Tag Archives: faith

ABRAHAM, MAN OF FAITH

The biographies of notable men and women teach us a great deal about how to live and how to be successful. Many have been inspired to innovate by reading about Bill Gates and Paul Allan, co-founders of Microsoft. Others have been inspired to show courage in peril by Churchill, Britain’s leader through the terrible days of the Second World War.

Most bdscn4962-2.jpgiographies are flawed, however. They don’t give an unbiased record of the mistakes and sins of their heroes. Some inflate the good qualities of the subject; others exploit their flaws for sensational effect. The Bible alone can be fully trusted. In the Bible we have an infallible record of the whole story, good or bad. Because of this, the Bible is a peerless source of life principles; giving us both inspiration and warnings.

Let me introduce some of the life lessons we discover from the life of Abraham, who was first called Abram.

Abram’s father Terah, brought up his family in the teeming cesspool of idolatry that was Ur in present day Iraq. The environment of Ur must have grieved Terah. When God called his son, Abram, to leave Ur and go to the promised land of Canaan, Terah immediately affirmed his calling. He “took his son Abram and his grandson Lot,…and his daughter-in-law Sarai…and they went out” (Gen. 11:31). They got as far as Haran where Terah died. When God speaks to our children we should encourage them to follow God’s leading and not throw hindrances in their way.

The Lord “spoke to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…’” (Gen. 12:1,2). Imagine leaving all you know, trusting in a promise of God, and becoming a wanderer with no fixed address. “By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). Genuine Christians are called children of Abraham—not liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans—because they obey God’s promises. In reality, Christians are sojourners on earth, citizens of a higher kingdom, travelling through life on their way to heaven. In this life, they are often called to go to in unknown and surprising directions. Are we open to hear God’s call on our life? Are we submissive to His will even if it means uprooting our family?

God promised Abram “I will bless you and make your name great”. In the 4000 years since few except Moses, David, Elijah and Peter have names as honourable as Moses. A person doesn’t become truly great by winning an election or excelling in sports or getting an Oscar or making millions. No, true greatness comes to those who obey and trust God fully. “Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness”. Help us to entrust our salvation and our name-recognition to God.

Abraham built altars and “called on the name of the Lord” wherever he traveled. May the Lord help us to make our homes—or our hotel rooms—altars where we call on God’s name daily.

Abram was chosen by God to receive a covenant promise of a land, a nation, a great name, and of being a blessing to all nations. His descendants had to wait 400 years to receive the land, “until the iniquity of the Amorites [was] full.” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this covenant promise, for through him and by the proclamation of the gospel, all nations are blessed.

Sarai, Abram’s wife, was very beautiful. During a famine in Canaan, Abraham took his family to Egypt, but feared that Pharaoh might lust after his wife and kill him. He persuaded her to pretend she was his sister. Although Pharaoh was attracted to Sarai, he saw through Abram’s lie, rebuked him, and sent him on his way. How could Abram do this? Because he was sinner like all of us. This record of his sin demonstrates the honesty of the Bible. No other religious book is as honest and accurate about its heroes, as the Bible— a mark of its inspiration from God. Lord help us all to trust the Bible as the Word of God. [This study to be continued.]

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

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Christmas Traditions, Religious Ritual, and Christian Freedom

Most families have treasured Christmas traditions. The sending and receiving of Christmas cards. Buying Christmas gifts. Searching for and decorating the perfect tree. Attending the Christmas Eve Candlelight service. Gathering the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhole extended family together for a turkey dinner.

But it must seem strange to those from other religious backgrounds that evangelical Christians have no rigid religious rituals that they must observe. This will be especially so for Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Shinto friends for whom external rituals are prescribed. Our Orthodox, Ukrainian or Roman Catholic friends may even consider this lack of ritual as an erosion of faith. And for some this dearth of fixed traditions may indeed indicate disinterest or a lack of faith in the reality of Christmas.

But to understand gospel freedom from ritual, we must consider the differences between the Old and New Testaments; the old and new covenants. Out of a pagan culture rife with superstition, human sacrifice, cruelty and oppression God called Abraham to be the progenitor of a purified people living in a just society—Israel. God gave to Moses the laws for this new nation. To remind them of the Lord’s centrality in national life, God gave them daily rituals, Sabbath rules, and seven festivals which the people were required to keep: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks or Pentecost, Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah, Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles. To these festivals Jews later added a seven day long festival, Chanukah, to celebrate the re-dedication of the temple in 165 BC after its desecration by the Syrians. Clearly, obedience to law and ritual was mandated for those under the old covenant. ???????????????????????????????

However, in the New Testament we search in vain for required rituals. There is nothing about how to celebrate Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost. We are free to innovate. Only two important ordinances—baptism and communion—are mentioned.

