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Category Archives: Abraham

What does it mean to pray “in the name of Jesus”?

At the risk of sounding crass and sacrilegious, how do you motivate God to say, “Yes,” to your prayer requests? When you bring your petitions to God, how do you persuade Almighty God that he should act on your behalf?

When my children ask me to do something, they often give their reasons as to why I should do what they wanted. They might say, “Dad, could we do … because …” or “Dad, you promised …” or “you said …” Needless to say, their requests got more expensive and their arguments more sophisticated over the years.

When you pray and ask God to do something, what is the “because”? What reasons do you use to convince him?

Those questions led me to the gospel of John where Jesus instructed his disciples to pray in his name.

John 14:13–14 – Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 16:23–24 – In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

What does it mean to pray “in the name of Jesus”? I grew up thinking that every prayer had to end with “in Jesus’ name, Amen” or else God would not listen or answer. It was the “Open Sesame” at the cave of Ali Baba, the secret password to enter the throne of heaven.

To ask in Jesus’ name might mean serving as his representative or ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). It might entail presenting God a blank check since he can do beyond what I hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It could mean entering God’s presence with confidence and boldness because of what Jesus did for me on the cross (Hebrews 10:19-22). While these principles are true, I believe there is much more to it than this.

In the Old Testament, God’s name always reveals his character. I believe that praying in Jesus’ name means recognizing his nature and attributes. It means coming to God in light of who he has revealed himself to be. Praying in Jesus’ name means asking for things that are consistent with his character and purpose.

Before you brand that as a heretical idea, here are three Old Testament examples where men of God approached God in this manner.

Abraham interceded for Sodom by reminding God he was a just judge (Genesis 18:22-25). He reminded God of what he promised in Genesis 15:14.

Moses interceded for Israel by exhibiting a concern for God’s reputation (Numbers 14:10-19). He asked God to demonstrate his power consistent with what he had revealed about his character in Exodus 34:6.

Daniel interceded for the city of Jerusalem on the basis of God’s glory and reputation (Daniel 9:16-19). He asked God to keep his promise to restore the nation of Israel back to the land.

Perhaps you are reluctant to pray in this fashion because it sounds like manipulation. When I manipulate another person, I am trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do. However, when I motivate the individual, I am asking them to do something they ultimately want to do.

When I remind God of his character, promises, and reputation, I am not trying to change God’s mind. I am merely asking him to be true to his word. I am asking God to glorify himself by acting in a manner that is consistent with his character and purpose.

Let me encourage you to study the names of God and then come to him in light of who he has revealed himself to be. (You can find a list of God’s names in the sermon notes.) Study the promises of God and then use those promises in your prayers. Here are a few examples of what this might look like.

  • Pray for people who are hurting on the basis of Psalm 23. Ask the Good Shepherd to restore their souls and lead them to green pastures and quiet waters.
  • Pray that Jehovah Rapha, The Lord who Heals, would touch and heal a sick friend.
  • Pray 2 Peter 3:9 for someone who is lost and doesn’t know Christ.
  • Pray Isaiah 30:21 when you need direction and guidance.

Pray boldly and specifically. Make requests that are consistent with God’s character and purpose. Remind God of his promises and ask him to be true to his word. Pray in the name of Jesus. And then step back and proclaim, “Look at what God has done!”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 20, 2016. It is the final message in a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Moving Heaven for Earth

There are many misconceptions about prayer. If you listen to some folks, you get the impression that God only hears prayers offered in 16th Century King James English—“Dear Heavenly Father, we comest to Thee and bowest in Thine presence as abject worm-eaten sinners.” Others act as if they must find the right key to open heaven’s doors or perhaps need to hack God’s operating system and find the password to get in the back door. Still others believe God is so busy running the universe that we must take a number and wait in line until he has time for us. In addition, some folks pray as if God is required to do their bidding and so they make demands that he bless every plan.

You get a different perspective when you read about Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18:16-33. You discover that prayer is a conversation where God reveals his plans to us and where we respond and ask how we can help him accomplish his plans. This fits with what we have discovered thus far in our series, that prayer is a conversation with a God who knows our needs, cares about our needs, and moves to meet our needs. We focus on God and his concerns first before we bring our requests to him.

