Genesis 12-22: Called on a Journey of Faith

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1

What a way to begin a relationship!  God calls Abraham to leave everything behind, and go to a new land – to be made into a new person, for a new purpose.  This marked the beginning of a century-long journey of faith, in which he’d be greatly blessed by God to be a blessing.

This also marked a turning point in how God would operate on earth – how He would pursue a relationship with humankind.  He began by creating humans to be set apart from the other animals – they would bear His image, reflecting His character, relationality, morality, and authority on earth.  They were given dominion over creation – as stewards who were to care for it.   When they rebelled against God and sought independence from Him, death  and separation from God resulted.  Things went from bad to worse, until God determined to start fresh with a single family who were set apart as righteous – Noah, his three sons, and their wives.  Yet, sin remained a systemic problem.  When people united in their rebellion against God at the Tower of Babel, He divided and dispersed them – mitigating the effect of their evil, rather than wiping them out again.  Now, for the third time, God would set apart one couple – this time, not to birth humanity from scratch, but to birth a new nation:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3

God had dispersed the peoples of the earth into many nations.  Now, He would create one nation to bless them all – one nation through which He would reveal Himself and His salvation to the world.  And it all started with this one man, Abraham, who responded to God’s call with faith.

Abraham was 75 years old, and his wife, Sarah, was barren.  They were perfect candidates for God to show His power, love, and grace.  God, who can create something out of nothing, would call forth a nation from this unlikely couple, who were “as good as dead,” when it came to producing offspring.  But, all they needed to do was believe God’s promises, and receive in faith:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” – Hebrews 11:8-12

That may sound rosy and wonderful, but the journey was long and winding.  Their faith would be tested and refined along the way.  God’s promises would be threatened.  When they fled a famine and went to Egypt, Abraham fearfully endangered his wife, claiming that they weren’t married.  But God protected her.  When they returned, Abraham gave the better portion of land to his nephew, and then rescued him from invaders.  But God continued to bless him.  Then after waiting 10 years for a son, Abraham and Sarah arranged to have a child through a maidservant, and then cast her out when she rebelled.  But God took care of the maidservant, and promised Sarah a son.  Abraham enjoyed fellowship with God, and God invited Abraham to intercede for his nephew, who was in trouble again.  Abraham endangered Sarah again, and God protected her, again.  Finally, Isaac was born, 25 years after the initial call to faith.  His name referred to the laughter that Abraham and Sarah shared, as God promised and faithfully provided in the most unlikely way:

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” – Genesis 17:17

And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:6-7

Yet, there was one more step to be taken:  A test of faith.  Some time over the next 37 years, Abraham would be called to give up the greatest gift that God had ever given him.  God had promised to give him a son, through whom a nation would be born, to bless all nations.  And God was asking Abraham to sacrifice him?

Before we throw our view of a loving God out the window, consider the context.  In ancient times, in the land of Canaan, this was standard procedure.  Offering one’s firstborn son to the gods was a common method of seeking continued fertility and fruitful harvests – as later kings of Israel will unfortunately confirm (2 Kings 3:27, 16:3, 17:17, 21:6).  Though God had previously denounced killing humans, who bear His image (Genesis 9:5-6), and though He would later explicitly denounce child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:9-12), Abraham would not have been as culturally surprised by this command as we are, today.

From the beginning, an enduring principle has remained: God deserves our very best, and He owns it all, anyway.  Abel pleased God by sacrificing the firstborn from his herd (Genesis 4:4).  Abraham and Jacob practised tithing.  Moreover, after God spared Israel from the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, He declared that all firstborn of Israel belonged to Him (Exodus 13:1-2, 22:29-30) as well as the firstfruits of their harvest (23:19).

