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*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

”After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid,Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. “But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

“…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14, ESV).

Last time we saw that Abraham’s life had been radically transformed by the understanding that God Himself, not His promises or provisions, was his greatest reward. He so treasured God above all other things that he was willing to sacrifice God’s gift of Isaac, the very thing that would allow God’s promise of Abraham being the father of a great nation to become a reality. As we mentioned, God intervened, spared Isaac’s life, and set into motion the beginning of that great nation and the eventual habitation of the land by Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:15-18). God did so by providing another sacrifice (in God’s economy there must always be a sacrifice to restore relationship with Him and the inheritance of covenant blessing). This provision was a ram (Genesis 22:13).

But this was no ordinary ram; for it prefigured Jesus. Notice in Genesis 22:13 that the ram was caught by its horns in a thicket (the thicket always reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus brow as he was being mocked just before His crucifixion). Because of the way he was trapped, this ram was unmarred or unblemished, which made him an appropriate sacrifice. If his body had been cut or injured he would not have been the “spotless” sacrifice that God required. Here we see the picture of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see John 1:29). Just as Abraham believed, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8) we see this sacrifice taking the place of Isaac – the ram was offered so that Isaac would live. Likewise, Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life.

So this is why we are to love God as the greatest thing, our ultimate reward. We are to admire, cherish, value, and adore Him above all else. Again, why? Because He is infinitely worthy: He has provided the sacrifice that extends to us eternal life (John 3:16) and life more abundant (John 10:10). And for this reason Jesus, our sacrificed Savior, calls us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). But, again, what does seeing God as our great reward (to love Him with all that we are) have to do with Jesus? Well, we can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus. And we can’t love God without loving Jesus. We can’t experience God as our great reward and treasure without knowing Jesus in that same way. So, in a very real sense, we love God by adoring Jesus as our greatest reward and treasure.

Why is this? Because the person of Jesus is the promise and provision of God that makes even knowing Him a reality. Actually, in a most amazing passage, we see Paul write to the Galatian church that really Jesus, the Seed, is Himself the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-25)! This is because Christ is the fullest revelation of God (John 14:9). He is the one who interprets, or “exegetes,” God to and for us (John 1:17). Jesus is the only way to come to God (John 14:6). This is why He says, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (John 5:42-43) and, “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Therefore, if Jesus is not worshipped and adored as our ultimate treasure then God is not our great reward. And when Jesus is cherished, valued, and admired above all else then God is our great reward.

I can think of no better way to tie all of this together than to ponder and model the priority of Paul, a man who discovered the rich reward of knowing Jesus (and therefore God) as His greatest treasure:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

Although one of the heroes of the Christian faith, Abraham was by no means perfect. But God came to him (not the other way around), chose him (not the other way around), and, in a unique demonstration of His sovereign grace, promised to make him the father of a great nation. Since Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless, the pivotal blessing would be the giving of a son. Without a son there would be no one to carry on Abraham’s lineage and, therefore, no “nation.” But Abraham had to wait on God’s timing and, much like us, he failed “God’s waiting room” test abysmally.

Abraham showed flashes of faith by moving to Canaan. But, in just one example of his impatience and doubt, he fled to Egypt to seek provision in the midst of a famine (Genesis 12:10-20). I’m confident he didn’t fully believe God would provide and bless because he took matters into his own hands (sound familiar?) and moved to a land that God had not led him to (Egypt – which, providentially, God would lead Abraham’s descendants out of many years later). There he lied – and had Sarah lie as well – about the nature of their relationship in order to protect his own skin (as if God was not willing or capable of protecting him). Once Abraham did return to the place God had told him to go and stay, Canaan, he was wondering when all of these promises were going to happen. Especially the promise of Isaac, the son.

That’s where we pick up in Genesis 15. God now explains to Him the greatest blessing and gift that He had for Abraham. That blessing and gift was Himself. God was the ultimate provision, promise, and reward He had for Abraham. Even though Abraham’s reponse to the Lord (Genesis 15:2-3) indicates the significance of God’s statement hadn’t sunk in, I believe we see evidence later in his life that he finally understood what God was really saying. It is 7 chapters later that we see the person of God being more important to Abraham than God as provider and promise-keeper (even though God truly is both of these things). My point is that Abraham learned to treasure God more than His blessings and provision.

It is in Hebrews 11:17-18 that we get the best snapshot of the faith and priority of a more mature Abraham:

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Wow – what an amazing transformation! Earlier Abraham had doubted God and pestered Him with, “where is my land and where is my promised son?” Now, when God commands him to take His provision and promise (Isaac) and put him to death, Abraham goes without any hint of denial, doubt, or disobedience (Genesis 22:1-10).

Why the radical shift? I believe it is because Abraham finally and fully realized God’s greatest promise and provision is Himself (Genesis 15:2). And when he had come that point, God’s other promises and provisions (like Isaac and land) had become secondary. Abraham eventually began to love, worship, and follow the Giver instead of the gift! He was seeking God’s face and not just His hand. So he was willing, because he had God, life’s greatest treasure, to sacrifice all the rest.

