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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Names of God - El Shaddai

Ashten Webb was the children's director of our church until she moved to Huntsville, Alabama when her husband, Matt, got a new job.  Ashten did a great job here and we love her Matt.  They just announced the birth of their fist child on social media.  They named their son Gabriel.  When you see the letters “EL” imbedded in a biblical Hebrew name, it usually means the word god is imbedded in the name's meaning.  Do you see an “EL” in Gabriel’s name?  Gabriel means: "God is my strength".

This summer, we are studying the names of God from the Bible to learn what God is really like.  God is so much more than you may know.  God is infinite, and His character is expansive.  Through this series, I challenge you to expand your understanding of God and consider the many beautiful facets of His character.  Most of all, I invite you to follow God as the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose.

Genesis 17:1-6
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God
Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.
 2 I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”

3 At this, Abram fell face down on the ground. Then God said to him, 4 “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! 5 What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!

El Shaddai
The passage reveals two names of a famous man that three world religions call father, because he is revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  
You may remember, Abraham started life with the name Abram.  God called Abram to leave his homeland in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern day Iraq) and travel to a new land (the Promised Land, Israel), which would be Abram’s new home.  Abram obeyed and was faithful to God all his life.  

Abram lived up to half of his name; Abram means “Exalted Father”.  People looked up to Abram.  He was respected by everyone as a wise and honorable man.  Abram was exalted, but Abram did not have any children of His own and he was 99 years old when God promised to make Abram a father of countless descendants. 

God gave Abram a new name to remind him of God’s promise.  God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of Many.”  Now, how is it possible for a 99-year-old man to start having children?  Well, you might be thinking, maybe Abraham has a young wife?  Nope.   His wife, Sarah, is 90 years old (Genesis 17:17)!  And God promised Abraham would have a son through his 90-year-old wife, Sarah! 

As a father who is 47 years old, I don’t have the parental energy left like I had when I was in my 20s and started having kids.  I can’t imagine having a child in my 90s!  However, what Abraham and Sarah wanted, more than anything, was to have a son to carry on their legacy of faith and God is more than capable to make it happen.  So God reveals one of His many names to show He is perfectly capable of giving them a biological child.

God says, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’” The Hebrew name is El-Shaddai.  You see the letters “EL” imbedded in the name. You already know El means “God”.  God is not a mortal being.  He is immortal.  He is God. The second Hebrew word is Shaddai.  This is most often translated as Almighty, but one word just doesn’t convey the full nature of the meaning.  Shaddai is often thought of as “All-Sufficient.”  If God is Almighty, then He is completely sufficient to turn a 99-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife into parents (and He is All-Sufficient to give them the energy to raise the child).

The Hebrew word Shaddai comes from the root word shad, which means “breast”.  Now, the ancients weren’t talking about chicken breasts. The ancient Hebrews had in mind the life-giving, nourishing breast of a mother sustaining an infant. Have you ever thought about the helplessness of a newborn infant. Sure, it’s cute and all, but how is this thing going to survive? It has no teeth.  It can’t use its hands to feed itself.  It’s completely helpless! 

In the ancient word, they didn’t have baby formula and bottles, but God gives infants a mother.  She holds it to her breast to keep it warm and safe. With her breasts, the mother is able to nourish the child with everything it needs to grow healthy & strong. And this, also, is an image God gave about Who He Is. He said, “I Am El-Shaddai—God Almighty, God All-Sufficient.”

When Jesus came in the New Testament as the perfect embodiment of Divine God on earth, Jesus talked about Himself using imagery that echoed God’s Name to Abraham. What did Jesus say? He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35).

Jesus also said he was the Water of Life and once told the woman at the well, “Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:14)

I have personally experienced the Almighty, All-Sufficient power of God throughout my life.  You don’t have time to listen to me list all the ways God has provided a way for me when there was no way.  So I will share only one. 

I got my first full-time job after college when I was a young father in my early twenties.  I was finally earning enough money to take care of my young family.  It was also at that point that I was absolutely sure God was calling me to leave my career and answer a call to full-time ministry as a United Methodist pastor.  

The first step was to go to seminary.  So I called the office of Candler School of Theology at Emory University and asked how much it would cost to attend their seminary.  That lady on the phone said $17,000.  I swallowed hard and ask, "Is that $17,000 per year or for the whole degree?"  She replied, "No. That's $17,000 per semester."  Now, I probably paid less than $10,000 for my entire undergraduate engineering degree and this lady was telling me I'd have to pay $17,000 per semester (and it takes a minimum of 6 semester to graduate from Candler with a Masters in Divinity degree).  What's more, I was gonna have to quit my full-time job to pursue this degree and calling.

I hung up the phone, bowed my head, and prayed, "Lord, there's no way I can afford this.  If You're calling me to be a minister, You're gonna have to make a way, because I can't do it."

Well, I did go to seminary and God was sufficient.  Through grants and scholarships and the generosity and support of people and churches, almost all of my seminary tuition was covered.  I am still paying on student loans, but they are loans from my undergraduate degree.  I have no debt from my seminary degree.  God is good!  He is El Shaddai--God Almighty, God All-sufficient.

Well, my finances might not mean a hill of beans to your life.  What you’re facing right now may make my example look like child’s play.  After 20 years of ministry, I have heard so many stories of the struggles people face.  Maybe you're wondering how are you going to take care your children with special needs.  Maybe you don't know how to take care of your sick spouse or face the cancer or the death of your best friend.  Are you care for your aging parent, wondering how to to face your fear or find forgiveness or let go of shame?  

God is El-Shaddai—He is Almighty, All-Sufficient God.  He can look a 99-year-old childless man in the eye and say, “I’m changing your name to ‘Father of Many’ because I’m promising to give you a son and so many descendants, you won’t be able to count them.”

God is not just talk.  He delivers.  He is El-Shaddai.  God did it for Abraham and God can do it for you.  God is all we really need. He is sufficient. Even if you feel as week and helpless as an infant, God is sufficient for your needs.  He is the source of life and can provide everything you could ever want or need, so much so that you could even leave behind everything you have and follow Him and not lack anything so long as you are following God’s will for your life.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

If you want to experience the Almighty, All-Sufficient Power of God in your life, you can’t keep following your own selfish path.  You see, God told Abraham, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”  And Abraham trusted God and followed God’s plan.  And we are still talking about Abraham 4,000 years later.  Three world religions (nearly 4 billion living people today) call Abraham “Father”.

The key is to put your faith in God, through Jesus Christ.  You have to “leave behind” your own self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested plans and follow God’s plan for your life. 
You will never regret it if you do.  But you will regret it for eternity if you don’t.

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