A Calling, A Promise, A Warning, And A Covenant

Stephen is quite the story-teller as he launches into Israel’s history in Acts 7. But he isn’t talking for entertainment; he’s making a point. And in the first eight verses, he keys in on four important aspects of Abraham’s relationship with God.

1. God called Abraham out of his old land and into a new one.
2. God promised Abraham a future through his descendants, even though Abraham probably thought he would never have any children.
3. God warned Abraham that his posterity would suffer in bondage for four hundred years, but He also promised to rescue them and to judge the nation which enslaved them.
4. God gave Abraham a covenant in the form of circumcision — a covenant that marked those who had faith. It was a symbol of God’s promise to bless those who followed Him.

A calling. A promise. A warning. And a covenant. But they aren’t only true for Abraham. God is doing the same sort of things in our lives.

1. God has called us out of our old lives and into a new one. (Colossians 3:1-17)

As unsaved sinners, we were stuck in a world of sin. That was what we knew; that was how we lived. But then God said, “Look, I have something better for you.” And He offered us a whole new world! We no longer have to be slaves to sin. Now we can find purpose and meaning in life; through Christ we can discover hope, joy, and encouragement. God wants us to put off the “old” part of us and put on the “new,” clean, pure, Christ-inspired selves that God intended and designed for each of us individually!

2. God has promised us a future. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28)

Like Abraham, we might not know exactly what that future is or precisely how it is going to come about. But God knows. He has a fantastic future in mind for us, and He has our best interests at heart. It may not seem like it at times, but those faith-testing moments are when we have to remember to implicitly trust Him. He knows what He is doing. Maybe our lives don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t see God working in our lives. But He is.

Sometimes, like Abraham and Sarah, we are faced with a sort of hopeless barrenness in our lives. We don’t see how God can bring anything good out of it.

God might surprise us with an Isaac.

We must have hope in Christ and not in ourselves. We must rely on Him and not on the circumstances of our lives. If we give our life over to Him, He is sure to use every moment for His glory. But if we cling to life, it is sure to slip through our fingers and we will be left with less than we had before.

3. God warns us in His Word that we will face persecution and hardship for our faith, but He also promises to eventually rescue us from this world and to serve justice to all mankind. (John 16:33)

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that life is going to be a bed of roses. In fact, it’s more likely to get pretty thorny! We will face difficulties — guaranteed. People will despise, taunt, or reject us — guaranteed. In some parts of the world, believers will be tortured and killed — guaranteed. As Satan attacks and attacks and the sharp thorns prick our hearts, we may wonder why we have to suffer like this. We may wonder if our torment will ever end.

And that is when we must remember to look beyond this life. Many Israelites perished in captivity, and yet they knew that eventually their nation would be rescued. There was hope in the future.

The same is true for us. If we’re living as we should, we won’t escape tribulation in this life. We may very well die at the hands of our persecutors. But, fortunately, our story doesn’t end here. After death, when we go to heaven to be with Jesus, we will be free. Free from sorrow, free from suffering, free from trials.

We will be rescued, and justice will be served.

4. God has given us a covenant in the form of Communion. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Perhaps Paul says it best:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

This is our covenant. We can remember what Christ has done — the sacrifice He made, His blood that was shed. We can partake in the Communion Service to be humbled and confess our sins, to ask for Christ’s forgiveness, and to thank Him for His salvation.

And yet, this is also a time to look ahead in hope because we know that our Savior is now alive, and that someday He will return! His kingdom will be established, wrongs will be made right, sin will be destroyed, and everything will be genuinely perfect.

What a marvelous world that will be!

Often we are amazed by how God worked in and through the lives of men and women of the Bible. But, the truth is, He desires to work in and through us in the same way. However, He can’t use us unless we are devoted to Him.

Abraham was. Can we follow his example?

Accept God’s calling.
Trust in His promises.
Take heed to His warnings.
Cling to His covenants.

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A Different Look at “Mercy”

“Mercy.” It’s a word I’ve often heard defined as “not getting what we deserve.” I think of it as illustrated by salvation, and our not having to face punishment in hell.  It’s demonstrated through forgiveness and patience.

But as I was reading through Psalms the other day, I stumbled across another meaning for “mercy.” Hebrew terminology is much more specific than our English, and some of our translations are little vague as to what is actually meant by a given word. “Love” is one of the most common examples, having at least three Biblical forms. And I discovered that “mercy” is yet another one of those vague, multi-dimensional words.

Psalm 136 is a “Thanksgiving to God for His Enduring Mercy.” Twenty-six times, once in every single verse, the psalmist repeats, “For His mercy endures forever.”

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!

For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!

For His mercy endures forever.”

This is a different form of the word “mercy” than what we’re accustomed to, a form that my footnotes tell me can mean “loyal love.” I had to pause when I first read that; I have never heard mercy defined in such a way. And yet it is such a beautiful, mind-opening definition. Suddenly, the word has new depth. Verses have new meaning.

“To Him alone who does great wonders,

For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who by wisdom made the heavens,

For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who laid out the earth above the waters,

For His mercy endures forever….”

Curious, I used my Strong’s Concordance to find more references using “mercy” in the “loyal love” sense rather than in the “forgiveness” sense. There are numerous instances in the Old Testament. Genesis 39: 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy….” How true. God’s devoted, unwavering love is incredibly obvious in the life of Joseph. In the Ten Commandments, it’s written, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Thousands? Wow. His love isn’t limited; He doesn’t have a certain allotment He can expend.

The Psalms are flooded with this sort of mercy. No wonder…David, one of the foremost writers of the Psalms, had certainly experienced God’s “loyal love.” From lowly shepherd to giant-slayer to King of Israel to adulterous murderer to forgiven man – David, if anybody, knew the incredible mercy of our Lord.

“To Him who made great lights,

For His mercy endures forever –

The sun to rule by day,

For His mercy endures forever;

The moon and stars to rule by night,

For His mercy endures forever.”

Skimming through the concordance, I noticed another phrase often used in conjunction with God’s mercy: “endures forever.” His loyal love endures forever. It makes sense; after all, that’s a part of being loyal. God’s love will always be loyal. He will stick with us through thick and thin. He will endure our wanderings and iniquities, our stumbles and failures. And He will do it forever; there is no end to His love; no amount of time can ever separate us from Him once we are His (Romans 8: 38-39).

“Who remembered us in our lowly state,

For His mercy endures forever;

And rescued us from our enemies,

For his mercy endures forever;

Who gives food to all flesh,

For His mercy endures forever.”

I read Psalm 136 a few days ago, and yet this definition of “mercy” still amazes me. I keep stumbling across the word in my daily devotions, and sometimes it can once again be translated as “loyal love.”

I knew God loves me. I knew He is loyal. But I never put the two together. The thought of it fills me with a peace and confidence. God’s love will never fade or ebb. He will love me for always; He will love me passionately; and He will always be my most loyal Lover. What a marvelous God He is.

“Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!

For His mercy endures forever.”