I grew up in rural Iowa, which means I was used to two things: the smell of pig manure and the sound of cows mooing (hey folks, deny it all you want to, but those are authentic Iowa noises). At night the cows were pretty quiet where I lived, but there were a lot of crickets. I used to love to sit out in my parent's lawn at night as the crickets sang and look up at the stars. The stars were pretty bright out in the country because of the lack of artificial lighting.
I got pretty good at identifying the constellations -- some of them I made up myself, but I still felt pretty smart.
I grew up and lived in a city for a while. At night I couldn't see any stars in the sky. I got excited if I could see one. I got homesick for Iowa where I could sit under a canopy of bright stars.
Then I went to Egypt.
My tour group and I went into the Sinai desert to climb Mt. Sinai at 2 am. I don't usually like to be up that early in the morning, but avoiding the desert heat and the beautiful sky made it totally worth it. I had never seen an unspoiled night sky. There were no streetlights or any other kinds of artificial light for miles. The sky looked like someone had spilled diamond dust (if there is such a thing) all over it -- Plus there was no moon, which made the light show that much more fantastic.
The stars which made up the constellations were brighter than the others which made them stand out, but they were still completely surrounded by smaller/dimmer stars.
So then I went home to Iowa...
I was so disappointed when I saw the night sky back home. Compared to the unspoiled sky of the Sinai desert, it was as spartan as a night sky in the city.
In the book of Genesis, God showed Abraham a night sky and told him to try to count the stars. God told His friend, "Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have" (Genesis 12:5 NLT). After seeing a sky more like Abraham would have seen (no streetlights), I understand more of what God was trying to tell him.
In Rich Mullins' song "Step by Step" there's a line I love: "Sometimes I think of Abraham/how one star he saw had been lit for me."
The New Testament teaches that when we become friends of God, when we accept the sacrifice of Christ, we become spiritual children of Abraham and that the promises God made to Abraham apply to us.
So when God showed Abraham those stars and told him to count them, He wasn't just talking about blood descendants, but spiritual descendants too. There may not have been a literal star representing each person, but the principle was there: God's family, God's group of friends can be as infinite and countless as the stars in the sky.
So what does a child of Abraham or friend of God look like? Jesus said that we would know His friends by how they behave and act, but what does that mean? Do they all act and behave in the same way? When I was a kid, I thought all of God's friends had to look, think, and act in a certain way. Then I grew up and found out that God's friends do not fit the cookie-cutter image. God likes variety.
Its like the stary skies. I thought I knew what a starry sky looked like and then I grew up and saw a real one. I found out that the stars really are numberless.