What Do You See–What is Your Vision?

1After 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.” 2But 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?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4Then 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.” 5He 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.” 6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-6).

One of the most stunning sights that I can remember happened one night while I was working as a commercial fisherman on the East Coast of England on my father’s fishing boat. At the time, I was working the boat all alone during the night. Way past midnight, more than 8 miles from land, I set the boat to automatic pilot and turned off all the lights on deck. Then I went out on deck, laid down flat on my back on one of the unused nets and looked up at the stars. Have you ever been away from civilization where there are no lights and looked at the stars on a clear night? It is one of the most stunning sights of this world. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that night, and no artificial lights to hinder the view. I sensed that the Lord was telling me that there was more to my life than spending most of my waking hours working in solitude away from others on my father’s fishing boat. That moment is one that I will always remember, and the sight of that night sky will always stick with me. It was a moment when I became convinced that the future held something different for me, and that God would teach me a different kind of fishing.

Instead of using a net, I would learn to use the Word of God. Instead of catching fish, I would learn to fish for men; a call that Jesus had made to His early disciples. I felt that I just had to be faithful to learn from Him and do what was at my right hand to do in the meantime (Ecclesiastes 9:10). This was the vision that God gave Abram. He told him to go outside of his tent and look up at the stars. Count the stars, if indeed you can count them—so shall your offspring be. A vision that he could hold in his mind; a vision that would enable him to persevere in his faith through many challenges. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. At that point in the account of his life, his name was still Abram, which means exalted father, but God would give him a name change to reflect the vision that he held in his heart from that day. He would be called Abraham—Father of a multitude. What vision do you hold in your heart? Does this vision shape your daily actions? Are you working towards fulfilling it? If you have no vision as to your future, God wants to plant one in your heart. Life is not about living for this world, but for the next. May a vision of how God wants to use you begin to take hold of your life and propel you to be closer to God.

Keith Thomas

Trusting in One’s Own Resources

10Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:10-13).

To the spiritual man, Egypt is a picture of one leaning on the arm of flesh rather than the power of God. Egypt was watered not by the rain or dew, but by the pumping up of the water with the foot pump. The River Nile was the source of water for the Egyptians, but to get the water to the fields required man to pump it up with their feet. God spoke of the land of Israel, that it was different from Egypt: The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden (Deuteronomy 11:10). In talking about Abraham’s faith, we must remember that God never spoke for him to go down to Egypt. When things were getting difficult from lack of rain, Abram was just like us; we often resort to the arm of flesh rather than take the time to seek God for His guidance. We are moved by fear—the “what if” syndrome. Israel has had a history of turning to Egypt for help instead of going to God:

2who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. 3But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace (Isaiah 30:2-3).

What fear rears its head before you today? For Abram to go down to Egypt there was a fear of death for Sarai’s sake. He had seen the looks that men had given to Sarai when they thought that Abram wasn’t looking. Perhaps he felt insecure in this new culture of Egypt. Insecurity will breed actions whereby a man will trust in his own resources rather than the provision of God.

Abram makes a deal with Sarai to call him her brother (v. 12). Actually, Abram is Sarai’s half-brother, so it is a deception that is conceived. Since Sarai’s father is no longer around, any suitors to obtain the hand of Sarai’s in marriage would have to negotiate with Abram, her brother. The common custom of the day was for the brother to assume legal guardianship in arranging marriage on Sarai’s behalf. This would give them time to slip away before Sarai would actually have to become anyone’s wife. Abram’s deception and mistakes should encourage us greatly, because we see that even those who have great faith can slip up occasionally, and the Bible never glosses over sins of the flesh by the Lord’s heroes. We see Abram not only going to Egypt, but also deceiving the people there for his self-protection. What promise should Abram have rested on? God had given him the promise that he would become a great nation—without his wife this could not happen. The promises of God often require us to hold on in faith and persevere over difficulties.

Perhaps Abram did not realize that Pharaoh would pursue Sarai. How it happened we do not know, but the text tells us that she was taken into Pharaoh’s household. Now what, Abram? How are you going to get out of this mess? We don’t find any complaint from Abram at Sarai being taken into Pharaoh’s court, but God steps in and afflicts Pharaoh’s household with serious diseases. Somehow the secret is out and Abram is severely scolded and shamed for his faithless act. How embarrassed he must have felt as he was told to leave with his head held low.

This is a reminder of the fact that even when we fail to act in faith, God has a plan. There is never a dead end when we submit our life to the Lord. He will always provide a way for us to respond and act in faith. If you have made mistakes in your life and feel that you have lost your way or made a wrong turn in your life, it is important for you to know that God is not finished with your story! The thing you need to do now is submit your way to the Lord and ask Him to give you the next step on your journey. Are you ready to trust Him?

Keith Thomas

Step by Step Vision

We are continuing to think on the life and call of Abraham. When God originally spoke of the step of faith that He was requiring of Abram, He gave large brush strokes on the canvas of the vision. The initial call in Ur of the Chaldeans was to get up and leave the area that is now in South East Iraq. They travelled northwest following the Euphrates river until they came to Harran, a city in Northwest Mesopotamia, now Iraq. The distance to Haran was about 2000 miles. We don’t know how long they stopped in Haran but this was where Abram’s father Terah, died. Abram was seventy-five years old when God spoke to him to leave Harran and go the 800 miles further to the land He would show him. Imagine being seventy-five years old and God speaking to you to leave the comfort of Haran to go to Canaan. Most of us just want the comforts of home at that age.

