A Bloody Mess

Genesis 15 depicts a bloody mess.

And it is a mess with multiple levels:

Abram, told that he is destined to be the father of nations, is beginning to stress that his servant looks like his only heir.  God repeats the promised of countless-as-stars descendants, but it is hard to embrace such words when an infant has never been held.

Abrahamic-Covenant-890x713God responded to Abram’s confirmation-seeking by instructing him to bring some animals. Together, they would enter a covenant ceremony. Abram set the stage by halving the animals (heifer, goat, ram, and birds). The slaughter pushed Abram into scarecrow duty, shooing off the vultures until dusk.

So there is the bloody mess: A man old enough to be a grandfather is beating buzzards off of chopped corpses, awaiting a sign from a God who appears unwilling or unable to deliver on His promises. Abram should have known better than to believe such foolishness. Who would possibly observe him arm-flapping and bird-shooing, and identify him as the father of great nation, innumerably populated as it pumped blessing into the whole world?

And now night was coming. Just great.

Genesis 15:12Scripture describes that a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12), and then from within the blackness, God delivered yet another shot. These promised descendants–the ones of whom not one yet existed–would travel a 400-year-stretch of slavery before even resembling a nation.

Did Abram envy those who knew not the darkness that came with God’s glorious promises? How much simpler it must have seemed to just live “one’s own life”, untouched by preposterous promises that raised ridiculous hopes!  A “dreadful and great darkness” indeed.

And that is when it happened.

“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram…” (Gen 15:17-18)

Yahweh went on to declare the specific land that He would provide for Abraham’s descendents. He was not backing down on His promise; in fact, He was firming up the details.

And then, most dramatically, He was binding Himself to Abram. In the vivid imagery of that day’s covenant-cutting, God tweaks just one detail. Just as “blood brothers” might cut themselves and shake hand to display their sealed partnership, the halved animals created a corridor through which two partners would walk. Their shared strides through the butchered beasts spoke a solemn tone of commitment: “I will come through on my part of this agreement, lest such violence befall me.”

God’s revision to the common ceremony?

He walked alone.

firebowlIn the form of a smoking pot and flaming torch, Yahweh covenanted Himself to Abram.

This future of promised descendants with a promised destination–it hung on God alone.  God was deadly serious about delivering on His word. His faithfulness was woven into His very existence–He would fulfill His vow. And it would not hinge on Abram’s faded verility or Sarai’s infertility.

God’s promised reality would hang, every ounce of it, upon His provision and power.

Abram’s role was to trust and obey.

And every believer, one of the stars in Abram’s sky, is today called to a similar dance of faith. We are called into lives of fruitfulness, influence, and blessing vastly beyond our means.

Sometimes, that will feel like a bloody mess.

All times, our role will be like Abram’s–to trust the Flaming One and to walk obediently as He reveals Himself to us.

YOUR TURN: What has God taught you about trusting Him? Are you struggling to trust today? Ever had an experience in which you just “knew” that He would come through? Your input makes this post better!

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When Your Doing is Your Undoing

This beloved portion of Scripture was part of this morning’s reading (1 Peter 1:3-4) :

3 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, 4 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.

Many will tune out after the first major phrase: God gives us all we need.  Within itself, that is a wonderful truth, capable of fostering trust in God as the kind and capable Provider of all, to all.

However, Peter’s line of teaching goes a fair bit further.

Not only is God committed to providing life’s needs.  He is committed to making provision for each of us to journey into godliness, the state of God-likeness for which every human being has been designed.  To approach God is to open the door for Him to give you what you need for an existence of “glory and excellence”, even before we have any aspirations or desires for such a life.

The heavyweight phrase in this passage is undoubtedly “partakers of the divine nature”.  One could muse endlessly over the implications of such a five-word package.  But at least two points are clear:

  1. God has made outrageous promises that He intends to keep.
  2. These promises center upon delivering people into this form of existence: Partakers of the divine nature.

Then, in a clarifying statement, Peter expresses that one mark of this type of life is an escape from the corruption caused by sinful desires.  This corruption is in our world because it is in our hearts, and it is God’s intention on neither public nor private scales.  The one who knows anything about God will know this, and the one who values anything about God will make every move they can think of, in that direction.  This is where Peter’s list (faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love) finds its spot within the text: Pursue these qualities in your quest to experience both freedom and fruitfulness in Jesus Christ.

Efforts aside (and there are many to make), this escape from the dark and distorting desires of our hearts unfolds only as we:

  1. Embrace the promises of God (most call this “faith”).
  2. Seek to partake in the divine nature.

This second line matters greatly, as it speaks to the motivation behind every move we make.  Minus this motivation, we fall back into lesser motivations that actually undercut the transformation process:

  • Satisfaction in self, based upon some unwritten scoring system.
  • Reputation based on others’ perceptions of us or on inner illusions of ourselves.

Both of these can motivate us, but neither of them have anything to do with being freed from tainted desires.  In truth, both of them actually feed the corrupt (ie: Self-centered) tendencies that so easily sabotage our escape route into the God-designed life of “glory and excellence”.

“Make every effort”, to be sure.  But make them with measured focus, or our doing will actually be our undoing.