9/23/18

Abraham—What God Can Do With Faith (LOTI #1)

 

I want to start with two statements and build off them.  One, nothing is impossible with God.  Our God eats “impossible” for breakfast, lunch, and supper.  Think about it: He simply spoke and nothing was something… and something so big we haven’t even discovered it all yet (and never will)! (I speak of things that never were as though they are?????)

 

Two, we all love heroes and would aspire to be one.  Alas, most of us never encounter the epic challenge to get our name up in lights… aren’t too many moonwalkers or polio vaccine discoverers.  And yes, we disciples would love to be faith heroes.   

 

So, what happens if we were to put these two things together?  We should know

      that most Bible heroes never set out to be.  Most were humble people with a little faith.  Then, usually from an encounter with God, they became bold to do what we’d most often consider impossible. (e.g., Gideon, Samson, David, Daniel, or Esther).   

 

There is real tension when we’re well aware of our inadequacy and clearly hear God call us to His work.  But many have found trust in Him to be the secret of strength and success.  All true faith is risky but when Bible people took risks they discovered something that moved them completely beyond their shortcomings .  Here it is again: the Creator / Sustainer of the universe is God of impossible things!  Jesus said: “With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

 

Only a little Bible familiarity shows us God’s Word is shockingly honest about its heroes.  They were fallible and proved it often.  But they discovered this principle: God’s call heard by God’s people using God’s power produces God’s results! 

 

Today, now, what are you trying to do that will surely fail in unless the Lord helps?  Most of us live stubbornly inside the limits of our own strength and control.  It’s, “What can I handle?”  And thinking that way, we have little need for God (or none); we will be our own “god.”  Though Heaven offers us wisdom and power, we answer, “I’d rather do it myself.”  “Control” is our key word: there’s no culture in the world where everyone wants to be in control more than here.  What time, thought, and effort we expend trying to be in control!  This is true of churches, too, as we try to control what the church does by our own strength.  Jesus said of this approach, whether by individual or church: “I tell you truly; they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). 

 

Though fear of failure keeps us away from anything we can’t control we’ll tackle things that will we know will defeat us, but only if that’s unavoidable.  When we finally have to reach out for God’s help, we usually ask Him to rubber stamp our decisions and bless what we think is best.  But God doesn’t work that way.

 

What would we dare if we were sure God would help us?  “Truly I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he shall also do, and greater works than these he shall do....  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14).  C’mon man, do you believe that?  Yes!  Wasn’t that a promise to just the 12?  No!

 

Don’t we always forget how much the Lord loves us and how He cares more about things that concern us than we do?  Our God is a God who wants to be in our lives and struggles.  On His timetable He comes to our situations with His wisdom and power.  He may lead us out to our extremity where He can work to astound us with what He can do with our human impossibilities and dead ends.

 

Have we dared to ask God to help us have faith to risk trying to do what He’s set before us?  Once Jesus told a man to believe and he responded, “I believe… help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest:

     

Our impossibilities provide a platform for the display of God’s almighty grace and power.  He’ll not only deliver us, but in doing so, He’ll give us a lesson we’ll never forget, and to which we will return over and over again for joyous reflection.”

 

With that as background, let’s talk about a great Bible hero... MEET ABRAM  / ABRAHAM  “…Abraham, Your [God’s] friend forever” (Genesis 13:14-16); “…Abra-ham, my friend” (Isaiah 41:8); “…and Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23).  If we ever get to be a “friend of God,” we can forget ultimate defeat.  God will never let us down: “I will never forsake you or leave you…”

 

Abraham was like us; he didn’t get to be God’s friend easily.  Repeated hard lessons from God were needed.  God had to shift his thinking from he’d do most of it by himself and let God help now and again as needed to solely “God will provide.”  this shift meant many a bump and bruise from time he spent in the University of Hard Knocks.  But, in the end, God gave him the gift of mountain-top faith from all his experiences.

 

GOD INTERVENES WITH ABRAM:  “Leave your country, your kinsmen, your father’s house and go to a land I’ll show you” (Genesis 12:1).  In Abram’s early home Ur, people worshipped many gods; the Living God was among them.  So it’s highly likely he and his loved ones were tainted by that pagan society’s influences.  Abram’s father Terah had a name that honored Teresh the moon god.  And Terah left Ur with Abram.  Then a time came when God spoke to Abram and said: “Leave for yourself…”  I believe he meant Abram had to leave behind his father’s values to be blessed.

 

AGAIN:  “I will make a great nation out of you… bless you… make your name great.  Those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse.  And in you all families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2, 3).

   

What a promise!  Shouldn’t that be enough for Abram’s faith to be strong?  It wasn’t.  He had his doubting side.  When a famine pushed his family from Canaan to Egypt and the Egyptian Pharaoh was bewitched by the beauty of Abram’s wife, Sarai,  Abram feared Pharaoh would kill him to take her as a wife (something kings did then) and lied saying that she was his sister. 

