I am in the middle of a book about Abraham.
Abraham is the ancestral father of all Israel. Indeed, he is our adopted father as well! (See Romans 11:17-18)
Three major faith traditions find their roots in Abraham. Judaism and Christianity through Isaac the son of Abraham. Of course as a Christian, we are adopted into this family tree by Jesus. Islam through Ishmael the other son of Abraham.
Abraham is a major figure in history and faith!
God called Abraham to move to Canaan (future Israel) from a city called Ur (located in future Iraq).
God’s first promise to Abraham was this: “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
As you know, all these promises have come to fruition.
Blessing often means God’s favor. God even promises that the entire world will receive God’s favor through Abraham and not in Abraham. We know that Jesus was a descendent of Abraham and everyone in the world can receive God’s blessing (favor) by trusting in Jesus.
When Abraham arrived in Canaan, God gave his second promise to him. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7
A nation, a blessing and a land. All come to pass…eventually.
In the very next verse, something interesting happens. But if you don’t look closely, you could miss it.
From there Abraham went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. Genesis 12:8
Did you catch it? I missed it the first time.
Abraham makes camp between two towns. Bethel and Ai.
The definition of these town names is important. Bethel means “House of God” and Ai means “Ruins.”
Although the author of Genesis was giving us details regarding Abraham’s camp site. I can’t help but wonder if there is a message for us in that verse.
We struggle to remain faithful in this life. We have good days and we have selfish, bad days. Martin Luther declares that we are both saint and sinner and I couldn’t agree with him more!
It is like we too are camped out between the “House of God” and the town of “Ruins.” Both towns are calling out to us and beckoning us to come closer. Which voice will we respond to?
I’d like to think I’d choose Bethel (The House God). But there is also a part of me that is selfish, makes bad decision and hear the appealing call of Ai (Ruins) to draw near.
That is our life. Thanks be to God for Jesus who forgives our ruinous behavior and invites over to his house for bread and wine.
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. Isaiah 40:3-5
On Wednesday evening Bible Study, the prophet Isaiah was mentioned in 2Kings. Isaiah lived in a time of great uncertainty.
The northern half of the nation of Israel had been invaded and conquered by the Assyrian army. Israelites were displaced and new Assyrian settlers were brought in to replace them.
The Assyrian army then moved south and set its sights on Jerusalem and all of Judah.
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem at that time.
In the middle of a hopeless situation, God spoke through Isaiah.
When God spoke to Isaiah, God didn’t say, “People of Israel, sorry things are so bad right now but I can’t help you.” No, God brings hope to a hopeless situation. In this case, through the prophet Isaiah. A word of promise that God is up to something.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked those same words of God on August 28, 1963 at a speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom gathering. Later it became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Here is an excerpt:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
In faith, Dr. King understood God was up to something in 1963.
When these words were proclaimed, there was no resolution, no certainty of the outcome and continued resistance to the verbalized pledge of “liberty and justice for all.”
Dr. King states (and I love this statement), With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
I understand what he was trying to convey, and I believe we can apply this principle to our lives without it undermining its meaning in the struggle for civil rights.
There can be a mountain of obstacles, junk and despair in our lives for various reasons. Some of it external, some of it self-inflicted. Sometimes that mountain is our mindset or even temperament. Mountains of despair materialize in our lives for various reasons and no one is exempt.
God wishes to help us move up and over that mountain of despair and at the same time to carve out a stone of hope from all that junk. That there is something to be learned along the way. That skills are developed as we traverse the unwelcome difficulties of life. The struggle itself can be a defining moment for us as human beings. Those moments and seasons can bring forth a stone of hope.
Here is how Saint Paul understands this principal…
…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5
We can carve out a stone of hope when we look to God to help us through our struggles as a nation and as individuals.
Does the thought of 2024 excite you or scare you? Or is January 1 just a date on the calendar with no significant meaning?
I can remember struggling to write the correct year on checks back when I wrote checks for everything. Luckily, using a debit card eliminates that worry!
For me personally, a new year doesn’t fill me with hope nor does it cause dread. I am more of a “put one foot in front of the other” kind of guy. Address what is right in front of me and move on to the next thing.
Friedrich Nietzsche the German philosopher once wrote, “The devil is in the details.” I find the opposite to be true.
The website “grammarist” states that Nietzsche “use of the phrase is most likely attributed to a play on the original phrase, ‘God is in the details,’ which means a higher power has a hand in the success and truthfulness of the completed work.”
I know that when I look for God, I can often see his work and guidance in the details. When I see a change that I didn’t expect, I think to myself, “God wants it this way.”
I see change as something God implementing behind the scenes. Of course, God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to people or his creation. Reasonably I don’t attribute bad events or changes to God.
I often sense God placing me in situations or moments for a reason. Or as David once wrote…
God guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3b
I don’t know what 2024 will bring, but I do know who will be with us every step of the way: Jesus.
There is a song we sing at our 11am worship called Miracle Power. There is a phrase in the song that give me great comfort. I hope it does for you too…
“I may not know wat a day may bring, but I know who brings the day.”
Keep your eyes on Jesus!
God bless you and may God bless this coming year,