My formative years were spent watching Christianity swing like a pendulum.
Having been born into an old-time Pentecostal home, I understood hell, fire and brimstone. I knew that women wore dresses and skirts to church, and that many believed make-up and jewelry made you the kissing cousin to Jezebel.
Although my own father never preached those things, I was pretty aware of what the denomination taught.
Before I entered double-digits, my father made a radical move to leave the denomination and start an independent work that was heavily influenced by the Charismatic Renewal.
While he fought – and succeeded – to maintain scriptural balance, I now came face-to-face with a new dimension that embraced freedom, fled legalism, and often ventured into extremes of the opposite nature.
Seeing these two faces of what Christians portrays God to be: harsh and ready to cast judgement on sin, and lenient and giving his kids a pass; I was often confused and for a season swung wildly between the two.
However, when we look at Abraham we see God’s perfect balance.
He is neither harsh and ready to cast judgement the moment we sin, nor is He permissive, looking the other way. He is not the God you think He is. He is more than that! He is filled with more love and grace than you can imagine, but He is also filled with more righteousness and holiness than you know.
He is simply more!
God gave Abraham a promise of a son. It was truly the impossible thing because both he and his wife were well beyond child-bearing years. Filled with disappointment over Sarah’s barrenness, they were hesitant to believe this promise.
I get that, I really do. It’s hard to believe for something you’ve always hoped for, after having watched those hopes die over and over again. Wanting a child, but being reminded month after month that your womb simply isn’t “kid friendly”. That bitter reminder 12 times a year for years on end can really cause a deep wound in your soul.
And this is where Sarah’s at. Abraham, too. He wanted a son!
And now, when they are nearing the end of their life, the promise comes.
Years go by and nothing happens. Was it just a joke? Was God playing cat and mouse?
So, Sarah comes up with a plan. She’ll help God make it happen. She gave Abraham her servant to so at least he could have his son. She probably thought she had gotten over the disappointment of having a barren womb long ago – but seeing her servant conceive with no problem was like twisting a knife in her heart.
It only caused that bitterness to rise to the surface. And her servant had to flee the home because of the conflict it started.
But what was God’s reaction to all of this?
Some may look at a similar scenario and say, “Well, you blew it! God can’t bless you now. You’ve stepped out of his will.”. While others would say, “God will turn it all out for good. You will see. He wants you to be happy and prosperous!”
Yes, Abraham blew it. He blew it big time. And God did turn the situation out for good.
But, there is more to the story than that.
God did choose to bless Abraham, because Sarah did conceive in the end and she bore the son she never thought she’d hold in her body.
Imagine what it must have been like for her to be in her 90s and feel that baby moving around and kicking inside! God blessed them incredibly! But, he didn’t take the consequence away. Ishmael was also promised to have decedents – more than could be counted. However, there would be millennia of conflict between his descendents and Isaac’s descendents.
And the lesson we walk away with is two-fold:
If you have missed God, don’t allow condemnation to be heaped upon you. God isn’t sitting in heaven waiting for the first slip-up to cast judgement on you. That image insults His character.
God is full of love and grace and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance, not His arm of judgement! Momentary sin does not negate His promise to you, nor does it mean that you cannot receive His blessing.
I have watched Christians make wrong choices and still receive the blessing of God.
And as Christians we often have a hard time separating what appears to be God’s stamp of approval from His grace. Grace gives us what we deserve and His blessing isn’t a sign that He approves of all we do.
Think about it, if God withheld His blessing because we sinned, we’d never have the opportunity to receive His blessing. We are human, we sin every day! His blessing is because of His grace, not because we managed to earn His approval. His approval cannot be earned anyhow – it was purchased by the blood of Jesus!
Yet, know that if you are living in intentional sin, you are living in a danger zone. God can’t allow sin to dwell in His presence. Sin is what splinters our relationship with Him. The church today takes sin far too lightly. God is not a permissive God, nor does He look the other way when we choose to entertain sin in our hearts. Repentance restores relationship, but it doesn’t eliminate consequences.
Those consequences are a reminder to us – Jacob’s limp – that He is forgiving and merciful to us, because He forgave us rather than meting out the due punishment for our sin…which is death.
No, He isn’t the God you think He is. He is so much more…and when we begin to understand the balance of His character, we begin to understand who God truly is!