Yet, God, Who’d have every right to demand anything, provides a way out.  As He redeemed His people from slavery, He offered redemption for the firstborn, who would have been His payment:

“When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord‘s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ – Exodus 13:11-15

God provided a way for the firstborn to be redeemed – by way of substitution.  An animal sacrifice would serve as payment for a firstborn.  And the tribe of Levites would collectively take the place of all firstborn, to be devoted to a lifetime of service to God, supported by the offerings of other tribes (Numbers 3:12, 18:21).

And so Abraham and Isaac become a sign of things to come; just as Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s image to all of creation, now Abraham and Isaac were to reflect God’s way of redemption through His chosen nation.  Abraham was willing to give His one and only beloved son, whom He loved (Ishmael had been sent away).  Isaac willingly submitted to His father’s will.  Abraham had departed, early in the morning, on the three-day journey to Mt. Moriah – where it is said that the temple of Jerusalem was later built, where sacrifices for sin would be regularly made.  Isaac carried the wood up the hill, as Jesus carried his cross, nearly two millennia later, to die as our sacrifice, once and for all.  Abraham assured Isaac that the Lord would provide a sacrifice, and Isaac allowed himself to be bound and prepared for sacrifice.  Abraham was a foreshadow of our loving God the Father (John 3:16), while Isaac was a foreshadow of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16).

Abraham had passed the test of faith.  He fully expected to return from Mt. Moriah with his son (Genesis 22:5), expecting that the God Who miraculously brought this child into being would also bring Him back from death (Hebrews 11:17-19).  God had always been faithful to His promises.

God did provide a sacrifice on that day – a ram caught in a thicket, who would take Isaac’s place.  Having seen Abraham’s willingness to obey, the Angel of the LORD remarked that “now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12).  The Hebrew word for “know,” here, is yada.  It means to become acquainted, through experience (and it can serve as a euphemism for sex – Genesis 19:5).  The LORD knows everything, but now He has observed Abraham’s obedience first-hand, in relationship.  As a result, He confirms his promise to bless all nations through him (Genesis 22:15-18).

God’s plan was to bless Abraham to be a blessing.  He invited Abraham into a relationship in which promises, when received by faith, would result in works of blessing for others.  Sound familiar?  Notice the sequence of grace-faith-works found in Paul’s summary of our relationship with God:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10

Where do we go from here?  God’s call to Abraham is a call to us, as well.  His life serves as a sort of template for the journey of faith.  Not a manual.  Not a perfect example.  But, a template; a story to compare to our own.  Abraham was called, and he went.  Abraham walked in relationship with God, coming to know Him and discover His faithful character.  And eventually, Abraham was tested.  Would He choose God, or God’s greatest gift?

Abraham was called to leave his past, and even sacrifice his future.  Jesus called his disciples to leave their vocations and give up their lives.  Has your relationship with God involved a departure, a leaving-behind, a repentance, to be made new?

Abraham journeyed with God through thick and thin, growing, learning and blessing others as he went.  What twists, turns, and bumps along the road have you encountered?  What have you learned about God along the way?

Abraham was tested – to see whether his faith was in God, or in the blessing that God had given.  Is there anything more precious to you than a relationship with God, Himself?  Or, is your love for Him conditional – based on His blessings?

God chose Abraham, the man of faith to give birth to a nation that would bless all nations.  His descendants were the Israelites, through whom God continued to reveal Himself.  Through the Israelites, Jesus Christ came, fulfilling God’s promise to bless all.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be part of God’s people, who are blessed to bless.  Our invitation is to walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had (Romans 4:12).

I encourage you to reflect on this story of one man’s journey of faith, and compare it to your own walk with God.

***This post is part of a series, titled “God’s Story,” which also involves a God’s story and sermon series.

Political Personality, Policy, and Practice…and where our Hope Belongs

Today is January 20th, 2017 – the day of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.  Few expected this day to come – it was perhaps even more surprising than Justin Trudeau’s electoral victory, on October 19, 2015.

The headlines haven’t changed much, since Trump essentially began monopolizing them during the Republican nomination process.  There are those who cry out against his harsh manner, claiming that he lacks the temperament or personality to be a President.  Then, there are those who debate the merits of his policies, and either agree or disagree.  You can now view his speech for yourself.