Oh yes, there was a happy ending. God thwarted Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. Isaac lived, the nation began, and the land was eventually inhabited by his descendants. But these promises did not begin to see their original fulfillment until Abraham knew and lived as if God was his all, his highest treasure, and his great reward. And that, as Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7), is where God expects us to be as well – His people seeing, knowing, and living with God as our ultimate pursuit and great reward.

But, for us, how does Jesus fit into all of this? Abraham’s story does not end with the cessation of Isaac’s sacrifice. There was another offering, another sacrifice, which God provided to make His promises real – literally for Abraham and spiritually for us. Tune in next time and see how Abraham’s story foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus and shows us that treasuring Christ above all things allows us to have God as our great reward.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-one – Trusting our King

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” (Mathew 6:25-31).

In opening verse 25 with the word “therefore,” Jesus points listeners back to the preceding section of His sermon. This indicates an important truth: as believers reject the pursuit of earthly treasure and learn to trust in Him for physical needs, they position themselves to live free from worry.

Those in Christ’s original audience did not enjoy the benefits of 401K plans, health care packages, and paid vacations. While the very wealthy among them might have stored grain or hoarded coins, many had to wonder whether or not they would secure daily food or drink. Without the social and government entitlement programs to which we are accustomed, they knew charity as their only safeguard. Christ and His contemporaries often learned to live day-to-day (see Matthew 8:20). In contrast, the typical American believer has an abundance of financial resources and securities, and most live in comparative luxury and comfort. With such blessing, should we not be more aware of God as our ultimate Provider and enjoy an even greater trust in Him than the early Christians?

In a touching analogy that probably directed eyes to the birds and flowers native to Christ’s open-air sanctuary, Jesus explains that He cares for nature. Throughout His ministry, Jesus proves cognizant and empathic towards His children’s struggle over the necessities. Food, clothing, and shelter represent real needs. As Christ points out God’s care for creation in general, He helps people understand His care for His chosen people. While plants and birds neither enjoy relationship with Him nor share the wisdom afforded to humans, God provides for them. The condensed message of Matthew 6:25-31? “Do not worry, for I am a loving, good, and capable Father who provides for you. If I look after lesser creatures, surely I will take care of you!”

When we surrender to Christ as our great King, we need not worry at all. Cares and concerns typify the state of fallen humanity, but we serve an omnipotent God who desires us to live free from the tendency. In truth, worry proves incompatible with faithful kingdom living. Paralyzing worry requires one of three ingredients: too much self-focus, too little faith, or a denial of Christ’s role as King and provider. Should worry plague a believer, he or she should immediately ask: Has my vision of God grown so small that I do not perceive Him as loving or good or capable? Kingdom living requires that we see Him as all of that and more!

Several years ago I faced a potential downsizing at work, and I melted into an emotional wreck. My dear mother prayed endlessly that the worry and stress of my job would lift. God answered her prayer: I was laid off! My worry only intensified. Always anxious over the financial ramifications of unemployment, I often failed to trust God. Despite my faithless fretting, God providentially (and miraculously) provided me with a better opportunity within the space of days. I have remained in that position over a decade. God used the whole situation to confirm in me that all things rest in His capable hands. My anxiety was a self-defeating lack of confidence in my Lord.

We must remember that the great provider concerns Himself with our emotional needs as well as the basics. Although He commands us to not worry, He knows that life brings trials, tribulations, and troubles to even His most steadfast followers. “Come to me,” Christ encourages all who are weary and burdened by life, “I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). No one walks alone who puts his trust in God.

Christ never says, “I will solve all of your problems.” While providing for our necessities and easing the burden on our hearts, He does not remove us from all of life’s challenges. The Lord acts as a perfect parent: His judgments are always fair, His intervention always timely, and His approach never overbearing. In every case, believers can confidently “Cast all [their] anxiety on him because he cares for [them]” (1 Peter 5:7). God stands not as the panacea for all of this life’s physical, emotional, and financial ills; instead, He knows and cares for us in the way He sees fit. He always chooses the best approach. In every case, the Lord meets our needs in a way that honors and glorifies Him and His kingdom. We must demonstrate faith in Him, trusting that He will always provide for us what He deems best. As we do, the worry tendency diminishes.

In a practical application, worry makes little sense; it changes nothing. Philippians 4:6-8 states:

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:6-8).

I’ve always loved the advice Paul shares in this passage. Truly, focusing on the goodness of God leads to peace and lessens anxiety. As we keep our eyes on Him, we remember that God alone stands as our beneficent provider in all things. We can’t avoid stressful situations, but we can trust in the Lord to see us through them.  

Apply It.

Throughout the Old Testament God often reminded the Israelites of His many provisions for them. Use a concordance or Bible search tool to find an example.

When and where has God intervened and provided for you (see Psalm 103:2)? Ask God to remind you of His past provisions so that your faith and reliance on Him will grow.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In our Life Group we were studying this passage – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

What doe the word “believe” here mean? Unfortunately, there are masses that simplistically interpret this word as a mere acknowledgement of Jesus, that the phrase “believe in Him” suggests mere intellectual assent and nothing more. But the Greek word used here, and is often translated “faith” in many biblical texts, is much richer than that. Here are a couple of examples of the depth of the word pisteuo:

“To be persuaded, therefore to place one’s confidence and trust, signifies reliance upon and not mere credence” – Vine’s Dictionary.

