Faith Filled Parenting

In my daily prayers I regularly give thanks for my parents who brought me up to have faith in Jesus. My prayers also go up to the Lord for my children as they rear their children in the faith. I desire that my grandchildren, too, might pass along true gospel faith to their descendants after them.

This sentiment is expressed by the prophet Isaiah. “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 59:21).

The recent birth of my thirteenth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl, has reminded me again of the important role of parents in the training of children. I am praying that my son and daughter-in-law will bring up this precious child to know and love Jesus as savior.

God ‘s word makes it clear that parents are responsible for the guidance and instruction of their children in the ways and will of the Lord. It is certain that in our world there are all kinds of negative influences and godless ideas that are impressed upon children every day. Church youth pastors and Sunday School teachers can support parents in their role, but there is no substitute for Mom and Dad in the spiritual teaching of children.

Hebrews 11:23 is an illustration of this principle. “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw that he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

This verse is a brief tribute to two people whose courage and faith insured Moses’ survival and shaped his early life. Amram, his father, and Jochabed, his mother, were from the tribe of Levi, but along with the rest of their fellow-Israelites, were slave laborers in Egypt. To inhibit the rapid growth of the Israelite population the Egyptian king had issued an order that male babies born to the Hebrews were to be killed. I notice two things about Moses’ parents.

Insight

There is an ancient Jewish tradition, reported by the historian Josephus, that Moses’ father received a vision that his son was a child of destiny. Amram believed that God had special plans for Moses and was going to use him as a great leader in Israel. The story as reported in Exodus highlights the role of Moses’ mother.

Even though they were under orders to have the baby killed, “they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” They had faith in the God of Israel, not in the gods of the Egyptians.

Initiative

The book of Exodus describes how they disobeyed the king’s decree, at great risk to themselves. They hid the child for three months then placed him in the Nile River in a little floating vessel made of papyrus reeds. Apparently the location was strategically chosen because it was the place where the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe.

When she found the baby she had pity on the child and wanted to keep him. Moses’ sister Miriam approached the princess and offered to “go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you” (Exodus 2:7). When the princess agreed, Miriam brought Jochabed to her as nursemaid for the baby.

In the faithful providence of God, Moses’ own mother  got to be the earliest spiritual influence in his life. We cannot know for sure the full extent of that influence, but surely she implanted in the child as best she could, a knowledge of the God of Abraham and his identity as a member of the Hebrew nation.

I have read that fifty per cent of a child’s basic attitudes are formed during the first three years of life. If that is true it emphasizes the importance of the parents in the early spiritual training of their children. No one can take the place of Mom and Dad in setting the right example and teaching the truths about God.

“What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord . . . which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:4-7).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

The Bones of Joseph

“By faith Joseph , when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones” (Hebrews 11:22).

Joseph was not writing a script for a horror movie. Nor was he giving a lecture on physiology. Joseph was giving instructions about his final arrangements, his burial. This is not as gruesome as it seems.

It is a remarkable statement of faith. He was saying he did not want to be interred in Egypt. When the Israelite nation would be liberated to go to their new homeland, he wanted his remains to go with them. He wanted to be permanently buried among his own people in the Promised Land.

“By faith,” Joseph believed that God would fulfill his promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the desert sky. He believed that they would be a blessing to all nations of the world.

He believed the word promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the land of Canaan would be given to them and to their descendants after them (Genesis 15:13-16). This promise included Joseph and his sons. Joseph believed that Abraham’s descendants would return to that place and claim it as their own.

Joseph believed that there would be an exodus from Egypt someday. He knew he would not be alive to see it. He believed it because the Lord had said so. He believed that God had purposes for the chosen people of Israel. Joseph was expressing his confidence in God’s word and his solidarity with God’s people.

So we read in Exodus 13:19, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.'”

I believe a practical lesson for us is that when the time comes to talk to our loved ones about our final arrangements, we should express our faith, as Joseph did. When we let them know about our desires and wishes for our funeral and burial, we should talk openly about our faith in Christ, and our assurance of eternal life with him.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Faith in the Time of Death

I remember visiting a lady in the hospital who had received a diagnosis that her condition was terminal. She and her husband were facing this with uncommon courage and faith. When I arrived at her room I noticed that her husband had been reading a book at her bedside.

When I asked what he was reading he showed me a book on theology. In this desperate time the two of them had been contemplating and worshiping God!

As he was dying, Jacob “worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). This verse is poetic. It is a tribute to the man who was the father of the tribes of Israel. He knew he was dying and he was worshiping the God of his fathers.

Matthew Henry wrote, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian life, yet it is especially so when we are dying. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers finish well.”

