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Abraham: Frontlines of Faith

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Abraham: Fortunes of Faith

One of my favorite stories that I used to read to my girls over and over again goes like this…

I am Sam
I am Sam
Sam I am

That Sam-I-am!
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like
that Sam-I-am!

Do you like
green eggs and ham?

I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.

Would you like them
here or there?

I would not like them
here or there.
I would not like them
anywhere.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.


 

I love that story.  It is fun to read even when your kids say , “read it again, Dad.”  But you all know it’s not real.  Unfortunately when it comes to living daily for the Lord we sometimes give about as much attention to the Story of God as we do Green Eggs and Ham.  Sure we make all kinds of claims, and can even quote verses.  We understand the concepts of love and forgiveness.  But when life comes at us too often the Story of God has no more impact on our lives than the story Green Eggs and Ham.

What we have been talking about in this series is not a fictional children’s story.  It ought not be about “well this is what I do on Sunday morning”, or “Maybe I can learn some interesting facts about Abraham.”  If you walk away with the only thing in your pocket being “wow, that’s cool that Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac in the same place where Jesus, years later, gave himself as a sacrifice” then you have an interesting fact, but you have missed God completely.  

Sam and his friend are not real, but the story of God is!  The story of God matters!  Even bigger…God matters!  What we are talking about is not a waste of time, it is not just fulfilling our Christian duty, it is not just an interesting exercise.  This is life.  This is what life is about.  God and His story.  You miss this and you miss everything!

Chip Illustration (Put God First)

Let me show you what I mean…Every other week I lead one of our Breakout groups.  This group is made up of 3rd grade boys.  When our group time started the boys raced to the library, where we meet, and quickly saw the snacks on the table.  The snack for that night was “Sun Chips” 3 bags of original flavor, 2 cheese flavor, and 1 sour cream and onion flavor. Now which flavor do you think they all wanted?  That’s right, everyone wanted the 1 bag of sour cream and onion.  And in fact, one boy, without my knowledge, stashed the sour cream and onion bag with his stuff so he could save it for later.  Well, come snack time, another boy swiped the sour cream and onion out of his friends stuff…and so ensued a conflict. So here we had one boy holding the prized bag of chips who stole it from the other boy who greedily stashed the chips prior to snack time.  The ironic thing, was that our Bible lesson for the week was called “Put Jesus First”. 

So how would you have dealt with the situation?  As I saw it we had several options.  We could have given the bag to the one who snagged it first, or we could have given it to the boy who took it out of his friends bag and was now holding it, or we could have given it to someone else, or I could have eaten it myself.  But instead, I wanted to help the boys see that the time we had spent studying the Bible was not just busy work.  It was important.  In fact, it was vitally important and ought to make a difference in how we live our lives.  Learning to put Jesus first in our lives ought to impact our everyday life, even those ordinary choices we make regarding what we should do with our  (use hands) “chips”.  The ordinary is were we live.  We may be faced with big tests of faith only a few times in life.  But everyday, in seemingly insignificant ways, our faith is challenged significantly.

You see, God is not blowing hot air when He says, “Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness.” Or “Have this attitude which was also in Christ Jesus”  Or “Love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it.”  Or “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”

He tells us these things in His story because, point #1, we need to

1. Know that God is real and life is about Him

Just sit there for a moment and take that in.  Close your eyes if you must.  God is real and life is about Him.  There really is a God we cannot see, who created everything.  He really is out there.  And in fact He is right here.  Right here in this place.  God is real and life is about Him. 

Hebrews 11:6 Without faith no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him.

14 times in the story of Abraham, God comes close showing himself as real.14 times God makes Himself known to Abraham through a voice, a vision, coming as a person, or as the Angel of the Lord.  So close Abraham could hear Him, see Him, feel Him.

Abraham’s story starts off with these words…Genesis 12:1 (NCV) 1 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you.

Don’t miss those very ordinary words… “The Lord said to Abraham.”  Oh how we long to hear those words.  Isn’t that right?  If God would just tell me what to do, who to marry, what job to take...  If only we could hear those words.

Or what about Genesis 12:7 (NCV)7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

How many times have you said in the midst of a trial or crisis…”Where are you God?”  Are you really there?”  “Do you really care?”  God doesn’t come to us in the same way He came to Abraham. He comes to us through His Son, and through the truth He has given us in His Word. Maybe I’ve shared this before, but I can remember when my mom was suffering tremendous pain due to a failed cancer surgery on her spine.  I remember returning to seminary in Dallas after visiting my mom in the hospital in Orange County, I remember being in my dorm room, angry, furious, that God would let this happen.  Where was he now?  Why wasn’t he doing something?  Was He really there?

Months later, the Sunday after my mom’s memorial service, my family and I were in church together when the congregation started to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, A bulwark never failing”.   And there He was. He had been there all along, but at that moment His presence overwhelmed me.  And I knew He was real.  I knew that He knew what He was doing even if I didn’t understand it.

That same God that I experienced is the same God who appeared to Abraham. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He doesn’t change.  Think about it,  If God really is real, and  if He really is the Creator of all things, then our right response to Him is worship and faithful living, living in light of who He is and what He wants. 

He is significant. 

He is sovereign over all creation. 

