“God tested Abraham.” Genesis 22:1
In universities everywhere, mid-May brings late-night study sessions, caffeine-fueled writing binges, and ulcer-inducing stress as students are preparing for final exams—those critically important tests to determine how well the student has learned the lessons of the semester.
Let’s look at a familiar incident in the life of Abraham through that lens.
Genesis 22 begins by saying, “God tested Abraham.” In other words, it’s like Abraham’s big exam. And what is the test? God is about to test Abraham’s allegiance to the one true God in a most stressful way.
So let’s review: God called out Abraham to the city of Ur. Ur was an advanced culture and a highly sophisticated town, but it was rampant with idolatry. When God passed out this test to Abraham, Abraham was wandering through Canaan—yet another pagan, idolatrous region. And keep in mind that in pagan idolatry, the highest demonstration of loyalty to one’s god was to offer—you guessed it—your children as a sacrifice.
With that in mind, look back at Genesis 22:1. The text actually says that it is the God who tests Abraham. This is in contrast to those lifeless forms of wood and stone that were the idols of the pagan Canaanites. And it’s the one true God who comes to Abraham and gives him the following test.
Would the loyalty and allegiance of Abraham to the genuine Creator God match the misplaced loyalty and devotion of the surrounding nations to their false idols? The test is simple yet very demanding: “Abraham,” God says, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him.”
That’s the test, plain and simple. It’s a pass/fail exam with no room for grading on the curve. If Abraham obeys, demonstrating his allegiance, loyalty, and trust in the promises of God, he passes the test. If he refuses, he retains control over his son’s destiny, but fails to demonstrate his commitment to following God no matter what the cost.
Well, we know the rest of the story. In fact, it’s amplified and explained beautifully in the book of Hebrews where the writer explains that Abraham by faith obeyed, reckoning that even if Isaac died, God could raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
So what does Abraham’s test have to do with us? While God won’t ask you to literally sacrifice a child on an altar, He does often require the things in your life that are precious to you. Think about it. Isaac was God’s gift to Abraham. All of God’s promises were wrapped up in that miracle child. How easy it would have been for Abraham to love Isaac more than he loved God. Or to put it another way, to love the gift more than the Giver! The test may be the same for you. God always wants to know that nothing in your life is more important or more valuable than your relationship to Him. It may even be a sinful pattern that for some reason provides temporary kicks, comfort, or security. Do you love Him more than the sin in your life?
If by faith you can believe with Abraham that when God takes something from you, God will give something back in even better terms, then you will pass the test and give Him all He demands and all He desires. Whether it’s your money, your possessions, your career, your dreams, or even your children to His service—everything we give to Him is an opportunity to pass the test and in worship prove to Him that nothing in our lives is of greater value than His friendship and fellowship.
As you face the tests of this week, know that your Tester loves you deeply and is ready to help you pass, like Abraham, with flying colors!
|Redefining My Label
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …” Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)
Have you ever been given a label you didn’t choose? The type of label you’re sure will stick with you for the rest of your life?
When I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, that’s exactly how I felt: I was the victim of a poor label-maker.
The doctors said there was nothing I could have done to avoid getting my particular type of cancer. So it felt as if an enemy chose me to attack, for no apparent reason.
My heart ached. Some days it felt as if I were in a boxing ring, with each new cancer-related challenge hitting me smack in the gut.
As if the cancer diagnosis weren’t enough, the trials continued. The “cancer” label affected my eligibility for health insurance and prevented me from giving blood. I know it sounds odd to be sad about not getting poked with a needle, but I often donated blood and absolutely hated being “punished” for something completely out of my control.
Life seemed so unfair. Couldn’t God give me a new label altogether?
It took several years, but God changed my perspective and enabled me to see my cancer as a gift, filled with multiple life lessons that produced endurance, character and hope.
Today’s key verse helped me understand how God was using this unfair label to change my character: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …” (Romans 5:3-4).