Why this lack of prescribed rituals in the new covenant? Because external religiosity always fails to generate genuine devotion. God’s purpose in the old covenant was to demonstrate how external ritual and law is powerless to make us holy; is totally incapable of changing our fallen natures. Israel’s utter failure to keep the old covenant paved the way for something new.

Jeremiah and Ezekieh saw this problem and predicted a new covenant: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts”(Heb. 8:8,10). Hebrews explains, “By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete”(Heb. 8:13).

Jesus came to introduce this new covenant, but in doing so repeatedly clashed with those who loved the external trappings of religion found in the old covenant. Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men”(Matt. 15:8-9). “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside ???????????????????????????????but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean…inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”(Matt. 23:27). Very tough words.

Clearly, obeying God’s law of love from heart and mind is the key to being a new covenant person. But the problem, as the whole Old  Testament points out, has no human solution. “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked”(Jer. 17:9). For real devotion to occur, we need heart surgery and mental transformation. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again….of the Spirit”(John 3:3,5).

Paul explained what being born again means to Titus. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared [through Christ’s coming at Christmas] he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior”(Titus 3:4-6).

The new covenant question is not have you kept the traditions but have you been??????????????????????????????? reborn through the Holy Spirit? How does this come about? The instant, you or I, sincerely pray to God confessing our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus died and rose again for our salvation, the Holy Spirit changes us from within. He creates a new heart that loves God and others. The work of transforming our lifestyle really begins.

Jesus came at Christmas to establish a new covenant people who worship God from the heart. Sadly, we often tend to prefer ritual and law over heart devotion. When some of the early church leaders sought to re-impose the old covenant laws, Peter stood and said: “”Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear”(Acts 15:10)?

And so we find no Christmas or Easter rituals in the New Testament. A call to celebration and worship? Yes! And a challenge to infuse everything we do with heart devotion to the glorious Triune God. Lord, with your help, may all our celebrations come from deep within. ???????????????????????????????

How Attitudes Moderate or Intensify Suffering – #5 in a series

Much as we would prefer it, no one can pass through this life without encountering trials of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is boStormrn to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pridVarieties of flowerse, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to his teaching delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite, we have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The positive effect—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

RainbowI have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

A Hope-so Spring?

Will winter never end? Will spring never come? Some years we hear this lament on every side. Years when storms continue through March and April. Years when May is cold and damp. Years when we wake up to frost in May.

So far, this year is different. The winter has been mild and the signs of spring have been all around from late February. Crocuses peeked up early. Everywhere there are the signs that tulips and daffodils will soon be in glorious bloom. Buds on the soft maples and poplars have swollen and burst into pendants of inconspicuous bloom. Robins have arrived. Geese wing their way north in honking V’s. And I’m itchy to plant seeds and rake the yard.

Instead of having to defer the hope of warmer weather week after week, as we have in other years, an early spring seems inevitable. Of course, when it comes to weather, anything can happen but our expectation of spring seems quite solid. After all, it does come every year.

Sometimes life, like cold, dreary weather seems hopeless. And unlike the spring, the outcome is far from certain. Year after year some pinch pennies without any expectation they will ever have enough extra to spend on a trip or even to pay bills. Others endure an endless bout of illness. Some struggle day after day with depression. Still others head out every day in search of a job with little hope of finding employment. Many suffer injustice or persecution without any hope of relief.

The Psalm writers echo our common human feelings of hopelessness in difficult circumstances. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord” (Ps. 6:3)? “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble” (Ps. 10:1). “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Ps. 22:1)? “My soul is downcast within me” (Ps. 42:6).

Despite these deep feelings of anguish, the authors of the various Psalms have hope. Their hope, like that of any genuine God-follower, is rooted in the character and sovereignty of God in whose capable hands, the future rests. In Psalm 13 after his lament, David writes, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5). In Psalms 42 & 43 the sons of Korah repeat one refrain three times as an encouragement to self-talk. “Why are you downcast…put your hope in God” (Ps. 42:5,11; 43:5). You can also check out Psalm 71.

Is biblical hope wishful thinking? One friend has a difficult time with the word hope. In his experience it means uncertainty, an “I-hope-so” kind of attitude. Not so, the biblical writers. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). Those with faith in the Christian verities have confidence that: God is, heaven exists, Christ died for our sins, all things work for the good of those who love God, and history is moving toward a climax during which time Christ will return. We are certain of these things. “These three remain: faith, hope and love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

That which astounds me repeatedly is the hopeful and cheerful outlook displayed by Christian believers in the most difficult of situations. Imprisoned and tortured believers in Iran and China, for example, show us the way through a minefield of doubt and discouragement. May Christian hope transform each of our days.