Genesis 18:16-17 shows the depth of God’s relationship with Abraham. A servant is not privy to his master’s plans, but a friend will share his thoughts with his friends. As the friend of God, Abraham is included in what God has in store for the world. Abraham was to be a channel of blessing to the world (18:18), so he needed to know why God was removing one of those nations before he had a chance to bless it. Abraham was to teach justice to his children and grandchildren (18:19), but he needed to see it demonstrated so he could do more than teach the theory. God is going to model justice for Abraham in how he deals with the sin of Sodom (18:20-21).

Throughout this passage, God models his character for Abraham. God is omniscient and knows everything. He hears the cries of the oppressed and the downtrodden. But he is also a just judge who will base his judgment on firsthand information. He sends his angels to Sodom to investigate if things are as bad as he has heard (18:15, 21).

As Scripture reveals, Sodom had seen and experienced God’s grace on numerous occasions. When the inhabitants of Sodom were captured in the battle of the kings (Genesis 14:1-16), God allowed them to be rescued by Abraham. They heard the witness of Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High (14:17-20). They witnessed Abraham’s response to the king of Sodom that he would only serve the Most High God and would not take any of the spoils of war (14:21-24). Despite the repeated evidence of God’s grace, the people of Sodom were incredibly wicked. (This is not New England “wicked”—“wicked cold,” “wicked awesome.” This is evil wicked. On a scale of 0-10, these folks were a minus 15.) They were guilty and fully deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

And yet, the just judge is also a merciful God. He will spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

Abraham’s conversation with God is not a beat down of God. Abraham is not arm wrestling God in order to get his way. Abraham’s prayer is modest. He never challenges God’s evaluation of Sodom or pries into the details. His prayer is humble. He recognizes God is the Lord and he is but “dust and ashes” (18:27). Despite his modesty and humility, Abraham is persistent in his prayer. Six times he asks God for something specific, and becomes bolder with each request (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 righteous people) (18:24-32). Abraham’s prayer is also persuasive as he appeals to God in light of God’s character. “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (18:25, 32).

As Christ followers, we need to understand God’s plan and our role in helping carry it out. God’s plan is to reach the world with the message of grace. Our role is to share the gospel and make disciples. Since God is going to bring judgment on the world, we must intercede for those who need mercy. Rather than just focus on ourselves, we should pray for the oppressed and downtrodden in our city, state, nation, and world.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 18, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Jehovah Jireh – The LORD Will Provide

Mention the word, “Test,” and you will strike terror into the heart of the average person. Blood pressure will rise and brows will become sweaty. Needless to say, most of us don’t like tests.

Some tests are Pass—Fail. There’s no middle ground for “almost.” Some tests are used to weed out candidates down to a manageable number. Tests are used to identify areas of giftedness in children.

God uses tests to prove our faith and demonstrate the growth in our lives. God also uses tests to reveal something about himself that we might not already know. In a very intense, personal test, God reveals himself to Abraham as Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham discovers that Jehovah Jireh provides all we need and more besides.

Oftentimes, we get confused by temptation and tests. James 2:1-15 helps explain the difference.

Temptation

Test

Comes from evil desires within

Comes from God above

Reveals our weaknesses

Reveals our strengths

Brings out the worst in us

Brings out the best in us
Appears logical

Appears unreasonable

Common to all

Unique to each person
Results in our failure

Results in our growth

God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on one of the mountains of Moriah. God does not ask us to give what we do not treasure or what we no longer care for or need. God asks us to give him the very best we have. When he asks us to make this type of sacrifice, it is often because he wants to give us something even better.

Chances are good that all of us have an Isaac that we are reluctant to give up. It may be a career, a car, a retirement account, a vacation, a relationship, security, or … The question we have to wrestle with is, “Do I love God MORE than I love __________?”

After a three-day journey, Abraham arrives at Mt. Moriah. Heading up the mountains, Isaac notes the fire, the wood, and the knife. When he asks his father where the lamb is for the sacrifice, Abraham responds in faith, “God will provide for himself the lamb.”

