Sunday, October 13, 2019

Live By Faith Not By Sight: Impossible to please God without faith!

Good morning!
Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”  (Genesis 15:5b)

One day God appeared to Abram, and told, “Leave your country to the land that I will show you, and will make you into a great nation.”    Abram believed God, and His promise.   He left his country and his people.   Although he did not know where he was going, he faithfully followed God.    Abram was 75 years old.

He made a long journey about 1,000 km (or 600 miles), and arrived at Canaan, the promised land.   His life in Canaan was not easy either.  He had to constantly move around.  Due to the severe famine, he had to move down to Egypt, where he met another danger.  But God protected Abram and Sarah, his wife, and Abram and his wife safely returned to Canaan.  One thing that Abram had never forgotten was building an alter to God and calling His name, wherever he went.    He was a man of faith, and lived a God-Centered life.   This pleased God, and God blessed him spiritually, and gradually increased his possessions also.

Throughout his life journey, Abraham met many challenges and overcame them by faith, but there was one thing that he could not overcome by his faith.  He had no child of his own because his wife was barren.   Without his own child, Abram knew it was impossible that his decedents became a great nation.    Although he was a man of faith, it was always a troubling stumbling block of the impossibility.  

Didn’t God know Abram’s struggle?   Yes, God saw Abram’s troubling heart, and knew his struggle that he could not reconcile between the impossibility and God’s promise.   In fact, God had let Abram struggle because his struggle was a process of growing faith in Him.  

Then God lovingly appeared for Abram, when he was at the highest point of his struggle.   Abram, as soon as he met God, poured out his struggle to God.   God carefully heard him.   God truly loved Abram who was struggling because of his faith.  (If Abram had not had faith in God, he would have not been struggled.)   Then God took him outside into the deep night sky, and showed the sparking stars that nobody could count.   Abram saw God’s promise with his own eyes.   God made His 2nd covenant with Abram that his descendants would be as many as the stars.   Abram believed.  

However, Sarah, Abram’s wife, had her own humanly plan, which Abram fell in.   Sarai’s plan was really logical to Abram’s own eyes.  It did not require any more struggle in faith.  He accepted Sarah’s plan, which, as expected, resulted in a birth of Ishmael.  Ishmael was not a part of God’s plan.   Ishmael’s birth made pleased Abram and Sarah, but Ishmael soon led to constant domestic conflicts between Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael’s mother.  Abram could not anything between Sarah and Hagar.   Abram suffered a lot. 

God waited thirteen years, and came back again.   God made the 3rd convent which was even bigger than Abram received before.  God promised Abram that he would be a father of many nations, not just one nation.  As the sign of the God’s bigger promise, God changed the name of Abram (a father of a nation) to Abraham (a father of many nations).   God also made Sarai’s name change to Sarah.   Of course, the name changed alone did not immediately transform Abraham’s faith.  God introduced an additional measure -- sending angels to help Abram, who still could not completely take off his doubt caused by the impossibility.  The angels confirmed God’s covenant, and promised that Sarah, his barren wife would have a baby.

God was faithful.   God did for Sarah exactly what He had promised.  She miraculously became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age.  And Abraham named their son Isaac as God commanded.  Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him again as God had commanded.  Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”

When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion.  But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac.  So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!”     The humanly made solution did not leave Abraham, which remained as a thorn.

Abraham was stung by the thorn of Ismael.  The Sarah’s demand gave a deep pain in his heart because Ishmael was also his son.   Abraham had to struggle again before the cold reality caused by his own wrongdoing before God (i.e., sin).   God saw Abraham who was deeply troubled in his heart.   God in His love appeared and told Abraham,

“Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.  But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” (Genesis 21:11-13)

God, first, said not to upset over the problem caused by Abraham himself.    Yes, we should not upset about the problem caused by ourselves.   Instead, we should directly see what we have done and admit our own sin.   “Sin” means missing a target.   We miss the target set by God, then it is sin because we have missed what God wants for us to do.   Thus, there is nothing for us to upset about the problem caused by us.   Rather we come to God and listen to Him with opening our heart.   Then God reveals His plan lovingly prepared for us although we are sinful.  Let’s back to Abraham.  What did God tell Abraham?    Isaac was the son that God prepared, not Ishmael.   We cannot hide our sin before God, and God’s plan never change.   We need to be calm before God, and carefully hear His voice.   

