The Test

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

This time of year can be dangerous for anyone choosing to venture out on a frozen body of water. As the weather warms up, melting and freezing takes place. This causes the ice to become thin and brittle. It can be difficult as we transition from winter to spring to know with any certainty how thick the ice is. This is why it is extremely important to test the ice before venturing out on it, or just stay completely off of it.

In the passage assigned for today, we discover a much different type of testing. This is a familiar story which can be very troubling to many. The request which God appears to make of Abraham seems extreme and does not fit our image of a loving God. There is clearly more to unpack here than this devotional can cover. Remember that we must read this passage through the contextual aspects in which it was written. The struggle for Abraham here is a question of being willing to give up the most precious item in his life to communicate his faith in God and be obedient. See this story is much more about Abraham than it is about God. God provides a substitute for Isaac. Here God is communicating that child sacrifice is not what is required. Abraham had faith that God would provide a solution to a difficult situation and God did.

There are times when life can really test us. During those times, we discover a lot about ourselves. Who is it that we turn to or rely on when we are tested? When what we are experiencing does not make sense, do we turn to the Lord? We may want to give up, and may even be justified in wanting to give up, but our faith tells us that God will provide a way. Trusting in the Lord to provide the right people, resources, or solutions demonstrates what we believe. As long as we are open to the possibilities which God creates, we can face the test no longer how short or long it exists.

Fan the Flame

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1:6-10 (NIV)

There are people who thrive being in front of groups to speak or perform. Others are extremely uncomfortable being in front of groups. One factor which can influence the comfort level of the individual is the type and size of the group. Another factor of influence can be the purpose or subject matter. The individual’s personality type may increase or decrease the comfort. A person’s sense of skill or confidence in knowledge impacts how he/she responds to being in front. All of these factors combined in varying degrees influence an individual’s willingness to be in front of others.

In what we read today, Paul is writing a letter to one of his disciples, Timothy. He is sharing words intended to build up Timothy in his efforts to share the gospel. A reminder to fan the flame which God has placed in Timothy begins this section of the letter. The flame is a gift of the Spirit which gives power, love and self-discipline. Through the gift, shame in sharing the story of the gospel is dispelled. The story of being saved and led to a holy life through God’s purpose and grace as revealed by Jesus Christ is what Paul tells Timothy to share.

Like Timothy, we can benefit from a similar pep talk at various times. We can become timid or lose our energy in sharing our gospel story. During these times, Paul’s words reminding us of the importance in fanning the flame in us and the power, love and self-discipline which we receive from the Spirit may assist us in sharing before others. Participating in the corporate worship of the Lord can fan the flame. Reading Scripture and being in fellowship with other believers can fan the flame. Time in prayer and consultation with the Lord can remind us of the gifts of the Spirit which we possess. Together this can assist us when we might become uncomfortable or ashamed to share our gospel story with others.

Behavior Guidelines

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NIV)

Human relationships can be challenging. Our behaviors toward one another are not always positive in nature. At times, our self-centeredness, greed, and anger can prompt us to act in ways which are harmful towards others. These behaviors create a negative environment for all people. Our society has developed rules and laws to manage the most destructive of these behaviors. Throughout civilizations and religions in all of recorded history, there have been acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave and interact with one another.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul writes about the behaviors which are acceptable and unacceptable among followers of Christ. He provides a list of unacceptable behaviors with contrast behaviors scattered within the list. Some of the unacceptable behaviors are found in the commandments which God gave the Israelites through Moses. Clearly there is instruction here in regard to building one another up and not tearing one another down. Attitudes are addressed here as well. Attitudes lead to actions.

As we consider how we interact with one another, Paul’s instructions are beneficial in guiding us. Lying to one another, being angry, slandering others, expressing rage are seen too often in our public discourse and among neighbors. These happen as well in communities of faith. Paul tells us that we are no longer to engage in these behaviors. We are not to cause grief for the Holy Spirit by behaving in these ways. Instead, we are to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and building one another up.

