the best investment advice I ever received

Waters cover the eart

“What set you on this course?” This was a question an aunt of mine recently asked. Since she was curious, others might be too. Therefore, I thought I’d share some of what I said to her along with insights from a little known prophet named Habakkuk.

It is an encouragement to get emails from those interested in following our new course direction (or calling). I know there are a few who think we are a little nuts to take our munchkins to a place like Africa, but coming from a family that has traveled as much as ours it shouldn’t be a surprise that the next generations have caught the travel bug too. I have to admit, the slideshows my grandparents would show with unabridged commentary from their trips to Africa, and visits from the Park family, gave me a contagious desire to go to Africa.

So what set us on the course? If you were to ask me 10-15 years ago, I would have never thought this is where I would end up. I wanted to be an artist like my dad, but when I heard you don’t make much money in that type of work I then wanted to be a writer or journalist. That was until, in high school, my church harnessed my gifting. My youth pastor would say, “You can’t take a U-Haul with you to your grave.” He encouraged me to continue my future in college studying Scripture and shepherding (it’s was there I also met Sarah). And immediately after college I took my first voyage to Africa on 9-month apprenticeship to South Africa. It was my first trip to the continent and it wouldn’t be my last.

When I returned to the US, I was called as the assistant pastor of a church in Indiana. For 8-years, the church cultivated my passion for Africa and the local church. It takes a selfless church to consider losing a pastor to the field when calling him.

About 6-years ago, I got an email out of the blue from a former prof at college who went on to be a pastor in inner-city Philly. He hired Sarah to be their children’s ministry director. You might remember, she grew up in the Congo until she was a teen. Africa was in her blood (quite literally). The prof asked, “You remember Sarah? Well, you like Africa and she does too. You love Jesus, and she does too.” Then he gave me her digits and the rest is history. That same prof married us in 2009. Thereafter the itch to go back to Africa was one we wanted to scratch. Our first thought was to go to the Congo near the area Sarah lived and we did training for pastors and youth leaders. It was amazing work with people eager to learn. However, as we left we were moved to go to places more forgotten.

Little known Habakkuk records some very scorching words from God’s, “Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire.” (2:13a) In other words, “God says, all the things men work for (i.e. newer house, bigger car, longer boat, larger flat-screen, fatter paycheck) will one day burn or outdate.” It’s not that they are bad things to have or own, they just aren’t lasting investments.

Then God continues by saying, “nations weary themselves for nothing” (2:13b) We see this, right now, in the political situation in Egypt and Syria or in the economical situation of many places in Africa. The strength, safety, and history of nations can crumble in a moment. In Habakkuk’s day, it was Babylon that was making headline news. They were bringing terror upon God’s people, but God declared they would only be a blimp in history and would soon fade into oblivion.

That didn’t quite calm Habakkuk’s nerves at that moment, however, in the midst of some serious woe’s, God is answering Habakkuk’s question, “Will the sin that I see go unnoticed?” A good question. Especially, when you hear the news about the latest child abuser or murderer near home or the unjust rampage on the other side of the globe. To which each human has a God-given beacon that blares out, “Somebody do something about this!”

God will do something. It might not be immediate, but He will. He makes an “I will statement” in the next verse, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) Do you want to invest in something that will return its yield and that will return on its investment? Trust in, and buy into, the promise that He will fill every nook, cranny, and crevasse of this earth with His glory. If He says it He will do it. History proves it. That is God’s best bit of investment advice.

Most people understand that money doesn’t fix everything and the newest or neediest thing doesn’t satisfy but for a fleeting moment. What people are searching for is a golden ticket, a system that works, a way to peace, or a thing that will fill the empty hole inside them that wonders, “Is what I am doing or living for mattering?” Most things fall short, but God promises that like water He will fills every possible hole with His glory. This can be a hard promise to believe when the glory that man can make for himself is so tangible. Man can build for kingdoms and castles and rule in them proudly. He can build portfolios and resumes that gleam with self-made glory. And God warns against this imitation glory,

“What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it” (2:18-19)

As God closes on his answer to Habakkuk’s question, He declares that a divine role reversal of Creator vs. creation must take place in every humans heart, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (2:20) It’s as if God says to Habakkuk, “Shh. Rest. Lay your life here at My feet. I am in control. Trust Me. I will bring justice. I will restore what is broken. I will right what is wrong. I will judge the living and the dead. I will wipe every tear. I will fill this earth with my glory.”

In fact, God has given us a glimpse of His glory. He sent His beloved Son to walk this planet, who lived a sinless life, received the most unfair trial, suffered under the weight of the worlds sin and the wrath of God upon Himself in His death, murdered like a criminal, but three-days later, rose the grave, defeated death, and made your way to eternal glory possible.

