Memory: The Bitterswet Gift

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

It has been said that when you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. So live your life that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. You have the opportunity to live today in such a way that how you want to be remembered at the time of your passing will be true then.

Momories-e1484053825391

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 23:1-2

When Sarah was 127 years old, she died at Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron) in the land of Canaan. There Abraham mourned and wept for her.

An insightful person has profoundly written of death, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. So live your life that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” Sarah was 127 years old when she passed from this life to the next, and even after decades of journeying through this life as her husband, Abraham was still stung by grief. He must have expected that day, he must have, in some way, prepared his mind for her passing, yet he was still heart broken with grief from the loss of his soul-mate. She had lived in such a way that her world mourned her passing.

The great preacher Ray Stedman said of Abraham’s weeping over Sarah,

The well of grief is fed by the springs of memory. All the dear, sweet days came crowding in upon [him] here. I think he saw in his mind’s eye that beautiful girl who captured his heart long, long ago. I think it was in the spring, for even back in those days in the spring a young man’s fancy turned to what the young women had been thinking about all winter! ‘Boy meets girl’ was the same wonderful story back in the days of Abraham some 4,000 years ago as it is today. As the old man wept over the body of Sarah, he must have remembered all those wonderful times. Memories passed through his fingers like pearls on a string. He remembered the sunlight glittering in her hair when he first saw her, the radiance of her face on her wedding day, the softness of her touch, and the grace of her caress. Each remembrance brought a heartache in the darkness of his grief at this hour. He recalled the high adventure of their life together, and especially that supreme, compelling call from God that sent them out as a couple together into an unknown land. He remembered how Sarah went along with him, sharing hardships, accepting the unsettled life without a murmur or complaint. How his heart must have been wrung with anguish as he remembered anew the perfidy he showed in Egypt when he exposed her to danger and dishonor with his lie before Pharaoh, and again years later before Abimelech! All the bittersweet memories came in upon him as he recalled their long, weary years without a child and how they wept together. He remembered how Sarah cried bitter tears over that barren womb and how in her desperation to give him a son, she offered her handmaid, even at the cost of her pride, and Ishmael was born. All of this must have filled Abraham’s heart and mind as he wept here before Sarah. He remembered, too, how at long last, glory shone in her face when her own son, Isaac, lay in her arms. His memory ran back through the years and retraced the love that drew them together, through the bad times and through the good, till they were one in body, mind, and heart. Now death has torn her from his arms though it could never tear her from his heart.

It would be easy to pass over these two verses and quickly move on in the story of God to the patriarchs to come—Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. But pause for a moment in this story and let this touch your soul. Abraham loved Sarah. In an age where marriage is treated as but one of many options, where divorce is no big deal, where committed, faithful, exclusive love is barely recognizable—perhaps even mocked or maybe viewed as an ideal from an era gone by—that this man had loved his wife this much touches the readers’ heartstrings.

And now that Sarah was gone, the bittersweet gift of memories held him at the place of death until it was time for him to square his shoulders and move forward into the story that God had written for Abraham’s seed. Yet thank God for those memories. And thank God for the pain of loss, for it meant that this couple had found and built with one another a love so great that death could not rip it from the heart of the surviving spouse. When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure—and nothing could take Abraham’s treasure from him.

Yet Genesis 23:3 tells us that Abraham moved on from there: “Then Abraham rose from before his dead.” Life must go on. The living must live. And while in that moment it would be difficult for Abraham to take the next step, to look beyond the sorrow of today to see to possibility of tomorrow, the treasure of Sarah’s memory made the journey sweeter.

