ABRAM’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

Bible Reading: Hebrews 11:8-12

Yesterday we considered how God appeared to, spoke with, and related to Abram. Today we will look at how Abram related to God.

Abram believed God [Hebrews 11:8-12], and that faith was proven by his obedience to God. Faith and obedience are always linked together. Abram built altars to the Lord [Genesis 12:8,9; 13:18; 22:9] and these were places of sacrifice, thanksgiving, communion and worship. Abram gave a tithe of all he had to the Lord [14:20], and questioned the Lord when there was something that he didn’t understand [15:2,8]. After his name was changed to Abraham, he fell on his face before the Lord in awesome reverence [17:3], and yet laughed in unbelief at what God said to him [17:17]. How encouraging to us that a man renowned for his faith also experienced unbelief! Abraham stood before God as he interceded for his nephew Lot, and saw God answer his prayers and save his family [18:22; 19:16]. God healed Abimelech and his family when Abraham prayed for them [20:17-18]. Even in his later years, Abraham was able to recognise and hear the voice of God [22:1], and as old man, Abraham trusted God to provide a wife for his son, Isaac [24:1,7].

Here is a picture of a godly man who walks with God. He believes God, obeys God, worships God, questions God when he doesn’t understand, reverences God, prays and intercedes to God, trusts God, and even in the latter years of his life is able to hear God’s voice.

Looking at the relationship that Abraham had with God is a challenge to us today. God longs that we would walk in fellowship with Him just as Abraham did. He doesn’t mind if we ask Him questions when we don’t understand what He is doing, but what He most longs for is that we would trust Him, honour Him, worship Him, enjoy His presence and listen to His voice.

Many years ago Billy Graham spoke at the funeral of Raymond Edman, the Principal of Wheaton College. In his address Billy said, “Raymond Edman lived so close to heaven on earth, and I know of no other man who would find the transition from earth to heaven easier than him”. What a testimony and challenge to us to walk closely with God!

Questions:

L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through a man who is wholly surrendered to Him.” What are the things that hinder you and I from this kind of walk with God?

Why do you think that Abraham was able to continue walking with God in spite of his failures and mistakes that he made?

I find Billy Graham’s comment at Raymond Edman’s funeral service deeply challenging and encourages me to walk closer with God. How does his testimony challenge you?

GOD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH ABRAM

Bible Reading: Genesis 15:1-21

When you consider the background of idolatry that Abram came from, it is quite remarkable how God appeared to him and led him. God has an amazing way of reaching people who seem to be unreachable. In lands that are closed to the gospel, God is revealing Himself through remarkable visions and dreams and in this supernatural way people are coming to Christ.

We don’t know exactly how God appeared to Abram but we know that his life was totally changed. Throughout the account of his life in Genesis, we see a man who is in a close relationship with God and with whom God shares His secrets. Today we will look at how God appears to and speaks with Abram, and tomorrow we will look at how Abram relates to God.

It was God who brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and brought him to a land that He would show him [Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5]. It was God who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand [14:18-19]. God told Abram that He was his shield and exceeding great reward [15:1]. It was God who made a covenant with Abram [15:9-21] and later renewed that covenant and changed Abram’s name to Abraham [17:1-27]. It was God who, hundreds of years before it happened, revealed to Abram that his descendants would live in Egypt and be afflicted for 400 years, before returning to the land of Canaan [15:13-15]. The Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham [17:5]. He again appeared to Abraham, assuring him that he was going to have a son [18:1,11] and then challenged Sarah’s unbelief [18:13-14]. It was God who kept His promise and gave Abraham a son [21:1-3]. It was God who said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing” [18:17-18] before He judged Sodom, causing Abraham to intercede for his nephew Lot. Later, when that judgment was executed “God remembered Abraham” [19:30]. God called Abraham a prophet [20:7] and when he was an old man God tested him [22:1]

Many years ago, I heard someone say, “God has many sons but no grandsons and He has no favourites”. God wants to relate to you in just the same way that He did with Abram. He wants to reveal Himself to you, to lead you, give you victory over the enemy, protect you, reveal His secrets to you, and bless you. When you are wrong He will challenge you, and even test you to see how you will respond to Him. God promises that if you will draw near to Him, then He will draw near to you [James 4:8].

Questions:

Will you, by faith, draw near to God today, and ask Him to work in and through your life supernaturally in the same way that he did with Abraham?