I spent four years studying International Relations in university, and have maintained a steady interest in the topic during the decade that has followed.  I tend to withhold my verbal support from any particular candidate or party, and certainly don’t place my greatest hopes in them.    It can be easy to cynically claim that each party simply purchases different people’s votes with promises of funding.  Or you could claim that the parties make no difference, because there are un-elected others who run the show, behind the scenes.  Or, if nothing else, you could say that no party is perfect, since they come in ideological “packages,” each with good policies in some areas, and bad policies in others.  So, you need to pick your main issue – will you vote based on policy for taxes, environment, crime, welfare, education, religion, or immigration?

At least, I wish this was the question in people’s minds.  But, alas, it seems like the media, and many others, are preoccupied with this question: Do I like the personality of the leader?

OTTAWA, ON: March 31, 2012 – It only took two and a half rounds for Liberal MP, Justin Trudeau, red corner, to beat Conservative Senator, Patrick Brazeau, blue corner, in their boxing match during the fight for the cure event in Ottawa on Saturday, March 31,2012. (iPOLITICS/ Matthew Usherwood)

We saw this in Canada, where our left-leaning and right-leaning parties, ranked 1 & 2 in the polls, were suddenly swept aside in favor of a young, attractive, populist leader.  The NDP and Conservatives had serious platforms, soberly proposing balanced budgets that each promised a realistic way forward.  But the Liberals had a charismatic leader who, despite his slimmer credentials and lack of experience, captured a majority government on a platform of vague promises and a deficit budget.  “But he’s so handsome and nice…”

Then, our neighbours to the south did something similar.  Now, I might be saying the same thing, even if Hillary had won.  The point is not that Trump beat Hillary, but that both became their party’s candidates, despite the availability of rival candidates with clearer and more inspiring policy platforms.  It is understandable that many Democrats were excited about having the first female candidate, ever.  And many Republicans became excited about the charisma of their independently wealthy, already famous reality show host.  Both were exciting firsts.  But both parties missed out on opportunities to choose candidates with very clear and compelling policies for the betterment of their country.

But on the flip side, when it comes to criticism, I am disappointed to see how much has also focused on the personality of the leader.  People pointed out that Trump is rude.  People found Hillary to be disingenuous.  But what policies did they propose?  Who had the better ideas?  To whom would each be looking, to help guide their country forward.

Why do we do it?  Why do we obsess over the personality of the leader?  Why do we idolize them, as if they have all the answers to our problems, and the ability to satisfy our hopes?  Perhaps these yearnings and desires are not illegitimate, but just misdirected.  C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity says:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Or, as King David said in Psalm 62:5-8:
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;God is a refuge for us.

Now, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the importance of a leader’s personality.  In each country, the leader chooses the executive, names members of the judiciary, and can push forward his personal agenda, to a certain point.  Also, the character of a leader can rub off on others – whether it be their fellow politicians, or the public.  So, civility and respect (for the one candidate), and transparency & sincerity (for the other) would be valuable.  But deeper than that, we should be examining policy, and asking – What do they propose to do?

Yet, a final distinction should be made – between policy and practice.  Between promise and production.  Unfortunately, the jury is out on this – we will gain our answer through hindsight, rather than before the election.  In the meantime, let’s not waste our worries in the wrong places.  Consider Who is in charge, and where your hope will find rest.

