This question comes up almost on a daily basis. If there is one scripture that everyone is familiar with it is Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
What most people are saying is don’t remind me of the fact that I’m transgressing Gods law. If you were to tell them that the Bible says this or that most people will take offense to what you say. This is because you bring conviction to their life.
You are exposing hidden sin and bringing it into the light. It says in John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. When you expose the truth and people are reminded of their inter-self or their dark side, they try to ignore it. Also, it exposes their true heart to others around them. This makes them feel very uneasy. So they will try to justify themselves by quoting pieces of scripture no matter how far out of context it is.
Lets take a close look at what the Bible has to say about judging one another:
Lets start with Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. (2) For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (3) And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (4) Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (5) Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
In Matthew 7:1 We are told that we should not judge. Most people stop reading there because this allows them to prove their point. However if you continue reading to Matthew 7:5 it tells us that in order to judge someone else make sure that you are right with God first, then you can judge them.
Here in John we are told that we need to judge. John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. At first glance this seems to contradict itself. However, if you read it carefully you will understand the whole point of judging one another.
First we are told that we are not to judge by the appearance. Again this does not mean that a person dressed in ragged clothes is to be judge by them. This point out that a poor person who cannot afford the luxuries of this world should not be looked down upon. Secondly we are told that we should judge a person by using righteous judgment. What is righteous judgment?
Remember that no man is righteous, but God is righteous. So if we are to judge another person we are to use righteous judgment and not our own thoughts and ideas. We are to use the word of God as a measuring stick to tell right from wrong!
For instance if someone was committing adultery the conversation could go something like this:
person 1: Do you know that you should not be living in adultery?
person 2: You have no right to judge me, the Bible says that you should not judge someone.
If we are not to judge, then person number 2 is right. Because most people don’t have a full understanding of the scripture the conversation will end there.
However, person number 1 should reply:
person 1: I am not judging you, but the word of God is judging you. The Bible says that you should not live in adultery. Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
By putting the phrase in the correct context, person 1 is not judging person 2 but the Holy word of God is the standard for which person 2 broke Gods commandment.
1st Corinthians chapter 5 also tells us that we are to use the word of God to determine if we should fellowship with people or not.
1Corinthians 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: (10) Yet not altogether the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. (11) But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. (12) For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? (13) But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
If we were not to judge, how could we determine if someone was a fornicator, covetous, an idolater, a railer, a drunkard, or an extortioner? At sometime you have to say, I should not fellowship with that person because he or she is a drunkard. We must judge that persons life, in order to come to the conclusion that they are a drunkard.
If you were not allowed to judge then you would never not fellowship with someone who is a drunkard. This idea of not judging gives people an “easy out”. You can do anything, go anywhere with anyone you like. This is pleasing to the non Christian or a person who calls themselves a Christian but their life does not bear fruit.
Continuing in 1Corinthians 10:15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. Again Paul is telling us to judge what he is saying. If we are not to judge then this verse would not make any sense.
Once again 1Corinthians 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? Again we are to judge using the word of God.
Luke 12:57 Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? Here we are to judge what is right. In order to determine what is right we need to look into God’s word and weight the deeds and actions against the Holy Word of God. We are not to determine by our own knowledge but refer to the Bible.
1Corinthians 11:13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Once again we are told to judge, to reason within our self. To find righteous judgment you need to refer to the Bible.
We as Christians are commanded to “1. To decide 2. To determine” what is “right” and “wrong” according to the word of God.
If you do not “judge” – “right” from “wrong” – you are traveling a blazing “one-way” course to “perversion” and “degradation” that will eventually land you in a “lake of fire”! read Revelation 21:8
A lot of Christians read Matthew 7:1 and say, “See, we’re not supposed to judge between right and wrong”. And any sense of declaring someone, especially other Christians, to be wrong, is “judging” that person.
There are some serious problems with this interpretation. . .
For instance, if you keep reading Matthew 7, you’ll soon read in verse 15:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15
Notice these false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing”– in other words they are “masquerading” as Christians! And yet, according to the Lord Jesus Christ – “they are ravening wolves.” According to the Lord Jesus Christ – Beware: some “so-called” Christians – are “ravening wolves”!
How can we tell the “sheep” from the “wolves” unless we “judge” or “determine”?
How can we do as our Lord commanded and “beware of false prophets” unless we “judge” them by the word of God?
If we do not “judge” or “decide” their error by the word of God, how do we even know they are in error?
Just because someone “sings” about the Lord Jesus Christ, are we to not “judge” their “songs”, “conversation”, and “testimony”? Because someone professes to be a Christian should we accept whatever they say and do as “right” and “pleasing to God”?
** Note all references are taken from the King James Version.
The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.
I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.
The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.
On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.
And that’s when we heard the scream.
Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the Abba cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now. . . .
Little Maxim’s scream changed everything—more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict and the notarized paperwork. It was the moment, in his recognizing that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son. It was also the moment I became a father, in fact if not in law. We both recognized that something was wrong, because suddenly, life as it had been seemed terribly disordered.
Up to that time, I had read the Abba cry passages in Romans and Galatians the same way I had heard them preached: as a gurgle of familiarity, the spiritual equivalent of an infant cooing “Papa” or “Daddy.” Relational intimacy is surely present in the texts—hence Paul’s choice of such a personal word as Abba—but this definitely isn’t sentimental. After all, Scripture tells us that Jesus’ Spirit lets our hearts cry “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). Jesus cries “Abba, Father” as he screams “with loud cries and tears” for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane (Heb. 5:7; Mark 14:36). Similarly, the doctrine of adoption shows us that we “groan” with the creation itself “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). It is the scream of the crucified.
Something troubling is happening in the American church culture that needs to be addressed. I realize that not every assembly of God-fearing Christians are guilty, and maybe your congregation is different, but we need to consider Jesus’ words very carefully.
Jesus tells a story, in the book of Matthew, first telling a parable about ten virgins, then he moves on to a story about three servants. You remember the one: They were each given a measure of wealth, or “talents.” What did he call the last servant who buried the gold? “Unfaithful” or some translations, “wicked and slothful servant.”
Then Jesus moves on to the third parable about a king who separates the “sheep from the goats” based on what they did for “the least of these.” He carefully builds a story about those who saw the needs of the people around them and did nothing and those who dove in and met the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and in prison.
I believe we have the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison all around us. As a matter of fact, many of those in the following stories have unknowingly used those exact words, “I’m so thirsty for love.” Or, “I feel so in-prisoned.”
Let’s let that sit a moment. I’d like to tell you a couple of stories.
Her name is Penelope. She was sexually used and abused as a small child by her step-dad while her mother was in jail. Although she admired her real dad, he also was in and out of jail and prison nearly all her young life for drug and substance abuse reasons. She grew up, bouncing between homes, and usually would stay with the parent who had the fewest rules, or who was out of jail at the time. Each parent demonstrating a revolving door of lovers and illegal substances suppliers.
Home life as a teenager was a daily train-wreck. High school was a pure failure. Her few friends were drug users and partiers. From a very young age she was sexually active with any boy who would be nice to her. Nothing she ever did had any future or hope. Undoubtedly, by the time she was eighteen, she would be pregnant and addicted to various substances.
Ironically, she grew up around a “church” environment. Her mother attended when she could, although often showing up high, at least she would show up. Penelope sat through numerous meetings, and her spirit struggled with the story of hope, but couldn’t wrap her head around the truth.
Shortly before her 17th birthday, she sat with an old friend. An older couple had befriended her family, and chosen to love them as much as allowed. The man, as a friend, spent a tearful and heart-wrenching day with her, crying together and praying together. Finally, as if scales fell from her eyes, a new light came into her world, and something clicked. Finally, she understood the plea of Jesus to come, broken and bleeding to the cross for healing. She and the man prayed, and Penelope came to know Jesus in a real and passionate way, for the first time.
The man and his wife travel extensively and couldn’t stay in the area. But they went to the local church, and with tears, pleading that people from the church would love that little girl. “Please spend time with her.” “Please teach her about Jesus.” “Please show her what a stable and healthy home looks like.” “Teach her to bake cookies. Just show her love and spend time with her.”
“Yes,” they replied. “Yes, we will.”
The man and his wife left the area with hugs and love for Penelope and her broken family.
Days past. Weeks past. Months passed. Not one phone call. Not one visit. Not one word from anybody. Penelope was left to herself, alone, unloved and abandoned. In Penelope’s mind, she was unloved by God and abandoned by God. No one cared.
DIdn’t Penelope qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
Let me tell you another story. This is a story of a young man and his wife and three little children. The small family moved to a new area. They didn’t know anyone but he quickly found a job and apartment. His mother and father came for an extended visit and helped them find a wonderful local church. The church was full of people of all ages, and the truth of the gospel was taught every Sunday. The young man and his family hurt in their hearts for Godly friendships; being new in an area is hard. But friendships don’t come easily for new people. Work required the young man to be out of church about every-other Sunday.
After some time past, the young man’s father came to the pastor and youth pastor and pleaded. “Please love this little family. They can’t always attend, but they need love. Those little children still need to know God, and they need to grow up with Godly friends.”
The pastor and the youth pastor agreed and said they would take this family under their wing and love them.
The pastor and youth pastor, occasionally, would send invitations to Sunday and Wednesday services. But, not once, did either of them come to visit that little family. As a matter of fact, not one person from that assembly has ever darkened the door of that young man’s home after asking for love.