Do you agree that God wants to relate to us in the same way that He did with Abraham? What is it that hinders God from relating to us in the same way that He did with Abraham?

Would you ask God to reveal Himself and speak to you today and then wait and see what happens?

ABRAHAM – MAINTAINING INTEGRITY

Bible Reading: Genesis 14:21-24

The enemy of our souls knows just when to attack. In the life of Jesus, Satan attacked him immediately after his baptism. In the life of Elijah, the enemy, through Jezebel, attacked Elijah after he had experienced a major spiritual victory over the prophets of Baal. It is therefore not surprising that the enemy timed his attack on Abram immediately after he had rescued and recovered Lot, and then given a tenth of all he possessed to Melchizedek.

The attack was very subtle. Abram had rescued Lot, his goods, his women and the people with him. The king of Sodom says that Abram can have all the goods if he hands the people over to him. Immediately after Abram had given a tenth of everything he possessed, there came an offer of financial reward.

Abram realised that to receive anything from the king of Sodom would have compromised his integrity, especially as he had already made a decision to receive nothing from the king of Sodom, so that he could never say that he had made Abram rich.

Some might say that this money would have been a blessing, but there are principles in this story that are more important than money:

Firstly, to keep a promise to God was more important to Abram than material gain. He had raised his hand to God Most High [verse 22]. To raise the hand in Abram’s culture was the equivalent of shaking hands in agreement. God expects us to keep our promises. Our word should be our bond. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways – our “Yes’” should be “Yes” and our “No,” should be “No” [James 1:8; 5:12]

Secondly, it is dangerous to bind yourself too closely to unrighteous men. We are to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” [2 Corinthians 6:14 NLT]. No one would ever be able to point to Abram and say that he had become rich by impure means.   

Thirdly, Abram had his eyes on an eternal, not temporal goal. He was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]. Earthly things did not hold him. When he died Abram owned little land, just his burial plot, but he owned so much in the Spirit – an inheritance that could not be numbered. Don’t be tempted by the subtle love of softening things, and of easy choices that weaken and compromise your faith.

Questions:

Are you known as someone whose word can be trusted? When you make a promise do you keep your promise? Why is this important?

Why do you think that there is often a struggle after we have won a spiritual victory? Can you remember an instance of this in your own life?

Read Proverbs 11:3 and 20:7. Why is integrity so important? What did the writer of Proverbs say is the reward of being a person of integrity?

ABRAHAM – GIVING TO GOD

Bible Reading: Genesis 4:17-20; Malachi 3:8-12

We know very little about Melchizedek. We know that he was a priest [see Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:1] and that he was king of Salem, which was an early name of Jerusalem. The name Melchizedek means King of righteousness, and the title king of Salem means King of peace. Abram recognised him as a man of God, but he may have been more than that. It is mysterious that the Bible says that he had neither father or mother, and neither beginning of days nor end of life. Is it possible that this was an appearance to Abram of the pre-incarnate Christ in a temporary bodily form?

Abram gave Mechizedek a tithe of all he possessed [verse 20]. Under the Old Testament Law, God blessed people who tithed [Malachi 3:10]. Not to do so was to rob God [Malachi 3:8] and to bring a curse on yourself [Malachi 3:9].

People make all sorts of excuses for not tithing. Some say, “I can’t afford to tithe,” but the truth is that you cannot afford not to tithe. Others say that tithing is legalistic and that we are now under grace, but they forget that tithing in the Old Testament pre-dated the law. Both Abram and Jacob tithed a tenth. Still others say that tithing is Old Testament. This is correct. A man came to me some time ago and said that he prefers the New Testament teaching on giving to the Old Testament teaching on tithing. He seemed quite upset when I told him that in the Old Testament you give a tenth but in the New Testament God wants everything! How can you give ten percent under law but not give more than that under grace?

Many years ago, I was preaching in a large church in Semarang in Central Java. At the end of the meeting, a man approached me and asked me if I would wait for him for a while. He told that he needed to go home but would come straight back to me. When he returned he handed me a large package, and asked that I would hand it anonymously on his behalf to the church elders.

He told me that he was a thief of the worst kind – that he had robbed God. In that morning service God had clearly spoken to him and he told me that the package that he had given me was full of money. He now wanted to repay, with interest, what he had robbed God of. The elders later told me that there was the equivalent of thousands of pounds in the package. A thief of the worst kind had repented and put his heart right with God. 

