sacrifice

The Labor of Rest

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One of the charges frequently brought against me and others who teach the message of grace is that we teach "easy believe-ism” or “cheap grace.” I would like to address those thoughts.

First, let's talk about the thought of "easy believe-ism." When we teach the grace of God, we are heralding to humanity that there is a new economy of living made available through the finished work of Jesus. Yes, it is an "easy" economy to enter. I do not shy away from proclaiming that. If God wants people saved, and He does, why would He make it difficult?

I love that in the third chapter of John when Jesus heralds that eternal life is available through Him, He refers to the little brass serpent that was recorded in the book of Numbers. Remember the story? God sent serpents to deal with the rebellious children of Israel, but He also instructed Moses to make a little brass serpent and put it up on a pole as a remedy for anyone who got bit by the serpents. All they had to do if they got bit, was take a glance of faith to the serpent and they would be healed. Isn’t that glorious?! All it took was a glance of faith, and that is indeed all that God requires for someone to enter life. Glorious!

Living that life, however, is a different story; it requires saying a loud and resounding “No!” to our resources, so that we can instead trust the resources of God and that is no EASY thing to do! It requires hard work, as the writer of Hebrews says, to enter into rest. It is hard work to trust God’s resources instead of our own, especially since all of us were birthed into the lie that we shall be as God and therefore inherently think that we can do just fine apart from Him. So yes, it is easy to believe and find life with God, but it is hard work to experience life with God. We must labor to enter into the rest that Jesus has secured for us.

Oh, and by the way, how did He secure that rest for us? He laid down His life on our behalf. He died so that we could be set free from the law and restored to God instead, and there is nothing cheap about the grace that He secured for us. In fact, if you really understand the economy of grace, how dare anyone call it cheap! It cost Jesus His life, and it requires on our part the laying down of our lives in order for us to find His life.

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God Will Provide

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In my own faith journey, my greatest spiritual weakness is: my God is too small, and I am too big. When we see ourselves as too big and God as too small, we'll trust ourselves instead of Him. So this is what I try to put into my brain, “God will provide, God will provide, God will provide.” And when something new comes into my life, I try to remember that God will provide, and He has provided so wonderfully. 

Abraham had obviously concealed from Isaac what God had told him to do. You know, sometimes we need to do that as human beings. Sometimes to share things will wound another person and in this case that would have caused undue stress for the three-day journey Abraham and his son were embarking on. So finally, in verse nine, they come to the place. Abraham built the altar, laid down the wood, and bound Isaac. 

What happened there? What was the conversation? I wish we knew! 

Did Isaac ask, “Well, where's the lamb father?” 

Did Abraham respond, “I don't have one, YOU ARE the lamb.”

He had to have told him! I want you to see here that it is not just Abraham who was full of faith; look at Isaac! Can you imagine how much faith it took to trust his father? To say, “Go ahead and bind me and put me on the altar?” Where did that boy get that faith? You know, sometimes I think we've spent so much time on Abraham that we miss Isaac. I'll tell you where he got that faith from; he got it from watching his dad. Here's a whale of a challenge for us today, it is not our lips that will teach our kids; it is our lives! And we need to live so they see a living God in us. 

Words surely reverberated in Isaac's mind; “God will provide. God will provide.” Abraham's faith has been so tested over the years it could stretch beyond what we can imagine. Do you realize that at thirty to thirty-five years of age with a one-hundred and twenty-year-old father, Isaac could have easily overpowered his dad and said no? 

Which one had the greatest faith? I don't know that we can answer that. Is it the father who offers his son or the son who lays down his life at the wishes of his father? It was tested faith on both their parts.

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God is Good and Does Only Good

What do you do when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God?

What do you do when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God?

“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took two of his young men and Isaac, his son, cut the wood for the burnt offering and rose up and went to the place which God had told him.” These are the most puzzling verses in the Word of God. Why are they so puzzling? Because there's absolute silence in these verses in terms of what was going on inside of Abraham. Notice there's no argument from him?

I've gone through near-death experiences with two of my children already. The first words out of my mouth were, “God. No!” Would they be the first words out of your mouth?