That congregation does not love them. They don’t know how to love outside the building they call the church – that’s not really love at all, is it? They are welcome to attend when there is a function at the building.
Doesn’t this small family qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
I want to tell you about a single mom with three small children. Let’s call her Nancy. Nancy has a colored background. Drugs, jail, abuse, and more. But she’s a loving mother, as best as she knows how.
She’s struggled with substance abuse for most of her adult years. We don’t need to get into the reasons why; everyone has reasons that are more painful than many of us can imagine.
But somehow, through it all, Nancy came to church and found an anchor in her faith. She raised her children, as best as she knew how. Did she do everything right? Of course not. A woman addicted to pain medications, and other drugs, finds herself making bad choices in relationships, and priorities in her home. Drugs seem to rule the home; they control finances, they control time management, they control attitudes, and they control the decisions about the men who come through the doors. The choices are often wrong but driven only by a force, not of the Holy Spirit, but by the desire for the drugs.
But Nancy loves her children and tries to do the best she can for them. Over time, church became a place of judgment, pain, and conflict. She came to the church and asked for love. A man and his wife, who treated Nancy as their own daughter and her children as their grandchildren, went to the church on her behalf and asked for love. The man and his wife, along with Nancy and her children, invited the pastor and the elder, along with their wives, to a dinner at her house. At the dinner, Nancy pleaded with the pastor and elders to please love her family in their home as well as in the walls of the building. “Please spend time with us and teach us about Jesus. Please take my children and show them what it is like to live normal and healthy lives. Please take my son fishing and spend time with my daughter.” Only when they could find love in their home, then they could return to the meeting place to be loved. The pastor and elders agreed. Everyone prayed together and exchanged hugs and promises of time together and shared love.
Nancy’s kitchen window overlooked the church building. The road to the church passed her front door. Every person who attended the church had to pass by Nancy’s door to enter the church.
Days past. Weeks past. Months passed. Not one phone call. Not one visit. Not one word from anybody. The pastor and elder said they were welcome to attend but never invited her again. They never asked about the children or pulled into her driveway. They never called, they never asked, they never cared.
Doesn’t Nancy and her family qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
Lori is a petite woman, probably in her 50s now. As a small child, she grew up in a sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive home of unspeakable pain. She left home, unloved and abused but legally emancipated at the young age of 14. By the time she was 17 she had been in various relationships that gave her two babies, two more children came later. Her entire life has been one kind of pain after another. Physiological and physical problems have plagued her every step of the way.
She became addicted and dependent on piles of daily prescription drugs, each one exasperating the problems into more problems. However, somehow though the incredible grace of God, Lori found a relationship with Jesus in a way that should inspire each of us. Her day is filled with prayer, Bible reading and a sincere desire to connect with other Godly individuals. Hungry for more of Jesus, she attended church every time the doors where open.
Lori asks a lot of hard questions. “Why would God allow my children. . .?” “What does this passage in the scriptures mean?” “When will God answer my prayer?” “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?” When the Bible study covers hard sections, she wants to understand, or at least she wants to try.
Lori wasn’t really accepted in the woman’s Bible studies. She asked too many questions. If Lori wasn’t there, they would talk about her drug problems and her embarrassing past, all in the name of prayer, of course. But rumors spread like wildfire and news travels fast to people who don’t need to know the indecent gritty details.
Soon Lori felt separated from the body. The women felt threatened by her, and the men gazed at her. Those who teach from prewritten curriculums couldn’t answer her questions and didn’t want to be intimated by a woman who could quote scriptures from her heart. Slowly she retreated from the church congregation.
Time brought more pain. She desperately thirsted for the love and relationships that the church promised. The “family” she so desperately needed pushed her out and abused her, even took advantage of her sexually, much the same way as her blood family had. She cried out to the paster and elders for love. “Please love me, even when I can’t bring myself to enter the doors.”
She was ignored. Without being inside the walls she was unnoticed and forgotten. Some probably glad she wasn’t there anymore to disrupt their plans.
Lori calls the man and his wife almost daily, asking questions about the scriptures and crying for some kind of family. She only wants an occasional hug. She just wants people who genuinely care with the love of Jesus. She only wants to know she is loved by the people of God. But she is ignored.
Doesn’t Lori qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
I could continue with these stories.
I could tell you about a broken and hurting single lady who’s sin was condemned before she knew the story of Jesus, she never returned.
I could tell you the story about a young man who dated a girl of poor reputation and was criticized and never returned.
I could tell you of a young man, who didn’t dress right and was told to go home and not to come back until he cleaned up his style.
I could tell you of an alcoholic woman who was kept at arms-length and found herself alone.
I could tell you of a drug-addicted young man who killed himself because he felt condemned and unloved.