At the moment, Abraham’s biggest fear was sending away Ishmael from his life because Abram also loved Ishmael as his son.  God knew Abraham’s troubling heart, and his pain.   God, who loved Abraham, gave a great comfort to Abraham.  God promised to give His blessings on Ishmael also, although Ishmael could not be Abraham’s heir, which God had set aside according to His good will. 

When hearing God’s comforting voice, Abraham became calm.  Abraham clearly heard that Isaac, the true heir, alone needed to be at home.  Abraham followed what was told by God, and God’s peace came to Abraham and Sarah.   They together enjoyed God’s blessings. 

God carefully watched over Abraham years, but Abraham’s faith did not reach the faith that God wanted.  God wanted for Abraham to be the father of faith for all believers.  His faith still needed to be deeper and greater.  In fact, greater than any faiths in future.

God’s timing had come.   God came to Abraham, and tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)

God asked to sacrifice Isaac whom he loved most in the entire world.   Heavens were collapsing on Abraham.   He struggled and struggled throughout the night.   As dawning, he bowed down to God and worshipped Him as he always did.

Then Abraham got out his tent early in the morning. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.   He also chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.  He did not tell anybody including Sarah, his wife.   He quietly followed God’s command while trusting God.    What was commanded by God was not logical, but he believed.  

He remembered his long struggle before the impossibility, and his failure of making Ishmael before God.   The failure caused constant conflicts and pains associated.   Throughout the troubling period of his life, he found one precious lesson – he was not alone, but God was always with him.   Whenever he cried out to God after being completely exhausted from the fight against the impossibility, God lovingly heard him and comforted Abraham by retelling His promise again and again.   In fact, God’s love made him going and he knew this fact.    Abraham held on tight his faith in God for this time.  Abraham did not say a word, and quietly followed God as Jesus did.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

His journey with Isaac, his beloved son, and his servants was not easy.   He had to constantly fight against his doubt oozing up from the deepest part of his heart, and he constantly heard his own voice that it was completely absurd.    But he refused to hear the voice of doubt.   On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”    Then Abraham went alone with Isaac, who was a teenager. 

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. (Genesis 22:8)

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.  At that moment the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven,

“Abraham! Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11m)

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

This was the moment that Abraham truly became the Abraham -- the father of all faithful believers.   God truly pleased with Abraham and his faith, and Abraham proved his own faith to himself also.   Abraham finally saw his own faith with his own eyes!

To make this true Abraham, God appeared to Abraham three times to repeatably tell His promise.  God even gave a new name, Abraham, but it was not enough either.   The new name alone could not transform the old Abram to the new Abraham.   God, then, gave the greatest opportunity to prove his faith, and Abraham took the challenge faithfully.  For this time, Abraham did not fail.   Indeed, he came out triumphantly by faith in God, which made God truly pleased.   Abraham had received the great name of being the father of all believers.    

In retrospect, God was truly patient with Abraham, and Abraham was faithful to God.  Although he failed again and again, he had never forgotten to build an alter to God and calling on His name.   Abraham always placed God at the center of his life no matter what happened in his life, which was the key to make him victorious in his faith.    How about us?   Do we really trust God, and live out a God-centered life by worshipping God no matter what happens in our lives?   

 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Live By Faith, Not By Sight -- Coast off doubt and fear. Walk in faith, believing!ast off doubt and fear. Walk in faith, believing!

Good morning!
Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God came to Abram and told Abram, “Leave your country to the land that I will show you, and will make you into a great nation.”    God did not tell anything about the destination, but just leaving where he used to live.   Per God’s command, Abram left his country, where he and his family had a good life.   He was seventy-five years old when he was courageously leaving his country and following God while completely trusting Him and His promise without knowing where he was going.

