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God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

15 Ailments of the Church #8: Suffering from ‘Existential Schizophrenia’

Read John 17:17-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21a NLT)

imagesWhen Jesus commissioned his disciples to build his “church”, he knew that there were going to be bumps along the way. He knew that divisiveness, bitterness, jealousy, infighting, politics and other things would creep into it. How did he know that? Because those things affected his disciples while he was he was with them. If that was a reality with him there, it would surely be a reality when he was no longer there to guide them. The truth is that humans so easily lose sight of their calling, as well as to whom they owe their allegiance. We get so caught up in our own self-interests that we end up serving ourselves as Lord as opposed to Christ…but we do so in the guise of serving Christ. Hence Pope Francis I’s next Ailment of the Church.

Ailment of the Church #8: Suffering from ‘Existential Schizophrenia’. When we lose sight of who we serve and the calling that has been placed upon us, we fall into what the Pope is calling ‘Existential Schizophrenia’. That’s a fancy way of saying that we end up hypocritically living double lives. On the one end, we claim to be Christians and we claim to be serving Christ; on the other end, we have lost our way and have stopped actually serving Christ. For a Christian, this is an existential crisis.

One of my favorite modern-day theologians and philosophers is Søren Kierkegaard. In his “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the ‘Philosophical Fragments'”, Kierkegaard (writing pseudonymous as Johannes Climacus) tells a story of a pastor who preaches that one ought “not to depend on the world, and not upon men, and not upon yourself, but only and alone upon God; for a human being can of [him/herself] do nothing.” He then goes on to say that a spy was at the service, heard the sermon and wanted to see if people understood the message. When asked, everyone stated what a powerful and true message was preached on that Sunday; however, each person then contradicted their supposed understanding of the sermon by stating that they were responsible for doing this or that. Even the pastor, when the spy complimented him on his sermon, stated how hard he had worked on it. The spy was perplexed because he discovered that no one truly believed what they were claiming.

Of course, Kierkegaard (of which I captured the essence of his parable…not necessarily the exact parable itself) is using humor to make a broader point. Many Christians claim one thing, but live out something completely different. What’s more, they do so in ways that are far more egregious than a contradiction in belief. For instance, Christians claim to believe that we are all apart of the body of Christ, that we are all equally important in carrying out Christ’s mission in the world, but then they bicker, fight and cut each other down in order to climb the proverbial ladder up the ranks.

This kind of behavior, this kind of existential schizophrenia, is damning for the church and it’s mission to spread the love of God in the world. If we cannot get our own act together, how can we ever expect people to see Christ’s message as Good News? We need to remember who we follow. We, as the church, need to remember Jesus’ prayer for his disciples prior to his arrest. We need to put our self-interests aside and make God’s hope, healing and wholeness our interest. Remember that when you bear a name, you represent that name. If you are bearing the name of Christ (e.g. CHRISTian), then you are representing Christ. Let’s represent Christ faithfully by living and serving AS Christ called us to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I invite everyone to choose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition.” – Jean-Francois Cope

PRAYER
Lord, help me to rise above the existential crisis of the church and into the glory of your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

Meet Antichrist

Read 1 John 2:18-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV)

600px-LeftBehind92FS3The Western world is fixated with the apocalypse aren’t we? We are fascinated with the end of the world, with doom and gloom, with the destruction of all things and the idea of living in a dystopic world. From “The Walking Dead”, to “The Hunger Games,” to “Divergent”, there are tons of apocalyptic, dystopic films and books out on the market. Perhaps such a world is more than just a fixation, but an underlying fear.

There is a lot to be afraid of in today’s world, isn’t there. There are religious extremists, in all religions, who are wreaking havoc on people who don’t believe exactly as they do. There are Deadly viruses killing tens of thousands of people and taking the world by storm. There are dysfunctional governments warring over power and ideologies. Every day there are reports of beheadings, kidnappings, grisly murders, riots, hatred, violent uprisings and much, much more.  It seems like at every turn, the world is falling a part at the seams. No wonder the fixation with the end of the world.

And often when we think of the end of the world within the Christianized Western world, we can’t help but imagine that dark forces are aligning against humankind and , often times, those dark forces are embodied by an all-evil entity, envisioned as the “son of Satan”, named the “antichrist.” Yet, the antichrist, as we have come to understand the word, is little more than great fiction based off of a misinterpretation of Scripture. Don’t misunderstand me, as I am NOT saying that the Bible makes no mention of the antichrist. What I AM saying is that the Bible does NOT say the antichrist will be a humanesque demon, named Nicolae Carpathia, who seeks to war with God following a mythical disappearance of millions of God’s neatly dressed holy-rollers.

What the Bible does say about antichrist is that it is a spirit. It is not a spirit of outside forces trying to penetrate the church; rather, it is a spirit that has already penetrated the church and is seeking to destroy the church from within. Whereas the Spirit of God seeks to bring about hope, healing and wholeness, the spirit of antichrist seeks to bring about hopelessness, dis-ease, and disunity. The Spirit of God seeks to love, to encourage, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, to show compassion, to be gentle, to be kind, to be patient, and to be unified in love with God’s creation. The spirit of antichrist seeks to undercut, to undermine, to be proud, to live selfishly, to be wrathful, to seek vengeance, to show ruthlessness, to be divisive and to quell the Spirit and the presence of God.

Antichrist, in short, is exactly as it sounds. It is anything that stands opposed to Christ. Practically speaking, if the way we are acting and living is counter to the teachings and example of Christ, then we are living in the spirit of antichrist. I have seen the church adopt tons of models of how it approaches ministry in the world, everything from the business model, to a political model, to an entertainment model; however, the church is not a buisness, nor is it a political machine, nor is it merely an entertainment agency. The church is Christ’s body, broken and resurrected, filled with the power of God to bring about hope, healing and wholeness.

We all have the potential to get caught up and even derailed by the spirit of antichrist; however, this is a power within you that is greater than any other spirit surrounding you. That very power is from God and it is empowering you to live your life in the Spirit of Christ, in a way that heals others, that builds them up, that invites them to discover their purpose in life, that challenges them to grow, and that shares the unconditional love that God has shared with you. Seek first God’s Kingdom, be filled with God’s Spirit, and live accordingly.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” – Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 5:25

PRAYER
Lord, I seek to live by your Spirit and your Spirit alone. Allow me to not only move beyond negative spirits and influences so that in you I may truly shine and be a blessing to others. Amen.