I could tell you about broken homes, addictions, insatiable sexual appetites, abuse, jail, alcohol, and more, and more, and more. . .
Do these qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
When Jesus talked about the actions of caring for the “least of these,” he was not describing a condition to gain salvation. No, he was describing a condition resulting from salvation. You and I, every one of us, is no more qualified to be accepted by God, than the people in this story. Paul himself, the apostle who wrote most of our New Testament books, called himself the “chief of sinners.” Was he displaying false humility? Absolutely not! He had matured to the point where he recognized the unimaginable, boundless grace of God. He understood that he was equal to the worst of the human race – no better.
Until we see ourselves as filthy rags, we do not qualify for salvation. There are many, in church pews today, who take sides. We look across the aisle at “them and us.” They try not to be prideful, but they don’t suffer from the same battles of sin that “those people do.”
Jesus had some Pharisees near him one day. The Pharisees considered themselves to be nearly free of sin and quickly cleansed through lawful means, as soon as any sin was known. But Jesus spoke of the commandments and said: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He said something almost the same about murder.
Was Jesus raising the bar of the law and putting all mankind under sin? In a sense, yes. But more than that, he was proving to the self-righteous Pharisees that, they too, were equal to the worst of sinners. They’re no better.
The same is true for me. The same is true for you.
Penelope is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Penelope qualifies as the least of these.
Nancy is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Nancy qualifies as the least of these.
Lori is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Lori qualifies as the least of these.
If Penelope and Nancy and Lori are not worthy of my intense, selfless, sacrificial love, then I am not recognizing the sin in myself.
Let’s go back to the second parable, the parable of the talent. Why was the third servant called, “unfaithful” or “wicked?” It’s because he did nothing. He kept the gold. He protected it and kept it safe for his king. But he did nothing.
How many times do we see a person in need? I’m not talking about some random person on the street corner. I’m talking about somebody who God has put directly in your path in life. What do we do? Have you ever put your hand on their shoulder and said, “I’ll pray for you,” but don’t actually do anything? How dare you! You wicked and unfaithful servant! You’ve done nothing!
Have you ever gone fishing but didn’t think to take that little boy you see on Sunday morning in the front row? Have you ever gone out with your daughter for a girl’s night but didn’t invite the little girl from the back row because you don’t want that kind of influence around your kids?
I wonder how sterile we’ve made our lives, so we don’t have to touch the unclean anymore.
“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The angels rejoiced that warm spring day as a penniless child opened her heart to Jesus. But the child was ignored by the house of worship, for an impoverished child has no place in the modern church of human worship. Those who are hungry and naked are not welcome in the hearts of those who worship in those hallowed halls. Oh, but place an ounce of gold in her hand and the cathedrals would have welcomed her with open arms into their game of churchianity. Angels rejoice for they perceive with the eyes of God, but the congregation with eyes of carnal man.
In the wisdom of God a great pearl, formed by a mote of great pain, was hidden inside that child that no congregation of human eyes could discern. God used those sands of affliction to polish and perfect a pearl of great value.
On that day, before the Kingdom throne, we will not be judged for our ability to prosper with greed and gold but our ability to seek and buy the pearl of a great price.
How do you describe it? What do we expect? How do I get it? These questions are not only relevant, but they will challenge the way we think of ourselves and the way we think about who God is. In some personal way, we all have an evaluation of God, based on the answer to these questions.
Is blessing when things go good at work and I’m finally making the kind of money I deserve? Is blessing when my kids are happy, healthy, and living in a stable home? Is blessing when my marriage is just the way it should be and I’m comfortable?
So, what about when these things are not true in your life? Does that mean that God is no longer blessing you? What if you can’t seem to make enough money to pay your bills, is God not blessing? What if the kids are not happy or worse, they’re dying, is God not blessing? What if your home is broken by the pain of divorce or abuse, or tragedy, is God not blessing? What if your husband is unfaithful and you’ve paced the floor all night waiting for him to come home knowing full well where he has been, is God not blessing? How do we know the difference? How do we know when God is blessing our lives and when He has withheld his blessing? How much depends on me and my obedience and how much is the result of my sin or from others sin?
I love listening to testimonies on a Sunday morning at church. Occasionally the pastor will ask if anyone has a testimony. Presumably, this should be a positive story where there was great peril of significant loss, then at the last possible moment, God came through in a miraculous way and smoothed the path and brought victory. Then the person sits down and everyone congratulates the winner of this weeks most exciting story for their great blessing from God. Please don’t get me wrong. I congratulate too. We are all pleased when good things happen in our life, and I certainly believe that we should always give credit to our Lord. He is Good and His mercies endure forever!
