleeping with her maidservant, Hagar. Sidebar, in the Scriptures, we find prescriptive actions and descriptive actions. There are prescriptive actions we are to follow. This is not one of them. What Abraham did was sinful, disobedient, and abusive to Hagar.
Now, back to Hagar. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Ishmael. Due to Jealousy, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, wants Hagar punished for her part in having this child. Remember, it was Sarah’s idea in the first place. This results in Abraham turning a blind eye to Sarah’s harsh treatment of Hagar.
Fast forward a bit. As God had promised, Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac. Unfortunately, this does not make the situation between Sarah and Hagar any better. It actually gets worse. This leads to Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away.
Eventually, Hagar and Ishmael find themselves in a dire situation. We read in Genesis 21:15-16, “When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.” I believe any parent, and any person for that matter, knows what it’s like to feel despair, not knowing what to do. You feel alone, helpless, and hopeless. This was where Hagar was sitting.
Then, we read, “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink” (Genesis 21:17-19). Hagar discovers she’s not alone. The situation was not hopeless because God, the Helper, was present and working.
There is so much that could be addressed from this account. However, I want to draw our attention to a few insights. First, on this side of paradise, life is not fair. Hagar didn’t deserve the way she was treated. She should have been able to expect more from Sarah and Abraham. However, we don’t always get what we deserve.
Second, in all of life, specifically in this parenting situation, we discover that life isn’t easy. Hagar wanted what was best for her son. She desired to protect him. But, unfortunately, there is only so much we can do. We are limited. This is painful when others and situations seek to harm our children. This is even more painful when our children make choices that hurt themselves. Hagar felt the despair many a parent, and generally speaking, many of us have felt.
Lastly, God is always present and working. We might not understand why He allows certain things and chooses to intervene when He does. We know we live in a fallen world that is not easy or fair. We know that we are often humbled by our limitations. The good news is God is present and working in this life and preparing us for eternity where life is not harsh, it is fair, and we will be without limit to experience the fullness of God’s joy and provisions.
So, what do we learn from Hagar’s experience to help us today? First, always look to the Lord. If you haven’t received Christ as Savior, start there in your relationship with Him. Then, acknowledge He is present and working. And know that your future is secure in Him. For us parents, we need to trust that God is more concerned and loves our children more deeply than we ever could. In truth, none of us are ever really alone, nor in despair (utter loss of hope), because God is with us and always at work (Matthew 28:20). Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Call of a Lifetime

By Pastor's Blog
Abraham’s place in the “Who’s Who” in the Bible is altogether unique yet offers insights that are of great use to anyone’s faith journey. He stands out as a landmark in the spiritual history of the world. He’s chosen to be the father of a new spiritual race. Interestingly, he was flawed. In fact, there was nothing much about him that made him worthy of such a distinction but that he journeyed in faith. Although, if we were to be honest, we lack anything genuinely remarkable. However, like Abraham, we can embark on a faith journey with God marked by the extraordinary invading our ordinary lives.
For instance, look at Abraham’s calling from God in Genesis 12:1-9. We discover Abram, whose name will later be changed by God to Abraham, living his life like usual among his people. Then, God meets with Abraham and calls him to step out in faith. This faith journey will require Abraham to surrender three things (Gen 12:1). First, Abraham needed to leave his country (nation/city/citizenship). Scripture tells us that Abraham was a native of Ur, a city located in the region of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is credited with being the first known civilization in the world. Ur was a major port city and urban center located on the Persian Gulf. It was from this seaside city that God called Abraham. Having spent his life in a bustling city at the edge of the water, Abraham must have found a nomad’s life a big transition.
Secondly, Abraham needed to leave his family and his status in his clan. God’s invitation to Abraham challenged him to abandon the normal sources of personal identity and security: his family and country. To obey, Abraham must trust God implicitly; all human support is largely removed.