You might wonder what Habakkuk has to do with our course direction. It has everything to do with it. It is the promise that God gives to Habakkuk that gives us reason to go to Africa with our munchkins. It is for fame and glory. Not our own. May He cover this dry land with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

journey of faith

Have you ever been on a road trip when you got lost taking a wrong turn? I remember back in college after finals I drive home for the holidays. Back then I did not have a GPS or cell phones. I had a few college buds with me along for the ride via Chicago. I drove while the 13-hour trek while the one sitting shotgun navigated with an old Randall McNally map. When we reach Indianapolis we got on the I-465 beltway. It was sometime after midnight, we were getting tired. With the windows cracked, Mountain Dew running through our veins, the music cranked to DC Talk, and sunflower seeds all over the car seats we made our way around the beltway. I do not think any of us were paying attention to the road signs and detours because of the construction on the beltway. We missed our exit. For the next 2-hours we drove around and around the Indy beltway before we realized that we were just going in circles.

I am sure you have been there, right? Sometimes life can be like that too. You seem to be going somewhere and then you find yourself lost, spinning in circles, and delaying the journey. Life is a journey, especially if you are living a life of faith. Abraham is on that journey of faith. His journey of faith might not be that much different than yours.

DIRECTION FROM GOD FOR THE JOURNEY: A Call to Faith [Genesis 12:1-9]

God calls Abram out of a sinful people and nation to go to a place he does not yet know. As Abram goes, God makes a promise to him that He will make him a great nation. At this moment Abram is 75 years old, without an heir because his wife is barren, and attached to his father’s possession. Abram does know how God is going to fulfill His promise, but in faith he goes. When he reaches Canaan [a dead end for a nomad] he sets up an altar of worship for God will give him this land. As Abram and his family settle in the land they face a series of obstacles that from the human perspective seem like major detours.

DETOUR #1: Making up your own story is not part of God’s story [Genesis 12:10-20]

As Abram settles in Canaan, another challenge arises for Abram and his family. There is no food. So Abram, being the man of his house, takes action and heads south to Egypt. Afraid that he will lose his beautiful wife he crafts a story, “Sarah, babe, those Egyptians are going to think you are a smokin’ hot! Surely they will kill me to get you. Let’s pretend you’re my sister.” Lying is never part of God’s plan; truth is always the best option. Truth is part of God’s plan.

Indeed, when Abram and Sarai roll through town, Pharaoh’s prince’s gawk at Sarai—like men whistling at a passing girl next to a construction sight. They ran back to the palace bragging about her beauty to Pharaoh. And what Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets. Lucky, for Abram, Pharaoh is feeling particularly nice and spares Abram’s head. Unlucky for Pharaoh, he and his house get stuck with a plague. Knowing something is wrong he calls for Abram, “You have some explaining to do? Everything was groovy around here until you can around. Is there something you want to tell me about this woman? Why did you lie to me?” God had his hand on Abram. He should have been executed for lying to the ruler of Egypt, but God had grace on him through Pharaoh. Abram must have learned a valuable lesson that day: speak the truth and let God deal with the possible obstacles.

DETOUR #2: Sometimes the most obvious choice is not the right choice [Genesis 13]

I am not sure Abram and Sarai did much talking on the way home from Egypt. So Abram worships at the altar [13:4, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8] and then goes back to work with Lot among their herds. Both men have large herds. Their herds are so large that their workers were not getting along [over turf, pooper scooper duties, etc.]. As a peacemaker, Abram asks Lot to leave, but gives him first choice of the land. Lot chose the greener grass, eastward [towards Sodom].

I am sure this was a hard decision for Abram. God gives him a nephew—possible heir—but they are forced to separate. Could Lot be the seed God was promising? According to Abram, the choice was not working out as he planned. He sits and sulks about his conflicted family separation, but God is working out His plan. In fact God says to Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth [i.e. countless], so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” [13:14-17; cf. 12:7] God has a different choice for Abram’s seed in mind, but He also reaffirms His promise to Abram it will happen,

DETOUR #3: Expect unexpected challenges with unexpected results [Genesis 14]

A great war breaks, Lot’s city is taken captive, and Lot becomes a prisoner of war. Word gets to Abram through an escapee, and he pulls together 318 of his own men who are trained warriors. This gives you an idea of the wealth of Abram that he had his own personal army and defeated those holding onto Lot. Abram was not alone in this battle. He ultimately won this battle by the blessing of God who promised to protect him and curse those who cursed him [cf. 12:3]. Abram then praised by kings [i.e. Melchizedek, more on him next week] who also recognized that it was God who won the day [14:20].

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: The Seed will come from through Abram [Genesis 15]

Following these three divine detours God sheds some light onto the path for Abram. God tells Abram in a dream that the promised seed would come through his seed. There is just one major problem: Abram has no children and he’s really old. Notice For the first time Abram speaks up, and asks God a question, “What about Eliezer?” God responds and reaffirms His covenant with Abram, “I will not use Eliezer [a non-related heir], but one of your own children.”

Again, with radical faith, Abram believes God [15:6; cf.12:4], and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6, becomes central to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]. Also, James quotes this verse to teach that true faith in God results in good works in life with God [2:23-24]. God’s covenant with Abram was confirmed with a sacrifice and the shedding of blood, which foreshadows the New Covenant confirmed with Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross and the shedding of His blood.