I’d like to spin off into a story directly from the pages of the Bible. Arguably one of the greatest stories of blessing in the entire book. Without a doubt, the story of Abraham is one of the promise of blessing. Let’s look:
God says to Abram (later Abraham). He said, “Get of out from your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Now that’s a monumental blessing! Is there anyone who wouldn’t want to experience those words from God? What if God came to you and said “I will bless you and make your name great!”? Sign me up! This is a promise from the God of the universe. This doesn’t come with any conditions. No expectations, no reasons. Just simply, Abram, I’ve decided to bless you today, are you in?
There is no question in my mind that every single person who ever lived would kill for this blessing. Ya, I’m in. What did God ask him to do? Easy – GO. Abram, get out. Go to a land that I will show you. Wait. Did you say I have to leave my family, my comfort zone, my position? I just started this job God, and it pays really well. God, my family is all I have.
Keep in mind that in those days, family isn’t just mom, dad, and your siblings. Family is your roots, family is everything you know. It’s the people, the places, the possessions. Leaving family is leaving the monarch, the father who is the support, the reputation, and the protection. Without dad, you are a nobody in a very dangerous land. This isn’t a story about a young man being asked to leave mom and dad and go off to college. This is a story of a man who was asked to leave everything he’s ever known; to leave everything that makes him a person; to leave his identity, his purpose, and his circle of safety. This was not done… ever! You traveled as a family, your married within the extended family, you accepted the gods of your family, you built your reputation and life within that family. Leaving is a really big deal.
God said, “get out… from your family…”.
But there is something missing from this story. Something so painful, so overt, and yet, missing. It’s a question. It’s a question that everyone of us would have asked. Yet the question goes unasked. I don’t believe it’s missing simply because it wasn’t recorded, I believe it was never asked. The question: WHY? Why leave? Why leave my family and go to another land? What land? Where? When? Why?
Abram never asks; Sari never asks; his father never asks. There is something we learn about the character of Abram in the absence of the question that we need to, not only recognize, but we need to learn.
Abram lived in a time of many gods. He is what we would call today ‘poly-theistic’. Poly meaning many, and theistic meaning gods. They had a god for rain, and another for sun. They had a god for fertility and another for grain. You get the picture, no question, they lived a life worshiping, sacrificing, and obeying many gods. But there was one god they revered more than all the others. Abram knew the stories of creation, he knew them well. How this God, in just six days created everything; the world, the sun, the animals, the plants, and their own life. The other gods answered to this god. The sun god was subject to this god. He also knew the stories of how the world had turned their backs on this God and He destroyed the world and everyone in it with a flood. He saved only one man and his family. He knew the story of Noah well. He remembered how God came to Noah one day and told him to build a boat in the desert. He explained in detail how to build it. He also knew well that Noah did not question God. He never asked why. God did what He told Noah He would do. He destroyed every living creature and saved Noah and his family. Why? – because He’s God! There is no ‘why’.
This is what we call ‘the fear of God’. We have minimized the understanding of the fear of God in our world. We call it ‘respect’ or ‘reverence’. That’s not what it says, it says ‘FEAR’. Fear, by proper definition is the translators attempt to describe absolute sheer terror. If God says ‘go’, and I respect Him I might humbly ask ‘why?’. If God says Go and my response is absolute sheer terror, then I ‘GO’! I don’t ask why. (Before the ensuing debate begins, understand that I realize that the word ‘fear’ also includes respect and reverence and in some applications those words are appropriate. However, at this time, as it relates to Abram, I believe the word is dramatically stronger.)
When I grew up, my father was a man of sheer terror in my eyes. When he came home from work I did not run to meet him, I would find a place to hide. I would stay busy with some project in the basement, or be working in the barn. Then last thing I wanted was for him to come home and find me idle when he thought I should be working. I don’t suggest his form of parenting was ideal, but I do use that as an understanding of the current revelation of God in Abram’s time. When my father said to go do a certain chore, not only did I jump and go without asking why, I was afraid to even ask how to accomplish the task. I would rather find the tools and find a way to accomplish it than to ask anything. Respect?, no way – FEAR.
What Abram knows about God is recorded in the first twelve chapters of Genesis. No more, no less. He was the God that created in six days. He was the God who cursed Cain. He was the God who destroyed the city of Babel and confused the languages. These were Abram’s ancestors, his close family. Not many generations, but his own living relatives. His father and grandfather would have known people who experienced Babel. Do you realize that Abram’s father Terrah could have sat for many years listening to stories from Noah himself? Abram might have known Shem, Ham, or Japeth personally. Can you imagine listening to Shem tell how God spoke to dad and said to build the ark. How dad was restless that night and began writing down all the details of this huge boat. Maybe it sounded like this, “Ham and Japeth and I didn’t know what was happening, dad was in sheer terror, working tirelessly to make sure he had every instruction detailed just as God told him. As sweat ran down his brow he nervously told mom to keep the coffee brewing all night. Without a word we did our chores in the morning, dad was pacing the front yard. Nobody spoke a word.” Now wouldn’t that make for a memorable campfire story?
