Friends With God

Some of what I propose in this devotional is obvious. The problem with the obvious is that it gets overlooked and taken for granted; it becomes mundane and unexciting. So how do we take the emotions and conduct of being a friend and having a friend back to exciting? What was it about Abraham that God would name this man, and this man alone in all Scripture, "Abraham, my friend"? (Isaiah 41:8)

Before we address being a friend of God lets take the more elementary steps of being a friend to anyone. Typically we choose our human friends based on like-mindedness and reliability. We have common interests and we know we can count on each other. Friendship is most definitely a two-way street. I find that if I substitute the word 'friendship' for 'love' in Paul's definition of love in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4-7), I now have a well-founded pathway to being a friend. Old cliches and common sense insist that "to have a friend we must be a friend".

As friends we allow ourselves to be accountable to one another and we honor our responsibility as our friend bares their soul and becomes accountable to us. When a friend is victorious we celebrate with them and when they stumble we hold their hand and seek a way to get them back on their feet. When our friend confesses their shortcomings – their trespasses – even against us, we embrace their honesty, we salute their contriteness, and we forgive, and when our friend calls out for a need we set our own agendas aside and come to the rescue where possible. Sometimes we can only offer a shoulder, but how often I can recall that shoulder being all I needed at the time. Being a friend is developing that relationship where nothing is off limits, where we keep our promises, and where love is the order of the day.

So what was it about Abraham that God would call him 'friend'? Surely we are aware of some of his mis-steps such as the journey to Egypt, where Sarah would acquire Hagar and that ill fated consequence. When I read the story of Joseph I wonder why God didn't call him friend. Scripture doesn't reveal any wrongdoing by him. Though nothing of the sort is found in scripture, it has been suggested by scholars that perhaps Joseph participated in idol worship as a member of the Egyptian elite. We read in Acts that David was "a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do."  (Acts 13:22), yet God did not call David 'friend'. The question remains – what was it about Abraham that caused God to call him friend?

We find the answer in Genesis. Isaac has gone to the land of the Philistines because of a famine. God speaks to Isaac telling him not to go to Egypt and promises him that He will keep the promise He made to Abraham "because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws." (Gen. 26:1-5)

Is it that simple? Obedience? Surely there must be more than that. Does all God ask of us to be called His friend is that we obey?

I find that obedience is the natural product of faith. In Hebrews, chapter eleven, we read of the OT faithful elite and it says of Abraham that when God called him to leave his family and home to go to a place where he did not know, "he obeyed". (Heb. 11:8)

Fast forward to the New Testament and the testimony of Jesus as related in John. Our Lord Jesus speaking to the apostles tells them, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (see the whole passage – John 15:9-17) Once again the prerequisite for friendship with God, whether the Father or Son, is obedience.

As a child I remember being bullied and pushed around in school. I recall wishing I had a big strong friend to rescue me, but that never came to be. Today we are bullied by any number of adversaries – Satan tempts us and our sinful nature gives in. This fallen world brings bullies in the way of sickness, heathen employers, and calamities and maladies by the score. Yet God has promised to rescue us from our storms – whatever their source – if we are obedient to His commands. (Exodus 23:22)

What comfort it is to know the Mighty, Majestic, Omnipotent, Creator God stands with us, desiring to be our friend if we will only obey.

Be blessed.

Because God Has Said

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ."

". . .because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4 NKJV)

During the praise and worship portion of any given Sunday service I'm sure we would find almost unanimous agreement with the words of Chris Tomlin's song, "Our God". Parroting the query of Romans 8:31 we should indeed demand to know, "who-ever might prevail over His children?"

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ." If we could only grasp these words by faith, we would have an all-conquering weapon at hand. What doubts we would allay; what fears could we calm, what burdens might be overcome!

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Will not the distresses of life and the pangs of death; will not the corruption within, and the snares without; will not the trials from above, and the temptations from beneath all seem but light afflictions, when we can hide ourselves beneath the bulwark of "he hath said"? Yes, whether for delight in our silence or for strength in our conflict, "he hath said" must be our daily resort."  (Morning by Morning)

Some quick counts from a concordance reveals that "thus says the Lord" appears over 500 times, and "declares the Lord", 250 times in the Old Testament. Then we have "the Lord has said. . ."

My point is that God is speaking to us. Many of these "thus says the Lord" and "the Lord declares" we would surely want to avoid as they were words of wrath spoken to a rebellious nation of Israel, but we cannot and we see the results of His wrath on our nation as it has turned away from God just as the Israelites did over and over again.

Many of these verses are God's promises to those who would obey Him, and those promises we can today appropriate for our own lives and that of the church.

What greater motivation for Bible study could there be than to know there are promises of rewards and blessings unknown to you now! There may be a promise in the Word that would exactly fit your case, but you may not know of it; therefore, you miss its comfort. You're like a prisoner in a dungeon with a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card at hand and you know nothing of it. There may be a potent medicine in God's great pharmacy waiting to cure your sickness, but you failed to look for the prescription He designed for you. You may continue to be sick unless you examine and search the scriptures to discover what "the Lord has said".

