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Sunday, November 17, 2019

posted Nov 17, 2019, 8:43 PM by Site Administrator

LOOK UP AT THE HEAVENS AND COUNT THE STARS

 

Genesis 15:1-21

Key Verse 15:5

 

He took him outside and said, Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be.

 

First, I am your shield, your very great reward (1). In the previous passage, we studied about how Abram defeated the joint army of King Kedorlaomer by God's help, and how he rendered glory to God. He was willing to sacrifice millions ofdollars to reveal God's glory - that way, Abram was growing up in God powerfully. So, how did things go after that? Usually, we think that things must have been going very greatly, because Abraham came to know God more personally, and his faith in God was growing greatly. But that's not the case. Instead, things were going very terribly in the heart of Abram. Abram was suffering from fear, sense of loss, and fatalism; his situation was so terrible that God visited him and tried to comfort him. Look at verse 1. Let's read this verse together: 

 

After 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.

 

God said to him, I am your shield, showing him that God was protecting him and thereby terrible things would not happen to him. Abram was fearful as he anticipated revenge from his enemies. The four kings might attack him anytime. Actually,Abram was not a match for his enemies. If they attacked Abram, his whole household would be destroyed. But God comforted him, saying, I am your shield. God was protecting him; his life was not at the mercy of his enemies, but in God's hands. Abram thought about terrible things happening in his life, but such things would not happen, because God was protecting him. Instead, good things would happen. If anything happened, then, with God’s approval and with God’s good intention, such as the famine in the promised land.

 

Life comes with a lot of dangers – we hear terrible news endlessly - shooting rampage at school, at work, and on the streets, terrorists’ attacks, car accidents, weird diseases, hurricane, flood, earthquakes, and even lightning; due to the burden of life, many people commit suicide. Indeed, life is like going through a mine field – very dangerous and scary. People struggle hard to dodge all these dangers. But the Bible says that the very thing the wicked dread overtakes them. (Prob 10:24) There is such tremendous anxiety, fear and stress. But when we live as God’s covenant people, we have this confidence that God is our shield. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says to all believers, Go and make disciples of all nations,… Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age. As we serve this will of God – go and make disciples of all nations, we have this confidence that Jesus is with us, guiding us, helping us and protecting us. Our life will not end because of some mistakes we make, because of some unexpected disasters, or because of some people are angry at us. Our life is in God’s hands. This gives us such peace in our soul. Live as God’s covenant people, and God is your shield. Go and make disciples of all nations, and Jesus is with you. This is far better than purchasing all kinds of insurances – health insurance, auto insurance, fire insurance, earthquake insurance, terrorism insurance, travel insurance, and even life (actually, death) insurance.

 

God also said to him, I am your very great reward. Until then, Abram had pursued God wholeheartedly, leaving his country, his people, and his father’s household, giving up everything and starting all over again in a foreign land as an alien, and willing to taste the loss to remain in the promised land. And as we learned in the previous chapter, after being inspired through his Bible study with Melchizedek, Abram bravely sacrificed millions of dollars to put what he learned in to practice. He was confident.He was zealous for God. Yet, what had he gained thus far? Nothing tangible! Instead, after the war, he received many bills, but he didn’t have a penny left in his pocket. He also heard some of his men groaning for the injury they had had in the battle. Abram was suffering from the sense of loss. But God said to him, I am your very great reward. God didn't say, I will be your very great reward, but I am your very great reward. Present tense! Abram already had his very great reward. How do you feel when you have your very great reward? Let’s say, you worked for your boss 4 hours, and then he pays you $200.00 for each hour, so total $800.00 for 4 hours’ work. How do you feel? You are so happy and thankful. So, since Abram had his very great reward, he must be very happy and thankful. Yet, instead, he was so unhappy; he was sorrowful and depressed, suffering from the deep sense of loss. Certainly, Abram was missing something – that’s what God wanted to help him about, that was, God was his very great reward.

