Molding a lump of clay

Molding a lump of clay
I am a work in progress, molded by my Maker, refined by His fire, shaped with His love. Walk the journey with me.

Friday, June 28, 2013

When the Promise becomes an Idol

What happens when the Promises of God, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, become idols in our hearts?

God promised Abraham a son through Sarah. That son was Isaac.

Next thing we know, God asks Abraham to sacrifice that very son, the Promise Fulfilled, on the altar. Not only did Abraham have to wait many years for the Promise to be fulfilled, but then God decided to take that very same promise away. What's up with that?

I went back and reread the story of Isaac and the almost-sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, and I discovered a little story I'd always overlooked before. Just after we read about Isaac's birth, there are a few verses describing the only information we have about Isaac's childhood.

"The child (Isaac) grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw the son who Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'" Gen 21:8-10

So Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, and they wander in the desert of Beersheba.

Two things struck me about this short story.

1. Abraham held a great feast when Isaac was weaned. I don't know how long a child was nursed in those days, but presumably Isaac was still a toddler when he was weaned, yet a huge party was held in his honor. I wonder if Abraham went over the top a little? Could it be that his love for his son was threatening to put Isaac on a bit of a pedestal? Making an idol of him? Glorifying Isaac rather than God? Is it possible that Abraham was beginning to love the Promise more than the Promise Giver?

2. Ishmael mocked; Sarah seethed. Had Sarah's view of her son become overinflated? Is that why she was so offended when Ishmael mocked, because he didn't show the proper respect and honor she felt due her little toddler of a boy? Was that offense so great as to merit banishment into the desert...certain death? Had Isaac become an idol in Sarah's heart, and woe to those who didn't join her in worship of him?

What happens when a promise of God takes the place of God in our hearts?

Anything that takes center stage in our hearts
 other than God
 is an idol.

And idols must be dethroned 
if we are to remain in right relationship with God.

I wonder if that's why God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The Bible says, "...God tested Abraham." It seems God wanted to see where Abraham's loyalty really lay. Who was Number 1 in Abraham's heart? Isaac or God?

I never thought before that this test  may have been brought about by a possible drifting of Abraham away from God. It seems credible that Abraham had lost some of his awe of God in light of the awe of watching his only son grow.

But God doesn't share His glory. 

Does that seem harsh?

Not when we understand the dangers of replacing God with any other idol in our lives. Nothing but sadness and destruction lie ahead of us when we push God to the side and begin worshipping people, money, fame, you name it.

God knew this, and in His great mercy He gave an order to Abraham that would force Abraham to snap out of it. The shock of God's command would have opened Abraham's eyes to the real state of his heart. He was going to have to choose whether to obey the God he loved, or protect the son he loved.

Talk about a crossroads moment.

It got me thinking. Have I so focused on the Promise, that the failure to see the promise fulfilled has affected my relationship with God? Am I willing to sacrifice the Promise, even before fulfillment, in exchange for greater intimacy with God? What is ultimately more important...the Promise, or the Promise-Giver?

Graham Cooke said: "Every promise is tested so that our faith can increase. Pursuing God's purposes in our situation is where we learn the business end of faith and walking with the Father. Do not chase the outcome, but pursue the heart of God."

Abraham passed his test and proved he loved God above the only son he also loved tremendously. He also demonstrated his belief that God is good and loved him back. He believed that even if God allowed him to go through with the sacrifice and kill Isaac, God could raise him from the dead.

Abraham's unshakable faith in God was credited to him as righteousness, and inspires me today. But this story also cautions me to keep my eyes on God and worship Him alone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

(trying to) believe in the Promises of God

I'm sitting at the crossroads again, not sure which way to go. God made me a promise, but the fulfillment thereof is not yet.

In response to one of my many queries, God said that to wait for His promise is to receive Isaac, but to take another route to the fulfillment of God's promise is to receive Ishmael. In other it my way and forfeit the true prize; let God do it His way in His timing and receive His promise.

The challenge for me at the moment is that there's a third way, a middle road between Isaac and Ishmael. And I can't decide whether it's a semi-Isaac or a semi-Ishmael or something altogether different.

Yet God was pretty clear in His promise. It's my puddle of faith that's muddy.

I know I'm not alone in trying to unravel the gnarled ball of yarn that is faith in God's promises. All sorts of things contribute to the tangled knot. The two I'm dealing with in this season are:

  • Questions of whether or not I heard God correctly. This doubt goes right back to the Garden of Eden when satan craftily asked Eve, "Did God really say..."

  • Questions of whether or not God's promise is actually my own desire masquerading as Truth. When the Word of the Lord is something I would never have thought of or don't particularly enjoy (ie. 'do a one-day fast every week'), it's easier to believe it's from God because it certainly isn't MY idea. But when the Word of the Lord sounds very much like my deepest dream, it's easier to suspect the Word may be nothing more than my longings.

