Look UP!

Psalm 121:1-2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

121 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+121%3A1-2&version=RSV
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Genesis 22:10-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”
Abraham said, “I’m here.”
12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22%3A10-14&version=CEB
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Where to we look when we’re in trouble or need answers? I worked for many years in libraries– we “looked up” all kinds of answers for people. We looked in dictionaries, thumbed through heavy reference books, and scrolled through many websites. But even though we called it “looking up”, we spent most of our time looking down!

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Many people spend hours looking down at phone screens all day, or looking ahead as they drive down the road. Very few of us spend time looking up to see the clouds, the sunset, the towering buildings or trees on the horizon. And we spend too little time “looking up” to see how God is working in, around, or through our circumstances.

Abraham set off with his son, Isaac, to make a sacrifice. He had made provisions– he brought enough food for three days’ journey (and three days back!). He brought wood, and even fire. But God had asked him to “offer” Isaac as a sacrifice, so he took no ram–but he brought a knife. God’s instructions were ambiguous–He did not tell Abraham that he must kill his son, Isaac, only that he was to take him up the mountain and “offer” him.

The writer of the book of Hebrews references this event:

Hebrews 11:17-19 New International Version (NIV)
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[a] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Footnotes:
Hebrews 11:18 Gen. 21:12

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+11%3A17-19&version=NIV
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Abraham had looked up at the mountain; he had “looked up” how many provisions to take along; but at the crucial moment, when he looked up, he finally saw God’s provision. It was never God’s intention that Abraham actually kill his beloved son. It was God’s intention that Abraham (and Isaac) listen and act in faith. And so they did. The ram was already there– waiting for Abraham to look up!

Later, when the Israelites (Abraham’s descendents!) were wandering in the wilderness, they were faced with many trials. God sent pillars of cloud and fire to lead the people as they “looked up” and followed them. When snakes came into the camp, God had Moses make a pole with a brass snake at the top. Anyone suffering from a snake bite could “look up” at the pole and be cured. Jesus referred to this story as an illustration of us own crucifixion–saying that in just the same way, he would be “lifted up.” Those who “look up” in faith to the crucified and resurrected Jesus can be cured of their sin, and given new life! https://www.christianity.com/jesus/is-jesus-god/old-testament-prophecies/jesus-is-like-the-bronze-serpent-moses-lifted-up.html

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Let’s “look up” today in faith, knowing that God sees our circumstances; knowing that as we act in obedience, God will provide our every need.

How Firm a Foundation

  1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
    What more can He say than to you He hath said—
    To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
  2. “Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
    For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
    Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
  3. “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
    For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
  4. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
  5. “The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
    I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
    That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
    I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

“How can you believe in a God who lets bad things happen?”
We live in perilous times; dangerous times.  Right now, fires are sweeping through the western United States.  Earlier this year, the world was shaken by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and typhoons–all natural disasters–as well as gang violence, mass shootings, and political unrest.  Often, it seems as if God is absent or powerless–sitting on the sidelines and letting bad things happen.  Those of us who claim faith in an omnipotent, loving, and gracious God are mocked and challenged.  How can we believe in the face of such evil and injustice?  How can we offer the empty comfort of prayers and assurances?

fire fighter wearing black and yellow uniform pointing for something
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It can be very difficult to face such challenges– there are no easy answers and “mic-drop” moments for us in this world.  But that doesn’t mean that there are no answers or that our faith is “blind” or without merit.

The Bible is filled with examples of people who followed God in extraordinary circumstances, often in the face of great evil and with little logical expectation of God’s blessing or help.  Abraham traded a wealthy, safe, and honorable life in his native land to live as a stranger and a nomad among foreigners.  Even after God seemed to fulfill the promise of a son, he tested Abraham’s faith, asking him to sacrifice his only son Read the complete story here...  Many people see this story as a horrific example of injustice and cruelty– and if Abraham had been required to go through with the sacrifice, it might seem even more unjust and cruel.  However, there are two points to consider:

  1. God clearly planned to rescue Isaac–there was a ram in the thicket all ready and waiting.  Abraham may not have known God’s purpose in asking such a thing, but he had faith that “God will provide for himself the lamb…”  God may have been “testing” Abraham, but he already knew the outcome.  The “test” was not for God–perhaps not even for Abraham–the test was for Isaac and all who would follow and experience the blessings that came through this amazing act of faith.
  2. The story of Abraham, like so many others, is given to illustrate difficult truths– sometimes about God’s character, or OUR character, or the nature and consequences of Sin.  These stories also often form patterns of allegory, foreshadowing, or illustrations of key principles and events.  Abraham was told to sacrifice his only and very beloved son– a horrible prospect for any father.  But God provided a substitute sacrifice– a lamb– allowing Isaac to live and become the father of many nations.  God’s plan for the salvation of the world was built on the same pattern.  God sent his only and very beloved “son” to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all mankind– a horrible prospect for a loving Heavenly Father.  And this time, the son willingly gave His life to become the fulfillment of the promise acted out in Abraham’s story.

shallow focus photography of sheep
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And, of course, there are hundreds of other stories– throughout the Bible, and throughout history– that demonstrate the blessings that come through radical and even tiny acts of faith in God.

Hebrews, chapter 11 lists several examples.  And a key verse in the chapter points out:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 KJV)

These great examples of faith died without seeing the end results..but the end results are there for US to see!  Faith in humanity– faith in Science– faith in ourselves– these are doomed to end in disappointment.  Not because we don’t believe enough; not because these things are “bad”– but because faith needs an unshakeable, immovable, solid, and eternal foundation.  Our faith in Christ is not a blind faith, an empty faith, or a desperate faith– it is a Faith that is firmly rooted in history, in observable facts, and in revealed truth.  And even in the fiercest storms, the worst of disasters, and the overwhelming flood of hatred and evil in the world, our faith stands firm and sure– not because it is our faith, but because it is built on Him who is before and above all things–yesterday, today, and forevermore.

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