Do you realize that it’s not only possible that Abram had listened to Shem tell this story, it’s probable. Not once, but over and over again. Shem might have also passed on the stories his own grandfather would have told about the old man Adam. How his grandfather Lamech had listened as old Adam would tell the same story over and over again of creation. What is was like when he walked and talked with God in the cool of the evening. He would have remembered the days when the lion laid down with the lamb. How, on that fateful afternoon, many years before, he and Eve were out for a walk when this beautiful serpent begin to mesmerize them once again with his lies. Then how the sheer terror of their sin had overcome them when they heard God walking in the garden. Maybe he told a story like this, “I felt something when I took the bite. I didn’t know what it was then, but now I know it was shame. Understand children that Eve and I had never felt shame before. We never felt any kind of guilt. We spent our days naked and free in the garden, with the creator. We talked every day and He would tell me how he meticulously created everything with just a word. He had explained before that we could eat of every tree except this one. We knew the consequences, but we didn’t fully understand. He would lower his voice when He spoke of death, but we knew nothing of what death was. I remember once when He talked of death that the creator got this far away look in His eyes, like He knew something that He wasn’t ready to tell me yet. Something grave and painful. It’s a mystery yet today. It was like when He spoke of it He understood both immense pain and sadness, and yet was full of joy at the same moment.
I remember when He spoke to Eve and I in front of the Serpent. I blamed Eve, but it wasn’t her fault any more than mine. She blamed the beautiful serpent. WOW, did the creator’s voice boom when He spoke to the serpent. I’ve never seen him angry before, but there was power in His words that shook the stars. Again, He spoke of death, but with an absolute confidence of victorious power. Like through this thing called death He would once again make all things new. Then I remember he escorted us out of the garden, I didn’t say a word, I didn’t dare. My legs could hardly hold me, my voice would not have served me even if I could have formed a word. Our disobedience to the creator had resulted in sheer terror in our hearts. I wanted to stop breathing. We stood there as he closed the gates and placed powerful angels there with flaming swords. He left us that day. He just walked away. We haven’t seen Him since. I see the work of His hands, I know He is with us, but He no longer walks with us and talks with us.”
Shem would stop for a moment and clear the lump from his throat. You could see a tear in his eyes when he would explain how Lamech would describe the look on old Adam’s face when he would tell how the creator had left them all alone. “Lamech said it was sheer terror. Understand children, you don’t want to stand in the presence of an angry God!”
That is the God that Abram knew. The creator of the universe, the God of Sheer Terror! He understood that God wanted to walk and talk with His creation, but sin separated us. He understood that any contact with God from that moment on was only terror – Fear. Obey or die. Not just stop living, but absolute destruction of mankind.
God said “Go”. Abram went. No question. Where? To a land that God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, their servants and all their belongings. Abram wasn’t a poor man. He had many possessions, many slaves, and many animals. Moving was no easy task. They began to walk. South was the general direction. I don’t know how he knew what direction to go. The family wanted to move to Cannan years ago and never made it, so maybe it just seemed natural to go in that direction. I can only guess. They traveled a great many days. We don’t know how long before they came to this place called Shechem.
When he got to Shechem something extraordinary happened. It’s almost lost in the pages of the book. The writer says that “the LORD appeared to Abram”. Do you understand the gravity of this? The creator of the world, the same God that old man Adam had told about. The same God that spoke to Noah. This same God that never appeared to Adam again after he left the garden. For the first time since the garden gate was locked, “God appeared”. I promise you the reaction to Abram was FEAR! Absolute, Sheer, Terror! God had spoken before to men. He spoke to Cain. He spoke at Babel. He spoke to Noah. He had even spoken to Abram. But now Abram is standing face to face with the same God that Old man Adam had described, and Abram knew from the stories grandpa Lamech had told. God Appeared!
Again, God reinforces His blessing to Abram. “To your descendents I will give this land.” Again, there’s that world class blessing from the creator – God, to a man.
Abram did the only thing he knew to do. When you have contact with a god, you kill something. You make a sacrifice. God didn’t tell him to do this. Abram just understood that when you’re standing face to face with a god, you sacrifice. When you stand face to face with THE GOD, all the more true. No question, no words. Sacrifice!
But, something was beginning to change already. Not much, just a hint. Years ago God had walked and talked with his ancestors. God enjoyed their company. God actually enjoyed talking with Adam. Yet because of sin, God no longer had any intimate contact with his people. But something is changing. God called Abram out, with no explanation. Then He appears to him in Shechem, and makes another blessing. God wants this relationship. Abram isn’t there yet. But he understands something is shifting. His understanding of who this god is – is somehow maturing.