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Life Purpose

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 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, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when we try to understand what is our purpose. For some, there may be more than one point in life when this question surfaces. Seeking an answer to this question requires introspection, sometimes counseling, and research. Each of us have a drive for discovering our purpose. This drive is due to our desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. We desire to feel we have value in our work and actions.

The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus speaks of life purpose. Paul directs Titus to remind the people how they should interact with leaders and members of their community. Paul points toward a time when everyone’s behavior was unkind and destructive. Then God chose to introduce the Savior into the world. Through Jesus, a new way of living was made possible. This new way has provided the people with an opportunity to do what is good for everyone.

A purpose has been given to bring meaning into our lives. We have been saved from our destructive and self-centered ways of living. Christ has not only saved us from these behaviors but has presented us a pattern in which the purpose is doing good for the sake of others. We do good in response to being saved. Our life’s purpose is to do good. How we go about fulfilling that purpose is our true quest.

Communicating Love

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

How does someone communicate love to another person? The means of this communication is dependent upon the type of relationship which exists between the individuals. If the relationship is romantic in nature, the love will be communicated in physical ways, in gifts, in words, and in actions. A relationship which exists between co-workers or individuals who live next to each other lends itself to expressions of love in acts of helping and regular conversations. Expressions of love will vary along the spectrum between these two relationship descriptions. Another dynamic is the way love is communicated between strangers.

As we look at the assigned verses for today, it is clear that the Lord has an expectation that we will communicate love to others. The author of this letter states that we do this because God has loved us first. None of us have seen God but God is revealed to us when we love one another. This is not a physical revelation but a sense we have within ourselves as we express love.

Throughout Scripture, a clear insight into God is enveloped in the expression of love. From Deuteronomy when Moses says we are to love God and neighbor, to Jesus’s response to the question of the greatest commandment, to this passage found in a letter, love is how we are to understand God. God and love are synonymous.

We must find appropriate ways to communicate love to those in our lives. As we love others, we will come to understand God and God’s love more completely.

Radical Love

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

We are accustomed to living in situations where love is fragile and easily taken away. The type of love which we normally experience is dependent upon many factors. Human love requires fulfillment of a set of expectations. This love can be separated from us by outside influences. There is no guarantee in regard to the longevity of human love. However, there is a different form of love which is available to every person. A love which is not unpredictable, fragile, or dependent upon a list of qualifications.

The words found at the end of the eighth chapter in Romans gives insight into a special kind of love. Here is described a love found only with God. This love is immune to the influences of the world or powers which surround us. The immunity even extends to cover our own actions or inactions. It is a love which cannot be taken away by anything. This love surrounds us and is in us.  As the writer states, this love cannot be separated from us.

Because of our experience with love in our lives, we struggle to comprehend the type of love described here to the Romans. In our minds we attempt to find “the catch.” We tell ourselves that this love is not possible. We may even wait with expectation for the point where we will somehow be separated from this love.

The reality is that the words which we read here are the truest words which may ever have been said or written. The unique fact about God’s love as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is that NOTHING can, or ever will, separate us from it. This love exists within the core of our being and surrounds us without any gaps. God will NEVER remove it from us.  It is a radical love.

Accept the truth of these words. Incorporate them into your life and the views which you have. Respond to them in a way which demonstrates your belief in them.

Comparison

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

Many individuals spend a large amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. When a person engages in this type of activity, it results in one of two outcomes. The first possible outcome is the individual finds the self inadequate in the comparison. This can cause feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. The second outcome could be the person feeling superior and judgmental towards others. Neither of these outcomes is beneficial. Only a comparison by a neutral party using measurable objectives has any benefit. The best way for a person to improve is by doing comparisons with self. Compare your actions, skills, and efforts today with how you performed the previous day, week, or month. Work for improvement in these comparisons.

In our reading today, Jesus encounters some people who have compared themselves with others and determined they were more righteous. Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray. The Pharisee compared himself to others and told God why his actions made him so much better than others. The tax collector humbles himself, acknowledges he is a sinner and seeks God’s mercy. Jesus says the humble one is justified before God.