Regardless of whether it appears logical or illogical, reasonable or unreasonable, we need to be obedient to God’s commands. We must give him our all, holding nothing back. We cannot procrastinate since delayed obedience is really disobedience. We cannot make the journey to the altar of sacrifice but stop short of completion because partial obedience is complete disobedience.

Abraham obeyed because he kept his focus on God’s character. He was confident that “the Lord will provide.” Abraham also kept his focus on God’s promises. He stated, “I and the boy will worship AND return.”

God designs tests to prove the quality of our faith. To pass the test, we must pay attention to the sequence. In Abraham’s case, the sequence was OBEY … GOD PROVIDES. We want to change the order. If God provides, we think, then I will obey. But God calls us to obey and trust him. Then he reveals himself to us.

Abraham remembers the lesson by naming the place, Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Will Provide. How will you remember the things you learn about God?

Not only does God provide the ram for the sacrifice, he also expands the scope of his blessings to Abraham. Abraham discovered that Jehovah Jireh provides all we need and more besides.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 17, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

El Elyon – The Most High God

Where do you find security?

When we were children, we turned to various sources of security when we were scared—a night light, a blanket, an older brother, or our dad. Maybe we turned to comic book superheroes and debated whether or not the Marvel heroes were stronger than the DC family. Whatever source we turned to, it was because we wanted someone or something that is bigger and stronger and can make us feel secure.

As adults, we might turn to money, status, success, or pleasure to find that feeling of security. We might research other religions to provide hope for the future. We need to be careful, however, because the things we put our trust in can easily become the things we worship. Matthew 6:21 illustrates this fact, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our challenge is similar to what Abram went through in the early stages of his faith journey.

In Genesis 14:1-16, Abram goes into battle to rescue his nephew, Lot. He is outnumbered and outgunned. And yet, he is victorious because God delivers him. On the way home, he meets an individual who introduces him to El Elyon, the Most High God. Abram discovers that the Most High God is the only one who is worthy to be worshipped.

Based on Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, we learn the principle that in a world that worships comfort, pleasure, money, status, success, power, and a host of other lesser gods, El Elyon, The Most High God, deserves our wholehearted worship and allegiance.

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave Ur and journey to the Promised Land. Abram brings his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, and his father, Terah. Terah dies in Haran. In chapter 13, Abram’s and Lot’s herds grow to the point where they need to separate and seek different grazing areas. Lot chooses the valley near Sodom and Gomorrah because it is well watered and looks better.

Genesis 14 opens with the explanation that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are aligned with three other kings in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley had been conquered and was subject for 12 years (4). During the thirteenth year, they rebelled (4). In year fourteen, there was payback (5).

Four kings, Chedorlaomer and his allies, attack and capture the five kings and their armies. Lot is captured and carried off as a prisoner (1-12). One fugitive escapes and comes to Abram (13). Abram organizes his forces of 318 men and chases the marauders 240 miles and defeats them. Abram returns home with the captives and the spoils of war (14-16).

After the victorious battle, Abraham begins the return trip with Lot and his possessions and family and other captives. On the way home, Abram is met by two kings, Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem (17-24).

King

Bera, King of Sodom

Melchizedek, King of Salem

Meaning of name

Bera – gift

Sodom – burning

Melchizedek – king of righteousness

Salem – peace

Character

Wicked

Righteous

Attitude

Serves self Serves Most High God

(Demonstrates that the Most High God is known outside of Israel—see Daniel)

Believes that prosperity comes from man

Proclaims victory and blessing come from God

Relationship to Abram

Acted superior to Abram even though defeated in battle and rescued

Abram recognized him as a spiritual superior

Makes demands of Abram

Honors Abram

Offers to bargain

Offers a blessing

Implications of choice

If you accept the gift from the world, you will get scorched

If you accept the gift of righteousness, you will receive peace

Abram’s response

Abram rejects the offer and receives nothing from Bera

Abram receives the blessing and gives a tithe as an offering of worship

Abram declares his allegiance to the Most High God

From this meeting (Genesis 14:17-24), we learn several key facts about El Elyon, the Most High God.