Questions:

Is there any excuse in withholding from God a minimum of ten per cent of our income that rightly belongs to him? If you have struggled to give would you now recognise how important it is and repent [change your mind] and begin to give?

There is a feel good factor in giving but why do we find it so difficult? Is it possible that money and possessions can become an idol in our lives?

Read Malachi 3:8-12. What do you think is the curse that we experience when we rob God? What blessings does God promise to us when we give to him?

ABRAM – RESOLVING CONFLICT

Bible Reading: Genesis 13:5-14:6; Matthew 5:43-48

While they were in Egypt, both Abram and Lot had prospered and when they left Egypt, both owned large flocks and possessions. Their possessions were so great that the land could not support them and a quarrel developed between Abram and Lot’s herdsman [13:6-7]. In our reading today we can see how Abram took steps to resolve this conflict:

Firstly, Abram took the initiative. Conflict cannot be resolved unless someone takes the initiative to resolve it. Abraham recognised that there would be no resolution unless he and Lot separated [verse 8]

Secondly, Abram acted with great generosity. In the culture of that day, the younger man should submit to the elder and Abram had every right to have first choice of land in their separation, but he gave that privilege to Lot. Lot selfishly chose the greenest and most fertile land in all the plain of Jordan [verses 9-10] leaving Abram with the more barren hill country. The reason for Lot’s choice was that it reminded him of Egypt. Someone has aptly said that “Lot was out of Egypt, but Egypt was not out of Lot”. Abram handled the issue with a godly approach but Lot made a selfish and worldly decision.

Thirdly, God watches the way we deal with conflict and honours those who do it in a way that is pleasing to Him. In taking the humbler position, Abram may have felt that he had lost out, but God will not let a man who makes peace at a cost to himself lose out. After Lot had taken what he wanted, God told Abram that He would give him all the land to him [verses 14-17].

Fourthly, even though Lot had mistreated and abused his uncle’s generosity, Abram refused to hold it against Lot. When Lot was later captured by four kings [Gen.14:9,12] it was Abram who immediately went to his rescue [Gen.14:13-16].

Some clear principles emerge from this story:

[a] If Abram had demanded his rights then he might have lost everything, but    what he released God gave back to him. Jesus taught this principle when He said, “If you cling to to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it” [Matthew 10:39 NLT]. In a similar vein Proverbs says, “It is possible to give freely and become more wealthy, but those who are stingy will lose everything” [Proverbs 11:24 NLT]

[b] If our attitude is right towards a person who abuses or mistreats us, then God may use us to bless them at a later date.

[c] Even though Abram seemed to have “missed out” materially, he continued to worship God with a right spirit [see Gen. 13:18]. He did not blame God!

Questions:

If, like Abram, you have been mistreated and abused what steps did you take to resolve the problem?

“We can’t always be best friends with everyone, but we have to have a right attitude towards everyone.” Is there anyone that you have a wrong attitude towards and against whom you hold ill feelings? Why not pray God’s blessing upon that person and release yourself from this hindrance to spiritual growth?

ABRAM – OUT OF GOD’S WILL

Bible Reading: Genesis 12:10-20

The characters in the Old Testament are given to us as an example for our learning [1 Corinthians 10:6], and when God writes a biography, it includes the good, the bad and the ugly; the biography of Abram is no exception.

Abram had trusted God to lead him from Haran [Genesis 12:4-7], by faith to a place he did not know [Hebrews 11:8]. Having trusted God to bring him this far, Abram discovered that there was a famine in the land and he could not trust God to provide for him in a time of famine! God did not tell Abram to go to Egypt but he went anyway. Abram’s moving out of God’s will was not caused by deliberate sin, but by natural decision-making based on difficult circumstances. There is an echo here of Simon Peter walking on the water to Jesus but beginning to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves. Don’t let circumstances be the defining issue in decision making!

There are a number of issues that point to the fact that Abram was out of the will of God in Egypt: Firstly, he had to manipulate the situation with his own natural thinking, and tell lies to protect his own skin [verses 11-13]. Secondly, he was prepared to sacrifice his own wife for the sake of saving himself [verses 14-15]. Thirdly, the house of Pharoah was plagued because of what Abram did [verse 17]. Others are affected when we are out of God’s will. Remember Jonah and the sinking ship? Fourthly, he was deported from Egypt in disgrace [verse 20]. Fifthly, there is no record of Abram building an altar while he was in Egypt. What a picture of backsliding! Having to tell lies, hurting other people, disgrace and no communion with God.