Psalm 2:1 – Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

Psalm 33:10-11The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.  The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

Psalm 42:11 – Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

Genesis 1-11 – The Beginning and a New Beginning

In the beginning, God…

That’s how the Bible begins – in the beginning, before anything, God.  That sets the tone for the rest of history.  God is the Source, the Point of Origin.  He is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Provider, and the Savior.  Yes, eternally our Savior.  John 1 says of Jesus Christ, the Word and Light:

John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And, if the Son is eternal, that would make God eternally Father.  He is eternally loving, relational, and life-giving.  Jesus said,

John 17:24 – Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

So this eternally loving, relational, life-giving God made humans in His image, as the crown of His creation.  We, as male and female, were created to reflect God’s loving, relational, and life-giving character by being fruitful and multiplying on the earth.  We were also given dominion over creation, to rule as stewards on His behalf.  God, the Source of the universe, also has given us our purpose.  The two main questions of a worldview are covered.

What do these two truths mean for your life?

What happened next?

As the first chapter indicates, Genesis (and the Bible) is all about God, and His relationship with us.  As you read through Genesis, consider making a heading for each chapter, outlining what God does, and how people respond.  It could go something like this:

  1. God creates – Humans reflect & rule
  2. God provides – Humans fruitful & multiply
  3. God commands – Humans sin & cursed
  4. God gives – Humans kill & divide
  5. God sustains – Humans walk with God
  6. God distinguishes – Humans evil or righteous
  7. God cleanses – Humans destroyed
  8. God promises – Humans saved
  9. God renews – Humans blessed, cursed
  10. God multiplies – Humans unite in pride
  11. God divides – Humans disperse on earth

Out of all His creation, God sets aside humans to bear His image and represent Him on earth.  He blesses them to be fruitful and multiply, but they rebel and are cursed with death.  Their offspring divide, veering in two directions: a sinful line, and a righteous line.  The seventh generation of evil is Lamech, who kills two people; the seventh generation of good is Enoch, who walks with God.  Humanity is sinful and divided.

So, God decides to start over.  He sets aside Noah and his family, the only remaining members of the righteous family line, and wipes out the rest of evil humanity.  He promises to never again do this, and renews the blessing and affirms their value as image-bearers.  But, by the next generation, we are already seeing both blessing and curses.  This time, humanity rebels against God by pridefully uniting, to make their name great, and to reach up to God.  God comes down, and disperses them into many languages and nations, so that they will fill the earth, as intended.  Now, a third new beginning is in order

What a story!  Do you notice the flow?  The repetitive cycle that has begun?
More such patterns occur as you continue through the Bible, especially in books like Judges and 1-2 Kings.

Many have wondered why God would create such a world – that would “mess up” and need to be “re-started.”  If God is so powerful and perfect, how could His creation go so wrong?  That’s where His purpose comes in – He has always planned to work through people who choose to love Him.  He is raising children, not robots.  He started by setting aside humans from animals.  Then, He set aside the righteous line of Noah.  Finally, in chapter 12, He will set aside one family to be a blessing to all…

He has always been inviting people into a relationship with Him – people who hear His calling and recognize their God-given purpose.  He invites us into a lifelong journey of transformation, an eternal experience of love, hope, peace, and joy.

We have the privilege of learning about this in the Story that Scripture lays out for us – including the stories of many individuals who walked with God.  This year, I invite you to journey together through “God’s Story” – a sequence of historical books in the Bible that make up its main narrative.  I look forward to getting to know God and His purposes for us in the year ahead!

***This post is part of a series, titled “God’s Story,” which also involves a God’s story and sermon series.

Skyline Trail, Manning Park, BC

The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

This time of year, I hear of many people’s plans to fly south for a period during the winter.  In Canada, we call these people “snow birds.”  Some squeeze a week-long trip to Mexico into their busy plans.  Others spend half the year in Palm Springs or Arizona.  As for me, over the past month, listening to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy audiobooks has felt like a bit of a virtual vacation.  These books captured my imagination and offered new perspectives in a way that I could compare to my experience of international travel.

To briefly summarize, without spoiling: the books take place on Mars, Venus, and Earth – in that order.  Their main protagonist is Dr. Ransom, who is originally kidnapped by two academic colleagues and taken to Mars in their spaceship, against his will.  Once there, he becomes acquainted with the intelligent species on the planet – both organic and angelic.  It is these angelic beings who then bring him to Venus in the second novel, where he is given an important task.  In the third novel, Dr. Ransom holds more of a background role, working behind the scenes of the other characters.