But that’s not what the Bible says; “God, you told Noah not to kill. We can't do this. God, you promised posterity for this boy. You can't kill the son of the Prophet.” We don't see any of that. Oh, he must have wrestled. How could a father's heart not wrestle with that kind of command; “Take your boy up on an altar and kill him.” Was Abraham thinking, “This is the one I waited for so long to have, the one I loved through so much. You said through this one would be prosperity. He has to live! He has to live!”?

What do you do, my friends, when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God? What do you do? There's only one thing to do. You go back into your history, and you connect the dots of how God has proven faithful to you over the years, right? And then what kind of conclusion do you end up with, that God is wavering and erratic; He promised a son, and now he wants him back. No!  The conclusion you end up with is that God has provided in the past and He will provide in three days. Abraham doesn't know how, but he knows that God is good and big and wise and powerful and holy and he makes a decision based on what he knows about God.

As he connects the dots of the past, reason gives way to faith. Why do I say that? Because everything in a human mind would say, “No,” to what God was asking. Reason gives way to faith, and he makes the decision of a child. It took God one-hundred and twenty years to get that man to childlike faith. I look at my own life, and I think I'm going to have to live to five-hundred to get there! 

He saddles the donkey and cuts the wood. It will be a burnt offering, a worship sacrifice. God is saying, “Offer your boy in worship to me.”

Notice that Abraham didn't tell Sarah? That would not have gone over well! By the way friends, there's a very important lesson in that. Sometimes even though we're married and we are one, God still works with you individually, and there are some things that God is doing in your life that are just for you and not your spouse. It's a hard thing for a spouse to watch the other one go through something like that because we want to fix them, but you can't fix them. Only God is the fixer.

So, Abraham makes a three-day journey. Man, that must have felt like an eternity, and you’ve got to believe he's pondering the whole way. Now, I don't believe he was wrestling with what to do; he's already made the decision to do it. What I think he's wrestling with is how. He’s thinking, “I know God's going to do something, but what is He going to do? How's He going to do it?” I believe with all my heart that he concluded that although his son must die because God had spoken it, his son must live. Therefore, I believe he concluded that God was going to resurrect Isaac from the dead. I think we can confirm that if we look at Hebrews 11:19; “By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac as a sacrifice. He that had received the promise, offered up his only begotten son of whom it was said, 'In Isaac shall thy seed be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead."

Accounting is a keyword in the verse. It’s a math term; mathematics is the science that deals with the measurement properties and relationships of quantities. Mathematics is all about proven theory. Mathematics is all about figuring something out. Mathematics is about always getting an answer, and this is the term Abraham chose to use when it comes to God. When he looked at how God had proven himself in his life over the years, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, it was proven, God would do something, and Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. What does Psalm 119 say? “God is good and does only good.” In Abraham's mind, he'd concluded; the only possible solution that was in harmony with the God he had come to know was God could not and would not let this boy die without fulfilling his promise concerning this boy. So in verse five, What does he do? He tells his servants, “Stay here.” This blows my mind, Look at the words, “Stay here, the boy and I will go worship (meaning a burnt offering,) and then we will return again to you. Oh my goodness!

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The Pearl of Great Price

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What is it my friends, that God's calling you to surrender in your life? Because it's whatever you are holding on to that is replacing the hand of God. 

You know, as I meditated on this, I was reminded of the words of my good friend Juan Carlos Ortiz. He talked about this in his book, Living With Jesus Today. He said, “Jesus is the pearl of great price.” Do you remember the gospels, the pearl of great price where the merchant, when he finds the pearl and knowing it's value, will sell everything he has in order to get that pearl?

Juan Carlos explains the pearl of great price with this parable:

“Look at this pearl, Juan Carlos,” says God.

“Oh, I must have that pearl. How much does it cost?” 

God answers, “Well, the costs is one thing. It’s very expensive. I don’t know if you want to buy it.” 

“Well, if it's that expensive, who can buy it?”

“Everybody can buy it,” God replies. 

“Well, Father, how can everybody buy it when it's so expensive?” 

And God replies, “It's simple. It simply cost everyone the same price. It costs them everything they have.”

“Oh man, that's a great price!” 

“And that's why it's called the pearl of great price, Juan Carlos.”

“But I must have that pearl!”

“Okay," God says, “what do you have?”

“Well, I've got $100,000 in the bank.”

“Okay, give that to me.” God instructs.

"So the pearl is mine?”