Finally, Abraham needed to leave his father’s house and the right of inheritance in the extended family of his father. Abraham may have been called from city life to remove him from temptations at home. Leaving behind his father’s house meant leaving behind everything that was familiar, including his religion of worshiping false idols. This new God, Yahweh, must have seemed very mysterious because he chose to communicate directly with Abraham. At the same time, the false idols of Abraham’s youth were understood to be distant gods who did not personally connect. This difference may have been one of the deciding factors in Abraham’s choice to follow God’s leading.
God’s call to Abraham was surely a test of his faith. We discover in Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Abraham shows us that faith leads to obedience. In fact, this faith that leads to obedience is what’s necessary for the promised outcomes.
As we continue exploring Genesis 12, we come across verses 2-3, which read, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Much could be said here. Although Abraham is called to be a blessing to others, much rests on how they treat him. Those favorable toward Abraham will experience God’s favor; those who despise Abraham will know God’s displeasure. Notice, “in Abraham, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The inclusion of all the families of the earth anticipates the spread of the gospel and salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth.
While still in Mesopotamia, Abraham received God’s promise that he would become “a great nation” of numerous descendants. Earlier in Hebrews 11, verse 1, we discover the definition of faith, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” “Faith” is certain of “things hoped for,” God’s promised blessings will be fulfilled. It is also confident of “things not seen,” God’s power and faithfulness in life today. Here’s the point. Abraham shows us that we grasp God’s promised blessings by faith. As you read through the promised blessings of God to each of us believers in Scripture, we realize that they are ours in Christ, but they are not activated in our lives unless we receive them by faith.
Lastly, as we read Genesis 12:4-9, we discover that Abraham “went, as the Lord told him” (Gen 12:4). This brief report of Abraham’s response presents his obedience as immediate and unquestioning. We even discover that the Lord once again speaks to Abraham (Gen 12:7). Abraham responds by building an altar. This is the first of a number of manifestations of God to the patriarchs. These appearances are often associated with divine promises. This altar, that is erected by Abraham, is placed as a witness, a mark of remembrance, and place of worship to God for His presence and promise. Abraham shows us that our faith can be a witness to those yet to receive Christ and encouragement to those who have done so. Looking upon this altar must have brought questions that people of faith were ready to answer. Also, there is something powerful about hearing someone else’s faith journey for believers. When God’s people saw these altars, they would be reminded of God’s presence and promises.
Ultimately the “offspring” of Abraham narrows down to Christ (Gal 3:16), whose dominion extends not only over the land of Canaan but over the entire world (Matt 28:18). It’s important to remember that, in Christ, believers are the offspring of Abraham (Gal 3:7, 29). When we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, not only can we embody these lessons we learn from Abraham but are grafted into the promise God shared with Abraham at the beginning of his faith journey. Soli Do Glory (Glory to God Alone)!

Vertical Momentum

By Pastor's Blog
When we look at Philippians 2:5-11, Paul describes the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ. When we speak of Christ’s humiliation, we address Christ’s life from the incarnation through His death on the cross, where he died in our stead, placing our guilt and shame upon Himself. Christ’s exaltation is seen from His resurrection, through His ascension, to His seating at the Father’s right hand (Session).
Indeed, the resurrection is a defining point in history. However, as important as the resurrection was, it was not the decisive redemptive event that would transform Christ’s stumbling disciples into Christ’s steadfast apostles. Nevertheless, the apostles never forgot the resurrection. Without the resurrection, all would be lost. But they could not live or serve in God’s plan as He intended with only the forgiveness of sins and the memory of Christ’s triumph over the grave. Having rescued them from sin and reconciled them to the Father, Christ was now prepared to equip them with His presence and send them out to be witnesses in the world.
We read of Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:6-11. Just before Jesus departed from them, Jesus told them to fix their attention on fulfilling His great commission (Acts 1:8). He had done enough, and they had heard enough to tell others everything they needed to know about Jesus. The ascension also anticipated that Jesus would end the Spirit-empowered era of the gospel preaching by returning to them. Jesus would return as He had left, visibly, bodily, and triumphantly.
