Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 4:13-25 in the English Standard Version. Note 1- 3 insights or questions.
Reflect: I think my childhood teachers and preachers sometimes got the wrong messages from Bible stories.
Take the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). Every time I heard that story, the punch line was, “Go and sin no more.” But the reason the people were astonished at Christ’s teaching (Matthew 7:28) was because He spoke like nobody they had ever heard before (John 7:46). They listened to Him gladly (Mark 12:37) because He didn’t speak like the scribes and the Pharisees (Mark 1:22; Matthew 7:29).
The scribes and Pharisees would have readily agreed that the woman should stop sinning. The astounding thing that Christ said to this woman, the part the people had never heard before, the part nobody else would have said—especially the scribes and the Pharisees—was, “I don’t condemn you.”
But I didn’t understand that until I was in medical school. How sad.
This week’s reading (Romans 4:13-25) is based on another story that my teachers often got “wrong.” They focused on Sarah’s lack of faith and her lying to God.
“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ . . . But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. He said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:11-15, ESV).
What a shameful lack of faith! Laughing at God and then lying about it! Again, it wasn’t until graduate school that I learned the “rest of the story.”
Abraham laughed, too! He didn’t just chuckle to himself when he heard God’s promise; he “fell on his face and laughed . . .” (Genesis 17:17, ESV). He considered Sarah, and thought, “No way!” Then he looked at himself and said, “Absolutely no way!”
My teachers missed that part, but so, it seems, did Paul. He says, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21, ESV).
And what about Sarah? God seems to have forgotten her distrust, too. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11, ESV).
I guess with God we really do only need faith the size of a mustard seed to please Him!
Recalibrate: What is the difference between blind faith and intelligent faith? Which does God want from us? How do we get it?
Respond: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you in those areas of your life where you feel a lack of faith.
Remember: “So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift . . .” (Romans 4:16, NLT).
Dr. Mark Johnson is executive director of the public health department in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties in the state of Colorado. He received his medical training at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University and is board certified in preventive medicine and public health. He is chair of the vision board at Boulder Adventist Church where he is a regular preacher. Mark is married to Diane Johnson and they have two adult children and three granddaughters.
Try something new today with your little one. It could be painting or baking or rolling Play-Doh or attempting to wave hello. (I’ve always loved rolling down a hill because you just lie there and gravity does the rest. No skill set required!) Encourage and cheer your little one on. Knowing that you are there playing with them, ready to pick them up and help them out is such a beautiful image of how God wants to do life with us.
Have you ever had to try really hard to do something you wanted to do? Maybe it was playing the saxophone or shooting from the three-point line in basketball. At any stage did you give up and feel that you would never live the dream of being good at what you wanted to do? How good is it when an expert comes along and shows you how it’s done? Imagine if a coach came every day to encourage you and help you live your dream. God has invited us to play on “Team Live Love.” Jesus is the expert at how to live life loving each other. He has sent the Holy Spirit to encourage us all the time. God wants to know if you want to play on Jesus’ team. Think up some ways you can you can live love at home and in your community. Get playing today.
When Paul writes about Abraham, he doesn’t write about how Abraham took matters into his own hands in trying to make God’s promise happen. He doesn’t write about any of the mistakes that Abraham made. Instead, he writes about Abraham’s great faith. He says that his faith in God never became weak. That he never doubted that God would keep His promise. He says Abraham never stopped believing and his faith grew in God. Paul was a careful student of the Bible. That means he knew the story of Abraham left and right. Backwards and forwards. Right-side up and upside down. He knew, like us, that Abraham was swayed by Sarah’s plan for him to have a son with another woman so that God’s promise would be fulfilled. But what Paul also knew was God’s love and forgiveness. God saw the faith of Abraham as unwavering and perfect. He saw his faith as acceptable to Him. Think about your own faith. Do you feel like it’s always perfect? What can you do today to remind yourself that God sees you much differently than the way you see yourself? Where we see imperfections, He sees only His perfect child.