His journey was not easy.  He traveled about 1,000 km (about 600 miles), and arrived at the Canaan, the promised land.  However, his life in Canaan was not easy either.   He had to move around in the land of Canaan as a stranger, but Abram was faithful to God.   Abram built an alter to God wherever he went, and he worshiped God while calling on His name, and giving thanksgivings to God.  He truly trusted God and believed His promise without ceasing.   Even so, the world did not cooperate.   A server famine came, and he had to move down to Egypt.  If God did not protected Abram, he could have had lost his wife in Egypt.  By God’s help, he and his family could safely return to Canaan.   Abram was faithful to God in all circumstances, and God, who is merciful and gracious, blessed Abram.  God blessed Abram spiritually and materially also.   However, there was one thorny thing with Abram, which he could not reconcile with his faith in God --- he did not have a son who would be a seed making the great nation.  He struggled with this irreconcilable issue in his faith, but it had never left him.  It was always with him.

God appeared again to Abram.  Abram could not hide any more.  He poured out his struggle on not having a child.   Abram also told his own plan to make Eliezer of Damascus, his servant, be his heir.   God did not accept the Abram’s proposal.  Instead, God reconfirmed His promise by telling, “you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.”  Then to help Abram’s struggle, God took Abram out under the clear night sky.   Abram saw the countlessly many stars.  God pointed the stars and told that Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the clear night sky.  (Imagine what Abram had really saw on that night.   At the time of Abram, there was no air pollution and light contamination at all, Abram should have seen a crystal-clear night sky and sparkling stars that were so many that nobody would even attempt counting all.   I still remember the magnificent scene that the crystal clear night sky packed with countlessly many stars from horizon to the top  and the other side of horizon, and each of them was shining like a clear crystal reflecting a pure light.   I was awestruck by the sheer size of the vast space of the night sky and the stars filling the vast expanse of the sky.)   Abram was comforted and regain his trust on God, and he firmly believed again God’s promise.    Joyfully Abram returned to his home where Sarai, his wife, but Sarai had a difficult plan.   Sarai had already given up having a baby, and made her own rational plan to have a baby with her servant, Hagar.  Sarai convinced Abram, and as planned, Ishmael was born.   Sarai along with Abram rejoiced over Ishmael, but Ishmael brought never-ceasing domestic conflicts between Sarai and Hagar.  Ishmael was not a part of the God plan, but he became the source of conflicts in the household of Abram and Sarai. 

Then God patiently waited for 13 year, but Abram had never realized what he did was not God’s will.  God, who was full of love, appeared third time to Abram, and confirmed His covenant with Abram.  For this time, God made a dramatic measure for Abram not to forget or deviate from the God’s promise and His plan: 
1.      God hanged Abram’s name from Abram to Abraham
2.      God gave a mark of God’s covenant of circumcision, and
3.      God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah.

Why did God do all of the above for Abram (Father of one nation), who was renamed to Abraham (Father of many nations)?   Because God loved Abraham.    God was also pleased with Abraham who faithfully built an alter and called on God’s name wherever he went.   Abraham lived a God-centered life.

Was Abraham perfect before God?   Of course, he was not.   Ishmael was the perfect example that manifested the human Abraham’s struggle of faith before the impossibility.   Then he gave in and resolved the irreconcilable issue with Ishmael.  However, Ishmael brought constant domestic conflicts and problems for the last thirteen years.   Even so, Abraham did not come to God for his wrongdoing. The faithful Abraham failed before God.  God, who was truly patient, found Abram, and told that Ishmael would not be his heir, but the son from Sarah.   Then God blessed Abraham again in His unfathomable love,

“And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants. (Genesis 17:16)

“She” means Sarah, his wife, not Hagar.  Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself, “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!”

Abraham could not get out of his own rational thinking, because the promise of God of making him into many nations without even one single son was utterly impossible in Abraham’s eyes.  We cannot blame Abraham because it was a cold fact that Abraham and his barren wife had to overcome.   This was the largest impediment for both Abraham and Sarah.

Didn’t God know Abraham could not believe the God’s promise because it was absolutely impossible to the eyes of Abraham?   Yes, God knew and Abraham’s struggle.   This was the reason why God appeared three times to Abraham.  

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.  As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.  But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.”  (Genesis 17:19-21)

God exactly knew Abraham and his heart for Ishmael, who was born with Hagar.  God, who knew Abraham’s struggle, comforted Abraham.   God, first, reconfirmed His covenant with Abram and his descendants as an “everlasting covenant.”   (Yes, God’s covenant never changes and lasts forever.  That’s why we have our assurance in Him.  No matter what happens, His faithful covenant will be with us forever.)     Second, God also promised to bless Ishmael. 