Since "the Lord has said" is the source of all wisdom and the fountain of all comfort, let it dwell in you richly, as "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life". (John 4:14)

May He abundantly bless you and yours.

Defeating the Hittites

The Hittites have come and surrounded our home. They have been threatening for quite some time now – ever since I quit paying homage to their gods. They have allied with the Amalekites and Midianites to bring down this little corner of the Kingdom of God. They want to return me to the slavery of yesterday's life.
Who are these Hittites, Amalekites and Midianites? Well just as those same named kingdoms of Biblical history were enemies of God's chosen people, so too we face enemies today.
While our enemies aren't human armies with battering rams and siege machines, they do test our resolve to stay faithful to the Lord. They seek to break down the walls we – with the help of the Holy Spirit – have built to withstand their challenges. So I garb myself with the whole armor of God and meet their challenges. And we win – the Holy Spirit and I, we win.
How do I recognize these Hittites when they come knocking? They are minions of Satan himself and are often very well disguised. They can spring upon you in a flash and before you know it you are a victim.
The Hittites in my life is my pride, the Amalekites, my intolerance, the Midianites, my impatience. I also am sometime challenged by the Canaanites – an old and evil enemy, the bottle. He is oh so weak now, but he hasn't gone home in defeat and so I must be ever on guard. It was from Canaan that the god Baal found its way into Jewish lives. Surely our addictions, whatever their source, become our Baal.
I know of other enemies too; the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Jebusites, etc., etc. Some of these "ites" manifest themselves today as greed, lust, judging, and unforgiveness. But just as God Himself defeated or equipped the Israelites to defeat the "ites" of the Old Testament, He, through His Holy Spirit, equips you and me to be victorious over our enemy, however he may present his evil self.

The greatest enemy we face is what I will label as the Philistines. The Philistines were the perpetual enemies of Israel and the fiercest – they were big, and bad, and mean, and they just never went away.  God warned, even commanded, the Israelites not to have anything to do with these pagans.

The Philistines that we face is our own sinful nature. None of the "ites" armies of Satan are as relentless and persistent as is our own internal Philistia. The army that would lay siege to my home, my personal temple of the Lord's, is never so menacing and sinister as that sinful nature.

Perhaps this has been a somewhat frivolous rendering of our war with sin. But I am inspired to see how so many "ites" came against Israel from near and far, and from all sides. Some of them were powerful, some less so. Ephesians 6 tells us that "…our battle is not against flesh and blood, …but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…" (Eph. 6:12)  Some of our enemies are powerful – some less so. But our Lord knows what we need for each battle and thus equips us so. (See "My Grace is Sufficient")

Read the chronicles of Israel's centuries old war with the Philistines – Israel falls away from God, she is defeated (1 Samuel 4:1-11), she repents and is victorious (1 Sam. 7:7-14; 13:3-4; 13:23-14:23; 17:1-58; 18:17-30), she rebels again and is defeated (1 Sam. 29:1, 31:1-13), she repents and is again victorious (2 Sam. 5:17-25; 8:1; 21:18-22).

Isn't the scenario similar in our own lives? We fall away from God and we find ourselves outside that shower of blessings – we are defeated. We repent and find comfort, peace, joy, and abundant blessings – we are victorious.

Greater enemies came and defeated Israel – Egypt, Assyria and Babylon – and we understand these defeats were ordained by God due to Israel's rebellion and worship of other gods. But God never abandons His own. He allowed nations to punish Israel by their defeat and slavery, but He always left a remnant present and He always redeemed them. As promised to Joshua – "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5b)

As we read about the Israeli exiles being redeemed from Babylon in Ezra and Nehemiah, having been forgiven their trespasses, and restored to Jerusalem, to His Kingdom – to His good grace and mercy, we must  parallel our own redemption and restoration to God's good grace and mercy. We are redeemed and restored by Christ's death at Calvary and His glorious resurrection which we will shortly celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Be blessed. . .

Unchangeable God

"God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind." (Numbers 23:19)

" I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." (Malachi 3:6)

For you and I to trust in something – or someone – there must be some notion of reliability. I'm probably not going to trust a car to get me and my family to some distant destination if it has repeatedly quit on me mid stream. We don't put much faith in a neighbor's promises if historically they have failed us.

The idea of something, anything, being unchangeable is often difficult to grasp, similar to an understanding of ‘infinite’ or ‘eternal’. Our world and all that's in it is ever changing; from the clock, to the seasons, to relationships – ever changing – somethings get better, some do not, but they do not stay the same forever.

Today the world would have us believe that a change in morality is a good thing – that what God instilled thousands of years ago is out of date – not meant for contemporary society; that our attitudes and moral values must change with the times.

Reliability has become a merchandised commodity. In promoting their products and services, car makers, appliance manufacturers, even the Ginsu knife salesman, all tout dependability equally with the features of their product. They all come with warranties of their reliability; and if the initial guarantee isn't sufficient – you can purchase an extended warranty. The extended warranty has become a commodity in of itself in today's market; probably due to a built in limit of reliability.

