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Hagar and the God Who Sees

If you grew up going to Sunday school, no doubt you’ve heard many stories about Abraham and his family. You’d be hard pressed to find a Sunday school curriculum that goes through the stories of the Old Testament that doesn’t include the stories of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his son Issac. They are such a central family in the Bible, it would be very odd to leave them out. 

But on that same token, there are some members of Abram’s family that we do tend to leave out. Abram’s second wife and his oldest son don’t get the same limelight as Sarah and Isaac, but they are very much part of Abram’s family and they are key elements of the Biblical account of Abram’s story. And as you might have now guessed, they will also be the focus of this next chapter in our study of the life of Abraham.

Now before we jump into this today, I want to remind you of three key facts. If you’ve missed a couple messages over these past several weeks, here’s what you need to know about Abram in order to really understand this chapter today.

#1.When we first met Abram in back Genesis chapter 12, God promised Abram that his descendants would become a great nation. In fact, over the past couple chapters, God has reaffirmed that promise several times – stating that Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky – they would be like dust – so much that you could never count them all! That’s the first key fact to remember.

#2. Abram was currently childless. His wife Sarai had been unable to become pregnant, and so to-date, they had no children. That’s fact #2. 

#3. Abram was getting pretty old. We’ll see at the end of this chapter that Abram was now 86 years old. And I know that people lived longer back then, but still – Abram is no spring chicken anymore.

So these three facts set the stage for today’s chapter. God had promised Abram a son, Abram currently had no son, and Abram is starting to get old. With that in mind, let’s turn to Genesis chapter 16, verse 1.

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Contrasting a “Me-Centered” Society

If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Matthew, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe it’s about 55 times in Matthew – 126 times throughout all four Gospels – that Jesus talks about this kingdom. He tells all kinds of parables and gives all kinds of illustrations to help us understand what the Kingdom of God is like. And of course, Jesus isn’t talking about a kingdom with physical borders and castles and armies and things like that. The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom. In fact, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, Pilate asks him, “Are you a king?” And Jesus says in John 18:36…

36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36

Jesus was saying his kingdom was very different from the kingdom of Rome or any other kingdom that we might be familiar with. You see, unlike most kingdoms, the Kingdom of God is not centered around some physical location like a city or a castle or a country. The Kingdom of God is centered around God. And God of course is not limited by location – he’s omni-present. He’s present everywhere all the time. So God’s kingdom is not defined by a physical location, but it’s defined by the people who carry out the will of their king.

Two weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s prayer and there’s a key part of that prayer – one that you’re probably familiar with – which goes like this: 

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 KJV

We talked about how, when we pray that, we are inviting God’s will as King to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as his will is being carried out in heaven. 

And so when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven – he’s talking about the people who submit to and carry out the will of God in their lives.

And it makes sense that we should pray that prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – We should be eager to carry out God’s will because we know that God’s will is good and pleasing and perfect. We read that from Romans 12:2 three weeks ago:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

Our will is often flawed. I can’t speak for you, but I know that my will is often selfish and sometimes I make decisions that hurt others or even myself. We are not perfect people and we do not make perfect decisions.

But God is perfect. And his will is perfect. It’s good and it’s pleasing. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always see the good immediately. But if God really is how the Bible describes Him – loving, just, faithful, and all those other things – then we can trust that his will is good and pleasing and perfect.

And I’ve certainly seen that to be true in my life. I’ve had a lot of regrets doing things my way, but I’ve never regretted doing things God’s way.

But that’s sure not to say that it’s been easy. Doing things God’s way often means doing things the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. We’ve talked about how the Kingdom of God is very different from the Kingdom of this world. In fact, that’s probably why Jesus talked about it so often. If we are going to live in the kingdom of God, then we need to be prepared to live very differently – different from how we used to live – different from how the world around us lives.

And so that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks as we’ve been going through this message series – which we’ve titled “Kingdom Living”.

