Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
The human tendency in regard to history seems to be that we either forget it, rewrite it, or so embellish it with unreality that it is unrecognizable. The postmodern mind seems to toss it out altogether as being useless for our time. For true believers, none of those are options. We must know that history is a treasure chest of wisdom from which we draw lessons that protect our future.
One of the primary historical and biblical characters is Abraham, the “father of nations.” The Old Testament and New Testament regularly call us back to him as the patriarch of our existence. Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and even our Lord Jesus, remind us regularly of his example. We are called his seed, and even Jesus Christ is called the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). What honor is bestowed upon Abraham!
What is it that God wants us to know that He so often points us back to a man who lived nearly 4000 years ago? Even today Jews, Muslims, and Christians make pilgrimages to his tomb in reverence for his life. They all call him “Father Abraham.”
While Abraham is honored by nations, he was Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. He was a Semite who lived in the area that is now southern Iraq. Abraham lived among idol-worshipping Cushites, but he sought the true God and His true community. This hunger and thirst after righteousness caused him to leave Ur, and go into a land that was unfamiliar to him.
Abraham forsook what he could see for what he could not see. He heard from God, believed what he heard, and acted upon it until his faith was rewarded. He became a primary maker of history. His faith was dynamic and his legacy tangible (study Genesis 12-25).
LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM:
I like to learn from achievers – people who moved beyond analysis to action. I can think of no better teacher, other than our Lord Himself. What can we learn from Abraham?
Abraham means “father of a multitude.” He teaches us the value of fatherhood and training children.
Abraham believed God and was counted righteous. He teaches us the nature of faith and righteousness.
Abraham left Ur and sought the true city of God. He teaches that faith acts on vision.
Abraham received and believed promises. He teaches us that there are rewards for acting in faith.
Abraham was given a land, inheritance, and children. He teaches us that God makes room for the faithful and gives them a legacy.
Abraham sinned by lying about Sarah. He said she was his sister on two occasions, in order to save himself. He teaches us that even believers sometimes sin.
Abraham became wealthy. He teaches us that God prospers obedience and stewardship.
Abraham took care of his nephew, Lot. He teaches us that extended family is important to God.
Abraham built altars. He teaches us the value of dedication and sacrifice.
Abraham fought battles. He demonstrates that we must fight evil.
Abraham paid tithes to Melchizidek. He teaches us that tithes precede the law.
Abraham rejected the rewards of Sodom. We learn that the immoral have no reward for us.
Abraham received a covenant from God. He shows us how God relates to those who believe Him.
Abraham had a son by Sarah’s maid, Hagar. The record shows that we cannot accomplish God’s will by our fleshly action.
Abraham received prophetic words from God. We learn that God reveals secrets to those that fear Him.
Abraham was commanded to circumcise all of the males in his house. He teaches us that the flesh must be “cut away.”
Abraham trained his children. We learn from this that God values parental training.
Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac, the son of promise, believing that God would raise him up. We discover that even promised blessings must be put on the altar, but God will resurrect them.
Abraham died having been blessed in every way and satisfied with life. We see that faith leads to fullness of life.
Abraham was declared righteous in the Old Testament and New Testament. This tells us that the basis for righteousness is the same in both covenants – faith. These are not all of the vital lessons that he left us – but what a legacy!
TIME AND TRUTH
The first settlers in America came here less than 400 years ago. They were committed Christians. America today bears little resemblance to those pilgrims. What has time done to us? Indeed, what have we done with the truth?
Abraham lived nearly 4000 years ago. Can you imagine what time and traditions have done to his legacy? Most Jews are not religious. Muslims, offspring of Abraham, seem to hate Jews. “Christian families” seem to fall apart as often as non-Christian families. Grace often means license; love often means self-gratification; sacrifice is taboo; discipline is abuse; tithing is often not taught; and to many people, Abraham is an unknown person.
Thank God for the Bible. At least we can still read it for ourselves and learn the truth.
LAW AND TRADITION
Israel was enslaved in Egypt 400 years after Abraham. Remembering the covenant with Abraham, God called Moses to deliver them and make of those slaves a holy nation. In order to “train” the children of Abraham, God gave the law to Moses. The law was to be a mirror revealing their need for faith and grace. The law was righteous and holy, but could never make Israel holy.
Israel in its carnality turned the law into a legalistic basis for a tradition. Rather than becoming the “Light of the World,” Israel became self-righteous, rejecting and killing prophets who sought to warn them. Moses had faith, but Israel too often lacked the faith to pursue God’s purpose. More than one generation was lost. They continually preferred the visible to the invisible and externals to internal heart issues.
Israel failed when it put form over substance and missed the motives of God. (Stephen later said that they resisted the Holy Spirit.) David was a bright spot in history. The Psalmist “Giant-Killer,” rose to rule as God’s anointed. He gave Israel the plans for the temple, and Solomon’s reign flowered in David’s preparation. The Temple was magnificent, but in the end, it was destroyed because Israel looked to it for salvation rather than looking to God. The temple was destroyed not once, but three times!
Time and tradition made Israel and its temple much less than Abraham had sought. They had a beautiful altar – far more elaborate than Abraham’s altars. But their faith in God’s world purpose was pitiful and poor.
When Jesus came, another temple had been built, but the lessons of Abraham had not been learned. “We are Abraham’s Children,” the Pharisees declared.
“If you were, you would do as he did,” Jesus responded. Please let me be clear; this is not a Jewish problem. It is a human problem. The Jews represented the most godly society on earth!
The essence of faith is not merely creedal confessions, traditions, or ceremonies. It is a vision in which one believes enough to act. Faith-based actions are the essence of history and the foundation for the future.
Once any belief system degenerates into mere rules and forms, it is ready for the museum. If it stays in the street, it will be trampled upon. The petty arguments of mere analyzers are scarcely more than the bickering of children, but not Abraham’s children.
Abraham’s children believe God, seek God’s community, care for family, fight battles, build altars, pay tithes, walk in covenant, receive an inheritance, and are counted righteous. They sometimes sin and pay consequences, but they take the risks of failure and live on the path of God’s call.
The journey of faith is further than from house-to-office, or driveway to church; it is a life-long pursuit of seeking God, venturing out, and miracle-making obedience.
STEPS OF FAITH
I want to thank those of you who have helped us on our journey, and have enabled us to help others. Our son Stephen is returning to Alabama to help me in this ministry full-time. He will continue to edit our material, be available to speak, and assist us in relating to our constituents. Please pray for him in this transition. For more information on this, please see our website at www.csmpublishing.org (and click on “Hot News.”)
Also, please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month. Your support helps us to reach more than 70 nations with faith-strengthening resources, producing a fruitful harvest for God’s glory. Again, thank you for walking with us on this exciting journey of faith!
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Genesis