Why did the Scripture include this detail of Abraham’s grief? Why would the Lord have us pause at the graveside of this man to peer into his grief, albeit for a moment? The answer is simple: this is life. And one day, we, too, will stand in grief at the place of the dead. We, too, will feel as if the road has ended, that we have not strength to move on. But we, too, will rise up, for life will call us forward. But we must remember that while the dearly departed loved one is gone, they are not forgotten. Love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. (Rossiter Worthington Raymond)

Memories—God’s photo album for the human heart. The opportunity you have today is to make those memories with the ones you love. Today is the day you have to so live your life that when you die, the world will cry but you will rejoice. Make sure to take some good photographs today!

Going Deep With God: Before you do anything else today, pause to think about how you want others to remember you at your passing. Now so live today as to assure that will be true then.

A Tested Faith — A Trusted Faith

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Authentic faith doesn’t demand an explanation; it rests on expectation—the conviction that God is always true to his character and to his promise. When our faith is tested, it is always to prove this very truth: God is trustworthy and true to his word.

faith

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 22:1

“Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith.”

The brilliant Thomas Aquinas wrote, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Authentic faith doesn’t demand an explanation; it rests on expectation—the conviction that God is always true to his character and to his promise.

But what in the world do you do with this story as God asks Abraham to slay his son as a sign of his obedience? Why did God test Abraham with such a severe trial, and if he did that to him, will he do that to me? Here’s what we need to understand about this and all tests that come from God’s hand:

First, God’s tests are never without preparation. Notice the very first line: “Some time later God tested…” With God, time always comes before testing. This test came only after the events of Abraham’s life that we’ve been reading about since Genesis 12. God didn’t suddenly spring this extreme test on Abraham—and he’ll never spring one on you. One of the unchanging truths about God is that he’ll not give you a test that you cannot pass.

Second, God’s tests are never without purpose. In Genesis 22:12, the Lord stops Abraham from slaying Isaac, and says, “Now I know that you fear God.” The word “test” is used eight times in the Old Testament when God does the testing, and each time it’s used in this sense of “to prove.” God’s testing is not to expose, but to improve. When God says, “now I know”, it’s not for God’s benefit; it’s to give Abraham confidence that his faith is not misplaced. Abraham’s faith was tried; God’s faithfulness was verified—both were proven trustworthy in Abraham’s mind. Our faith is not really proven until God asks us to bear what seems unbearable, do what seems unreasonable, and expect what seems impossible.

Third, God’s tests are never without provision. Genesis 22:14 says, “So Abraham called the place ‘The LORD will provide.’” The emphasis here is not on the provision, but “the Lord” who provides. And the most important provision in this test—and in every test—is a prophetic revelation. The physical provision, whether a ram, a physical healing, or a million dollars for a ministry vision is secondary to a deeper revelation of the One who provides it! God tests your faith in order to prophetically reveal himself. And this test revealed to Abraham that in the journey of faith, God would always be present, and God would always provide. The Lord provides—always—for Abraham, and for you, too!

Now remember, God had promised Abraham a son, and not just one, but descendants as numerous as the stars. And not just increase, but the promise was for impact—that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed. Naturally, he wanted to know how that could happen when all he had was Isaac, and he, himself was advancing well into old age. So God shows him here in chapter 22 in this test with a sneak peek at the universal blessing to come in the ultimate sacrifice of the ultimate seed in Abraham’s line: Jesus.

This command to offer his only son prefigures God offering his only Son as a sacrifice for the world. Let me explain: In John 8:56-57, the Jews question Jesus’ authority by arrogantly claiming to be Abraham’s rightful heirs. So Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews respond, “You’re not yet fifty years old, and you’ve seen Abraham?”

Now that’s not a question—it’s a rejection of Jesus’ crazy claim that Abraham had literally witnessed the events of his life, death and resurrection. Now if that’s true—that Abraham rejoiced when he saw Christ’s sacrifice, where’s it recorded in the Old Testament? Right here in Genesis 22—when God steps in to spare Isaac by providing a substitute.