Genesis 49 describes how Jacob’s twelve sons filed in to see their dying father  The Bible records the prophetic blessing he imparted to each one of them. His words predicted and influenced the subsequent history of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In his youth Jacob had been a conniving trickster. But one night at Penial, Jacob had had a confrontation with God. In a wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord he had been broken of his self-sufficiency and pride. Ever after he had needed a staff because the encounter had left him crippled. He walked with  limp.

But his weakness became his strength because it caused him to depend upon God. The Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel which means “prince of God.” Then his staff became a symbol of royalty, like a scepter.

As he was dying he leaned upon that staff which was at the same time a symbol of physical weakness and patriarchal authority. His sons’ last impression of their father was that of a worshiper.

I hope that when the  time comes for me to face death, that I will be a worshiper. This is the highest and noblest human activity, to offer praise and adoration to our Creator and Redeemer.

Some time ago I read the story of a young pastor who was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery revealed multiple cancers throughout his body. After months of chemotherapy it became obvious that he would not survive. Before he died, he returned to his pulpit to address his congregation.

With God-given courage he spoke of dying. “I’m not looking forward to the process,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing my Savior, the one I’ve worshiped all my life!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Faith for the Future

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” (Hebrews 11:20)

Those who are acquainted with the Isaac of the book of Genesis know that his faith was far from perfect. But his faith was directed toward the right object, the unconditional promise of the living God. This faith enabled him to impart to his sons the promise of a meaningful future for them and for their descendants.

The start of a new year has us looking to the future with hope. We want to be healthy, happy, useful and secure. We want our children and grandchildren to flourish in life and work. We want God to bless them in 2024.

In Genesis 27 Isaac is described as old and feeble. He is dependent on others and apparently in bad health. He is not ageing well. He believes his time is limited and before he dies he wants to impart the patriarchal blessing to his son. Here is where his faith falls short.

God had explicitly told him  that his son Jacob was to receive the primary blessing. But Isaac wanted to give it to Esau, The two sons of Isaac were a study in contrasts. Esau, the favorite son, was a rugged outdoorsman. He was a man of the world, lacking in spiritual perception.

The fair skinned, gentle Jacob was his mother’s favorite. Isaac and Rebekah had a difficult marriage. It is possible to see in the family dynamic a loss of respect, a lack of trust, and a pattern of deception. Rebekah persuaded Jacob  to deceive his father into giving him the covenant blessing.

Surprisingly, the Lord  used the scheming of Rebekah and Jacob to cause “all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28). God, in his wisdom and providence allowed Isaac’s wrong plan to bless Esau to be upset. The irrevocable word of prophecy was spoken over Jacob instead. (Esau also received a lesser, limited blessing.)

Despite the human weakness in this story, there are some words of hope for us, as we begin a new year. May they stimulate faith for the future.

The first practical lesson: never lose hope. Despite limited faith and incomplete obedience, Isaac did not lose his trust in the covenant promise of God. This enabled him to pass along that promise to his sons, the promise of God’s future blessing.

A second principle that we see in this story has to do with human limitation. Isaac’s physical blindness was one reason he could be so easily tricked. At the same time the story shows us how God can work to accomplish his will despite our weakness, short-sightedness, disabilities and disappointments.

Thirdly, an unhappy secularist may see life as without meaning and purpose, and death as a desirable alternative. On the other hand, the Christian may understand, as Tim Stafford has written, “the existence of another world, the world of God’s love toward which our lives are being shaped.” Belief in that other world gives us faith for the future.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Could This Be the Year?

Could 2024 be the year in which Jesus comes again? Christians of all theological persuasions believe (or are taught to believe) that Jesus is coming again. The New Testament reminds us to anticipate our Lord’s return. These reminders to be alert and watchful lead to the conviction that Jesus could come at any time.

Romans 13:11-12 — “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

1 Corinthians 1:7 — “You eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”

Philippians 3:20 — ‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:10 — “To wait for his Son from heaven”

Titus 2:13 — “While we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”

Hebrews 9:28 — “So Christ . . . will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation, to those who are waiting for him.”

James 5:7-9 — “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. . . . The Lord’s coming is near. . . . The Judge is standing at the door.”

1 Peter 1:13 — “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Jude verse 21 — “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 12,20 — “I am coming soon.”

There have been those in every generation since these words were written, who have believed that Jesus could come at any time, even in their own lifetimes. His coming is imminent. It could happen at any time. That is why believers are taught to watch and be ready.