Abram continues to move from that place. Nothing like time to walk and think about the events of the last few days or weeks. The God of creation, the God of Noah had spoken to him and told him to “go”. Abram went and because he obeyed God appeared to him” He must have said those words to himself a thousand times, “God appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. He came to a mountain. The Bible explains it was east of Bethel and west of Ai. He put down roots for awhile. The Bible says “He pitched his tent”. That means he stopped for an extended period of time. Months, years… we don’t know. He built an alter to the LORD there. Again he sacrificed.
But, again, something extraordinary. Did you catch it? The writer says he “called on the name of the LORD”. A better way of saying that is that “he proclaimed the name of the LORD”. This isn’t a private little prayer to God. No way! Abram is in a heathen land. These are the descendents of Ham, the brother of Shem. Ham was cursed by his father Noah. Ham wanted nothing to do with dad and nothing to do with the god of his father. He didn’t tell the stories that Shem told. He didn’t pass down the legacy of his fathers and tell his children about the creator of the world. He hated everything that had anything to do with this god. Now, Abram is in the land populated by the children of Ham and they don’t know this God. But in the past few months and years, Abram has learned a thing of two about the character of God. He knows that God is to be feared and that the descendents of Ham don’t have any fear of God. He sees the sin and debauchery they are living in and know they are just like the men of Noah’s day. “Every intent of man’s heart was evil continually.” The God of the garden is forgotten.
Abram becomes an Evangelist in his day. Not an evangelist like we think, but he knows the God of creation; he knows the God of the flood. He knows the terror of this God, and knows that this God desires to talk with his people. Abram understands the devastating effects of disobedience and understands the blessing of obedience. He begins to proclaim to the people of this land who have forgotten God. He begins to proclaim the reputation, the character, of God to the people.
Did they listen? We don’t know. Nothing is said in the Bible of a great revival in the land of Cannan. Yet, something stirred in the heart of Abram to Call out the Name of the LORD! To proclaim the reputation (the name) of the LORD!
This is where the story takes a twist. A twist that keeps me awake at night to this day. Something happens here that every TV preacher says will never happen. I’ve listened to preacher after preacher tell me of the promises of God. The blessings of God. How God only wants to bless me, bless me, bless me. Abram has a world class blessing from God. Nobody before or after ever gets a blessing like this. Yet here we are. Standing face to face with reality. God said “go”. Abram obeyed. God blesses Abram again, this time face to face with a man. Abram obeys. Abram is now standing exactly in the midst of the land that God has promised him. This land that is promised to Abram and his descendents forever. Abram built an alter, he sacrificed to God. Abram then decides if he is going to live here he better proclaim the name of the LORD to the locals. You can’t shut him up. “God has spoken to me and I have obeyed. God has appeared to me and has blessed me. God will destroy sinners. But God want’s relationship with his people.” Abram goes to extreme to tell of the character of God to a sinful and lost generation. You cannot find any fault with Abram. He has done everything God has told him to do. He stands rock solid in his faith in the God of creation who he has met face to face. So what’s the twist? There’s famine in the land, not just an ordinary famine, but the Bible says “the famine was severe in the land”… and Abram has to leave. Not only does he have to leave, but he has to go to a land that is also full of ungodliness. A land that not only is poly-theistic, but they know nothing of the God of creation. They are their own gods and their wealth and power is their highest god. Abram will have to lie about his wife because the power of the king. In this land the wealth of Abram is no comparison with the wealth of the pharaoh. A foreigner is nothing more than an animal. If they want you dead, you’re dead. A man like Abram with a stunningly gorgeous wife would be killed almost instantly to have access to her. So, to lie and say she was his sister, maybe they would allow him to live. Either way, she would belong to another very soon. But at least they would survive. Now that’s a famine!
In truth, she really was his sister. She was a half sister. Remember we said at the beginning that family is everything. They would even marry into extended family. This wasn’t unusual in those days. So, it wasn’t a terrible lie, and any one of us would have done the same thing. A minor stretch of the truth to maintain our life.
So tell me you preachers of God’s blessings. Tell me you proclaimers of God’s promises. Speak to me now about how if we just have enough faith….. Or, tell me how if I obey that God will bless. Explain to me again how God has plans of blessing for my life and will pour out rivers of wealth and goodness if I will just have enough faith or obey his commandments. Explain then to Abram while he’s pacing the floor in an Egyptian hostel, wondering the fate of his beautiful wife in the hands of the cruel pharaoh, how this God his has promised blessing upon blessing and he ended up here. God promised him a land in Cannan; He obeyed in fear. He sacrificed to God, He proclaimed the name of the LORD in the land… where is this blessing now?
Every fiber of my being wants to cry out “WHY GOD?”