We need to learn from Jesus’s lesson. First, we should avoid comparing ourselves with anyone else. We do not know another person’s life or spiritual journey. We know only what we perceive on the surface and what they choose to share with us. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we are unworthy to receive God’s forgiveness and grace but that is exactly what we need. If we spend any time and energy upon improving ourselves in our daily walk with the Lord instead of trying to be better than someone else, then we have learned from Jesus’s story.

Thankful Response

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Deuteronomy 6:16-25 (NIV)

It is customary that when a person receives a gift from another individual there is a response of gratitude expressed to the giver. Depending on the occasion and the type of gift, the response may be a verbal thank you. In other situations, the gratitude is expressed in written form. Other gifts can lead to acts done for the giver out of gratitude. Whichever form of response is chosen, the goal is to communicate that the original gift is appreciated and remembered.

The passage read for today finds its origin in events of the preparation by the Israelites to enter Canaan. Moses is giving the Israelites instructions in regard to their entrance into the land which God has promised them. He tells them not to test God but instead to follow the stipulations and decrees given to them. In doing so, Moses indicates they will prosper in the new land. He then says that when their children ask why they follow these items, they explain that it is in response to all the Lord has done and told them which allowed them to be in this new land.

Some say that the expression of gratitude has waned in the context of our current culture. There appears to be a prevailing attitude of entitlement. This passage is a reminder of the importance of expressing gratitude, especially to the Lord. Our expression should not solely be one of words but one of action. For the Israelites these active responses were found in following the decrees, stipulations and law. For us, Christ fulfilled all of these items on our behalf. Our grateful response is to what God has done for us through Jesus. Our expressions of thanks should be found in the ways in which we share God’s love with others. We remember how God’s love has been expressed to us and we do the same for others. Our acts of gratitude are not found in obedience to rules but instead found in the manner in which we live our lives and care for the needs of others.

Need Help

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52 (NIV)

Every person has times in their lives when they are in the need of help. Barriers to receiving assistance can exist for a variety of reasons. A barrier which presents itself is the reluctance on the part of the individual to reach out and request help. Pride or fear of being turned away could be the cause. Another barrier may be the interference of others who attempt to block necessary access. Socio-economic situations, language differences, or cultural taboos can also block the path to transforming help. Whenever assistance is prevented, the individual can feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless. All of us are charged by the Lord to work for the reduction of barriers to assistance. Until this change is realized, individuals will have to persistently work to overcome the barriers on their own.

Today we read about a blind man who experienced barriers as he attempts to get help from the Lord. Since this lack of eyesight prevented him from working to support himself, he was forced to sit along a roadside and beg travelers to supply his basic needs. He encounters a socio-economic barrier and would have been viewed as a much lesser person. When he hears that Jesus is walking on his road, he begins to seek help from Jesus by shouting. Bartimaeus clearly does not allow pride to be a barrier. Those around him though attempt to silence him and create another barrier due to cultural norms and perception of his status socially. The man is undeterred and only increases his plea for access. Jesus hears the man, calls him forward and gives him the help for which he asks. While Bartimaeus receives physical healing, Jesus’s actions go much further because they demonstrate a giving of sight to those observing as well.

Many times we are blind. Our blindness may not be a physical impairment but a much deeper one. We can physically see someone in need of assistance but are blind to the barriers around them in obtaining that assistance, some which we may help to create. As individuals, we may be the ones in need of assistance but we refuse to make the request. Our needs may be spiritual in nature. We may need to have our sight restored so we can see Jesus and the love which he offers. Like Bartimaeus, we sit beside the road in need of crying out to the Lord.

This passage challenges us in two ways. The first is to see the Bartimaeus of our lives and not attempt to silence them but assist in breaking down any barriers. The second is realizing we may be Bartimaeus and must cry out to the Lord for the sight, or whatever else, we so desperately need. Jesus does not disappoint.