The verses cited above refer to the next great event on God’s prophetic schedule. It is described by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Paul says this is a “mystery.”  A mystery is is a truth that was not revealed in the Old Testament scriptures, but is now revealed through the teaching of the apostles of Jesus. Elsewhere Paul refers to it as “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints” (Colossians 1:26, see also Ephesians3:5, 9).

Furthermore, he says this great event will involve the resurrection of dead believers and  the transformation of living believers without their having to die. This will happen when our Lord returns to take his people away with him to their heavenly home.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are alive and are left will be caught up  together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

If the idea of being “caught up” seems strange and hard to understand, we are given examples in the Bible where it has already happened. At his ascension, our Lord was “taken up” into the clouds (Acts 1:9) This was witnessed by his disciples.

The apostle Paul was “caught up” to Paradise and returned to earth (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). When he described the “catching up” of believers to heaven, he knew what he was talking about!

There are two notable examples from the Old Testament. “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Enoch bypassed death. God took him directly to heaven.

The same is true of the prophet Elijah. 2 Kings 2:1-11 describes how he was caught up to heaven in chariot of fire. He did not die. If we believe the Bible, then we must take seriously its historical accuracy. These events actually happened. If Jesus, Paul, Enoch, and Elijah were caught up to heaven, it is not beyond belief that the church of Jesus Christ will be suddenly caught up to meet him in the air as promised.

This teaching is a source of encouragement and blessing. We are told to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). These truths are  our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). Christians are called to live expectantly. The first century believers had a one-word prayer which expressed this: “Maranatha,” which means, “Our Lord come” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

He could come at any time. There are no intervening events, signs, or prophesies that must take place before the Lord comes to “catch up” his people. This new year could be the one in which the dead in Christ are raised and living believers join them in meeting the Lord in the air.

Does this thought fill you with dread or with hope? Are you ready to meet Jesus as your savior and redeemer? If you are not certain, open your heart today, confessing your sin, and trust in Jesus who died and rose again to rescue us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Mary the Prophet

The virgin Mary was a prophet. She composed one of the songs we find in Luke’s version of the Christmas story. Hers was an echo of the ancient hymns of the Hebrew scriptures. It reminds us of the songs of Moses, Miriam, and especially, the song of Hannah. Mary’s song is a prophetic vision of a future time when God in Christ is going to put our broken world back together.

Singing is an important part of the celebration of Christmas. Connie and I got to attend, for a second time, the Christmas festival at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where our grandson, James Randall Faulkner III, sang in one of the choirs. They sang a modern rendition of Mary’s “Magnificat” by Carolyn Jennings:

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble put on strength. Those who were full are hungry and those who were hungry are filled. Strong is the arm of the Lord, who has scattered the proud in their hearts; God has put down the mighty and lifted those of low degree. … My heart o’erflows, Alleluia!

Mary’s song tells how God is going to turn history inside out, keeping his covenant promises to his people. She repeats the themes of the prophets of Israel who predicted a time when Messiah would come in power to disenfranchise the kingdoms of this world, dethrone tyrants, exalt the humble and invert injustice. Surely this is what we pray for when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

In her prophetic anthem, Mary recites God’s word at least fifteen times. Her song mirrors the song of praise uttered by Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 2. Just as Hannah spoke prophetically of a new age and kingdom, so Mary spoke prophetically about when her Mighty God would “help Israel remembering to be merciful” (Luke 1:54).  This would be through the Messiah who was even then in her very womb.

Thus, wherever the message of Jesus has gone, it has “clothed the naked, fed the hungry, served those that harmed it, comforted the sorrowful, bound up the wounded, and sheltered the destitute”  (Menno Simons, 1539). “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.”

It has opposed unjust practices such as the caste system, child marriage and the immolation of widows in India, human sacrifice in South America, polygamy and slavery in Africa. Those missionaries who stood for justice against evil “understood that their faith was not merely private and devotional, but had implications for all of society. … (They) dispensed Jesus’ message of grace to the world. It was Christianity, and only Christianity that brought an end to slavery, and Christianity that inspired the first hospitals and hospices to treat the sick. The same energy drove the early labor movement, women’s suffrage, prohibition, human rights campaigns, and civil rights” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?).

According to Mary in Luke 1 :46-55, there is coming a future, fuller manifestation of God’s mercy. Her words are consistent with those of the ancient prophets who foretold a time when God will bring all of civilization under the rule of his anointed Son. This will mean the end of war, universal justice, the healing of nature, and a spiritual renewal in which God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. God’s moral law will be the governing principle of that kingdom.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote, “The birth of Jesus did not happen in a vacuum. He was born after generations of promises attached to Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Age after age God had renewed his promises and now they were fulfilled in space and time.”