How wonderful it is to know we don't need an extended warranty for God's faithfulness.

The Bible proclaims that God never changes. The promises He made to the Israelites thousands of years ago are just as sure and unfailing as if they were delivered personally to you and me today. That is why we so confidently appropriate verses like "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" (Jer. 29:11) As we read those passages leading up to 29:11 we find that the promise Jeremiah proclaimed was directed to the exiles in Babylon. So if it appears Jeremiah was directing those words to the exiles, how can we claim them as a promise to us as well?

I think it's in the same way as we have appropriated the Ten Commandments as intended for all mankind – not just that group wandering in the Sinai. We have adopted the 23rd Psalm as a sanctuary in times of distress though it is plainly addressed to the LORD by David, speaking about himself and his faith in God's provision. The  Proverbs are, in general, addressed to the sons of Solomon, but have we not commandeered this wisdom as pertinent to us all?

We are aware of times when God has changed His mind – When Abraham 'bartered' with God over the number of righteous people living in Sodom necessary to save that city (Gen 18:16f) – When Moses pleaded with an angry God who was not to continue leading them through the desert (Exodus 33) – and When He allowed Hezekiah another fifteen years of life (Isaiah 38). Whether or not God actually changed His mind on these occasions, or if the change in disposition of those involved was due to their prayers, is up for debate. Perhaps the change was part of His plan all along. One item of note though – all these changes were of a positive nature – the people involved all benefited from the changes (or at least could have, had there been righteous men in Sodom). One thing is sure though – there has never been a time that God has reneged on a promise.

We obviously do believe in prayers of petition and intercession and that those prayers are answered, often in dramatic fashion. So then have we 'changed' God's mind? I would say not and my reasoning is that God has a blessing in store for you but you must ask for it. (James 4:2-3) Sometimes –  often times – He blesses us without our asking but at other times He withholds the blessing until it is asked for. And when the prayer is not answered. . .a lesson for another time. (See http://www.weeklywitness.com/storms-of-life/).

A staple of our faith is that what God has put in place for moral values, for every day attitudes and ideals, are, and must always be unchangeable. To drift ever so slightly from a true course of integrity, humility, and truthfulness is to deny, and even defy the immutable Word of God. And as for His promises, both the good and bad; they are reliably unchanging and even more profoundly – eternally unchangeable.

An Encouraging Word

"People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath." (Hebrews 6:16-17 NIV)

"For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself," (Heb. 6:13 NASB)

"The LORD has taken an oath and will not break His vow." (Psalm 110:4a ESV)

It was common in New Testament times for a person to make an oath on something or someone greater than himself – such as the altar, or the high priest, or even God. Once such an oath was made, argument was over; the dispute was ended. It was assumed that no one would make such an oath unless he was fully determined to keep it.

You would think that we would just naturally take God at His word. We might ask, "Why should God feel inclined to take an oath or to swear by Himself?"

The Bible has much to say about vows, oaths, and swearing, and of course we're not speaking here of vulgarity, but swearing on something greater than ourselves. The scriptures teach us that God takes our vows very seriously. (Deut. 23:21-23; Num. 30:2; Lev. 5:4; Eccl. 5:4)

We remember Jephthah's foolish and rash vow and what it cost him – (Judges 11)

Matthew, chapter 23 is remembered for the seven woes Jesus declared against the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem, and one of the seven woes was all about swearing. (Matt. 23:16-22) Jesus went even farther in His Sermon on the Mount where He said that we should "not take an oath at all", but let our "Yes be Yes, and your No, No". (Matt. 5:33-37 NKJV)

So again, all these things considered, the question remains – What prompted God to swear by Himself? I think we find the answer in the scripture. We may want to look at from several translations, but the message is the same.

We must, of course, acknowledge that God did not need to make an oath. His word is every bit as good without an oath, but to accommodate the weak faith of men, God swore His promise on Himself. His promise was already unbreakable; His pledge did not make His promise any more secure. But He gave it nonetheless, as further assurance to those who are slow to believe.

I would encourage you to read several translations of Hebrews 6:17. The one I like  is from the ESV; "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath," (Heb 6:17 ESV) God desires that we, weak in our faith, weak in trusting Him should know that His promise is unchangeable. Concluding the chapter we read, "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Heb. 6:18-20 NIV) In the ESV we read that 'encouragement' is "strong encouragement" which is a more favorable rendering of the Greek text.

Pray that to yourself; "God desires me to have strong encouragement!"  "God really desires me to be strongly encouraged!"

We are strongly encouraged by the knowledge and trust of His promises, His purposes, His goodness, and above all His faithfulness. (Ps. 27:1; 40:1-3; Jer. 29:11; Lam. 3:22-23)

What solace and comfort we are blessed with by God's encouraging word. We can know His word is true and that He is faithful to that word. In the book of Isaiah we read God's own declaration; "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Perhaps not all will find comfort in that passage from Isaiah. Not everyone accepts His word to be the ultimate truth. But we know that God's word is trustworthy and unchangeable. When we read of His promises – both good news and not so good – we can be encouraged in our faith in the one true God.

Be blessed.