This past week I had a phone call from one of my seminary classmates. Last May when I was assigned to serve congregations here in western Minnesota, he was assigned to serve a church in Pomona, California. After talking a little bit about the churches we are serving, we found that we are living in two different worlds. I live in farm country, and my friend lives in a suburb of Los Angeles. My churches have farms nearby; his church is in a neighborhood with two drug rehabilitation centers. The people my friend works among are just as likely to speak Spanish as they are to speak English; even the Jehovah's Witnesses speak only Spanish.
Even though we live and work in areas of the country which are very different, my classmate and I still have one thing in common: the focus of our ministries is the same. Whether we work in city or country, we both direct people to Christ and the eternity in heaven he promises.
When you read the Bible, you may wonder what use some of those ancient stories have for us today. In Genesis you hear about Abraham, who lived around 4,000 years ago. God asked him to leave his family and homeland and travel to a new land, the land of Canaan. In that new land, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be countless, but Abraham didn't have any children when God made this promise to him. God also promised Abraham that his descendants would possess that land of Canaan. Finally, God promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through his descendants.
Abraham lived in a completely different world from ours. Abraham's life and culture were completely different from ours. Yet Abraham is an important example for the Christian--not because God makes the same promises to Christians today, but because Abraham believed God's promises. Abraham never saw his countless descendants, nor did he himself possess the land of Canaan, but the Bible shows that God did keep those promises. Even though Abraham didn't see God do what he had promised, what was important was that he believed those promises. Genesis 15:6 informs us that Abraham "believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."
God has made a promise to us too--not countless offspring or a country of our own, but something much more important. God has promised us a new home--a heavenly home. Our earthly home is imperfect; our earthly home has been ruined by sin. God wants us to obey him perfectly and to be completely sinless, and we don't listen. We refuse to listen to God and instead we do the things we know we shouldn't. Because of our disobedience we deserve God's punishment forever.
Instead of automatically giving us what we deserve, God gives us an escape route. He sent Jesus so we could escape punishment and instead find eternal peace in heaven. Jesus suffered the punishment for our sins in our place. God promises us that because Jesus gave himself up for us, he forgives our sins and will raise us like Jesus and bring us to heaven. Through Jesus, Abraham's descendant, the entire world has been blessed. Just as God promised great blessings to Abraham, God promises us a great blessing--forgiveness of our sins and a new home in heaven.
During his own life Abraham didn't see God fulfill his promises, yet he still believed. In our lives today it is easy to become discouraged. We don't see our forgiveness or our heavenly home with our own eyes. Sometimes we wonder whether God really meant those promises, or whether he exists at all. When you doubt or feel discouraged, remember Abraham and hold to God's promises as he did. Keep looking at God's promise of forgiveness through Jesus and keep looking forward to your promised home in heaven. Keep close to God's promises through his Word, and God will keep your faith strong through that Word.