Lexicographer J. H. Thayer, an authority on the Greek New Testament, defines pisteuo as being, “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Greek-English Lexicon, T. & T. Clark, 1958, p. 511).

The point of our discussion was that a misunderstanding of what “believe” means is dangerous in our efforts to evangelize, employing the full truth of the Gospel, and detrimental to our walk with God. The word “believe” here clearly indicates something more potent than “head knowledge.” The faith that saves is one of not only placing our hope in Christ alone for our redemption but also one that bows to His lordship. It is dynamic, transformational, and dependant upon Him for our salvation and our sanctification. It is a trust that produces a desire to be obedient to Christ and is compelled by a holistic surrender to who He is and all that entails. The “believe in Him” of John 3:16 changes our hearts because He has changed our minds (repented) about who and what He is. Romans 10:8-10 clarifies this: “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we are saved based on anything beyond faith. But saving faith changes us. This type of belief is the kind of trust and surrender that inherently alters who we are. Why? Because this faith is the conduit that accesses God’s grace, produces redemption, unites us with Christ, summons the indwelling presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and secures our eternal destiny. This faith is a gift from God that triggers all of the promise and provision of God that is found “in Him [Christ].” As Paul shared in Romans: “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as  righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (4:3-5). And this is so that God, and God alone, gets the glory for this miracle of new birth and everlasting life that “believe in Him” secures.

Although this righteousness (salvation) is a gift (just like faith itself is a gift, as you will see in the next  scripture passage quoted), it is a gift that radically alters those who experience it. It is a heart makeover that redirects every aspect of our being. This is aptly tied together by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “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” (2:8-10).

So, is this the kind of belief that we possess? Is this the kind of belief that we proclaim as the true gospel? Or have we, in our personal lives or our proclamation of the message of eternal life, watered down “belief” into some kind of clinical acknowledgment of God that doesn’t necessarily change us from the inside out? It’s worth pondering – eternal destinies hang in the balance.

While checking out of the line at Kroger the other day we thought we heard the cashier say, “Do you have any complaints?” Quickly I launched into a muted tirade: “The economy is bad, food prices are outrageous, our country is in a mess, my knee hurts, I’m getting old and fat…” I continued to spew out a litany of other negative comments before the clerk quietly and graciously interrupted me, “Excuse me, sir, but I said do you have any coupons?” We had to laugh and then ceremoniously and ironically rang the bell labeled “Ring for Good Service” as we sheepishly departed with $85 in groceries and a keen awareness of how easy it is to grumble.

Speaking of the rebellious malcontents that the children of Israel were (see especially Exodus 16:1-8), after listing some of their more obvious character flaws, Paul states:

“nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:10-15).

Ouch! There goes God’s Word cutting to the very marrow of my soul. Again! There you have it – I’m no better than the Hebrews who clamored against their leaders, and therefore God, when they said, “”Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt…” (Exodus 16:3). Oh, it’s so easy to sit in self-righteous judgment on them. Don’t we wonder what they were thinking? God gave them what they more than they deserved (freedom from bondage in Egypt) and even provided for their daily necessities of food, water, shelter, and guidance. Don’t we scratch our heads and piously ponder what more they wanted from God? Then we realize that the same problem existed in Paul’s day. And the same issue exists today. Just do some honest navel-gazing and we see the ugly evidence.

My wise mother once said that some folks, “would complain that you didn’t give them $10 when you gave them $5 they didn’t earn or deserve.” That happened to me once. I gave a few dollars to a homeless panhandler. He scoffed at my donation as if it was a pittance but was unwilling to return it when I asked for it back (laugh as you envision that encounter – both of us tugging at the bill, him winning the battle and running off with the loot). ‘That lazy, ungrateful smuck,’ I thought. ‘Who is he to mock my generous gift.’ But, alas, aren’t we often like this beggar when it comes to God’s gracious provision?

Jesus even told a parable that has implications about this problem. It’s called The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Some workers felt they had been slighted when others received the same wages for doing less work. So they complained to the vineyard’s owner (God). And His response was a curt but profound, “…’Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:13-16).

Are we grumblers and complainers? Do we look for an opportunity to express our discontent even when the cashier is saying “coupons” instead of “complaints?” I think we need to be reminded that God doesn’t take too kindly to the grumblings of those on whom He has lavished His matchless love (1 John 3:1) and, “…through His divine power has granted…all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3). James, in his typical direct and candid style, says it this way:  “Do not grumble…so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). And something tells me that, when we eventually stand before Him, the complaint department will be closed.

But doesn’t this magnify the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus? For His grace covers even the most (seemingly) benign transgressions and Christ’s blood is powerful enough to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:19). And doesn’t this compel us to be more cognizant and convicted of our complaining and grumbling attitudes? For if He has given us forgiveness of sins and relationship with Him, and nothing else, due to His mercy and not our merit, can we really ask for anything more?

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