What is God’s will for us in how we should live? If Jesus is our King and His will is good and pleasing and perfect, it would seem to me that we would want his will to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as it is in heaven. And if so, then what is that good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does He want us to live? What does Kingdom Living look like?

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The Humbling Element of Fasting

Well, this week our church did something a little bit unusual – something that has never done in this church before. In fact, as far as I can remember, I’ve never been part of a church that did anything like this. But on Wednesday over the lunch hour, together as a church family, we fasted. Instead of eating our normal Wednesday lunch, we instead, spent that time fasting and  praying for our community. Which was really pretty cool, and if you didn’t get a chance to join us this time, I’m sure we’re going to be doing this again… But for those of you are just joining us today, let me give you some quick background to all this.

Over the past couple of months we have been looking at the spiritual disciplines – or the healthy habits of Christians that help us draw near to God and that help us grow deeper in our relationship with Him. They change our understanding of who God is and how He’s working in our world.

We looked first of all, at how we can see glimpses of God in Creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere around us – in the vastness of the galaxies or the complexity of our DNA or in the wonder of a baby being born or simply in the beauty of a sunset. We see the evidence of God everywhere.

But of course, while the heaven’s do declare the glory of God, His creation doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about what He has done. That’s why God has given us His Word – the Bible. And so we spent several weeks looking at how we know that the Bible really is God’s Word and how reading and understanding it changes us as we learn more about who God really is and what He’s really like.

And while God communicates to us primarily through His Word, He has given us the ability to communicate with Him primarily through prayer. And so we spend a few weeks looking at why would should pray. Why pray to a God who already knows everything we need and who has already promised to provide it? We saw how prayer is an invitation for God to be active and involved and sovereign in our lives. It’s actually an act of worship when we pray.

And then most recently, for the last two Sundays, we’ve been talking about fasting. And fasting isn’t nearly as common-place these days as prayer or Bible reading – although I think it should be because it is an excellent way for us to draw close to God.  Fasting is a way for us to focus on the most important things in life – not just the urgent things in life. When we give up food for a certain amount of time, to instead focus on God and our relationship with Him, our hunger reminds us how desperate we are for Him – and how much we depend on Him every moment of every day. It also reminds us that this life here and now is not all there is! We are looking forward to the day when this life is over and we can see Jesus face-to-face and can spend the rest of eternity with Him – feasting and celebrating and being fully satisfied for the rest of all time! Fasting is such a good reminder of that.

And so that’s why on Wednesday, we decided to fast together as a church. I know that many Christians have never fasted before. It’s a relatively new practice for me as well. And so this was really an experiment in fasting and I hope you’ll continue to experiment with it!

Now today I want us to look at one more aspect of prayer and fasting. And by no means, have we covered it all! The more I learn about fasting, the more I realize how little I know. So far, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at how fasting impacts us – how it changes our perspectives and reminds of things that we are usually quick to forget. But today I want to focus on how fasting impacts our prayers.

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Bowing in Submission

For those of you who missed last week, or for those who have a terrible memory, last week we started talking about engaging with God. And the primary way that we do that is through worship. And we’re not just talking about worship music, although that is certainly a part of it. Worship in it’s simplest form, is just saying thanks to God. It’s about acknowledging who God is and what He’s done and continually having an attitude of thankfulness because of that. So, if you want to begin to engage with God – to really connect with Him, start saying thanks. And that’s where our list of “100 things to be thankful for” came in.

Now this morning, we’re going to continue exploring how to engage with God. And I think it’s important for us to remember who God is. If we’re going to engage with God, we have to realize that God is not just another person. We tend to try to bring God down to our level. To think of Him almost as an equal.

But that’s not the case. Yes, we are created in His image, but He is so infinitely more in every way than we are. So to help us keep perspective as we endeavor to engage with God, let’s just look at some of the ways the Bible describes God for us.

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