DETOUR #4: Ignoring the possibility of the impossible [Genesis 16]

Sarah is not mentiond in the promise [cf. 15:1-6]. Abram does not even consider Sarai. Sarah is old and barren, and too old for it to be humanly possible for her to carry a child. They had waited a long time on God to come through with His promises. What options did Abram have? Taking matters into his own hands, he logically concludes that Hagar—one of his servant girls—is a prime candidate to carry his seed. Of course, Sarai spearheaded the faithless idea. So Abram slept with Hagar and she bore him a son [Ishmael, the son of Islam].

Is Abram immoral? Is he doing what he thinks God wants him to do? Impatience on God is never right the option.[1] If you are unsure waiting on God is always the best option. Ironically, Sarai bitterly blamed Abram for the split in their family because he slept with Hagar, and Hagar flees from the Sarai’s fury. Again, God intervenes.

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God gives a sign and specifics to His covenant [Genesis 17:1-18:21]

God reaffirms who He is and how He will fulfill His promises through Abram. Abram immediately worships [17:3, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8; 13:4]. First, God confirms his covenant by giving Abram a new name and give a symbol for the covenant between God and Abraham, circumcision.[2] Second, God confirms his covenant with Abraham through Sarai by giving her a new name and saying the promised seed will be born through her barren womb. In one moment, God’s promise becomes very specific to Abraham and Sarah. And with a miraculous divine intervention God will open Sarah dead womb at 90 years old and give her a son who will be the living Seed of Promise [cf. 21:1-7].

DETOUR #5: Failing to see trials that purify your faith [Genesis 19-21]

In short, God sends His wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual sin, which leaves a salty crater where the cities once stood [Genesis 19]. Lot and his daughter are not much different than the community he lived and farmed [19:30-38]. Again, Abraham lies and gives Sarah away to another man, almost identical to the situation with Pharaoh [20:1-18; cf. 12:10-20]. God in His grace and sovereignty intervenes preventing Sarah from getting pregnant by another man. Then tensions stir between Hagar son, Ishmael, and Sarah’s son, Isaac. Ishmael is the one favored by everyone in the passage, except Sarah; however, God does not favor him in relationship to the covenant promise, but cares and provides for him. These detours are looking more like construction zones where God is at work growing your faith.

FINAL COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God uses sacrifice as the proof of faith [Genesis 21-23]

25 years after the promise and nearly losing his wife twice, God gives Abraham and Sarah a son. He finally has his boy. They name him, Isaac, meaning laughter, which is fitting for a boy born from an old lady. Isaac is the promised seed. However, in a climatic twist God tests Abraham’s quarter century churned faith. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son.

Up to this point in the narrative, Abraham has seen God fulfill promise after unbelievable promise and made a womb that was dead-dead alive. Echoing his call [12:1-3], he immediately responded in faith. Was he really going to kill his son on the altar? I think so. I think he knew God would raise his son to life because He has already done it through Sarah’s dead womb.

God answers by providing a sacrifice caught in the thicket. In doing so He fulfills all His promises just as He said. What about the land? The last promise that we do not see fulfilled is the land promise. In an obscure way, Sarah’s small and insignificant burial plot was the only property Abraham own in the Promised Land [Genesis 23]. The land that was promised to his heirs would not arise as a nation until God would call another man, Moses, who would take God’s people to the Promised Land [cf. Exodus & Joshua].

In Hebrews 11:8-12, Abraham went where God asked, even though he did not know how God would work it out, but his faith believed God would work it out. God blessed his faith then and offers it to you now through His Promised Seed—His Son—Jesus Christ. The story that climaxes with Isaac, ultimately climax with Christ:

  • Isaac and Jesus were both sons promised many years before their birth.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both born to women who could not have conceived apart from a miracle.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both firstborn sons.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both loved by their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both carried wood to their sacrifice.
  • Isaac and Jesus both willingly laid down their lives to their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both laid down as a burnt offering for sin.
  • Isaac was resurrected figuratively and Jesus was resurrected literally.
  • Isaac was just a man, but Isaac was the God/Man who came to save mankind.

[1] Abram marries Hagar while married to Sarai. The result of this polygamy is truly tragic, as is the case with other instances of adultery and polygamy in Scripture. God’s intention is that each man would have one wife [Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4-6]. The first man to take more than one wife was the godless man Lamech [Genesis 4:19-24]. Two women is two too many. Polygamy is wrought with favoritism, fighting, jealousy, and mistreatment [i.e. Genesis 25:28, 27:1-45, 35:22, 38:18-28; 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 13:1-29, 15:1- 18:33; 1 Kings 11:1-4]. In the New Testament church elders serve as the pattern for Christian families are to be one-woman-men [1 Timothy 3:2,12].

[2] It is uncertain why God chose circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Possibly the seed comes from the male organ and/or Headship is an important concept to God. God used symbols to convey his covenant with mankind [i.e. a rainbow was a sign of covenant between God and Noah; Genesis 9:14]. Throughout the rest of Bible the concepts of covenant and circumcision are built upon to include Christian who are the descendants of Abraham by new birth. Circumcision points to the circumcision that God brings to our hearts through His covenant relationship with us [Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7-9; Romans 2:25-29; 4:1-12; Colossians 2:11; Galatians 3:6-8].