This is irrefutable evidence that something bigger than just the sacrifice of Abraham’s only son was going on here: For a specific reason, God sent him three days to this area. God told him that the sacrifice was to take place on a mountain in the region of Moriah. It’s the very site where Jerusalem will be situated. It’s the very mount where Jesus will be sacrificed. (Calvary) Did God randomly choose a three-day journey to death on Mount Calvary? Of course not! Genesis 22:14 prophetically declares, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” This was an Old Testament shadow of the New Testament reality to come.

Furthermore, notice Abraham’s prophetic response in Genesis 22:8 as Isaac points out there’s no animal for the sacrifice: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” The King James Version chose to translate that as: “Son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” Perhaps I’m taking liberty with the text, but by what Jesus said in John 8, I think that’s a prophetically accurate rendering: God will provide himself as the lamb. Which he did—literally, for Abraham; literally, for the whole world. As John 1:29 says, he provided himself as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is stunning beyond belief, a revelation that only came through testing.

Martin Luther read this account for family devotions, and his wife, Kate, objected, “Martin, I don’t believe this. God wouldn’t treat his son like that!” Luther said, “But, Katie, he did!”

God tested Abraham’s faith, substituting the Lamb, to prophetically reveal himself as the God who provides. When he puts you through a test, that is what he will graciously do for you, too!

Going Deep With God: Are you in a test? Look for a revelation of God himself, as he meets you in your test as the God who provides.

This Is God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Here, in a nutshell, is God: He keeps his word and fulfills his promise. He does the impossible, because nothing is too hard for the Lord. He fulfills his promise and does the impossible according to his timing, for he is sovereign. This is God.

This Is Our God [FE TRY]

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 21:1-2

The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would.

Here, in a nutshell, is God.

The very first thing we see in this Genesis 21 as the story unfolds of ninety-year old Sarah getting pregnant and having a son, Issac, is that God keeps his word and fulfills his promises.

God is a faithful God. It all starts here. If it were not for the unfailing trustworthiness of God, human faith would not be possible. But God has proven himself to be true. He is a promise making and a promise keeping God.

There is nothing truer and more dependable than God’s word. By the way, that is why the great statements of faith in Christendom start with the authority of Scripture, what we refer to as God’s Word. If it weren’t for that fact, we could not pass go, we could not collect $200. It would be game over for the Christian faith. God’s Word is true; God is true to his Word!

Furthermore, believing that God keeps his word, believing that what he said is true and trustworthy enough to obey is the essence of faith. We are told in Genesis 15:6 that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

The second thing we see in this Genesis 21 is that God does the impossible. Don’t forget, Sarah is ninety, and Abraham is one hundred—they are well past the years of child bearing. But what might seem an impossibility to man is no big deal to the Creator. After all, he spoke the worlds into existence out of nothing.

Faith begins with the invisible we are told in Hebrews 11:1-3. To bring forth from the invisible into reality is an impossibility for man, but as we learn in Sarah’s doubting from Genesis 18:14, there is “nothing that is too hard for the Lord.”

Faith will by its very nature lead the God-follower into human impossibilities. That is why essential to human faith is the commitment to this driving value: nothing is impossible for God. That belief will be required, early and often, to keep the journey of faith moving toward God in daunting circumstances, in the face of doubting people, and through the dips and depressions of unreliable emotions.

Faith must see the invisible and believe the impossible—because that is the realm from which God operates in the world and in the believer’s life.

The third thing we see as this chapter begins is that not only does God keep his word and not only does God do the impossible, but God does everything according to his timing.

God is sovereign, after all. He does things the way he wants when he wants, and although his timing is not always, not usually, our timing, he has perfect timing. To enjoy a vibrant faith in the sovereign God, therefore, the believer must trust when they can’t see that God is at work.

Faith accepts, and even celebrates, that God, along with his timing, is sovereign. Hebrews 11:6 puts it this way: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

This, in a nutshell, is God:

God keeps his word and fulfills his promises—always.

God does the impossible, because nothing is too hard for the Lord—absolutely nothing,

God’s timing, because he is sovereign is impeccable—without fail.

