‘He bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar.’ Genesis 22:9 NKJV
Abraham considered Isaac to be a special gift from God. But God-given gifts are wonderful things—and dangerous things. Why do we say that? Because as you cultivate the gifts God has given you, you can begin to rely on them more than you rely on God. And at that point, your greatest strength becomes your greatest weakness.
It was God who gave Lucifer a beautiful form and a beautiful voice. Those gifts were originally used to glorify God. Then Lucifer started looking in the mirror, started reflecting on his own beauty. He glorified the gift he had been given instead of glorifying God. The lesson in Lucifer’s fall is this: whatever you don’t turn into praise turns into pride. And that’s a problem, because ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ (James 4:6 NKJV) Instead of deflecting praise to God, Lucifer let it feed his ego. It was his sinful desire to be lifted up that led to Lucifer’s downfall. What are your greatest God-given gifts? What are your most significant God-ordained opportunities? What God-sized dreams has the Holy Spirit conceived in your spirit? That’s your ‘Isaac’. And you should love your Isaac and celebrate him, but he must never be permitted to take the place of God in your life. Sometimes God-ordained dreams aren’t just born, they have to be reborn. If they become more important to you than God, you have to sacrifice them for the sake of your soul. You have to put them on the altar and raise the knife. Sometimes your dream must die before it can be resurrected for God’s glory.
‘God tested Abraham.’ Genesis 22:1 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘God tested Abraham, and said…“Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham…went to the place of which God had told him.’ (Genesis 22:1–3 NKJV) You say, ‘Why would God test me?’ First, to prove Himself faithful to you. Second, to give you an opportunity to prove yourself faithful to Him. Your tests are God’s proving grounds. They’re the way you graduate to the next level in His Kingdom. That day Abraham proved there was nothing he loved more than God. And that was the day when God introduced Himself to Abraham as ‘Jehovah Jireh’, the Lord who provides. It’s when you exercise your faith that you discover God’s faithfulness. That’s why God will test your faith. The tests get progressively harder as the stakes get higher. And the tests will undoubtedly revolve around what’s most important to you. What do you find your identity in? What do you find your security in? That’s your ‘Isaac’. God will test you to make sure your identity and your security are found in Him alone. Indeed, He will go after anything you trust in more than you trust Him until you put it on the altar. Don’t worry; you don’t have to live in fear that God is going to take away what is most important to you. But if the gift ever becomes more important to you than the Giver, then the very thing God gave you to serve His purposes is undermining His plan for your life. And that’s why God will deal with it.
SoulFood: Deut 32:29–34:12, Mk 9:1–13, Ps 62, Prov 12:18–19
‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ Luke 23:18 NIV
The Bible says: ‘With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)’ (Luke 23:18–19 NIV) And just like Barabbas, we deserve to die for our sins. Four prison walls, thickened with fear, hurt, and hate, surround us. We’re incarcerated by our past, our low-road choices, and our high-minded pride. We’ve been found guilty. We sit on the floor of a dusty cell awaiting the final moment. Our executioner’s footsteps echo against stone walls. Head between knees, we don’t look up as he opens the door; we don’t lift our eyes as he begins to speak. We know what he’s going to say: ‘Time to pay for your sins.’ But then you hear something else: ‘You’re free to go. They took Jesus instead of you.’ The door swings open, the guard barks, ‘Get out!’ and we find ourselves in the light of the morning sun, shackles gone, crimes pardoned, wondering, ‘What just happened?’
Grace happened! Christ took away your sins. All of them. Where did He take them? To the top of a hill called Calvary. ‘God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He did this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us.’(Romans 3:24–25 NLT)
Jesus loves and forgives you, and He has a wonderful plan for your life. So come to Him today.
‘Andrew… first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.”’ John 1:40–41 NKJV
In the early days of his ministry, Billy Graham wanted to mobilise local Christians to bring their unsaved friends and relatives to his evangelistic meetings. So the Graham team devised ‘Operation Andrew’, a simple plan whereby church members listed the names of their unsaved friends, began praying for them, and invited them to Billy Graham’s crusades to hear the Gospel. Why the name ‘Operation Andrew’? Because each time we see Andrew in John’s gospel, he’s bringing someone to Christ. First he brought his brother, Peter. Then in John chapter six he brought a lad to Jesus who had five loaves and two fish. And in John chapter twelve he led a group of Greeks to Christ. And you can do the same.