It is natural for us to want to know the details of the vision before we take the first step, but that is not the way God leads. If God would show you the end at the beginning, you may not be ready for it, or it may scare you, causing you to drift along the path rather than being propelled by faith. God gives us just enough vision to propel us forward. A boat can never be steered when it is drifting. It is only as it is going through the water that it can be easily steered by a small rudder. Begin to step out in faith and allow God to operate the steering mechanism of your life. Remember Psalm 119:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).

Where does the Lord shine His light? He shines the light of revelation, His Word, on where the next step is, at the feet. We don’t see far ahead, just the next step. You just have to trust Him for the next step.

Only when Abram arrives in Canaan does God give more specifics concerning the future (Genesis 12:7), specifically that to his offspring God would give the land that Abram was walking on. He was told that God would make a great nation from his seed and that He would bless him and make his name great, and that those who bless him and his descendants, will be blessed in return. We are also told that those who curse his descendants will themselves be cursed of God. We should be careful about our attitude towards the Jewish people for the Lord says that He, “has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8). We might not agree with all the policies of the government of Israel, but the people of Israel and the seed of Abraham are precious to God. His Word is eternal, and He still stands by it. We are called to bless those whom God is blessing and the faith of Abraham is what we Gentiles have been rooted into: do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:18).

Can you look back and see that God has grown your faith step by step? I’ll bet that there are things you are doing now which you never dreamed of doing in your younger years.

Keith Thomas

“He Did Not Know Where He Was Going”

1The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2“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 (Genesis 12:1-2).

 We often don’t stop to think of what it cost Abram to leave Mesopotamia. Of course, we know the whole story from beginning to end about how God led him, and made a great nation of his family. We can follow his story of how God took him step by step and honored the promises He made to Abram. Abram however, had to walk this story out step by step, without the advantage of knowing the end result! When you are living the story, it is different. Abram did not have the advantage of knowing what the end would be when he was called to take the first step.

8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

He was embarking on this journey, leaving behind all he knew, for the unknown. He was called to leave his country, his relatives, his father’s house and with it, the inheritance that he would have gained from staying. One would worry about the language barrier that may await him in unfamiliar territory, and what about provisions for a journey without a definite time period? Would he have enough money for a trip of this magnitude? What if he encountered thieves and was robbed on the way? It is important to understand that God was asking Abram to take a risk. This was a journey of faith. Faith is spelled R.I.S.K.  It is still the same today. Faith is never a comfortable “walk in the park.”

Think of what the move was like for Sarai, his wife, to leave all the security of family and friends, and to live in a tent. The scriptures tell us that when Abram and Sarai left, they did not know where they were going! How do you think Abram broke the news to Sarai? Somehow, he had to explain to her that he had heard from God and that they were to uproot from their city, which they called home and go live in a tent in a different land. Don’t you think she asked him where they were going? At that point, Abram could not even tell her where they were headed! We do not know if Sarai had any resistance to the move. If she wanted to know all the practicalities, and I am sure she did, the obvious impracticality of a move was not a barrier to her. They were simply to uproot themselves and get on the road. God would lead them only as they acted in faith on what He had told them up to that point.

We are told in the passage above, Hebrews 11:8-10, that what motivated him was a vision of eternal things—the eternal city and God’s reward. Have you ever had to make a significant change in your life’s path? Was there a cost and a reward to it? What battles did you have in your mind when you took that step? Sometimes God will require you to step out in faith, not knowing the end result or even where the journey will take you. Is that a word for you today?

Keith Thomas

This Man Welcomes Sinners

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were mouthing these words was with much venom and disgust. They muttered together about him. The Greek word diagongyzō is used, a stronger word than the simple Greek word gongyzō, which is used more often in scripture, and it meant to complain or grumble (aloud). They were voicing their disdain so much that those that He was seeking could hear them.  I’m sure Christ’s heart went out to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ that he was seeking to reach, that they might know God’s heart towards them is one of love and mercy extended.

The Jews saw tax collectors as being turncoats. They were making money hand over fist working for the Romans in taxing their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were sometimes ranked with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), being thought of as the lowest of the low. The religious elite uses the word ‘Sinners’ to describe those who were held in bondage to a sinful lifestyle. The Greek word translated is harmartolos. It speaks of one not careful at all about the observance of ceremonial duties, an irreligious person. The term was used of either an immoral person or a person whose occupation was not ceremonially clean.

There were many of the population that had given up on trying to keep all the rules and regulations that the Oral Law, the traditions of the elders, had imposed on the general populous. It is the same today in many countries—it is just different religions these days. The rules were so numerous and nonsensical that it became a heavy burden to the people. Many felt alienated and far away from God. When Jesus came preaching about God’s love for lost and unloved sinners, they were drawn to Him like flies to rotting fish. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but his personality was and is attractive, He is altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16). When those who were caught in their sin looked at the Scribes and Pharisees, their scowls showed no godliness or grace at all. There was no accepting attitude. They did not see God’s love in the religious leaders. People know when they are loved. When they looked at Christ, He had an inviting heart and welcomed sinners eagerly. The orthodox Jews had written off the tax collectors and sinners as worthy of the fires of hell, but God is gracious and extends kindness to men. He takes the initiative in seeking those that are alienated from Him.

But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him (2 Samuel 14:14).

What a beautiful truth the above passage communicates. The creator of the Universe has devised ways of reaching out to each of us.  I believe that God has arranged situations in your life and mine so that through the painful trials we undergo, God reveals Himself to us. The trials you are experiencing are used by God to shake you out of spiritual lethargy, forcing you to wake up to the reality of a God who is seeking to draw you closer to Himself. How far will you go before you turn to the One who welcomes sinners?

Keith Thomas