This passage taught me an important distinction. The goal isn’t to rejoice because of our difficult circumstances. But rather, to rejoice in knowing God is doing something in the midst of our suffering. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but I’m grateful (okay, mostly grateful!) God has given me several opportunities to work on this.
Each of these traits in Romans 5 (endurance, character and hope) builds on the next. Since that fateful diagnosis, I’ve grown to see God had a purpose in what I suffered. In His grace, God allowed me to hold a mirror up to my life and closely examine it. Cancer helped my husband and me re-evaluate our priorities. Among other things, my family changed churches to find older, godly mentors, and my husband ultimately began his own business.
This month I celebrate eight years as a cancer survivor — no longer labeled a “victim,” but a “victor.” My past may not always be worth celebrating, but my future definitely is! I’m so grateful we serve a limitless God who can redefine our labels no matter what we’ve done, or what has been done to us.
Father God, I ask for Your patience as You turn trials into triumphs. Lord, help me remove the negative labels others have placed on me, and instead, live by the labels You put on me. Thank You for producing character and hope in me and helping me daily move from victim to victor. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
“Joint heirs with Christ.”
The boundless realms of his Father’s universe are Christ’s by prescriptive right. As “heir of all things,” he is the sole proprietor of the vast creation of God, and he has admitted us to claim the whole as ours, by virtue of that deed of joint-heirship which the Lord hath ratified with his chosen people. The golden streets of paradise, the pearly gates, the river of life, the transcendent bliss, and the unutterable glory, are, by our blessed Lord, made over to us for our everlasting possession. All that he has he shares with his people. The crown royal he has placed upon the head of his Church, appointing her a kingdom, and calling her sons a royal priesthood, a generation of priests and kings. He uncrowned himself that we might have a coronation of glory; he would not sit upon his own throne until he had procured a place upon it for all who overcome by his blood. Crown the head and the whole body shares the honour. Behold here the reward of every Christian conqueror! Christ’s throne, crown, sceptre, palace, treasure, robes, heritage, are yours. Far superior to the jealousy, selfishness, and greed, which admit of no participation of their advantages, Christ deems his happiness completed by his people sharing it. “The glory which thou gavest me have I given them.” “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” The smiles of his Father are all the sweeter to him, because his people share them. The honours of his kingdom are more pleasing, because his people appear with him in glory. More valuable to him are his conquests, since they have taught his people to overcome. He delights in his throne, because on it there is a place for them. He rejoices in his royal robes, since over them his skirts are spread. He delights the more in his joy, because he calls them to enter into it.
“He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.”
Who is he of whom such gracious words are spoken? He is the Good Shepherd. Why doth he carry the lambs in his bosom? Because He hath a tender heart, and any weakness at once melts his heart. The sighs, the ignorance, the feebleness of the little ones of his flock draw forth his compassion. It is his office, as a faithful High Priest, to consider the weak. Besides, he purchased them with blood, they are his property: he must and will care for that which cost him so dear. Then he is responsible for each lamb, bound by covenant engagements not to lose one. Moreover, they are all a part of his glory and reward.
But how may we understand the expression, “He will carry them”? Sometimes he carries them by not permitting them to endure much trial. Providence deals tenderly with them. Often they are “carried” by being filled with an unusual degree of love, so that they bear up and stand fast. Though their knowledge may not be deep, they have great sweetness in what they do know. Frequently he “carries” them by giving them a very simple faith, which takes the promise just as it stands, and believingly runs with every trouble straight to Jesus. The simplicity of their faith gives them an unusual degree of confidence, which carries them above the world.
“He carries the lambs in his bosom.” Here is boundless affection. Would he put them in his bosom if he did not love them much? Here is tender nearness: so near are they, that they could not possibly be nearer. Here is hallowed familiarity: there are precious love-passages between Christ and his weak ones. Here is perfect safety: in his bosom who can hurt them? They must hurt the Shepherd first. Here is perfect rest and sweetest comfort. Surely we are not sufficiently sensible of the infinite tenderness of Jesus!