Years ago a new Christian, twenty-four-year-old Albert McMakin, loaded his ute with friends and drove them every night to an evangelistic campaign in his city. Now, the chances are that you’ve never heard McMakin’s name before. But you’re probably familiar with one of his passengers in his ute, a young man who was converted to Christ that same week—Billy Graham. Andrew brought his brother Peter to Christ, and Peter ended up bringing multitudes to Christ. You just never know! The person you share your faith with today, or bring to church next Sunday, may be used by God to do things you never dreamed possible. And if you’ll do your part—God will do the rest.
‘And a book of remembrance was written.’ Malachi 3:16 KJV
Is it possible that when we get to Heaven there’ll be a ‘Mothers’ Honour Roll’, listing the names of all the faithful mothers who prayed day and night on behalf of their children and grandchildren? Maybe, but this much we do know: God honours mothers who honour God! He responded to the prayers of Hannah and gave her a son who grew up to be a prophet and lead the nation of Israel. And Paul writes concerning Timothy: ‘I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.’ (2 Timothy 1:5 NKJV) The Bible tells us God keeps records: ‘Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.’ John writes: ‘I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.’ (Revelation 20:12 KJV) Susanna Wesley had nineteen children (nine died as infants), and she spent an hour every day praying for each one by name. Her prayers paid off. One of her sons, John, brought a spiritual awakening to Britain and founded the Methodist Church. Maybe there will be an honour roll for mothers in heaven, and maybe not. But one thing is sure—when mothers pray, God listens and lives are changed. So never stop praying for your kids, Mum.
SoulFood: Gal 5:22, Lk 19:11–26, Ps 36:5–9, Heb 10:19–23
‘Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.’ Philippians 3:13 NKJV
Whatever your past may have been, God has a better future in mind for you. But before you can ‘reach’ for it, you must forgive the people who’ve hurt you, forgive yourself, and let it go. When you do that, you’ll likely experience a wide range of emotions. You may feel anger, thinking life’s unfair and it wasn’t what you wanted. You always envisioned a husband or wife who’d be there to take care of you. You never expected to have to take responsibility for life on your own. You may feel fearful, afraid you won’t be able to do it—and that if you fail you’ll only have yourself to blame. You may feel annoyed that now you have to consider your life in a different light, from a different perspective. You may even feel sad over the way you’ve blamed others in the past, knowing deep down inside that your life wasn’t proceeding the way you wanted because of your own choices and decisions. You may feel ashamed of your past mistakes, unsure if you really can take personal responsibility and move forward. Whatever emotion comes up, good or bad, know that it’s normal when you’re making a significant life change. And however you feel, don’t judge yourself! Acknowledge what you’re feeling; ask yourself if your thoughts are rational or if they’re just old fears talking to you. Then stick to your commitment to stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own life. The word for you today is: Forget those things of the past and reach forward to the things that are ahead.
‘The woman said, “The serpent deceived me.”’ Genesis 3:13 NKJV
Adam told God, ‘Eve made me do it.’ And Eve told God, ‘The devil made me do it.’ Excuse-making and blame-placing are built into our DNA, and until you get beyond them you’ll never make progress or find real happiness. Here’s a statement worth stopping to think about: we are the people we’ve been waiting for—no one else is coming!
If you’re willing to accept responsibility for your life, you’ll discover that no matter what other people do or don’t do, to or for you, you’re accountable to yourself. You decide how to respond. You decide to continue to move towards your dreams—or not. The truth is that Prince Charming isn’t waiting for you around the next corner. Your ship isn’t coming in. The tide isn’t about to turn. The odds are against your winning the lottery in this lifetime. So what are you going to do? When you’ve been hurt by someone else’s actions, you can do one of two things:
(1) Sit like a leper, and die at the gate of blame and complaint (see 2 Kings 7:3).