This is God. Therefore, put all your hope in him, and you will not be disappointed.

Going Deep With God: Spend time today thanking God for his trustworthiness, his power and his sovereignty.

The Great Overruler

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God overrules our mistakes for his glory. Of course, this is no blank check to do as we please. Nor is it denying that there will be sad and ongoing consequences from our mistakes. But at the end of the day, God can turn everything—the good and the bad—for the benefit of his own glory and for our good.

All Things

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 20:2-3

Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace. But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”

The great hymn writer and pastor, John Newton, wrote, “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.” Thank God.

By the way, Newton knew what he was talking about. He was formerly a profligate and slave-trader, treating human beings in the most inhumane and unspeakable ways, simply because of the color of their skin—until God took hold of him, redeeming and repurposing his evil life for a good life that has been lifting the world over for centuries. Neither sinner nor saint can listen to Newton’s most famous work, Amazing Grace, without becoming suddenly and powerfully aware of the mighty grace of God against the backdrop of their own utter unworthiness. (Read a brief biography of John Newton here)

God overrules our mistakes for his glory. Of course, this is no blank check to do as we please. Nor is it denying that there will be sad and ongoing consequences from our mistakes. But at the end of the day, God can turn everything—the good and the bad—for the benefit of his own glory and for our good.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

When you are called by God, and when you love God, you cannot lose. You might come through it battered and bruised—self-inflicted wounds from sinful actions and short-sighted decisions—but in the end, and even along the way, you win.

Such is the case with Abraham in this chapter. His nagging fear overcame the stellar faith that has made him noteworthy to God and man in the previous eight chapters that have brought us to this moment Genesis 20. Apparently, his wife Sarah, who technically is his half-sister, is a very beautiful woman—even as she advances in age. And Abraham’s faith, yes the same faith that has led God to credit it as righteousness, has given way to fear—a recurring fear of being killed because of her looks (he thinks others will bump him off so they can take her as their own). So Abraham fudges, stretching the truth in a humanistic plan to protect his life.

Sure enough, it looks like his fear will become reality. (Job 3:25) King Abimelech sees the beautiful Sarah and desires her. That’s when Abraham implements his survival plan—a plan, obviously, which doesn’t say much about the value of Sarah in her husband’s eyes at this point in the development of his faith. But as the story goes, God steps in and saves the day, along with the honor of this cast of characters—the beautiful Sarah, the clueless king, and the fearful patriarch.

God saves the day! He does that a lot, you know. Sometimes several times throughout our day. It’s pretty much a full-time job for him. Of course, there are consequences. Of course, this is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card. But isn’t this a comfort to our soul?

If we properly understand God’s overruling work, we will give every effort to walk in his ways, to follow in faith while rebuffing fear, and to trust in him with all our heart while refusing to lean on our own understanding. Yes, God can overrule our mistakes, but how much better would it be if he didn’t have to!

Going Deep With God: First of all, take a moment to express your gratitude to the Great Overruler. Second, ask him to give you a moment of clear seeing so that you are not leaning on your own understanding in any matter of your life.

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Light Beams of Mercy in the Darkness of Judgment

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Even in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah’s arrogant indifference to God’s expressed command, God still found a way to express his mercy. He spared Lot’s family because he was merciful. He still is. He always will be. Even up to the moment of the final judgment, God will be looking for even the slightest opening to insert his undeserved mercy to sinners deserving of Divine wrath.

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 19:16, 29

When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful… But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain.

Thank God for his mercy!

Even in the midst of the dark and depressing reality of righteous judgment, we always find light beams of God’s loving-kindness. To the very end, God is looking for ways to demonstrate mercy and grace to wayward sinners, deserving of Divine wrath for their flagrant disregard of the Law of God. God is a seeking, forgiving, restoring Creator—it is his nature; he just can’t help himself.

