Genesis 15:17-20

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 

20140704-4465

A friend recently asked me, “What do you do with people who don’t pay at your church?” The question took me completely by surprise. I had never thought in those terms. We do monitor peoples’ giving, but do so mostly for the sake of being able to supply receipts for tax purposes. But the idea that people had to pay for church never occurred to me. We do have to pay the bills. We do want people to be generous, but we don’t charge admission. And when we have a suggested donation it is truly suggested. We tell people that if they can’t afford to pay not to worry. Recently, for example, we made THE STORY available for a $10 suggested donation. This abridged Bible arranged in chronological order is the focus of our church’s preaching and teaching for the next 6-1/2 months, and we wanted it available to all more than we worried about having everyone pay for it. We also told people simply to take one if they could not afford it. The answer regarding what we do with people who don’t pay is, “nothing,” or better yet, “help yourself.” 

Giving is a response to God’s goodness, not a payment for services rendered. Giving is an outflow of the blessings we have already received, not a means to attain more and better blessings. Although the practice of paying a tenth to a king or to a god was widespread in the ancient Near East, Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek was probably not the payment of the “king’s tithe” (cf. 1 Sam. 8:1517), but rather was an offering that reflected Abram’s regard for Melchizedek (the name means king of righteousness) as a priest of the true God (thanks to Ligonier Ministries, and their Reformation Study Bible notes).

People “who don’t pay” will always be with us. The greatest need of those folks, is to recognize the great blessings of the God of Abram, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has poured out his Holy Spirit on his people, and whose gifts truly motivate generosity and God-honoring gifts. Their gifts then become offerings, not payments, and God is truly honored.

 

Genesis 13:14-18

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

20140704-4454

There are those who question opulent and excessive-to-their-tastes buildings and church furnishings. St. Peter’s Basilica, the Crystal Cathedral, as well as some of the medieval cathedrals are targets of such questioning. The old saw, “why wasn’t that money spent on the poor” or “on missions,” is trotted out. When you can build a church in a third-world country for $30,000,  (as is done by International Cooperative Ministries, for one example) it may be reason to question spending $30 million on a church building in the United States.

The issue, however, is seldom an either-or proposition. Too often those who cry foul about spending too much on a local building, would never spend as much on a mission project or social welfare relief efforts. Too often the question is much more about one’s willingness to give, period. While some may want to re-direct funds from buildings to missions, truth be told many have such a meager giving record, that the world mission or poverty project would not gain from redirecting their funds. 

We may wonder why some are willing to offer great sums for the sake of a church building – beyond our ability to match their gifts. But here is precedent for such undertakings in the opening chapters of Genesis. Abram builds an altar to the Lord after he settles near the oaks of Mamre at Hebron. It may not have been extravagant. It may have amounted to little more than a pile of stones. But it was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in the Bible. So it was significant on some level.

There is something about having a place to go, an altar at which to worship, a visible expression of our dedication to the God of our life and salvation. It may not need to be a $30 Million cathedral. It may not even need to be a $30,000 church building. But when those who build such structures do so, it would be appropriate to appreciate the fact that they are willing to provide a gathering place for God’s people to come together, hear the Word, and rejoice in his gifts, and from that place go into the world to seek God’s kingdom and share the gifts he has given. The building becomes, in that case, a reminder, a gathering place, and a sending place for God’s kingdom and mission. 

Genesis 12:1-5

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Downtown Houston Photo Excursion with Andy Bulgerin

When God calls Abram, he offers three promises which hold up a command and compel Abram’s obedience. The promises are that God will make Abram into a great nation, that he will bless him, and through him bless “all the peoples on earth.” Those are powerful words and far-reaching promises. Abram will be led to a new place. He would also be the father of many. God’s blessings were not only for Abram, but for all the nations on earth. 

It is one thing to be blessed and promised to be the focus of God’s favor. It is quite another to be promised to be a blessing to others. This is a singular privilege and high honor. This is a greatness beyond personal wealth or success. This is a greatness born of God’s choosing and far-reaching grace and love. Not content merely to make Abram a wealthy and success man, God determines to elevate Abram from “blessed” to “blesser.” 

As God’s instrument of blessing, Abram sets out. If he is to fulfill his greatest destiny, he must go to far reaches to the land God will show him. If he does not set out he will not realize God’s full intent for his life or the full potential of his place as the blessing of God to others. 

What promises has God revealed to you? Where is he calling you to go? You will not only be blessed, but a channel of God’s blessings to others as you go where he calls you, trusting in his promises.

Genesis 15:1-6

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, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Downtown Houston Photo Excursion with Andy Bulgerin

The word which we translate “righteousness” is a word rich in meaning. “Tsadiq” or “tsadaq” depending on what reference you use, means right, just, to be righteous, justified, or declared righteous. The idea of being declared righteous by faith is not merely a New Testament idea. We see it here in the account of Abram. God has made the promise to him prior to this time, and Abram has now grown weary of ever seeing it come to pass. God, however, takes the opportunity to renew the promise (first given in Genesis 12) and promises, also that he – God himself – would be his shield and then promises that Abram’s offspring would be as many as the stars Abram could count in the night sky. 

For some reason Abram believed the Lord. The Holy Spirit moved him to put himself under the promise and word that God had spoken and align himself with that promise from his heart. In that moment he was in a right relationship with God: believing God’s promise and living toward that promised future. 

