Friday, 4 May 2012

Bible in a Year - Day 7

Day 5 - Genesis 12, 13 & 14; Matthew 5:1-26

In Genesis 12 God speaks to Abram. He tells him to move, to leave everything he knows and head for a new land. In return He makes this promise to Abram:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.  
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
(Genesis 12:2-3)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if God would do that for us every time He asks us to do something or go somewhere; if He would give us a clear promise of what we will accomplish or receive or learn through our obedience? But look a bit further on. Abram was 75. Sarai, his wife was 65. They had no children. God's promise was that this aged, childless couple would be the beginnings of a great nation, that all peoples would be blessed through them. It wasn't exactly a clear, easily believable promise, was it.

God knows our future. He knows what He has planned if we follow His path and what will happen if we stray. As He says in Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." He loves us, remember. He wants good for us. And in a perfect world where everyone is following the path God has made for them, we would get only good. But we don't live there. People will curse us, attempt to ruin our walk, or lead us off the path. And when that happens, we can remember God's promise to Abram - He will curse whoever curses us. However, we need to be obedient and stay true to our course - it's not always someone else's fault. In fact, more often than not we have ourselves to blame. We will go trespassing or looking for shortcuts, or we'll find a beauty spot we never want to leave, or face a hill we don't want to climb. 

Matthew 5:3-12 is full of ways to stay on the path, and more of God's promises to us. We will be blessed, receive God's approval, if we live as Christ calls us to live. Again, it's about living God's way. But we are not without assistance. Jesus, in His divinity, saved us from sin and death, but in His humanity he taught us how to live. Our loving God gave us a model, a blueprint, a teacher and guide, so that we are not asked to do something He would not do. It is possible for us to be perfect, even though it is unlikely. 

Fortunately for us, we have the encouragement we need in the Bible. It is full of people who make mistakes. Abram is foolish. Worried that the Pharaoh will kill him for his wife (who at 65 is beautiful enough to be a huge temptation - have we lost sight of true beauty in our modern age? Or were years much shorter?), he lies that she is his sister, bringing God's punishment to the Pharaoh and his household. Abram doesn't always trust in the God who makes these promises to Him, but God doesn't take the promise from him. In Genesis 13:16 God repeats the promise to him: I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. We may stray from God's path, but we can get back on it at any time and head towards our hope and future, because God loves us enough to plan for us, and to forgive us.

Day 6 - Genesis 15, 16 & 17; Matthew 5:27-48

Sometimes when we stray from God's path we hurt others. Here we see Sarai and Abram attempting to take a shortcut to God's blessing. Sarai thrusts Hagar, her slave, upon Abram and Hagar gets pregnant. Hagar then looks down upon her mistress because she is barren. And Sarai then mistreats Hagar in retaliation, leading Hagar to flee. One wrong turn has led to pain and grief and guilt. God's plan has been changed. But He doesn't write off the players in this drama. God's love is bigger than our failure. He hears Hagar's misery. He sees her: She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me, ” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13) And He sends an Angel to bring her back to her mistress. Hagar's child will be the first of Abram's many descendants; Ishmael needs to be brought up around people who worship God. The plan may have changed slightly, but it is still God's plan and it will come to fruition. In His love he forgives us, disciplines us and enables us to get back on track. 

Jesus also talks about how we hurt others in our straying from the path. But it's not just our actions that are harmful; our thought-life damages too. We know we shouldn't commit adultery, but He says, I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28) How does that hurt anyone but myself? If I am willing to think about someone in a sinful way, my regard and respect for them will diminish. 

My behaviour as a Christian is on show, a witness to Jesus in me. Jesus calls us to be the most loving we can be. We are not to respond with like for like. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ (Matthew 5:38) This is an oft quoted old testament rule that deals with punishment; it's about limiting vengeance, not exacting it. Revenge is for God to take. (Deuteronomy 32:35) So, our loving God calls us to be loving enough, right? Wrong. Jesus asks us to go one step further, the extra mile; He asks us not to resist evildoers:

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42)

In order to be truly loving, like our God, we must not do wrong for wrong. Forgiveness is the order of the day. Love is paramount. Jesus goes on to call us to love our enemies, not just our neighbours. How can our loving God expect us to love those who hurt us? Because He does the same. God created human beings to be in loving relationship with Him and each other. And yet, we frequently fail to love Him. Many refuse to know Him, hate Him even, deny His existence. But He keeps on loving. Jesus loved, and forgave, those who nailed Him to the cross. Again, we are reminded that we have a model of goodness and love to emulate. 

God sees us and hears us; He calls us back to Him, back to our rightful places. Whether we accept that or not, it is our own free choice.

Day 7 - Genesis 18 & 19; Matthew 6

Today, the power of prayer and the generosity of our loving God. 

When God told Abraham (oh yeah, he's had his name changed by now) that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham petitioned God on behalf of any good people living there: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?(Genesis 18:23-24) And God replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (v26) This continued down to ten people, all with the same response.
What awesome power Abraham's prayers had. In His love for Abraham, and for those people who were righteous, God listened to his prayers. Unfortunately for Sodom and Gomorrah, there were fewer than ten righteous people, so their comeuppance was comeupping!
However, God's love was still at work. Lot, Abraham's nephew, and his family were living in Sodom. God sent Angels to check out the place and to rescue them. When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. (Genesis 19:16)
And why did God rescue them? Because of Abraham's prayers: So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived. (Genesis 19:29)
In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us about prayer. We don't have to use fancy words, or long chants, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8) We might struggle to voice what we need or want, we might only have tears and sobs, but God knows what we're asking Him. What freedom we have in prayer. And not only does He know what we need, He tells us not to worry about it. God will give us everything we need, when we need it:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)


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