Abram had to leave Egypt and return to the place where he had first built an altar [Genesis 13:3b-4a]. There he called on the name of the Lord. I wonder how Abram prayed when he returned to the altar? Perhaps it was a prayer of confession and repentance. He must surely have been grateful to God for His mercy in delivering him from a situation that could have had a much worse outcome.

If we have made a mistake and moved out of the will of God, even though it might have been done unconsciously, there is still hope. We need to return to the place where the mistake was made, put it right, and move on again from there! God has given a wonderful promise in Hosea 14:5 that if we turn back to Him, then He will heal our backsliding.

Questions:

By faith, Abram could trust God to lead him to a new home, but struggled to trust God to provide in a time of famine. Why do you think it is easier to trust God for some things and harder to trust for Him other things? What do you personally find difficult to trust God for?

Sometimes we lose our way and unintentionally miss God’s will for our life.

If that has been your situation and you have left your first love for Jesus will you now come back to him and ask Him to restore you and renew you?

ABRAHAM – BUILDS AN ALTAR

Bible Reading: Genesis 12:4-9

Abram obeyed God’s call [verse 4]. He did just what the Lord had told him to do and it was an interesting group of people that arrived in Canaan. There was a 75-year-old man, his wife, his nephew, and their possessions together with others who had joined Abram in Haran [verse 5]. They had travelled on a 400-mile journey from Haran to Shechem. Some of them would have been servants and others people who had attached themselves to Abram for protection and provision.

The first thing that God did when Abram reached Canaan was to confirm His promise to give this land to Abram and his descendants [verse 7a], and the first thing that Abram did was to build an altar at the place where God had appeared to him and to worship Him [verse 7b]. Both Shechem and Bethel were ancient sanctuaries and Abram claimed them for His God. Even though he was in the midst of enemies, he built an altar. Abram is immediately making a statement for all to see. He is saying to all his neighbours “This is my God!” In that sense, the altar was for Abram a place of testimony. It is so important to make that initial stand for Jesus and not to compromise!

For the Christian, the altar is more than a place of sacrifice. The altar symbolised a place of communion with God. We cannot survive spiritually without regularly worshipping God and renewing our love and loyalty to Him. For us, the altar represents that meeting, worshipping and communing with Him each day, and is vital if we are to maintain our walk with God. An old song from the 1980s speaks of the importance of this altar:

I came into the gathering of the people of the Lord
And found my way among them to His Throne
I needed to return unto the altar of my God
To renew again my covenant with Him

Come build an altar unto the Lord
Return to worship and hear His Word
And then the fires of revival will come sweeping through your soul
And we’ll touch the Holy Presence of our God

Questions:

Do the people you live among know that you belong to Jesus, not necessarily only by the words that you speak but the life you live before them?

In the midst of busyness, work, family, and church life, it is easy to lose touch with God and continue on without vital intimacy and communion with him each day. Is it time for you to rebuild that altar?

Read Genesis 12:1. Do you think that Abram fully obeyed God when he took his nephew Lot with him?

ABRAHAM – GOD’S PROMISES

Bible Reading: Genesis 12:1-3; 2 Peter 1:3-4

When God told Abram to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household, and go to a land that God would show him, it required faith. The writer to Hebrews says, By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country” [Hebrews 11:8-9a]. Abraham went by faith and with God’s promises!

God’s gave six promises to Abraham and in hindsight we can see how God kept His promises:

I will make you a great nation” Abram fathered both the Hebrew and Arab people.

I will bless you” Abram lived a full and rich life. Abram’s servant spoke to Laban of how God had blessed his master [Genesis 24:35]

I will make your name great” Remarkably Abram is honoured among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

You will be a blessing” Abram was in the genealogy of Jesus [Matthew 1:2].

I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” – Nations have risen and fallen according to the way that they have treated the Jewish people.

All peoples [the families] on earth will be blessed through you ” – God’s plan was that through Abram and his descendants He would bring salvation to every nation. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the word “people’s” or “families on earth” is the ta’ethné, from which we get the word “ethnic”. In Abraham, all the ethnic peoples of the world will be blessed! Paul explains this when he writes to the Galatians. In Galatians 3:13,14 God promised to give all believers the blessing of Abraham. This includes being born again, but also physical, emotional, spiritual and material prosperity. When we honour God these great blessings begin to happen in our lives!