 

In our Christian life, reward is a very important matter.Because of this reward matter, Abram wept and laughed. Because of this reward matter, we also laugh and weep. When we have many tangible fruits in serving God’s work such as a good job, a happy family and many sheep growing under our care, we are so happy and full of vision; but when we don’t have many fruits, we are so discouraged and lose appetite. Even after years’ struggle to do God’s work, we often remain fruitless, and thereby, we are so depressed, and we cry out to God, saying, Lord, why don’t you work with me? Why don’t you save souls through me? We are frustrated; we are sorrowful. In the service of the Lord, webecome just like Abram in the passage. Understanding our desire and agony, God visits us and comforts us, saying, I am your very great reward. God shows us that we already have our very great reward, and thereby, we must be very happy and thankful. God is our very great reward. If you are still sad and suffer from the sense of loss, God asks youAm I not enough for you? What do you say? Isn’t God enough for you? You have your very great reward – God Himself!

 

What does it mean that God is our very great reward? It means that serving God itself is our very great reward. Others serve money, their filthy dreams for success, pleasures and fame, but we serve the One and Only True God, and thereby, we are identified with Him as God’s servants, Jesus’ disciples. This is our very great reward. As we serve God, as we pursue God’s will and purpose as his servants, our life carries real meaning and value; as we and God pursue one same purpose and goal, we have life together with God, being his business partners in his kingdom purpose. This is such a great privilege. As we struggle together with God, in pursuing the same goal with Him, we talk with Him, discuss with Him, and we come to experience Him and know Him more and more. As we have life together with Him, we are being transformed into holy and righteous people just like God Himself. As we serve God’s kingdom work, indeed, God Himself is our very great reward. As God’s covenant, we all have this very great reward today. How happy we are! How thankful we are! We are really blessed!

 

Abram served God so that he would get something from God – ultimately speaking, until then, to him, God was not the end, but the means for his real purpose, that was a son. If God gave him a son after Abram had served God wholeheartedly for 20 years,Abram would be really happy, saying, Thank you! Any time, just call me! Abram thought that a son would be his very great reward. That’s what he had pursued in serving God. When he did so, the problem was that he laughed and wept because of a son matter. When God did not give him a son despite his efforts and struggle, he was deeply troubled, frustrated, and depressed; he doubted and complained. That way, he would remain as a cry baby. But then, in today’s passage, God showed him what his very great reward was, which he must really seek – God Himself. He already had this very great reward, so no reason to be sad or depressed; instead, he had a great reason to be happy and thankful. Moreover, when God was fully given to him, he would indeed be like God Himself, in his way of thinking, in his words and actions, so holy and righteous, so patient, kind, meek and loving. God’s creation purpose would be fulfilled in his life, and God’s glory would be revealed through him.

 

Today, you serve God wholeheartedly. You struggle hard to do God's work - despite many rejections, you keep asking people if they are interested in studying the Bible with you; even though your sheep are so sinful, rebellious, never appreciating how much you sacrifice your time, money and even your youth for them, you keep teaching them the Bible with such patience, swallowing all sorrows and pains by yourself. In doing all these, as you serve God so sacrificially this way, what do you want to gain? What reward are you looking for? Money, maybe, 7 million dollars after 20 years' service? Maybe, worldwide fame as a great evangelist like Billy Graham? Or, maybe, beautiful marriage or a happy family? But today, God says, I am your very great reward.

 

Second, Look up at the heavens and count the stars (2-21). How did Abram respond? Look at verses 2 and 3. O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir. Even though God taught such profound truth, Abram totally missed the point, because his heart was preoccupied with something else. He said, What can you give me since I remain childless? He had thought about his life of faith and what God could do for him as he had pursued him wholeheartedly, and almost concluded that God was not capable to help him with his serious son problem. Based on this present reality, he thought about his future, and about what the ultimate outcome of his life would be, and the conclusion was that eventually, one of his servants would inherit everything he had. At this, he was really frustrated. In his eyes, he was struggling hard eventually for his servant! What a fatalistic life it was that he was living for his servant! In his dark tent, Abram had been contemplating all these fatalistic and doubtful thoughts, with such a serious look in his face. Satan was plowing his heart, scattering the seeds of doubt and fatalism; then the seeds sprouted, blossomed and bore fruits in Abram’s heart. Satan was manipulating his mind completely. It was indeed a spiritual crisis. God noticed what's going on and visited him and helped him as his shepherd.