At this moment, Abram’s life is a utter failure. He’s left his family when everyone knows you should never leave. He took his wife to this ‘god-forsaken’ heathen land. He still has no children, no heir. They are literally starving to death. His livestock, his wife, his servants, all without food or water. They’re driven by desperation to another land of evil and godlessness. His wife is taken from him to be used by the king for his pleasure. He’s alone, far away from home, hungry, broken, with a pocket full of empty promises.
I’m feeling grateful today as I look back through the recent years of our lives.
During the 2000s decade Amy and I built a successful business and throughly enjoyed the experiences that success brought us. We made the money we needed to raise our children, with enough of what they needed and some of what they wanted. We were able to raise them with some acreage to play, neighbors who were positive and friendly role models, and a house big enough for all their friends. Our business also took Amy and I around the country on business many times, spending countless hours and days on the road and together we built a strong and happy relationship. In addition, our relationship with the Lord was strengthened during those days. Through the years, with the help of some strong Christian friends around us we grew from struggling immature Christians to leaders and teachers.
We had it all, we really did; we had people who loved us, well rounded kids, and a home to be proud of. God blessed us richly and I’m truly grateful for all that he gave us.
Then, near the end of the decade, through prayers and determination to know God more intimately, through a life of trust and faith, our business failed. We lost our multi-million dollar business, we lost our huge home in the country, and we lost our leadership in our church, and we lost our identity; we even lost many friends.
Yet, today, as I sit here and contemplate the past year, I realize we have more than we ever had. During the terribly bumpy year of 2013 we were forced to quickly move into our unfinished bus and move to a place we didn’t want to be. Our small house in town sold quickly and we drove south in the fall of 2013 to build our bus into something livable. But 2014 brought some new blessings.
After finishing the bus in the spring we spent some wonderful weeks with new friends who simply allowed us to recover and cry on their shoulders; then we drove back north to visit old friends and family. I spent a wonderful day with my dad; late that same day he was transported to the hospital and later died. How grateful I am that I had that final day with him.
Then, Amy and I spent the summer working on the shores of Lake Huron with some friends God knew we needed. We were near to old friends and family, yet building our new life on our own. It wasn’t always smooth, but growing pains never are. Amy struggled more during that summer with some of her own medical and emotional issues, but what better place for God to send us for “surgery of the heart” than the Straits of Mackinaw. That fall we left for Minot, North Dakota, before it got too cold, to spend a week with our son and his fiancée along with our prepackaged grandson, Connor. What a blessing to just rest and catch up with our son and meet the girl he plans to love for a lifetime just like I have with the girl God gave me. After that week, we traveled south to Kansas to work a couple months for the online giant Amazon. Then we left for Florida, to once again, meet up with friends and make new friends.
Today, as I write this, we’re spending almost two weeks in Vermont with our grandson, Benjamin (ya, and our daughter and son-in-law too). We’re enjoying the beauty of the mountains and the fresh white snowfall. What a breathtaking place.
So, what prompts these words? I realize there was a time in life, a good time, that I worked hard every day. I worked, thought, dreamed, and even slept about our business. The business is what drove our ability to provide financially for our children and many others. However in contrast, now we work a couple months here and a few weeks there and in between, we spend time with friends and family. How many people can work a job, then spend a week or two, or more with their children or friends? How are we so blessed to be here in Vermont with our kids for a couple weeks without worrying about getting back to work?
Yes, we have to work, we’re not retired or rich, we don’t have a huge bank account taking up the slack. We have something better. We have a God who holds all things in His hands and provides everything. Is it possible all our loss was from the hands of a loving and just God? Is it possible that our failure was, not simply allowed by God, but purposed for our good? Is it possible that this God of love that we adore and worship could be in the business of taking away the unnecessary things of this world to give us the greater joy? Is it possible that a prayer to know Him more intimately, by learning to trust Him more, would result in loosing our wealth, our home, and our reputation, only to give us a new kind of wealth?
I’m grateful that I get to spend every day, 24/7, with my wife that I chose to live beside me for as long as we live. I’m grateful that we get to spend weeks at a time with our children, and now grandchildren. I’m grateful that we get to travel the country together in our home on wheels. I’m grateful for friends that have stood beside us while God stripped us little by little while we waited, confused, and hurt. I’m grateful that God allowed us to build new relationships and find new friends that we never would have enjoyed without God’s intervention in our world.
Is it possible, that even when everything falls apart that God is actually giving us our hearts desires? Is it possible that he forms our heart’s desires and not just gives us what we think we want? Is it possible that there is unimaginable blessing in loss? Is it possible that the gift of trust can hurt, but be the greatest blessing available to any man while living on this earth? is it possible that God is the master of the impossible? Is it possible that there is blessing in loss?