In Genesis 19, one of the darkest chapters in the Bible, as the fires of judgment are falling on Sodom and Gomorrah for their flagrant disregard of God’s moral law, the angel of the Lord grabs the procrastinating family of Lot by the hands and pulls them to safety. Why? Genesis 19:16 says it was because, “the Lord was merciful.”

Think about that: in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah’s arrogant indifference of God’s commands, even after they had been warned to flee the coming judgment, God still found a way to express his mercy.

God was merciful. He still is. He always will be. Even up to the moment of the ultimate and final judgment, God will be looking for even the slightest opening to insert his mercy to sinners deserving of Divine wrath.

God is merciful. He just can’t help himself. When there is a chance, he will pursue the sinner with reckless abandon that he might shower them with loving-kindness—undeserved mercy and unmerited grace. You might even say that God is recklessly merciful. While Divine justice and the final judgment that it requires will not be withheld forever, for God would not be just if he did, he will go way out of his way, way beyond the call of duty, to spare the sinner. Scripture bears that out, of course:

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:13)

Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. (Micah 7:18)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

God was, is and forever shall be, great in mercy and abounding in love. That is true for you—thank God.

But don’t forget, that can be true for those you love because of you. For at the end of this sad story of judgment we find that those light beams of mercy that shined upon Lot’s undeserving family were the result of Abraham’s intercession before a merciful God looking for a cause to pardon the guilty. Genesis 19:29 says, “But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain.”

Don’t forget to embrace God’s mercy in your life today—or any day. But just as importantly, don’t forget to ask God to extend that same mercy to the people He has put in your life who may be in danger of Divine judgment.

Thank God for a Creator who delights to show mercy!

Going Deep With God: Do you need mercy? That is God’s specialty, so ask him. And don’t forget to live your life thereafter as one long thank you to God for his undeserved loving-kindness. Likewise, don’t forget to ask God for his mercy on behalf of the people he has placed in your life. Perhaps he has placed them there for that very purpose.

Merciful Judgment

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

“You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world?” The truth is, the darkness of our world will grow darker, and people only will grow in their hatred of God’s justice. But don’t forget: the door for his mercy remains open. And we are the doormen for that mercy. If we don’t or won’t embrace that calling, our world has no hope.

mercy-triumphs

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 18:20-25

So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know…” Then Abraham approached the Lord and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

What was so bad about Sodom that would lead God to utterly annihilate an entire city? Genesis 18:18 tells us: it was a brazen and willful disregard of God’s design for human sexuality: “Their sin is so flagrant.”

What was the sexual sin? In the next chapter, Genesis 19:5, we find that it was homosexuality and sexual violence. Now, in my opinion, it is not the sin, but its brazenness that draws God’s judgment. Isaiah 3:9 (HCSB) says,

The look on their faces testifies against them; like Sodom, they flaunt their sin. They don’t conceal it. Woe to them, for they have brought evil on themselves.

Sin, no matter what it is, is always problematic. But where you have human beings giving God the middle finger, belligerently telling their Creator, putting it nicely, to “bug off,” judgment will come! It may be slow in coming—thankfully—but it will be sure.

However, that is not the main point of this story—though some Christians, unfortunately, have tried to make it the main point. The main thing here is a greater revelation of God’s nature as well as a clearer picture of our covenant calling to be a blessing to the world. This is what the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative reveals about our Creator:

First, we learn that God always initiates and invites. The very first thing we see in Genesis 18:17 is the Lord asking, “Should I hide my plan from Abraham? …so the Lord told him.” Then notice the very last thing we see in Genesis 18:33 is, “When the Lord had finished his conversation, he went on his way…” The Creator begins and finishes all conversations with the created—including you and me. Don’t forget, whether walking day-by-day in covenantal fellowship or connecting with God in a specific moment of prayer, it all starts and ends with God.