“What else do you have as well?”

“I have a few dollars in my pocket.”

“I said everything,” God reminds.

“Well, I've got to have that pearl, so here’s the money.” God gives the pearl. “Oh, I can't wait to take it home.”

“You didn't say that you had a home. It will cost you your home.” God responds.

“I've got to have the pearl! Okay, you can have my home. I can't wait to show this to my wife!”

“Wife? You have a wife? You didn't mention a wife. It'll cost you her too.” God says.

“Well, what would I say to my kids?”

“Well, you didn't mention that you had kids. It’s going to cost you your kids too. I said everything.” God reiterates.

“But you’ve left me alone on the street!”

“It will cost you your own life too. Here's the thing though. I will give all those things back to you for you to enjoy but when I come calling for one of those things, don't forget to give them to me. Don't become so enamoured with them that you miss Me because the only reason I would call for them is because I want you to have all of Me and something has gotten in the way.”

Is there something you're holding on to instead of the hand of Jesus?

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Taking Hold of God

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Abraham’s long-awaited son is finally born at age one-hundred. Can you imagine the joy, the awe, the wonder of that long-awaited son? Thirty years you wait for that child, and then he shows up; "This is my boy," Abraham would have said, "and it is this boy, and this boy only, through whom God's promise will come."

In Genesis 17, God had reiterated the promise and said that this time Abraham's descendants would be like the sand of the seashore. That's a lot bigger promise! We have to understand that all of Abraham’s spiritual hopes were in this boy. This is the boy through whom the line of the Messiah will come. If anything happens to Isaac, there's no Messiah. If there is no Messiah, Abraham is dead in his sin. If Abraham is dead in his sin, he goes to hell for eternity. There's a lot riding on this. I put it this way, Isaac is a big deal in the promises of God! And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this hope is tested or more like shattered!

In verse one, God comes to Abraham and says, “Abraham!” And Abraham says, “Oh, here am I.” Don't you love that? His response is so innocent, so beautiful, so naive, so responsive; He's totally unaware of what God is about to ask of him. Wait, did you hear the word, “ask”? That's a lie! God was not asking; it's an imperative verb. Doesn’t that make you want to cry for Abraham? God is commanding here; this is the mother of all tests. 

We're going to walk through this slowly; I want you to feel what's going on; I want you IN the passage...

God says, “Take your son.” What must Abraham have thought? God says, “Take your son,” and then look what He does, He keeps going with the superlatives; “Your son, your only son. Isaac, the one that you love.” Is God being mean here? No! He's helping Abraham out. How many of you know that when you go through a difficult time, you want somebody to understand what you're going through? You want somebody to hear you. You can go through it if you know there's somebody that gets it and that's what God is doing here. He's got his arm around Abraham. He's saying, “I get it. I get it. This is your boy. This is the ONLY boy. The only begotten boy, the beloved boy.” How come God gets it? Because a few centuries later, God's going to give his own boy. He’s saying, “I’m in your court Abraham. I know what I'm calling you to, son. I really, really do. I gave him to you, and now I want you to give him back to me.”

One writer says this was a “test of necessity." He has the conviction that Abraham had grown too fond of Isaac, that Isaac had taken the place of God in Abraham’s heart and that it could cause great harm to Abraham's walk of faith because the place reserved for God has been squeezed out by another. We don't know if that's true, but I have to wonder if you wait for a boy that long and that boy finally shows up, he's going to be precious in your heart.

Watchman Nee even commented along the same lines. Listen closely, please my friend, because this is all of us. He said “Isaac represents the many gifts of God's grace. Before God gives them to us our hands are empty, afterwards, they are full. Then sometimes God will reach out His hand to take ours in fellowship. He needs an empty hand to put into His, but when we received His gifts and are nursing them, our hands are full, and when God puts out His hand, we have no empty hand for Him to put His hand into. When that happens, we need to let go of the gift in order to take hold of God Himself.” And then Nee adds these very sobering words. “Isaac can be done without, God cannot.”

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The Ultimate Laying Down

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I'm free!"... "I'm free!"...

Such is the declaration on the lips of so many as they come to understand the grace of God in the New Covenant.

But you will never experience the fulness of your freedom dear saint, until you die to that freedom and lay it down in the service of love to others!

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