Give Thanks, why and then what?

It is thanksgiving day … a day wherein we remember the various things that we are thankful for and spend our time with our family and friends. The Bible innumerably counsels us that we ought to give thanks to the Lord, our God, for he is good and his mercy endures forever.

While it is certainly apt for us to express our gratitude for God’s goodness and his enduring merciful nature, what other reason is given to us, as to why we must give thanks.

We must give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). So it is pretty clear that to give thanks is to conform to God’s will for us. So now that we know why we must give thanks, what are we required to do upon giving thanks? We must make known his deeds among the people (1 Chronicles 16:8).

Points to ponder:
This thanksgiving, are you in God’s will? i.e., are you giving thanks? Also, in addition to giving thanks, are you making known his deeds to the people around us?  In other words, this thanksgiving, let us remember to be in God’s will and do God’s work.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 (KJV)
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

1 Chronicles 16:8 (KJV)
Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.

With God – The renaming of Sarai

Genesis 17:15-16 gives the account of God telling Abraham that he was to rename his wife from Sarai to Sarah and that God will bless her with a son. Sarah shall become a mother of nations and kings of people shall come from her. While this conversation may seem, on the surface, as merely a rechristening one, a close look at the Bible reveals, certain hidden treasures in this account.

First, note the timeframe when God gives this promise to Abraham. Sarai was childless still but Sarah shall not be. Sarah would be become a mother to many nations as from her son, Isaac, would be begotten Jacob, from whom the twelve nations (tribes) of Israel would come. We also see that of her children, down the line, many kings would arise (as God had promised of her), the most notable ones being king David and king Solomon of Israel and through David, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, himself. Second, the name Sarai means one who is contentious (quarrelsome), which we see evident in the life of Sarai as she dealt with Hagar and Abram, blaming Abram for what she had asked him to do. Sarah on the other hand, in Biblical Hebrew, means a crowned head (a princess) and so we see God renaming Sarah to possibly remind her of who she is in his sight – a princess. Third, this account expresses that God would include Abraham’s wife into the blessings he was blessing Abraham with – thereby establishing that God is a “family” God.

Points to ponder:
With God, someone who is childless can become the mother of nations from whom kings shall rise.
With God, a quarrelsome person can become a queen.
With God, our loved ones are included in his blessings of us for God is a ‘family’ God.

Question that remains to be answered then is “Are you with God?”

Genesis 17:15-16 (KJV)
15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

How to stop being stiff-necked (practically)?

As we go through the Bible, in Genesis 17, we learn about the covenant of circumcision, God instituted with Abraham. Interestingly, the Bible uses the word stiff-necked to describe an uncircumcised heart. A couple of instances where there is observed is in Deuteronomy 10:16 and Acts 7:51.

Deuteronomy 10:16
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.

Acts 7:51
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

A stiff-neck is a condition that occurs when the muscles that attach the neck to the spine have been strained or  sprained or as a result of some cervical spine disorder. A person suffering from a stiff neck usually experiences pain and is unable to turn their neck in any direction without some discomfort. It is highly likely that you have experienced this condition at some point in time of your life. The most common reason for this is poor posture while working or poor position when resting (sleeping in an angle).

From a Christian perspective, there are many stiff-necked Christians. I often find myself stubborn in my willful ways and sins and can empathize with Apostle Paul, where he says, the things I do not want to do, I do and the things I do want to do, I do not do (Romans 7:19). It is likely that you can relate with me on this. In other words, we all suffer from stiff-neck syndrome during the course of our Christian walk with God. So what can we do to address this? How can we stop being stiff-necked practically?

As a warm up in our Shaolin Do Kung Fu class, one of the exercises that our Son, Reuben Paul and I do, at the beginning of our class is to stretch the muscles of the neck. We do this by slowly looking up and then looking down and then we turn the neck left to right and in all directions.

A Christian remedy to stiff-neck can be extrapolated from the world of Kung Fu. To stop being stiff-necked as a Christian,
– We ought to look up toward the heavens and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)
– We ought to look down and bow down, kneeling before the Lord our God, our maker, for he is our God (Psalm 95:6-7)
– We ought to look around (left and right and in all directions) at people, with compassion in our eyes i.e., look at our neighbors, whom we must love as ourselves (Mark 6:34; Matthew 22:39).

Points to ponder:
Are you stiff-necked? Are you willing to look up at God, bow down to him and look at his people around us, with compassion in your eyes, just as Jesus did (Mark 6:34) and teaching them about the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for his sheep (you, me and the whole world) (John 10:11).

The right posture and position for stop being stiff-necked is to be with bowed heads and raised eyes, on our knees.
Let us stop being stiff-necked!

Hebrews 12:2 (KJV)
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Psalm 95:6-8 (KJV)
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

Mark 6:34 (KJV)
34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

Everyone needs to be circumcised

I know, I know, the title of this article may have caused a sense of discomfort to some, but it is also likely that it invoked a sense of inquisitiveness in some, as to what this article is really about. So read on till the very end as the title is not only factually correct, but also fundamentally congruent with the Scripture.