 

Look at verse 4. Let’s read this verse together: 

 

Then the word of the LORD came to him: This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.

 

Abram, based on the present challenging condition, thought about his future and drew a terrible conclusion. But God confirmed with him that things would not go so terribly that way; instead, things would go very well – a son coming from his own body would be his heir. When people lose their faith, when doubt smears into their hearts, they usually think of the worst scenario possible, which usually never comes trueMaybe, that’s our tendency too. And when that kind of thinking is based on some facts such as the present reality, we are really depressed. Then, people, sitting in their dark room, contemplate all these dark thoughts and they look really terrible. Then, their shepherds visit them and try hard to convince them that things will not go so bad that way, but things will go far better than that, saying, Don't worry. God will bless you. Your life will be great. That’s what God did for his sheep, Abram. Look at verse 5. Let's read this verse together:

 

He took him outside and said, Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be.

 

It was not good for Abram to stay in a dark tent, entertaining dark thoughts all the way. So, God took him outside for refreshment. Sometimes, when Satan is manipulating their minds, they stay in their dark apartment, entertaining all kinds of dark, doubtful and negative thoughts; at that time, even their faces become dark, not good at all. So, we visit them and take them out to the basketball court, or we go and eat Vietnamese noodle; in this way, we try to refresh their minds. Then, God commanded him, Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them. Thus far, what Abram had been doing was to look down on the difficult present reality and count the losses all the way. Everything was based on the present reality, which was very challengingGod did not want him to see things in that way, because things would not go that way, because God was in his life and would do great things for him. Instead, God gave him this command to look up at the heavens where God dwelled, and where angels flew, and count the stars; think about something twinkling, something beautiful, something brilliant; fill your mind with such brilliant things. Then, God added, So shall your offspring be. God wanted Abram to think about something beautiful and wonderful, especially, great things God would do for him. Instead of counting all the losses and terrible things which never will come true, count what great things God can do for you; count what God will do for you. Count how glorious it will be when God fulfills his vision, his promises for you - great salvation work occurs through you; people, thousand upon thousand keep coming to you to hear the word of God; many great world class spiritual leaders are established under your care; they serve the whole world, pioneering churches; and you support them through Skype Bible studies, and once in a while, you have the world mission report with them, inviting all the Christian leaders in America and in the world; great spiritual revival occurs in and through your ministry. Count these glorious things, which God will do for you. Dream dreams. This was God’s command for Abram. This is God’s command for us. Indeed, God’s people are dreamers, visionaries.

 

Look up at the heavens and count the stars. Abram was suffering from the present difficult reality. But God did not want him to dwell in it, on the earth, but in heaven, by looking up at the heavens; God did not want Abram to be limited and controlled by the present reality but live by the future glory, by counting, by thinking about great things God would do for him - God wanted him to live his life in that way. This is how we Christians must live our life as children of God. Don't look down on the earth and count the losses, or difficult reality, but look up at the heavens and count the stars; think about what great things God will do for you, and how glorious it will be when God fulfills his vision for you. When you do so, you will not be controlled by the present reality; instead, despite challenging circumstances, you see a great vision for your life, and pursue it with such great passion and spirit. In this way, you overcome the world and live as children of God. Then, as you seek God’s purpose in such great spirit, God canwork with you and do great things for you. Then, one day, you will see God fulfilling His vision upon your life, and you will find yourself standing at the heavenly shore gloriously. Through Habakkuk Bible study, we learned that God’s people must live by faith; that’s the principle. Then, in today’s passage, we see how that principle is applied in our practical life – instead of focusing on the present reality, look up at the heavens and count the stars, so shall your offspring be. This is how we Christian can live by faith; this is how we overcome the world. This is Christian's way of life.

