Character Close Up: Abraham, a man of great faith

You should check out Romans Chapter 4 – it’s amazing. Paul discusses salvation and uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith, not works. After a long, hard day on Capitol Hill yesterday, the verses in Rom. 4 were like oxygen to my lungs. Reading Scripture is the best way to do what Hebrews 12:12-13 says – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (referenced also in this post). It changes and renews me. Totally amazing.

Abram (it’s later that he becomes “Abraham” and/or “Father Abraham,” as you may know him), is first referenced in Genesis 11:26. He’s at the tail end of a long genealogy of the descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s three sons – read Genesis, it’s fascinating!)… I love how with Abram, the genealogy continues, but the story becomes much more important. Scripture begins by detailing his life and his circumstances. He’s married to Sarai (Gen. 11:29), who is barren (11:30), and he lived in Ur but moved to Haran with his family (11:31). His story can be found in Genesis 11-25. To give you a bit of perspective – there are only three chapters in the Bible to describe and detail creation and the fall, while fourteen chapters are given to discussing Abraham and his life!

There is no indication that Abram knew God until chapter 12, which is titled in my Bible, “The Call of Abram.”

But God gives him a huge directive with a tremendous promise (12:1-3):

“‘Now,’ the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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.'”

And Abram BELIEVES AND OBEYS! Verse 4 says “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.

It’s this kind of faith that sets Abram apart as a hero of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

And this kind of faith isn’t seen just once in his life, but many times. God promises him a son and descendants that would be as numerous as the stars (15:5), and Abram believes! This faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (15:6) even before Christ came! There’s too much to Abraham’s story to tell it all here – but he believes God time and time again – even when the command of the Lord will hurt him or those that he loves (submitting to circumcision in Gen. 17 at the age of 99, offering Issac as a sacrifice in Gen. 22, etc.). He’s not always perfect – he definitely fails to trust God at times and gives away his wife twice when he’s scared of kings killing him so they can have her (Gen. 12, 20).

Despite his failings, God gave him a huge amount of faith. I want to have faith like Abraham – enough to simply hear God and obey, with no hesitation or delay, no weighing of pros and cons. Hebrews 11:8-10 highlights the incredible faith that he had, saying, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country […] for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Thus continues the themes of waiting, faith, and patience. Abraham’s life shows that God never fails us. His promises are true. Hebrews 12 clearly shows that we’re to run our races as Abraham and other men and women of faith ran – always trusting and obeying the voice of God. It’s this kind of faith that God blesses – not our works. Abraham was blessed because of his faith, not his circumcision. Look at this:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:18-25, emphasis added).

and all I could say and can say to that is WOW.

Character Close Up: Esther

You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.

I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.

Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.

She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.

The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.

Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance  – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen.  All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride .  She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9).  Her trust and obedience is amazing.

While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran  “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9).  She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here?  What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king.  Otherwise she’d be just another concubine.  She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).

Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16).  Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.

Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –

  • Calculate the cost
  • Set priorities (others before self)
  • Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
  • Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
  • Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.

Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference.  The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.

I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.

Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.

Character Close Up: Mary, the mother of Jesus

Happy New Year! It’s a new year and I haven’t blogged in far too long, so I have a lot of writing to catch up on. Although I haven’t done the customary “New Year’s post” yet, I want to jump right into a series of posts I’ve been thinking of writing on different people seen in Scripture who embody character traits I want to develop in my own life this year. I think it’s a good way to set a path for spiritual growth this year and I hope that the Lord will cultivate the strength of character in me that I see in these men and women of the Bible.

This holiday season I found myself thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, a lot. Maybe it’s because Dad always reads Luke 2 before we open our gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe it’s because every time I encounter her in Scripture, I see a young woman with inexplicable faith in the face of impossibility and unfailing trust in the word of the Lord. She’s obviously favored by the Lord and entrusted with a precious gift – the Savior of all mankind – to carry, give birth to, and raise in the ways of the Lord. And she doesn’t balk. She doesn’t run from change. She isn’t embittered by the responsibility given her or the sacrifice required. She does question (thankfully, because if I had to stop questioning everything, I’d probably fail miserably) – but at the word of the angel, she’s willing to lay down her plans, dreams, reputation, and even her relationship with Joseph to be obedient. She was always willing to follow (she understands spiritual leadership) – she left her home and followed Joseph to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-5), then Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and then to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23).

Just thinking about that gives me chills. I honestly can’t imagine being called to do such a thing. At the same time, we’re each called to follow the Holy Spirit, and while we won’t be asked to raise the King, it’s likely that we’ll each, at some point in our lives, be asked to the do impossible (at least in the natural realm). And when asked, I want to respond as Mary did. As believers we’re all called to do exactly as she did – Jesus himself said so in Matthew 10:37-39 –

“37 If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (emphasis mine).

Two of my favorite verses about Mary are found in Luke.

Luke 1:38 “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Luke 2:19 “but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Thankfully, Mary wasn’t perfect. She questioned Gabriel (Luke 1:34), was upset with Jesus when he wandered off as a child (Luke 2:48), demanded the attention of Jesus while he was busy ministering (Luke 8:19), asked Jesus to perform a miracle just because a wedding ran out of wine (John 2:3), and probably was a typical woman in many ways. Despite this, her life is an incredible example of one lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Three things I think I can learn from Mary are 1.) to be available to be used by God (and to hold everything in life – even my life itself – with open hands by remaining willing to give up everything at any time), 2.) to be responsive and obedient to the Holy Spirit, and 3.) to firmly hold onto God’s promises.