El Elyon created, owns, and rules the universe (19). Elohim is the strong one who created the world. El Elyon is the Most High God who owns it all.

Everything—heaven and earth—belongs to him.

El Elyon protects and delivers (20). Abram went into battle with 318 trained men against the armies of four kings (1-16). He chased them for 140 miles and defeated them in a surprise attack. He then chased them for another 100 miles. And he was victorious and routed the enemy at every turn. Why? Melchizedek explained that God delivered the enemy into Abram’s hand.

El Elyon deserves our worship (20). Abram recognizes God’s position—Most High, Creator, Owner. He recognizes God’s protection and deliverance—gave enemy into his hand. Abram responds in worship. Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils as an act of worship.

El Elyon has earned our allegiance (22). Abram did not pursue comfort (13:10), the spoils of war (21), or political patronage (23). Instead, he swore an oath to serve the Most High God (22).

Are you following the gods of this world, or have you pledged your allegiance to the Most High God? The Most High God is the only one worthy to the worshipped. The Most High God deserves our allegiance and devotion.

This is the synopsis of a message delivered at the Annual Picnic of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 26, 2016. It is part of a series on the Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Choose your alliances carefully

In Genesis 14:17-24, Abram returns home victorious from a battle. He meets two kings with vastly different philosophies. They force Abram to make a choice as to whom he will form an alliance with.

By way of background, the Jordan River Valley was conquered and subject to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, for 12 years (1-4). A coalition of five kings rebelled in year 13 (4). Chedorlaomer and his allies put down the rebellion in year 14 and carried off the captives and plunder, including Abram’s nephew, Lot (5-12).

One fugitive escapes and comes to Abram (13). Abram organizes his forces of 318 men and chases the marauders 240 miles and defeats them. Abram returns home with the captures and spoils of war (14-16).

On the way home, Abram is met by two kings, Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem (17-24). Their names give Abram a hint of what is coming and how to respond. “Bera” means “gift,” while “Sodom” means “burning.” Bera is a wicked king in a worldly city. “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness” while “Salem” means “peace.” Melchizedek is a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God. Abram rejects Bera and worships with Melchizedek.

Choose your alliances wisely. If you accept the gift from the world, you will get scorched. If you accept the gift of righteousness, you will receive peace. It’s a pretty clear choice when you spell it out.

 

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2016 in Abraham, Genesis, Scripture

 

El Shaddai – God Almighty

How do you respond when you hear the words, “That’s impossible!” Are you intimidated? Do you figure you might as well not try because you are doomed to failure? Or you are inspired? Can you think of 23 new ideas that haven’t been tried yet?

What if your impossible task involves managing finances with rising medical, education, and housing costs? What if your challenge is bringing peace to a house or an office filled with conflict? What if someone offers an empty platitude of “Trust God” while you’re facing chemotherapy?

If your impossible situation has left you disappointed with God, then you are in good company with the patriarch, Abraham. At the age of 99, his life was filled with disappointment, heartache, failure, and doubt. It’s in his time of great need that God introduces himself as El Shaddai, the almighty God for whom nothing is impossible.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me , and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

To understand the significance of this name, we need to examine the meaning of the words and how they are used.

El comes from Elohim and means “strength” or “power.” Shaddai comes from two possible root words—one means “nourishes, supplies, or satisfies” while the other means “strength and stability.” El Shaddai means “The powerful strong God” or “The God who satisfies.” As El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient.

El Shaddai appears 7 times in the Old Testament, 6 of which are in Genesis and Exodus. 5 of the 6 examples in Genesis and Exodus are linked with God’s promises.

  • God and Abram (Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22; 18:1-14)
  • Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4)
  • God and Jacob (Genesis 35:1-15)
  • Jacob and his sons (Genesis 43:14)
  • Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 48:1-6, 21-22)
  • God and Moses (Exodus 6:1-8)

Shaddai appears 41 times in the Old Testament, 31 of which are in the book of Job. The usage contrasts the weakness and frailty of men and women with the power of God (especially evident in Job). God uses times of crisis to give us hopeful revelations of who he is.

By weaving the meaning and the usage together, we discover that as El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient. His strength is best seen in our weakness. El Shaddai reveals God’s ability to keep his promises to his people.