In the same way, those who believe in Jesus as savior and king will be welcomed into that future glorious manifestation of God’s kingdom. Mary was so sure of its fulfillment, she sang about it as if it had already come. Mary was a prophet.

She reminds us to pray this Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Mary’s Attractive Humility

One of the most attractive features of the Virgin Mary is humility. In her famous song, known as the “Magnificat,” she praises God because “he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). God “has lifted up the humble,” she says in Luke 1:52.

Mary is not boasting about her humility. She is, rather,  acknowledging her lowly social position. She is a young woman engaged to a common tradesman, a carpenter. Her town, Nazareth, is not a prestigious city. It is a crossroads village on a trade route traveled by Gentile merchants and the Roman army. The people of Judah scorned “Galilee of the Gentiles,” saying, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

There is something other than status consciousness or class distinction evident in Mary’s song. It is faithful submission to the will of God for her life. It is a sense of wonder. She is amazed by the honor entrusted to her that she would be the mother of the Savior of the world.

Alexander Maclaren said of Mary, “Think of that simple young girl in her obscurity having flashed before her the certainty that her name would be repeated with blessing till the world’s end and then thus meekly laying her honors down at God’s feet.”

Indeed. That is what Mary does. She glorifies the Lord, not herself. The angel says to her, “You are highly favored. The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), and “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Mary’s response is wonderment and obedient surrender. “I am the Lord’s servant. … May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Think of what would happen because of Mary’s humble submission to God. She would bear the whispered ridicule of neighbors. She would risk losing the love of Joseph until the angel appeared to him too (Matthew 1:18-25). She would endure the journey to Bethlehem in late pregnancy, on a beast of burden or in a rickety cart over unpaved roads. She would go into labor and give birth to her firstborn Son in a stable, of all places. Humility on display!

Mary is an example to us. In a Facebook and Twitter culture that honors proud boasting, bullying insults, hatred, factions, and divisions, we need the virtue of humility now as much as ever. Mary’s Son said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Did Jesus think of his mother when he said that?

The great God who said heaven was his throne and earth his footstool said this:  “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). It is little wonder, then, that Mary was highly favored by the Lord.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner

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Mary the Theologian

The blessed mother of our Lord was a theologian. She expressed her belief in God in a magnificent hymn of praise. She revealed the knowledge of God that was in her head and the adoration of God that was in her heart. It has been said that her song was “a biblical theology in miniature.”

Mary’s hymn was a response to the miracle news that she was to be the mother of the savior (Luke 1:46-55). Her hymn is called the Magnificat because the Latin version of its opening words are “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” This could be translated, as in the New International Version, “My soul glorifies the Lord.”

Mary was reflecting deeply on who God is and on what God has done. This is a good thing for us to do during this Advent season. With a spirit of joy and gratitude, Mary praises God for his attributes: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

During this season of expectation and preparation, there can be no better theme, no better preoccupation, than for us to concentrate on God. Mary sets the example. We join her in praising God because he is powerful, the “Mighty One.”

“Holy is his name,” Mary exults. This is God’s set-apart-ness, his other-ness. “God is light and in him is no darkness,” says John (1 John 1: 5). He is separate from all that is corrupt and evil. “His mercy extends to those who fear him” brings us close to God. It makes him accessible, a welcoming God. Good news for worshipers during Advent.

Mary goes on to rejoice in what God has done for her and her people. “My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. …He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” Mary acknowledged God as her savior, indicating that she was trusting in the Lord for her own salvation.

God is a God who knows those who belong to him (2 Timothy 2:19). He takes notice of what goes on in their personal lives, and he cares (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7). Mary calls our attention to this fact. She seems to be saying, “I trust this God and you should too.”

The reference to God’s mighty arm is a figure of speech, describing God’s powerful intervention on behalf of Israel. His past deliverance is the promise of a future deliverance for her nation, Mary believes. She took God’s promises literally and did not explain them away.

Mary was, in her own way, a theologian. She had a God-centered worldview. In a time when many people seem embarrassed to talk about God, seldom pray, or seek God’s will in their decision-making, Mary has given us a way of thinking and praying, singing and testifying, during Advent.

Richard Foster wrote, “In contemporary society our adversary majors on three things: noise, hurry, and crowds.” Let’s do as Mary did, slow down and reflect quietly and deeply, on God.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Advent: Mary’s Song

Advent: Mary's Song

Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, was a simple village girl from Nazareth in Galilee. The picture we have of her is one of purity, devotion, humility and above all, obedient faith. She had heard the scriptures and she believed the prophecies that God would send his Messiah to deliver his people.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced the miracle that she was to be the honored mother of the Son of God, she responded with surprise and perplexity. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked.