Faith is much more than grasping facts. Abram knew that God had promised him a son. Faith embraces the truth of God’s word and looks at all of life through the word and promise of God.

What word and promise of God do you need to embrace today? How might you – by the Holy Spirit’s power – believe God’s promise, trust his word, and enjoy the favor of God’s declaration? You are in a right relationship with God and declared to be so by his Word for Jesus’ sake whose perfect faith and trust in God is our righteousness. 

Genesis 3:1-6

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

20100614-IMG_2708

A few days ago a friend who had returned from a fishing trip to Alaska gave us several salmon fillets. What a treat! We love to grill salmon on the barbecue and consider this gift most generous. We are looking forward to the fresh wild caught Pacific salmon! We will invite our friends to join us when we grill these.

Just this evening several of us who are part of the discipleship huddle at St. John went on a missional service project to the home of a single mom. We raked leaves and brush, cleaned out gutters, power washed, trimmed trees, cut off branches that were on the roof of the house. 14 man hours later we had made a significant dent in the neglected care and upkeep of this house. We hope she receives the blessing with thanks to God.

Our friend gave us the salmon not because we need food, or even because we cannot afford salmon (though it is not inexpensive!). He gave it out of the goodness of his heart; because he respects me as his pastor and friend. We gave the ministry of lawn care and exterior house maintenance also out of the goodness of our hearts. But there is another wrinkle to our gift: the wrinkle of sin. She is no longer married to the father of her children. He is not in her life or providing for the care of their house. There is no fault implied in regard to that, just an observation. But the reality of broken relationships – especially marriage – and broken homes and needy women is a fault of life in a broken and fallen world.

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit more than just nakedness and shame ensued. Sin entered the world, and death because of sin. We see it everywhere we turn. Our desire as followers of Jesus was to shed the light of his redeeming love wherever we can. We don’t know whether she will recognize it as such. But we do know that there was a need that we were able to fill.

While we were working there several neighbors passed by on the street. None asked what we were doing. None offered to help. That’s sad, but yet more evidence of the fallen nature of this world: neighbors and communities do not always respond to others needs as they should. Thank God he responded to our need by sending his Son to be our Savior. The blessing of his forgiveness and abundant and eternal life is the greatest blessing of all.

Genesis 1:14-31 (selected)

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created… And God saw that it was good… 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image…

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them…31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

August 2014 NWHPC Assigned Category: Landscapes - 1st Place

Throughout the account of creation ring two refrains, “there was evening and there was morning,” and “God saw that It was good.” There are any number of arguments for or against a literal interpretation and understanding of the days of creation. Textually, however, the question is well settled, “evening and morning the [first, second, etc.] day,” offers us a framework of understanding clearly portraying these as what we understand to be 24 hour days.

The other and perhaps even more important phrase, “it was good,” with the encore, “it was very good,” alert us to the nature of primal creation as well as a view into the nature of good and evil. Creation must have had it’s cataclysmic moments – stars bursting into existence, mountains thrusting up into the sky, waters expanding and receding, valleys appearing: all these things must surely have been dramatic and awesome moments! But at the end of each day the work of creation is pronounced good.

Goodness is not so much a matter of quiet and peace, tranquillity and calm as it is the state of creation under the perfect will of God. Good is God’s rule and design being played out without protest or question. God determined the limits of the water, commanded the sun to run its course, as the morning stars “sang together” (Job 38). These were good moments.

We get glimpses of the goodness of creation now and then, but the ultimate experience of good is yet to come when Christ returns and the new heaven and new earth appear. Next time you see a beautiful sunset, or gaze into the starry skies, experience the beauty of a flower garden or see a newborn baby, let that be a reminder of the goodness of God. Surely we have enough reminders of sin and its consequences. Thankfully we have testimony to God’s goodness and creative glory. And as we await the full restoration of all things, we can also thank God that we have a Savior who showed us goodness in his life of perfect obedience to the will of God, and who is our righteousness, hope and salvation.

Genesis 1:9-13

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

20140716-4595

When we were in Israel, our guide told us that Tuesday was often chosen for couples’ wedding day because it was the day of the double blessing. On the third day of creation, God caused the waters to be gathered, and the land to appear. He saw that it was good (v. 10). Still on that same day, God caused plants and seed-bearing fruits to grow, and again we are told, “God saw that it was good” (v. 12). Twice on that one day of creation, God pronounces his creation good. Tuesday is the day of the double blessing.

I don’t know what today will hold for you, but I’m wondering if we might start a new tradition in the Twitter, FB, and Pinterest, worlds – double blessing Tuesday. Like “Throw Back Thursday,” we could post photos of things that we perceive to be double blessings from God: twins, spouse and children, a beautiful day with an opportunity to go for a walk. I am quite certain that through the creativity and thoughtfulness of others, we could multiply and number of those double blessings.

When you experience a gift from God, you will certainly see it as a blessing for which you thank him. When we see the double blessings – coming on any day – we will want to be doubly thankful as well. Of course there is yet another third day which brings a double blessing: the day Jesus rose from the dead. He was raised for our justification and because he lives we too will live. What are the double blessings for which you can give a double portion of praise and thanks to God today?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers