Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Faith in the family

Brown family reunion - October 2001Family reunions bring relatives together to celebrate and share memories. I gave this message at a church service during the reunion of the Brown family at Bedgerabong, near Forbes in New South Wales, Australia, in October 2001.

When reading through the Brown family history, I noticed the following instances of Christian faith amongst our forebears.

Mitchell Brown - 1835-1905 - son of Tom Brown Snr and father of Tom Brown JnrFirstly, Thomas Brown Snr (1791-1877), who sailed from the Shetland Isles to Australia with his wife Barbara and their children in 1856 was described as:

a quite contemplative man of old Puritan school of thought. He was studious and read much, but the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress were his text books. Like Abraham of old, he lived in the atmosphere of spiritual communion with the Unseen, all of which was very real to him. His word was his bond. He was kind and considerate and believed in doing good for goodness sake, and preferred doing without, rather than being indebted to any man. His was a life of a simple but sublime faith.

Secondly, his grandson The Honorable Thomas Brown (1862-1934), who was a parliamentarian for 23 years representing the electorates of Condobolin, Canobolas, Calare and Lachlan, was an active Christian. He preached amongst Presbyterian churches and was associated with the Inland Mission and the Bible Society. It is said that his Christian faith was evident in his everyday life and he was known as “honest Tom” in parliamentary circles.

Isabella Brown (nee Abernethy) - 1839-1924 - married Mitchell Brown on 1860So, these two Tom Browns were men of faith. They trusted in the promises of God given in the Bible and lived accordingly. It is evident that there has been a strong commitment to Christianity in the Brown family. This is also evidenced by the memorial plaques to Mitchell (1835-1905) and Isabella (1839-1924) Brown in the old church at Bedgerabong.

Another great example of faith in God was Abraham, who is known as the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11,16).

People of faith

Abraham lived in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago. He is an ancestor of both the Jewish and Arabic people—which is why they struggle over control of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron where Abraham is buried.

Abraham was given four great promises and some of these were mentioned in Genesis 12:1-8:

  • a promised son (who was Isaac, Gen. 15:4; 17:19, 21),
  • a promised people (v.2)—numerous descendants and a great nation (who were the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews),
  • a promised land (v.7; which was Canaan/Palestine/Israel), and
  • a promised blessing (v.3NLT)—“all the families on earth will be blessed through you”; so, everyone can be blessed (Jesus Christ was born into a Jewish family and faith in His work is the source of true joy and happiness; Gal. 3:6-9).

There were two problems with the promises given to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-4):
Firstly, his wife Sarah was unable to have children—and the promises all depended on them having a child, which seemed impossible (Gen. 11:30). The fact that they had no children and no prospect of having any children would have been devastating to Abraham and Sarah at a time when families usually had many children.
Secondly, the promises required that Abraham leave his homeland, and his family and go where directed by God (v.1; Acts 7:2, 3; Heb. 11:8, 9). This involved a journey of about 2,000 km from the seaport of Ur on the Persian Gulf along the river Euphrates to Haran near the Turkish border and then to the land of Canaan, which is Israel today. This was part of the trade route between the Tigris-Euphrates Valley and Egypt. So the second problem was that this was an extremely long trip that would take several months when the only means of transport was riding on camels and walking. The magnitude of this journey would have been similar to that of our forebears sailing from England to Australia in the 1850’s, a distance of at least 22,000km.

Both Abraham and the Browns were pioneer travellers and pioneer settlers. They had to leave their homeland and leave their relatives (Gen. 12:1). They left all that was familiar to go to a place that was remote and unknown to them. This would have been a great challenge and they would have faced many difficulties along the way. At the end of the journey, when Abraham arrived at the foreign land of the Canaanites, we read that “he built an altar there to the Lord” (Gen. 12:7, 8NIV). This showed that his first priority was to the God of the Bible, rather than following the local customs of those who had lost the knowledge of the Creator. Now the Canaanites worshipped idols—they explained nature by reference to their gods and goddesses, such as Baal, the god of the rain and storm and Asherah, the goddess of the sea and fertility. They personified the forces of nature and their civilisation was immoral and corrupt—practicing such things as child sacrifice, sacred prostitution and snake worship.

Over the years, Abraham learnt to trust God—he waited 25 years for a son and another 60 years for twin grandsons. During this time he became convinced that God had power to do what He had promised (Rom. 4:21). The Bible says he obeyed God and waited patiently for the fulfilment of God’s promises (Heb. 6:15; Jas. 2:21-22). Others in his family and community benefited from his faith as he lived for God. For example, Abraham rescued his nephew Lot twice—firstly when Lot was a prisoner of war and secondly when the city of Sodom was destroyed.

Likewise, Thomas Brown trusted God during his journey of life. Although it would have been difficult living as a whaler in the Shetland Islands, sailing to Australia and settling in primitive conditions at Bedgerabong, he remained faithful. Furthermore, his family and others in the community would have benefited from his faith as he lived for God. So both Abraham and Tom Brown were people of faith—they trusted in the God of the Bible.

The unknown God

In about AD50, Paul preached on “an unknown God” at Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). He introduced them to “The God who made the world and everything in it” who is the source of life (Acts 17:24, 25). Like the ancient Canaanites, the Greeks had lost the knowledge of the Creator. They had forgotten that design demands a designer and a complex world requires an intelligent Creator—nature didn’t make itself. By looking at the beauty and complexity of creation—whether on the large scale of stars and galaxies or the small scale of atoms and molecules or the web of life in the ecology of our earth, anyone can know that there is a God. The Bible says that we should know this instinctively. Paul wrote “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:20NLT).

Paul states the consequences of losing the concept of the Creator in Romans 1. These are sexual immorality, refusing to even think about God; being filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, quarrelling, deceit, and malice; being gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful; disobedient to parents; senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless (Rom. 1: 24-32). This describes a loss of law and order and knowing what is right and wrong. The Bible gives an example—when Israel had no king, everyone “did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Jud. 17:6; 21:25). It destroys the foundation of society and of morality—without the Creator there is no stable basis for right and wrong. We live in a cause and effect universe—actions have consequences—this is evident in science and history and in communities and in families. The Bible says we harvest what we plant (Gal. 6:7-9).

In Athens Paul declared that all nations who live on earth come from a common ancestor, Adam. So, if we went back far enough, Adam and Eve would be at the beginning of the family tree! Then he pointed out how the Greeks were worshipping something of their own creation, idols made of gold, silver or stone (v.25). What ignorance! God isn’t like anything that humans have thought up and made. The truth according to the Bible is that God made us—we don’t make Him with our hands or our minds.

Then Paul urged them to turn to the true Creator God in order to escape God’s coming judgment. He gives a clue on how this is possible by mentioning that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Coming into the faith

What would Paul say if he could speak to us today? Surely humanity has advanced significantly in the past 2,000 years. Yes, knowledge has increased, and technology has advanced. But unfortunately, although we have a Christian heritage, to many people the Creator is still an “unknown God”. Many today are devoted to the products of our increased knowledge and believe that there is no need for a Creator. Unfortunately, although we have gained knowledge, we have lost wisdom—the Bible calls this ignorance and foolishness. So the message given at Athens is still relevant today. This is the most important message in the Bible:

  • Foundation (of the message): Genesis is an historical book, not poetry (see Psalms and Proverbs for this). This means we are dealing with real people and real events here, not myths. God is the Creator of everything, including humanity. The first couple, Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God in the ideal environment of the Garden of Eden. But after being tempted by Satan they rebelled against God and all of us inherited this rebellion that is called “sin”. As a consequence there was a radical change in the world with the entry of suffering, conflict, death and decay. All of mankind’s relationships broke down—those towards God, each other and the rest of creation.
  • Power (of the message): When He was crucified and raised from the dead, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, conquered death and took the punishment for our rebellion. All those who come to Him in repentance for their rebellion can have their relationship restored with God—they became part of the family of God.
  • Hope (of the message): The whole of creation is suffering the effects of sin and is slowly running down. Biological extinction is more common than biological evolution! But all things will be restored when Jesus Christ comes to complete His work of redemption and reconciliation—there will be no more sorrow, pain or death (Acts 3:21; Rev. 21:4). It will be like going back to the beginning of time—paradise regained.

As God’s creatures, we are accountable to Him for how we live our lives (Rom. 14:12, Heb. 9:27). The Bible tells us that we all, like Adam, have departed from God’s ways; we have gone our own way—we have all rebelled and sinned (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:23).

Like Adam, we all deserve God’s judgment for our sin. As descendants of Adam, we all suffer physical death at the end of this earthly life. The Good News is that God has provided a way of escape from the judgment to come—“this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16NLT). Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sins.

God offers this free gift of salvation to all who will receive it—“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He calls upon all to turn away from their sinful ways and trust in what Christ has done for us. There is nothing else we can do to remove our guilt before God. Doing good things does not remove our sin. On the other hand, the Bible warns that whoever rejects God’s offer will suffer “eternal destruction” (2 Th. 1:8-9).

Living by faith

Abraham was promised that his descendants would be too many to count, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Gen. 15:5; 22:17). Although there are about 100 billion stars in our local galaxy, the milky way, astronomers estimate that you can see about 1,000 stars with the naked eye. Similarly, Thomas and Barbara Brown have been blest with many descendants—there are at least 1,200 people on the Family Circle (in 2001).

The Brown family has a Christian heritage, but we can’t rely on the faith of our fathers or our ancestors. We live in a society that is becoming more pagan like Canaan and Athens were. Are you going with the flow, or are you willing to make a difference like Abraham in the Old Testament, like Paul in the New Testament and like Thomas Brown? Reading the Bible, which is the Creator’s message to mankind, is a good place to start.

Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith on our journey of life. We need to learn to distinguish between the Creator and the creation. Remember the Creator who made it all in the beginning and who still sustains our world.

You can do this by trusting in the effectiveness of Christ’s death and resurrection to establish a relationship with God the Creator. Trusting God is trusting that His promises given in the Bible will come true. These promises are the objects of the Christian faith which bring hope (Hebrews 11:10). They include looking ahead to the return of Christ and being united with Him in heaven. It will be like a family reunion of all believers.

And let’s pray to God seeking His help while we travel along the journey of life. It’s an essential part of living by faith.

If Christians live by faith then they will be characterised by the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:23). We could all do with more of this! What a difference it would make on our world?

So, let’s keep a foundation of faith in the family by trusting our God the great Creator and the great Redeemer who restores and reconciles.

Written, October 2001

Posted, September 2020

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