Not drowning, doubting… (4)

“God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”

Genesis 21:6

Homework dog

I laughed ’til I cried; well, at least until my eyes watered; I laughed out loud;
I shook while I laughed and then I laughed at me laughing…I guess there is just no telling what will do it. Laughter comes when it comes, even at the most inappropriate times; hilarious, cynical, sarcastic; from gentle chuckles to heart-thumping, eye-watering,never-ending fits.

But to laugh at God?

Of all the lessons we may learn from the life of Abraham and Sarah, about faith and doubt, about the consequences of taking matters into our own hands, of searching for our own solutions to whatever ails us instead of trusting God’s promises, their experience of  laughter speaks to me.

I have tried to remember my reaction the first time I read their story in any serious way; was I embarrassed? I felt such sympathy for this couple whose laughter got the better of them at such an important time in their lives.Was I afraid for them? What would God say; what he would do?

Now, I just think it’s kind of wonderful that God chose to share the moment with us.
(I was tempted to say, ‘share the joke’ but that might be a step too far, do you think?)

Isaac laughsAbraham laughed at God’s promise; Sarah laughed and tried to deny it, as if that was possible. But God pretty much overlooked their laughter (their doubt); he kept his promise and when the great day came and the dazed couple held their promise in their arms and named him Isaac (he laughs) I don’t doubt for a moment that they laughed, probably ’til they cried, or that God and all of heaven, possibly, laughed with them.

God takes our doubts seriously and so must we, but, in repenting from them, we remember Abraham and Sarah who laughed at God and still found him faithful.

‘As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.’ Psalm 103:13-14

 

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Not drowning, doubting… (3)

Abraham starsConsider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Abraham’s faith was tested by delay.
Well, it seemed like delay to Abraham.

 
Maybe God was testing his initiative?

Is there famine in the land? It’s not far to Egypt.
Is Pharaoh a threat? Where’s Sarah?
Is fatherhood just a figure of speech? Hmmm…

 No, that’s not it….

Sure, Abraham remembered God’s promise; God repeated his promise, time and again.

After Egypt, after Abraham and Lot separated, ‘for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together’ (Genesis 13) God said again to Abraham,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.’

And after Abraham rescued Lot from Chedorlaomer, refusing the king of Sodom’s reward, saying, ‘I have lifted my hand (sworn a solemn oath) to the LORD God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth…that I would not take…anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich…’ God said again, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15)

But even after such gracious assurances, doubt kept bubbling to the surface of Abraham’s dreams, nagging him to ask for instance, “O Lord God, what (reward) will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

And how did God answer Abraham’s grumbling?

Full of faithfulness, he was pleased to promise again, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”  And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1-6)

Hebrews 11 faithAbraham’s perceived delay would prove to be, eventually, no delay at all.

God’s work in our lives too, is just such a matter of time as that; our perceived delay is the wisdom of God at work in our life, timed to the minute of his promise and our need. God used Abraham’s repeated failures of faith (and repeated repentance) to lead him inevitably into the fulfillment of his promise and to complete his faith. In the same hands, all the circumstances of our life contribute to the fulfillment of his will for us; the completion of our faith.

 

Not drowning, doubting… (2)

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  C. S. Lewis


Abraham’s choices (ours too) make snapshots of faith taken at moments in time; the darker our doubts, the more shady our choices become.

Abraham and Sarah mosaic “As he was about to enter Egypt, (Abraham) said to his wife, Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say that you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
Genesis 12: 11-13

Famine, unexpected, proved trial enough for Abraham to doubt God’s promise and look, instead, towards Egypt. On his way there, faith faltered and fear took hold; ‘They will kill me.’

Isn’t it strange the way doubt so quickly assumes the certainty that belongs to faith?

“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.”  Genesis 12:2, 3

If only Abraham could see it, Pharaoh was utterly powerless to prevent God’s blessing; in the end God made Pharaoh himself an instrument of the blessing he promised.

It speaks of God’s faithfulness to his promises that Abraham’s lie, even his cowardice (or, at best, his cunning) did not divert God from his purpose to bless Abraham and through him ‘all the peoples on earth’. (It speaks of Sarah’s faithfulness too, I think)

 “This is my grateful, personal confidence,” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “‘The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me’ (Psalm 138:8) All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God. The promises of man may be broken—many of them are made to be broken—but the promises of God shall all be fulfilled. He is a promise-maker, but He never was a promise-breaker; He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of His people shall prove it to be so.”

Jesus lifting Peter
When God calls us in Christ to follow after him, we take our place, by grace through faith, in the promises God made to Abraham, we are blessed through Abraham and we receive promises of our own; promises to be believed in all the troubles of life; promises for faith to take hold of so that fear, through doubt, need have no hold on us.


‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:3, 4

 

Not drowning, doubting… (1)

shiny jars

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV


‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’(Rom 4:3) but even
Abraham’s faith casts a shadow of doubt; sometimes the shadow is bigger, sometimes smaller, but, after all, Abraham’s doubt only remains because Abraham’s faith remains, the faith of a real man, in a real world, yet living in the light of the presence of God.

Rock and Hard PlaceI hope the title, ‘not drowning, doubting’ (admittedly inspired by the band ‘not drowning, waving’) might echo Paul in 2 Corinthians, that experiences may deceive us; that when we seem to be drowning in difficulty we have only to call out to God again (and again) to discover again that he remains the sure ground of our life.


Abraham believed God; he believed in God, he believed certain things about God, but vitally he believed specific, personal promises from God.

When God came to Abraham and said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”, saying in effect, “Go, even though you don’t know all that I have in mind for you”, he found a response of trust on Abraham’s part; a trust that expressed itself not just in a nodding agreement, or in a warmth of emotion, not just in an emphatic ‘yes’, but in going.

full of fishThis is similar to Jesus’ call to a handful of 1st Century fishermen, “leave your boats and nets, and follow me’; it is similar to his call to us, 21st Century disciples, still by faith, yet still, like those others, like Abraham, prone to doubt on difficult days.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

 

 

A friend of a friend…

Friend LewisIf it is at all true that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, how much more must it be that the friend of my friend is my friend…..at least this was my experience recently when I visited Dr John Piper’s ‘Desiring God’ site to begin listening to the sessions of the recent 2013 National Conference, ‘The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S.Lewis.’

Visit that site for access to audio recordings of the conference addresses here.

As much for my own pleasure in sharing them again as for your own interest, here are two brief quotes from Lewis’s writings referred to by Dr Piper in his address, ‘C.S.Lewis, Romantic Rationalist: How His Paths to Christ Shaped His Life and Ministry.’

TolkienFirst, Dr Piper shared this from Lewis on Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’;
“A great romance is like a flower whose smell reminds you of something you can’t quite place. . . . I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me.” Walter Hooper, editor, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963, Vol. III, 371

…and then this from Lewis on the proper place of nature in relation to God;
guidance2‘You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see….this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes, and toads….The theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized. We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.’ C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947), 67-68