(2) Emerge with a strategy that enables you to say, ‘I’m too valuable to die, too tenacious to wait on anyone’s mercy, and too creative to accept yourneglect as my destiny.’ Only when you’re willing to stop blaming yourself and others, and take responsibility for your life and your situation, will God empower you to change things. This approach puts the thermostat within your reach and control. Instead of freezing to death or sweating in discomfort, you can set the temperature for your life and change the terms for your future.
‘Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one.’ Romans 8:33 NCV
Paul writes: ‘Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but He was also raised from the dead, and now He is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us.’(Romans 8:33–34 NCV) The accusations of Satan splutter and fall like a deflated balloon. Then why, pray tell, do we still hear them? Why do we, as Christians, still feel guilt? Not all guilt is bad. God uses appropriate doses of guilt to awaken us to sin. We know guilt is God-given when it causes ‘indignation… alarm… longing… concern… readiness to see justice done.’ (2 Corinthians 7:11 NIV) God’s guilt brings enough regret to change us. Satan’s guilt, on the other hand, brings enough regret to enslave us. Don’t let him lock his shackles on you! Remember: ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God.’(Colossians 3:3 KJV) When God looks at you, He sees Jesus first. In the Chinese language the word for righteousness is a combination of two characters: the figure of a lamb and a person. The lamb is on top, covering the person. Whenever God looks down at you, this is what He sees: the perfect Lamb of God covering you. Only once in Scripture is it recorded that Jesus wrote something. And He wrote it on the ground, saying to an accused sinner He’d just forgiven, ‘You are free from condemnation. Go, and sin no more.’ (See John 8:10–11) So the word for you today is: trust your advocate, and not your accuser!
‘The man said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’ Genesis 3:12 NIV
The story of Adam and Eve’s failure teaches us two important lessons about God:
(1) He won’t accept your excuses.
(2) He won’t let you blame other people.
He insists that you take responsibility for yourself. And until you do, He can’t bless you like He desires. That means you must make a choice to stop living in the dustbin of past mistakes—your own, and other people’s. You must focus on where you’re going and what you’d like to see happen, rather than having your eyes glued to the rear-view mirror, looking back at what was done and who did it.
It’s time to take back your power! How?
(a) Declare ‘time-out’ when it comes to blaming.
(b) Define what success would look like for you and specify what you want to see happen.
(c) Delegate ‘who’ll do what’ in order to make it happen, and reward the people who help you towards a brighter future.
(d) Realise that deliverable goals are goals that are attainable.
Relationships in trouble desperately need good news, so develop some achievable goals that give everyone something to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate goals that’ll win the war, but small successes that indicate you’re winning some battles. This game plan gives power back to the individual who needs to see progress. It distracts you from blame-fixing and gives you guidelines for what’s productive. It takes the power away from dwelling in the past, where none of us has the ability to undo what was done no matter who is to blame. And it’s a constructive effort, as opposed to one that’s destructive.
‘The tongue also is a fire.’ James 3:6 NIV
On a windy day in March 1997, a father and son visited Valley Forge National Historic Park, where George Washington stationed the Revolutionary Army during the difficult winter of 1777–1778. The man and his son had something much less historic in mind: they wanted to launch a model rocket. At first they tried using electric ignition wires to light the fuse, but to no avail. So they tried lighting the fuse with a common sparkler, the kind frequently seen at annual holiday celebrations. That’s when trouble began. Sparks ignited a grass fire and the winds quickly spread the blaze, burning a field where Revolutionary War soldiers had trained, and coming within a few hundred metres of George Washington’s headquarters. The value of what they put at risk was incalculable. It took thirty units from twelve fire departments over an hour to bring the blaze under control. In the end some thirty acres were charred, and the man with the sparkler was charged with destruction of government property and improper use of fireworks.
The Bible says, ‘Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.’(James 3:5–6 NIV)
‘Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.’(Psalm 141:3 NKJV)
‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil.’ (1 Peter 3:10 NKJV)
‘The lips of the godly speak helpful words.’ (Proverbs 10:32 NLT)
So make sure your words help, not hurt; build up, not tear down. In other words, be careful what you say!