Can God do what He says He will do?

Will He do it in my case?
Yes, if He said He would, then He will.

Did He say He would?
I think so. 

But what if He didn't?
Therein lies the rub. 
Therein lies the temptation
 to doubt my ability to hear God, 
which affects my belief that 
God can make Himself heard.

If I believe God speaks, and I believe God can make Himself heard above the groaning of the world, and in the same breath I doubt whether I heard him or not, then it undermines my belief that He can make Himself heard, which undermines my belief that I can hear God, which potentially undermines my belief that God speaks. See the danger?

What I must remember is this:
God speaks.
God wants to communicate with me.
God is bigger than my ability to hear.

God can and will make His ways known to the one who is willing to know them.
And follow them.
Which is the harder part. 

If God makes His way known, and I choose not to follow it, is the wrong with God for not opening the door sooner, or with me for not being patient to wait for the door to open?

Yes, that's how I feel. It's like I'm in a room with 3 doors: the door marked 'Isaac' is closed; the door marked 'Ishmael' stands fully opened; the door in the middle is ajar.

Which door?
"Wait for Isaac!" my heart cries.

"But what if the middle door leads to Isaac?" my brain counters.

"Is that what God is saying?" my heart asks.

So I sit on the floor in the room before the doors and wait.

Is this a test of faith?

But even more to the point, I believe it's a test of faithfulness. God's faithfulness to fulfill His promise; my faithfulness to wait for Him to do it His way.

How painful is the waiting! In the beginning I had peace. Now hope wavers like a candle flickering in the wind. It struggles to stay burning, to fight the good fight, to never give up. But the wind blows stronger and the rain spits and the candle burns lower.
Does God know the length of my wick?

I want to please God with unwavering faith; I want it to be credited to me as righteousness. I've asked Him many times to increase my faith, and I suspect this is how He does testing it.
By making it wait. 

Faith isn't faith unless it believes in something only God can do and trusts Him to do it. But it's costly, that kind of faith. It separates marrow from bone and gets to the heart of the matter...what do I believe about the nature and character of God?

Corrie ten Boom said, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."

Do I know God enough to trust Him with the future of my deepest dream?
I hope so.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

Have I seen God at work in my life?
Most definitely. Without a doubt.

Perhaps most compelling of all is the anonymous quote scratched into the cement wall in Auschwitz concentration camp by a Jewish prisoner:
"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining,
I believe in love, even when I don't feel it,
I believe in God, even when He is silent."

I guess the real question isn't whether or not God is faithful to fulfill His promises; the real question is do I believe God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Based on how far God has brought me, and the work He has done in my life, I have to say 'yes. God can do all that He says He can do, and He will fulfill His promises in my life.'

Let Your will be done, Lord.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do not be afraid; just believe.

Yesterday in church the Pastor was reading the story of 'The Dead Girl' from Mark 5:21-43.

To summarize, a religious leader, Jairus, came to Jesus, fell at his feet, and begged Jesus to come heal his daughter. Jesus went with Jairus to his house, but before they reached, some men came and told them the girl had already died. "Why bother the teacher any more?" they asked Jairus.

But Jesus ignored the men and told Jairus, "Do not be afraid; just believe."

When they reached Jairus' home, people were wailing in grief, mourning the loss of the young girl.

Jesus asked them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep."

But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, Jesus took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" Immediately the girl stood up and walked around.

The first report that the child had died did not faze Jesus...the Word of Life had a plan to raise that girl from the dead. But first he had to encourage Jairus, the father..."Do not be afraid; just believe." I imagine Jairus' heart thumping in his throat as he hurried along next to the one man who hadn't given up...what would Jesus do? Jairus wanted to believe, but he was gripped with fear. Nevertheless, Jesus was his last hope. Jairus had to believe.

But did his faith falter as he got closer and closer to the wailing coming from his house? Did tears fill his eyes when he saw his wife sobbing? What went through his mind when Jesus told the mourners that the girl was sleeping? How did he feel when they laughed at Jesus?

'You fool,' the mourners said in their hearts when Jesus told them the girl was not dead. 'Are you daft? We know what death looks like. That girl is clearly dead.'

In their unbelief, they missed to see resurrection power. They were 'put out' where they couldn't see Jesus take the girl's hand and tell her to get up. They missed the joy on the father and mother's faces when their little girl stood and walked around. They missed the tears of celebration that soaked Jesus' shirt as the parents hugged him in gratitude. They missed the disciples awe and admiration as they witnessed their teacher raise the dead.

When logic overcomes faith we miss the miracles.

Is there anything that seems to be dying in your life? Maybe a dream, a hope, a desire? Have you brought it to Jesus? Maybe he's been telling you something is going to happen, but you haven't seen it come to pass, and you're losing faith.

Remember his words: Do not be afraid; just believe.