 

Abram’s behavior in Egypt was a lapse in his trust in God as he attempted to solve a problem and control danger himself.  His lie brought him close to disaster and God’s plan was risked by his untruth.  Things won’t work when we’re working our plan!

 

ANOTHER PROMISE:  “Lift your head and look—north, south, east, and west—all you see is land I will give to you and your children forever.  And I will make your descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth—if anyone can number the dust, then your descendants can be numbered” (Genesis 13:14-16).

 

Once, to end a dispute over grazing land, Abram trusted in God by giving Lot the best grazing land.  This act of faith pleased God who made Abram another promise:  “Get up and walk around the land, from one side to the other; I will give you all of it” (Genesis 13:17).  It was a vision and a promise — God walked him around it until it became real and tangible to him. 

 

I wonder, should we set aside a day to walk around in our world and ask God to give it to us!  Maybe it’s already a done deal and we just haven’t realized it.  I boldly walk around this auditorium every week and ask God to give me the people here.

 

The promises becoming reality didn’t happen quickly.  Abram was 75 years old and had NO children the day he first heard God’s promise of children – an old man with no child and a wife past childbearing age!  But Abram’s faith was maturing and he believed God’s promise in spite of its “impossibilities” and “God counted his faith and trust as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).  How often do we settle for less because we’re impatient and unwilling to wait for God’s timing?

 

FINALLY COMES THE ULTIMATE FAITH TEST

There was still some wavering.  Abram thought he had it figured and proposed it, but God would not fulfill the covenant promise through his faithful old servant, Eliezer.  Abram believed he’d found God’s way when Sarai convinced him to take her handmaiden Hagar and bear a son by her.  But God said, “No.”  His fulfillment of the promise would be through 100 year old Abraham and 90 year old Sarah.    

 

Do you see it?  Abram occasionally drifted out of strong faith into a little backwater of unbelief.  We can identify, can’t we?

 

As the story moves on God gave both Abram and Sarai new names for their new faith nature.  Abram (exalted father) became Abraham (father of multitudes); Sarai (princess) became Sarah (mother of kings).  And God Himself added a new name for Himself, El Shaddai (God Almighty, the one with all power).  Then finally the child was born and was named Isaac (“he laughs”)!  Who laughed?  Abraham did, Sarah did, God did!  The promised child miraculously coming proves that God can and will perform everything just as He says He will. 

 

SOMETHING UNTHINKABLE!  God spoke to Abraham on day, as he was thoroughly enjoying his promised son, and said:  “Now take your son, the only son you have, whom you love so dearly, and journey to the land of Moriah.  There on one of the mountains I will show you, offer him as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2).  He was asking Abraham to give up the long-awaited promised child, the most precious possession he’d ever had, and as a human sacrifice.  It’s horrific!  No request could have been more unwelcome!

 

SOME THINGS FOR US TO PONDER:  (1) Isaac belonged to God, not Abraham.  (2) God will touch every “Isaac” in our lives.  So who/ what is your “Isaac?”  Who/what in your life competes with God for first place in your heart?  (3) Lots of people besides ancient pagans have false gods (they are in our homes, we deposit them in bank accounts, drive them, fasten them in brass to our office door).  (4) God’s timing is always perfect – He stopped the knife not a moment too soon (Abraham’s faith needed testing) and not a moment too late (God’s promise lived on).  Here’s an interesting question:  Why did Abraham have to live 25 years before the promised child came?  To grow out of himself and into God!  (5) Abraham risked everything of value to himself for God’s friendship and God proved faithful.  (6) God always provides what’s needed – here a substitute sacrifice.  And Abraham gave the mountain a new name “Jehovah Jireh,” which means “the Lord will provide.”  (7) We never tire of this story because we need to be assured again and again that our God is a God who works in our lives to make us who He wants us to be.

 

TO BE FAITH HEROES, WE MUST LEARN…  (1) To see God’s bigger picture – He created Abraham and us to be His “friends.  (2) Mature faith will lay everything on the line for God.  (3) It takes some living and trying and failing to move from trusting only ourselves to risking everything for Him (from all self to no self, from none [or some] of Him to all of Him!  (4) God always wondrously provides as we yield our “Isaacs” up to Him.

 


Our Father, who is with us and working in us, may Abraham’s story this morning help us to see where our faith needs to go and how it can get there only by Your help – that though it isn’t possible to be who we need to be by our power and control, it is by Your being in our lives.May it also bring to our minds another mountain where another Father’s hand was not stayed and another Son was pierced and died.No wonder dear God, You and Abraham were friends — You each offered beloved sons for the other.