God has given us both in His word and by His Spirit many precious promises that we can claim and stand upon. My wife and I lived on the fanatical island of Madura in Indonesia. It was tough and there was much pain and suffering, but one day God gave us a promise of His fire falling and His blessing in the Centre of the town in which we lived. We still wait for that – but we have His promise! God always keeps His promises!

Questions:

Has God given a particular promise to you that is not yet fulfilled? If so continue to believe and trust that He will do it, in His time.

What does it mean that Abraham believed God?

ABRAHAM – CALLED TO LEAVE UR

Bible Reading: Genesis 11:27-12:1; Mark 8:34-38

Early in my Christian life, I recognised the amazing truths that we can learn in God’s Word from the characters of the Bible. One of those characters that really impacted my life in those early days of reading the Bible was Abraham, or Abram, as he was first known. Over the next month or so we will look each day at different aspects of the life of Abram.

Abram and his family came from the city of Ur at the Eastern edge of the Fertile Crescent in the region of Babylonia, in southern Iraq. Ur and Haran were centres for worship of the Moon-god. Idolatry thrived in Ur with gold sculptures reflecting the city’s culture. Excavations at Ur reveal that Abram chose to leave a wealthy city at the height of its power. Mighty city walls and public buildings reflected its strength and a vast library reflected its educational strength. Records of business transactions reflected the city’s prosperity.

The excavator of Ur, Sir Leonard Woolley, believed that Abram’s family lived in a house in Ur and were not originally nomadic. The urban scribes of Ur were well aware of tent-dwelling nomads, whom they despised.

We can begin to put together a picture of Abram’s early life. He was probably wealthy, well educated and brought up in idolatry. He heard God’s call to leave all of this and go to a land that God would show him [Genesis 12:1]. In doing so, he would become one of the most despised, tent-dwelling nomads!

It is important to remember where we came from and where God has brought us to today. Remember how God called you to follow Him? It must have been quite remarkable that Abram heard the voice in an idolatrous culture, and one wonders how God spoke to him. Was it an audible voice or perhaps a dream?

What an amazing decision to leave a life of success in the world and follow God’s leading and guidance. Even at 75 years of age, Abram was willing to go to a land God said, “I will show you”. I am reminded of the story of C.T. Studd, an England cricketer in the first ashes series of 1882, and a student at Cambridge. He came to Christ at the revival meetings conducted in Cambridge by D. L. Moody. He was a wealthy man and inherited both a mansion and fortune, but God called him to go China. He gave everything that he had away and sailed with the Cambridge Seven to China in 1885. He later served in India and then at the age of 52, moved to the Congo in Africa and formed the “Heart of Africa Mission”, later to become WEC International, reaching the lost and planting churches in over seventy countries.

Questions:

Read Mark 8:34. What does it mean to deny yourself, take up the cross and follow Christ?

Consider what it cost Abraham to follow God’s leading in His life. What has it cost you to follow Jesus? Would you be prepared to do what Abram did?

THE PLEADING FATHER

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” [Matthew 11:28-30 The Message]

The last picture of the father in Jesus’ parable of the lost son is of him pleading with the elder brother to come to the feast [Luke 15:28]. The elder son is now the lost son! He has lost all his filial feelings and reveals his hard, judgmental, hypocritical spirit. The father never pleaded with the son lost in the world, but is pleading for the son lost in the house.

The father did not command him to come to the feast – he could have demanded that the servants drag him to the feast but the father still maintains the right that His sons have freedom to choose. The Greek tense in this verse indicates that the father did not make just one request, but that he kept on pleading with him!

The heavenly Father is still pleading for religious and self-righteous people, bound by slavery to religious rules and regulations to come and have an intimate relationship with Him. The elder son worked hard, obeyed in everything and was submissive but he was slave. Matthew 11:28-30 in the Message Bible powerfully portrays Jesus calling those who have been enslaved by religious tradition and laws, even “burned out on religion” to come to Him. He longs for them to enjoy their relationship with the Father and to experience “the unforced rhythms of grace”.

In much of the Old Testament, we see God pleading with his rebellious and yet religious people. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” But you would not” [Isaiah 30:15]. In a similar way, Jesus pleads with tears for Jerusalem but they would heed Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” [Matthew 23:37].

Questions:

Why did the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem not take heed when God pleaded with them and wanted so much to bless them?

What do you think it means when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that it as though God is pleading through us for people to be reconciled to Him?