Though the trilogy takes place in sequence, in the same universe, with some of the same characters, the novels are also strikingly different from each other.  Personally, I likened the first two to an exotic vacation, from which I felt sorry to return.  While following Dr. Ransom’s travels on Mars and Venus, I found myself gaining new perspectives of my own world – just as I have gained insight about my own culture while immersing myself in other cultures on Earth.  In contrast, the post-war English setting of the third book was a more specific context that did not easily connect with my own.  Rather, this book had more to offer the reader in terms of its plot and characters.

On Mars, (Out of the Silent Planet) Lewis depicts an old world that had never fallen into sin: different intelligent species coexisted in a complimentary fashion, in trusting obedience to their angelic overseer.  While their appearance, habitat and language awakened my imagination, it was their culture that I found most striking: they were content.  They felt no need to increase their population, amass literature, or develop technology; they embraced the seasons of life, and trusted in divine providence.

On Venus, (Perelandra) Lewis depicts a newly created world, where its first woman inhabitant is completely innocent and ignorant.  She lives completely in the moment, without perspective of time or space.  Her home is a floating island that is always changing form, and her food grows bountifully on trees.  The food satisfies, leaving no desire to gorge oneself; the land moves, offering no way to store possessions.  When she encounters an evil tempter, Dr. Ransom realizes his purpose in being sent – to intervene on her behalf.  While he struggles with the thought that his circumstances are predestined, he realizes that he still holds the freedom to choose his course; God’s will can take another route, if necessary.  After considerable deliberation, he breaks out of his passive resignation, opting for physical intervention in place of intellectual argument.  While doing so, he reflects on the proper application of hatred and the effect of evil on a person.

On Earth, (That Hideous Strength), Lewis chooses quite an un-exotic setting: a college town in post-war England.  But, while this book lacks the exotic setting of its prequels, it offers much deeper characters and a more complicated plot.  In fact, it is as long as the first two books, combined.  At the outset, Lewis informs his readers that he is presenting his argument from The Abolition of Man in the form of a story: when academics abandon truth, all hell breaks loose.  The The story’s conflict is instigated by the N.I.C.E., a government-sponsored research organization that plans to develop a new race of humans who can live eternally in a mechanized-disembodied state.  They are opposed by Dr. Ransom and his companions, aided by a combination of mythological forces from the previous books as well as England’s past.  The main two characters are a young couple who must choose a side, while working through the ordinary struggles of career and marriage.

As one might expect of Lewis, offers a “moral to the story” that was contemporary to his historical context.  Having extensively studied the historical period in which these books were written, I cannot help but see connections between these novels and the events in England during the time of their writing.  The first book was published in 1938, shortly before the imperialistic powers of the world would plunge headlong into World War II.  This human vice, clearly depicted in the novel’s main antagonist, Dr. Weston, is sharply contrasted with the contentment of the Martian races.  The second book was published in the midst of World War II, as Britain literally fought for its survival against the Nazi regime.  An apologetic for their efforts can be found in Dr. Ransom’s own intervention against evil on Venus.  The third book was published at the end of the Second World War – as the ugly effects of the Holocaust and Nazi plans to create a “master race” were being uncovered.  Interestingly, the antagonists in the third novel are also trying to manipulate the evolution of the human race.

Overall, the books are imaginative without being technical, and intentionally philosophical without being religious.  One might be disappointed if they approached this trilogy with hopes for “hard science fiction,” or “religious dogma.”  Rather, like Narnia, these fictional works serve as allegories that carry ethical considerations.  Similar to Lewis’s area of study, they might fit best into the category of mythology.  By approaching the books with these expectations, I hope that you can enjoy them for what they are!

While originally found in the form of 24 CDs, the 30 hours of audio are now downloadable on