By examining Genesis 12-18, we discover that God as El Shaddai, meets Abram right at his point of need.

At the age of 75, God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation (12:1‑3). When Abram’s faith wavered (15:1-2), God promised him untold descendants (15:3-5) and established his covenant with Abram (15:7-21).

11 years after the initial promise, Abram and Sarai grew tired of waiting and took matters into their own hands (16:1-3). Sarai, in particular, blamed God for her infertility. Running ahead of God, they created problems the world is still dealing with today.

24 years after the initial promise and 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, Abram undoubtedly is struggling with disappointment, discouragement, failure, and doubt. In the midst of his struggle, God reveals himself to Abram as El Shaddai, God Almighty (17:1-2). God reaffirms his promises (17:1-8, 15-21). God changes Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah as a preview of his covenant and promise (17:5, 15).

God changed Abram’s & Sarai’s name

Looks backwards

Looks forward
Abram – “Exalted father”

Abraham – “Father of a multitude”

Sarai – “My princess”

Sarah – “Princess”

 

God expands his promises to Abraham

I will

Confirm my covenant

Make you fruitful

Make nations of you

Multiply you greatly

Bring kings from you

Establish an everlasting covenant

Give you the land forever

Abraham listens to God’s promises and then falls on the floor laughing (17:17). He tries to bargain with God by asking God to bless Ishmael. God assures him that his plan will be fulfilled through Isaac (17:19). Sarah laughs just as hard when she hears the news (18:12). God responds to Sarah’s doubts by asking her, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14).

Sarah recovers from her doubts and learns to trust God’s promises. Hebrews 11:11 explains, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

I take away three primary lessons from a study of God (El Shaddai) and his interaction with Abraham. One lesson is that God will keep his promises … in his time, not ours. God’s promises did not fail. However, it took 25 years before they were fulfilled. But God was faithful and blessed Abraham abundantly. God’s promises are secure because they are based on his power to keep them, not on my ability to believe them.

A second lesson I learned is that God’s plan is not hindered by our doubts or our failures. Abraham and Sarah both laughed at God’s promises. They thought they were too good to be true. Abraham and Sarah ran ahead of God and created difficult challenges and problems as a result of taking matters into their own hands and forcing God’s will. However, their doubts and failures did not derail God’s plan. God is still sovereignly in control and will accomplish his purpose.

I also learned that to fully enjoy God’s promises, we must walk with him and live a holy life. There is an order and sequence in Genesis 17:1-2. We love the idea that God (El Shaddai) is all-powerful and all-sufficient. We want his promises and we crave his blessings. That being said, we want to skip over the instructions in the middle, “walk before me and be blameless.” We want to live independently and gloss over holiness. But to fully enjoy God’s promises and blessings, we must walk with him and live a holy life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 19, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A journey of faith

Book Review: Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith, by Charles R. Swindoll

abraham-bookI have long appreciated Chuck Swindoll’s ministry of preaching and writing. I admire people who can teach the word of God clearly and balance explanation with application. He makes the Scriptures come alive and you walk away knowing how to put the principles in practice in daily life. Pastor Chuck’s latest book, Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith, follows in the same pattern and does not disappoint.

In the book, the author traces the story of Abraham from Genesis 12-24. Rather than provide a whitewashed version of an unblemished hero, he paints him as the Scriptures reveal do, a man with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, high points and failures, beauty and warts, and everything.

As Swindoll points out, the story of Abraham is a story of real life, showing a real person going through real experiences in a real world. He is a man that all of us can relate to. Abraham walked with God and yet stumbled on occasion. But he always got up and started walking again. By the end of his life, Abraham was known as the friend of God. The book portrays the growth of Abraham’s faith from his initial call to follow God to his final breath.

Swindoll blends biblical teaching with practical application. He weaves in personal stories, historical examples, and contemporary illustrations. The book is insightful and encouraging, filled with humor, sobering truth, and thought provoking principles. My only regret is that I didn’t have it when I preached through Abraham’s life last year.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network http://tyndaleblognetwork.com/ book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in Abraham, Books, Scripture