Just as the resurrection of Christ gives us a firm hope that God will one day resurrect our bodies, similarly, the ascension affirms He will return to take us home. So often, much of the focus of the ascension is given to Jesus leaving His disciples, but more significantly, it was also the time Jesus returned to His Father. Think about it. The resurrection confirmed that Christ’s salvific work was completed, and this His work in heaven would be accepted, allowing believers to know that His access to the Father is the basis for theirs.
Jesus’ ascension allowed His Spirit to come in power. Jesus viewed the Spirit’s ministry as an essential extension of His own. Actually, we could say that Jesus continued His ministry through the Spirit. Before Christ’s death, Jesus had described the relationship between the believer and the Spirit as the Spirit “dwelling with you and will be in you (see: John 1416-17). God, the Holy Spirit, would abide with them and would be “in them.”
The Spirit’s goal is to magnify or glorify Christ in the life of believers. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a once-for-all action that took place on Pentecost. As individual believers subsequently enter into a saving relationship in Jesus Christ, they are indwelt by the Spirit individually, entering a body of believers (the Church) indwelt corporately (1 Cor 12:13). We have the account of Pentecost recorded for us in Acts 2:1-6.
The cross and Pentecost constitute the two redemptive transactions. On the cross, Christ removed our guilt and shame. At Pentecost, the Lord equipped us with His divine presence through the Spirit, enabling us to function as designed and directed in our God-ordained purpose. It is important to note that Peter immediately preaches a message that fittingly and instructively was about Christ, not about the Spirit.  The Spirit enabled Peter for the first time to proclaim the truth about Christ accurately and, therefore, powerfully (Acts 2:14-36). Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). For the first time since Adam sinned, God could be restored to human beings. Cleansed by the blood of Christ, He again assured His rightful place in human beings through the indwelling Holy Spirit. From Pentecost until Christ’s return, faith in Christ results in restoring the Holy Spirit to the human spirit.
Jesus entered heaven and sent us His Spirit. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God. We call this Session, which literally means “seating. He sat down to show that he had secured salvation (Hebrews 1:3). From His seated position, Jesus is situated ideally to come to the aid of His own. Christ intercedes for us now, before the Father (Hebrews 7:25).
Let me speak a bit about Christ in you through the Spirit in you. If “you in Christ” defines the identity and source of every spiritual blessing for Christians, then “Christ in you” describes the provision of God, enabling Christians to be in daily life who they have become in Christ. Paul wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Paul was not stating merely that you will go to heaven if you are a Christian. Glory is the manifestation of the attributes of God in their splendor. The Christian life is a manifestation of the restored image of God because of the restored presence of God. The Christian life, therefore, is the life of Christ lived out through a human being by faith. The Christian life is about Christ, His life, His attributes, His glory.
The Scripture speaks about “Christ in you” whenever it speaks about the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. The Spirit’s task is to apply the ministry of Christ, to magnify Christ, to point to Christ, to teach about Christ – and nothing else! The Spirit and Christ are so united in purpose that “the Spirit in you” means the same thing as “Christ in you.” Christ always does the work that has made salvation possible. The Spirit always applies the work Christ does to our lives. Here it is in a nutshell. What the believer has become legally and positionally in Christ is the basis for what Christ through the Spirit becomes actually and practically in you now, and this is a journey.
I know we have explored a lot here together. We have looked at Christ’s humiliation, exaltation, and the impact his ascension and Session have on the lives of believers today. You may be asking, “How do we enter into this saving relationship with Jesus Christ and experience the benefits of doing life with Him?” Faith is the one requirement God ever places upon any human being. Christ proclaimed, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This life of vertical momentum (finding salvation and abundant life in Christ) is offered to all who believe. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!