“The Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel said in reply. She was to be the human vehicle for the incarnation of God in the infant who would be named Jesus. This miracle always prompts amazement.

We can only imagine the heart palpitations, the rush of adrenaline and the tears that must have flowed when the angel explained that Mary had found favor with God and that she would bear a son, “the Son of the Most High.” He will be a king in the line of David and his kingdom will have no end.

Her response is an example to us. She surrendered to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant.” In the quaint language of the King James Bible, she calls herself the Lord’s “handmaid,” or household slave. If we want the Advent season to have special meaning for us, then surely we will want to surrender our lives anew to the will of God, as Mary did.

This humble maiden expressed her devotion in a profound and beautiful hymn which is recorded in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:46-55). Her song quotes freely from the Old Testament, indicating that Mary knew her Bible. Samuel Terrien said that Mary’s song is “a biblical theology in miniature. It begins and ends in exaltation — not of Mary — but of the Lord.”

Right away we notice how Mary glorifies the Lord. This is a song of worship. It calls attention to what God has done for his people. It is a song of gladness. “My spirit has rejoiced,” she sings. Why is she glad? Because her song is also a song of salvation.  God is “my savior,” Mary exclaims. She is expressing solidarity with the rest of humanity. She was not exempt from the need for a savior from sin. And neither are we.

That is why God sent his, and Mary’s, son. “You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Many of the songs Christians love to sing are testimony songs, songs about what the Lord has done for them. That is what Mary is singing. She is testifying about what the Lord is doing for her. “My spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” is precisely the testimony song every believer in Jesus can sing during this season of Advent.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner

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Living by Faith

Abraham is the Bible’s most prominent example of a person who lived by faith in God. He is honored in Hebrews chapter 11, the faith Hall of Fame. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Abraham believed God when he did not know where (vv. 8-10), when he did not know how (vv. 11-12), and when he did not know why (vv. 13-16). It was faith in God’s Word that made him leave his home, live as a pilgrim, and follow wherever God led.”

The New Testament says that those who have faith in Jesus are spiritual descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9; Romans 4:16; Hebrews 2:16). This means that we may inherit the promises made to Abraham if we live by faith, as he did. Hebrews 11 uses the story of Abraham to teach us what it means to live by faith.

Obedience

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went” (Hebrews 11:8). When he said “yes” to God’s call, Abraham was saying “no” to all that was familiar. In fact, his home city, Ur, was a center for idol worship (Joshua 24:2). So he was saying “no” to the worship of false gods and responding with a “yes” to the only true and living God.

For Christians, obedience means saying “no” to anything that is in opposition to the will of God and saying “yes”  to what we know God wants us to do. The will of God is revealed in the Word of God. The Bible tells us what to believe and how to live. Like Abraham, we are called to respond to God’s will with  obedience.

Identification

“By faith he made his home in the promised land, like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” (Hebrews 11:9). Canaan, the new land to which God sent him, was inhabited by people who lived in cities. By contrast, Abraham lived as a nomadic herdsman, moving through the land and living in tents. In several different places he built altars for the worship of God. In this he was publicly identified  with the true God.

Augustine, over 1600 years ago, lived in the decadent Roman empire. He taught that there is a distinction between the “city of God” and the “city of man.” Followers of Jesus hold dual citizenship and every day we  weigh whether loyalty to one conflicts with loyalty to the other. Like Abraham we are to keep our eyes of faith on the eternal “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, 16).

Testing

Abraham’s faith was put to the test on several occasions. In Genesis 12-16 we see him dealing with one challenging situation after another: famine, conflict over grazing lands, the kidnapping and rescue of his nephew Lot, Sarah’s temporary unbelief, and the matter of Hagar and Ishmael.

His greatest test of faith is mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” Genesis 22 tells the surprising story of how God directed Abraham to sacrifice his son. God was asking Abraham to give up the most precious thing in his life, Isaac the son of promise. He must have been bewildered by this command. It seemed ridiculous to offer up his son when God had promised that it was to be through Isaac that Abraham’s chosen descendants would be numbered.

How did he respond to this test? “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). In fact he considered that God would have to raise Isaac from death if he was to keep his promise. God had promised descendants to Abraham and that those descendants would come through Isaac. He maintained his faith in the word and power of God. In the desperate moment when the terrible sacrifice was to be offered, God delivered Isaac from death by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham passed this supreme test of faith.

When God interrupts our lives with uncomfortable circumstances or new directions, we should not panic. Instead the example of Abraham shows us the way to pass the test. We must pause and take time to reason it out, and consider what God has promised to do. Then respond with faith in his promises.

Pastor Randy Faulkner