Then God left Abraham.   Abraham was extremely comforted.   On that very day, Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male in his household, including those born there and those he had bought. Then he circumcised them along with the rest of the household as God commanded.    Again, this is the greatness of Abraham, who could return to God and continued God-centered life, while overcoming his doubt and struggle before the impossibility.

God did not forget Sarah, who had been struggling since she married.   She knew the God’s promise was impossible because she was barren.   Indeed, she was the person who brought Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born.   Since then, in her house, domestic conflicts had never left.    She had been paying the price for the last thirteen years since Ishmael’s birth.   Surely, she wanted to help Abraham with humanly means by introducing Hagar, which was a successful plan because Ishmael was born.   Sarah through that the struggle of Abraham and herself was over.   In fact, it had introduced a bigger problem, which made her life even more miserable.   God exactly knew Sarah and her heart, and saw what she was going through.  God, full of mercy and love, stretched His hand for Sarah.

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day.  He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

Abraham was kind and generous to all including strangers.   Abraham actually welcomed angels without knowing.     

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

Before the Abraham’s hospitality, they (actually the angels) could not walk by, and they answered to Abraham.

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

As soon as Abraham heard the answers of the angels, Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it.    Abraham and Sarah worked hard while preparing the food for the angels.

When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.  Again, Abraham served the angels without realizing it!

“Where is Sarah, your wife?” one of the angles asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

Then one of the angels said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.  Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.  So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

She could not stop laughing.  Why?   She knew having a baby was impossible.  She was barren and she was too told to have a baby.   She also knew Abraham was too old to have a baby.  The silent smile was, in fact, her pain in her heart and her struggle to believe God’s promise.   Sarah had been always confronting against the cold reality of having a baby.   God knew her heartbreaking every day.  God could not leave her alone anymore.    God moved His merciful and loving hand to Sarah, and gently told to Abraham about Sarah through one of the angels:

“Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’  Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:13b, 14)

God reconfirmed His promise to Sarah.    For this time, God declared Him as Omnipotent God.   Yes, before Him, there is nothing impossible.  How many times have we say nothing is impossible before God?   Then our heart was filled with doubts because our brain says God’s promise is ridiculously impossible.   In other word, do we really believe Our God’s truly omnipotence?    Sadly, we all admit our frequent failures before God.   What does God really want?    He wants for us to have an absolute faith while completely trusting Him.    God wanted for Sarah to trust God and believe His promise even if it was utter impossible.    Of course, like us, Sarah failed.  Sarah silently laughed before God, as Abraham did before.   

Then in fear, Sarah denied, “I didn’t laugh.”   But God said, “No, you did laugh.”  Then God left.  

Did God punish Sarah’s disbelief at the spot?  No, God did not.   Instead, God just remind her of her disbelief.  Why? God really cared for Sarah.  God kindly pointed out her disbelief, while implicitly asking her to keep her trust on His promise.  Yes, then Sarah regained her faith in Him and believed the impossible promise of God.   As a result, Abraham and Sarah together trusted God and believed His promise.  For this time, they did not have to devise their own plan to make God’s impossible plan come true because together they believed.   What a beautiful scene before God!   

God faithfully kept His word.   God did for Sarah exactly what He had promised.  She miraculously became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age.  And Abraham named their son Isaac as God commanded.  Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him again as God had commanded.  Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”

Sarah was in extreme joy.  God kept His promise.   Sarah and Abraham experienced God who was faithful.

Who is our God?   He is always faithful and keeps His word.   Although we cannot see anything with our own eyes, we should walk with Him by calling on the name of our God.  This is our faith and hope.   Our God, who is faithful and full of love and mercy, always hears us and answers according to His infinitely goodness.  Praise Him because His mercy endures forever!

Down in the valley where the mists of doubt arise,
       I by faith can walk with God's victorious band.
Though so-called "real proofs" elude my ears and eyes
      On the promises of God I firmly stand.
Walk we onward; walk in faith, believing!
      Press we on, bravely on! Cast off doubt and fear!
Press we heaven-ward, through our faith receiving
       Proofs more sure than any known to eye or ear! 
(from “Down in the valley where the mists of doubt arise” Hymn)

For we live by faith, not by sight.  (2 Corinthian 5:7)