 

How did Abram respond? Look at verse 6. Let's read this verse together:

 

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

At God's command, Abram began to count the stars - one star, two stars, three stars,... As he was trying to count the stars, his mind was off of all those terrible and negative ideas. Instead, as he was counting the stars, focusing on beautiful and twinkling things, God's words, So shall your offspring be, came to his heart. He was happy and thankful that God would give him so many children, like the stars in the universe. So, Abram believed the LORD, and God was very pleased with Abram's faith in Him that He credited his faith to him as righteousness. When you apply for the credit card, the company checks out your qualification, and based on that, they give you some credit, maybe, $5,000.00 or $7,000.00. But when God checked out Abram’s application, He was so pleased with it that He gave him the maximum credit to be called a righteous man. A few minutes ago, Abram lost faith and complained and doubted terribly. But in a few minutes later, Abram acquired righteous standing before God, all because of his faith in God's promise - God was really pleased with his faith. This is how we can please God - by faith in God's promises for our own life despite seemingly challenging reality. The righteous will live by faith from first to last.

 

This passage shows Abram’s greatness very well. He was childlike, in responding to God’s words. When Adam was in a big trouble, God came to him and gave him his words. But instead of responding to it positively, he said this and that, excusing himself and blaming others, even God; Eve was the same. When God had Bible study with Cain, Cain showed even the worse response, talking back, and hardening his heart. Instead of responding positively, all these people said, Blah, Blah, Blah, Because of this, because of that, What about this? What about that? God could not guide them properly. But Abram was different. Even if he was in terrible condition, even if he had his own idea, even if he had already drawn a conclusion, once God pointed out his error, Abram responded very positively. He was really a good sheep, very teachable. Because of that, God could guide him continuously, and eventually Abram grew to be a spiritual giant. They say that in the school of learning, attitude is everything. When you have the attitude of Adam, Eve, or Cain, even God cannot lead you continuously, and you remain as your own men to the end. But when you have the attitude of Abram, you are God’s good sheep, and God can lead you continuously, and you will grow up.

 

Look at verse 7. God said to him, I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it. As Abram believed in the LORD and God was so pleased with him and thereby, credited his faith as righteousness, it seemed that the episode was over. But God was so pleased with him that, after everything was over, He showed Abram that from the beginning, He had really a good and great plan for him to take possession of the land – that’s why he called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. God’s point was that Abram should not worry about anything – God had a good intention for him and thereby, everything would go wonderfully. At this, Abram said, O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it? He wanted God to give him something tangible to confirm this promise of the land. So the LORD said to him, Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. God never mentioned about cutting them in two or arranging the halves opposite each other. Why did Abram do that? When God mentioned about these items – a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, immediately, Abram knew what God was talking about – God was going to seal his promise of the land with a ritual people did in those days. Today, if we want to seal a contract, we hire a lawyer, and let him draw the contract paper, and both parties sign in it, then, it is binding. In those days, the contracting parties cut those animals in two, arranged the halves of the carcasses opposite each other, and they passed between the piles of the carcasses, calling down the fate of those animals on themselves, had any of them violated the terms and conditions of the contract. (Jerem 34:18) It was a solemn contract ritual. That’s what God was going to do. God didn’t need to do so, but He would simply say to Abram, Don’t worry. I will do it. Just trust in me. But because Abram requested something tangible, God was going to do this, even human ritual, just to comfort his servant. That’s how God treated Abram. God is really tender. When you live as His covenant person, God treats you this way. 

 

In verses 12 through 16, we see God coming to Abram and telling him about what would happen to his descendants – slavery in Egypt for four hundred years, Exodus, then, the conquest over the Canaanites to punish the sin of the Amorites. If God talked to him about these things when Abram lost his faith, Abram would not consider it at all, saying, Four hundred years later?! I don’t care. Just give me a son! But because Abram believed in God’s promise of many children as numerous as the stars in the sky, God could talk about what would happen to them. 

 

Then, in verses 17 through 21, we see God’s presence passing between the pieces of the carcasses, and God telling Abram the specific boundaries of the promised land, with specific tribal names. In this way, as Abram believed, more revelation of God’s plan was given to him.

 

Accept God’s great vision for you and dedicate yourself to it. Then, you will find that God himself is your shield, your very great reward. God never says that you will not have trouble as God’s covenant people. But He promises his protection and his great reward for you. When challenges come, when you reach the limit, God encourages you to look up at the heavens and count the stars so  that you will not be discouraged or controlled by the challenging reality. Instead, by doing so, you may be full of spirit, thanks and joy in seeking his will and purpose. That way, you will overcome the world and live as his covenant people. 

 

One Word:Look Up At The Heavens And Count The Stars! 

 

 

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