The covenant of circumcision, which is the cutting away of the foreskin, is first established in the Bible, in the book of Genesis 17:9-12. God commands Abraham that the sign (token) of the covenant between God and Abraham, would be for Abraham to circumcise every male child, older than eight days in age, that is either born or bought into his household, and Abraham did so, including himself (Genesis 17:23-27)

On the surface, this may not only seem very barbaric and some may even deem it as appalling for God to demand such a sign to ratify his covenant, close scrutiny of the Bible reveals that the applicability of this covenant is not only of paramount important but pivotal for survival (eternally). Here are the salient points:

1. Circumcision means repenting from one’s sins and remembering the Lord, which comes about by the remembrance of one’s guilt after humbling their lofty/prideful (uncircumcised) hearts. In fact, God says in the Scripture that if his people confess their sins and unfaithfulness and humble their uncircumcised hearts, he will remember the land (Leviticus 26:40-42; 2 Chronicles 7:14).

Leviticus 26:40-42
40 If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
41 And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
42 Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.

2 Chronicles 7:14
14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

2. Circumcision means to stop being stiff-necked (stubborn). The Bible counsels that we must circumcise the foreskin of our hearts and no longer be stiff-necked (Deuteronomy 10:16).

Deuteronomy 10:16
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.

3. Circumcision means fulfilling the greatest commandment given to man so (Matthew 22:35-38) that man can inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-28). This is necessary for survival eternally for the Bible  states that the circumcision of one’s heart is needed so that one may live (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Deuteronomy 30:6
And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

4. Circumcision (and for that matter uncircumcision) means nothing when compared to obedience to God. The Bible makes it amply clear that physical circumcision is not required, for the one uncircumcised need not go and get circumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18), but what matters is obedience, i.e., keeping the commandments of God (1 Corinthians 7:19), for to fear God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

1 Corinthians 7:18-19
18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

Ecclesiastes 12:13
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Points to ponder:
As the Bible has established, circumcision means
– humbling one’s heart, accepting one’s guilt, confessing their sins and remembering the Lord
– stop being stiff-necked and stubborn in one’s sinful ways
– fulfilling God’s greatest commandment of loving God so that one may live
– obeying God and keeping his commandments.

The good news is that the circumcision of the heart is done by God himself, not by our own efforts – all we need to do is be willing to be circumcised in our hearts, for the Bible states “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.“(Deuteronomy 30:6)

Now can you see, circumcision (of the heart) is needed – a necessity. Everyone needs to be circumcised? Are you?

Genesis 17:9-12; 23-25 (KJV)
And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.
24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

1 Corinthians 7:18-19 (KJV)
18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

Everlasting covenant of God

Genesis 17:7-8 speaks of the covenant that God establishes with Abraham and his children as an everlasting one. From this we can infer that God is truly eternal for the one who is ephemeral in essence, cannot promise an eternal (everlasting) covenant. Also, we see that God’s provisions follow the establishment of God’s covenant i.e., only after God establishes his everlasting covenant, does God say that I will give the land and all land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession. But what is this covenant of God about? Verse 7 says that God wanted to be the God of Abraham and his children and verse 8 informs us that God is no longer merely stating, but affirming that God will be the God of Abraham’s descendants eternally. God says, “I will be their God”.

The everlasting covenant of God is not just the physical (the land that was given) but spiritual (which is to be a people of God).

Points to ponder:
God is saying even today, “I will be their God” eternally. God wants to be your God. The question then is, “Do you want to be The people of God?”

Genesis 17:7-8 (KJV)
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Make nations of thee

In the second part of the covenant that the Lord establishes with Abraham, he tells Abraham, that he will make nations of Abraham (Genesis 17:6). Later, God introspects that all nations would be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 18:8). From these words, we can see Abraham was being blessed so that he could be the conduit of God’s blessings to all nations.

Points to ponder:
Jesus Christ is the hope of all nations (Matthew 12:21) and all those who believe in Jesus Christ, are made into a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). We are blessed and made into a holy nation so that we can be conduits of God’s blessings to all nations. Will God make nations of you and me?

Genesis 17:6
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

Exceedingly fruitful

After the Almighty God renames Abram to Abraham, the first thing that God promises to Abraham, in the covenant that the LORD establishes with him, is that he would make him fruitful – exceedingly fruitful.

While “to be fruitful” can in this instance literally mean that the childless Abraham shall have a seed of his own, referring to Isaac, we see in the letter of Apostle Paul to the Church in Galatia that the Seed promised here referred to Christ Jesus himself (Galatians 3:16). Jesus was born centuries later in the line of Abraham and everyone who believes in him are are grafted into him (Romans 11:17; Romans 6:5), the Vine, through whom alone they can bear much fruit (John 15:5).

Points to ponder:
In other words, in order for Abraham to be fruitful, he would need to be rooted in Christ – and the same goes for each one of us. Are you and I rooted in Christ? Another thing to note is when the fruit of a tree is delicious to taste, we often praise the gardener. In other words, the glory does not go to the tree but the gardener/caretaker. In like manner, does the produce (fruit) of our lives bring glory to God the Father, the caretaker of our lives. Jesus himself said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples” (John 15:8). We know that we are fruitful – exceedingly fruitful, only when we live by the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23) and that in turn brings glory to God the Father. Are you and I exceedingly fruitful?

Genesis 17:6 (KJV)
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

John 15:5-8 (KJV)
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.