Too often we bring our plans and needs to God for him to bless without first finding out what he desires to bless. Rightly approaching prayer means acting on the prior assumption that God has initiated a plan and has invited our partnership in accomplishing it. That’s why we are to begin our prayers, as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, with, “God, it is your kingdom. So accomplish your plan.” When we have understood that, our interaction with God becomes what C.S. Lewis described: “Our prayers are really His prayers; God speaks to himself through us.” That is what’s going on with Abraham; that is what is motivating this “pushy” interaction with God: God initiated the conversation and invited Abraham into it. God is speaking to himself through Abraham.

Second, we learn that God’s justice is always clear and unimpeachable. In Genesis 18:20: the Lord says, “I’ve heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I’m going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I’ve heard. If not, I want to know.”

This language is to accommodate us, since obviously, God doesn’t have to “come down” to hear, see or know anything. After all, he is “the Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25) God sees and hears everything with utter moral clarity. Everything! Nothing is hidden from him; no persistent, willful sin escapes Divine justice. And even if our culture is uncomfortable with it, as people who have been called into a covenant partnership with God, we need to take our stand upon that truth. We can not be a conduit of covenantal blessing if we don’t. Let’s never forget: God is the Righteous Judge of all the earth—he sees, he hears, he knows—and he’s just!

Yet third, we learn that God’s desire is always mercy first, judgment last —and that is the heart of this story. As this intercession ends in Genesis 18:32, Abraham asks, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time: suppose only ten righteous people are found there?” And the Lord replied, “Then I won’t destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

Now we know the wages of sin is death, as Romans 6:23 says, but that is not God’s heart. Ezekiel 33:11 (NLT) says, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” What is Ezekiel telling us? Mercy is always extended before judgment falls; judgment is always God’s final option. “God is unwilling that any perish, but that all come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9, cf. Joel 2:13, “He relents”; Micah 7:18, “he delights to show mercy.”)

At the end of the day, God doesn’t choose judgment; people choose judgment by refusing to submit to his rule. Keep in mind, as Sodom’s destroyed, you are seeing God’s loving mercy first in Abraham’s intercession. But in Sodom’s steadfast and arrogant godlessness, the only alternative is justice. Ultimately, God executes justice, but it’s with a broken heart; his mercy can’t overrule his just nature. Yet even then, his mercy pays the penalty his justice demands, providing forgiveness freely for the repentant.

The fourth thing we learn about God is that his plans are always affected by our passions. God said to Abraham in Genesis 18:32, “Then I won’t destroy it for the sake of the ten.” Now God knew there weren’t even ten righteous people in this city—Abraham knew that, too—nonetheless God allowed Abraham to mediate for Sodom.

Did Abraham change God’s mind? No! And while his intercession didn’t change God’s plan, it did affect God’s timing. God withheld judgment long enough for Lot and his family to be spared. Our intercession doesn’t force God’s hand; but it does express our passion for what God already cares about.

When we do that, our prayers become God’s prayers; he speaks to himself through us! So the basis of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom was the mercy of God. He knew all about the ungodly, arrogant, flagrant stuff going there, yet he prayed for them anyway. He knew God would never destroy the righteous with the wicked.

But what he is asking God to do now is to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. And in that, he has captured God’s heart; he has tapped God’s mercy; he has prayed God’s prayer! And we have just seen our covenant calling as Abraham’s children—which is simply and primarily this: that like Abraham with Sodom, we would make it hard for our city to go to hell.

Jesus taught as much in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13 (LB), he said, “You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world?” The truth is, the darkness of our world will grow darker, and people only will grow in their hatred of God’s justice. But don’t forget: the door for his mercy remains open. And we are the doormen for God’s mercy. If we don’t or won’t embrace that calling, the world has no hope. Yet if we will pray for God’s mercy upon our sin-filled city, we will become the conduit of his covenant to bless our world through us. We will become God’s partners; we will be Abraham’s true offspring.

And perhaps God will spare our city for the sake of our righteousness.

Going Deep With God: The next time you find your hackles getting raised by some moral flagrancy in our culture, perhaps that should remind you to intercede for the lost. They are already condemned, so you don’t need to add to that. Instead, pray for them. I’m sure you will have plenty of opportunities this week to intercede for your city.

God Gets The Last Laugh

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God gets the last laugh. If you are in a covenantal relationship with God through faith, time and circumstances are irrelevant in terms of him fulfilling his promises to you. He will. He is covenantally faithful. And while your faith may laugh because of limited understanding, or even in sarcastic doubt, God is greater than the circumstances upon which you have chosen to focus. God is true, and he will bring to pass every promise he has given you. He will get the last laugh.

golden wheat field and sunny day

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 17:17-19

Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.

God gets the last laugh—always!

While the New Living Translation renders Genesis 17:17, “Abraham laughed to himself in disbelief,” the New International Version leaves off the word “disbelief,” simply saying, “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself,.” Whatever it’s motive, why the laughter? Abraham was understandably wondering how a son would be born to him, as God had promised in this encounter, and well as in previous ones, when he was nearly one hundred years old and not getting any younger, and his wife was not far behind, hovering around ninety.

Abraham laughed, but so did Sarah. In the next chapter, the Lord shows up yet again, and yet again reaffirms the covenant promise of a God. In response, Sarah, eves-dropping from the flap of her tent, laughs to herself, but this time, her laughter is met with Divine rebuke. (Genesis 18:9-15) What was the difference—Abraham’s laugher was met with divine explanation; Sarah’s with divine admonition?

Flat out, Sarah didn’t believe the word of the Lord. She looked at the circumstances of her life, she’s childless at ninety, and chose to believe that condition ruled the day instead of the covenantal promise of God, with whom our age, or any other human reality, is not a factor. On the other hand, Abraham’s laughter most likely was a reflection not of his lack of faith (remember, in Genesis 15:6 he had believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness) as much as it was a limitation of his faith.

As you read the narrative of Abraham, God is progressively revealing himself and his covenantal promises/demands to this chosen man. Abraham, like you and me, often wondered, i.e., laughed with incredulity, as to how God will pull this or that off. The truth is, we have faith in God, we just don’t have the faith of God yet. But when our response turns to sarcastic doubting, a mocking, bitter pffft, which is likely the kind of laughter that privately exploded from Sarah’s mouth, we are in danger of divine displeasure.

But you’ve got to love God’s response to Abraham’s limited faith, and even Sarah’s critical doubting? God says, “you are to name the baby boy Isaac.” Don’t forget, Abraham is ninety-nine and Sarah is ninety. It has been thirteen years since the Almighty made the covenant with Abraham that if this chosen man would simply trust God, he and his wife would become the parents of many nations and the very human fountainhead of universal blessing. Yet over a decade later, in spite of the covenantal couple’s advanced age and persistent barrenness, God says, “name him Isaac,” which means, “God laughs.”

The point being, God gets the last laugh. If you are in a covenantal relationship with God through your faith in him, time and circumstances are irrelevant in terms of him fulfilling his promises to you. He will. He is a covenantally faithful God. And while your faith may laugh because of limited understanding, or even in sarcastic doubt, God is greater than the circumstances upon which you have chosen to focus. God is true to his Word, and he will bring to pass every promise he has given you. He will get the last laugh.

If you have expressed a lack of faith, or recognize that your perspective has suffered limited faith, I would recommend you do what Abraham did when the Lord spoke his promises to him: he fell down to the ground—a sign of respect and worship.

Even if you are still struggling with the impossibility of your circumstances and the slowness of God’s promises—if you are laughing at the impossibility of God’s blessing in your life—by faith, bow down and worship the One who is covenantally faithful, who always, always, always gets the last laugh!

Going Deep With God: Bow before the Lord and acknowledge his greatness and his goodness. And like the frantic father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9:24, cry out to God: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”