Nothing happens outside of His control. 

He is most powerful,

the Almighty,

King of the universe. 

All of life is held together with His hands and without His intervention life would cease to exist. 

Do you believe that!?  Do you see that our response to the story of God cannot be cavalier?  The things we learn in Sunday school, Breakout, Refuge, Praxis, Small groups are to lead us to respond to life in godly ways because God is real and life is about Him.  Even when God asks the impossible from us…

Abraham is one of the Bibles greatest examples of faith.  He responds in obedient faith when God calls him to a land he does not know.  He responds in obedient faith when God promises that through his son and his descendants He will bless the world.  And He responds in obedient faith when God calls Abraham to sacrifice that very son of promise.

Hebrews 11:8-12 (NCV)

8 It was by faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go to another place God promised to give him. He left his own country, not knowing where he was to go. 9 It was by faith that he lived like a foreigner in the country God promised to give him. He lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who had received that same promise from God. 10 Abraham was waiting for the city that has real foundations—the city planned and built by God.

11 He was too old to have children, and Sarah could not have children. It was by faith that Abraham was made able to become a father, because he trusted God to do what he had promised. 12 This man was so old he was almost dead, but from him came as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Like the sand on the seashore, they could not be counted.

Why did Abraham respond in faith?  Because for Abraham, God was real and life was about Him. 

Take a look at what Abraham does in this rather ordinary situation with his nephew, Lot.  Both Abraham and Lot were very successful and had achieved great wealth.  Genesis 13:6 (NCV)6 says Abram and Lot had so many animals that the land could not support both of them together;  So Abraham said this to Lot…Genesis 13:8-9 (NCV)

“There should be no arguing between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, because we are brothers. 9 We should separate. The whole land is there in front of you. If you go to the left, I will go to the right. If you go to the right, I will go to the left.”

Isn’t that interesting?  There is no doubt that Abraham had the right to choose where he wanted to live.  Lot would simply have to take whatever was left over.  But Abraham didn’t evoke his rights.  Rather he gave up his rights and deferred to his younger nephew.  Why would he do that?  Simply because Abraham knew that God was righteous and just and gracious in all He does, that God was real and that life was about Him. 

Unfortunately, we all get caught up in the mundane. We live for the now, the immediate benefit, for personal satisfaction.  We are busy fretting for over our “chips”.  And this leads us to point #2

2. Don’t live with blinders on.

Too often we get caught up on the horizontal.  All we see is what is in front of us or how some decision will impact what we want.  If we were honest we would have to confess that there are times when we try to snag the best, the biggest, the most, or we are a little disappointed when we don’t get it.  What are the things we rely on, hope for, fear, love, want?

Look at Lot and his response to the situation with Abraham.  Genesis 13:10-11 (NCV)10 Lot looked all around and saw the whole Jordan Valley and that there was much water there. It was like the Lord’s garden, like the land of Egypt in the direction of Zoar. 11 So Lot chose to move east and live in the Jordan Valley. In this way Abram and Lot separated.

Lot examined his choices and picked the prime real estate for himself.  Remember the boys and the chip bag?  I asked each of them to put their Bible  lesson into practice.  “If you were to put Jesus first, what would you do with the bag of chips?”  I want to tell you there was tremendous resistance to do the right thing.  They all wanted to put Jesus first, but they wanted those chips even more!  Why?  Because they were living for the here and now, they were living for themselves.  At that moment, they were god and life was about them and who was going to get that bag of chips!

Now Abraham had his share of failures.  There were times when, with blinders on, Abraham made decisions in light of the horizontal.  On two different occasions Abraham told Sarah to lie, or at the very best, tell a half truth, that she was his sister, for she was his half sister.  He did this once with pharaoh when they traveled to Egypt and once with King Abimelech when they traveled to Gerar.

Listen to these accounts,  Genesis 12:10-13 (NCV)

10 At this time there was not much food in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live because there was so little food. 11 Just before they arrived in Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know you are a very beautiful woman. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This woman is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but let you live. 13 Tell them you are my sister so that things will go well with me and I may be allowed to live because of you.”

This incident comes shortly after God’s initial call and promised blessing to Abraham and his descendants.  Yet Abraham responded out of fear of what the Egyptians might do to him.  Do you see the blinders?  Do you see Abraham making decisions based on the horizontal?  Living with blinders on leads us to compromise our faith and attempts to deal with situations in ungodly ways. 

Was there a real possibility that they would kill Abraham to get Sarah?  In one sense, perhaps, but in another very real sense no.  For God had made a promise.  And if God had made a promise, wouldn’t He then take care of Abraham?  Wouldn’t God protect Him?  But Abraham, with his blinders on, stepped out, not in faith, but in fear.  Seeing only the horizontal.   But God, who is forever faithful, intervened in spite of Abraham’s faithlessness and “rescued” Sarah who would give birth to the promised son. You see, He is going to work His plan with us or in spite of us.

Now check out the second incident of Abraham’s unfaithfulness in this area: Genesis 20:1-2 (NCV)  1 Abraham left Hebron and traveled to southern Canaan where he stayed awhile between Kadesh and Shur. When he moved to Gerar, 2 he told people that his wife Sarah was his sister. Abimelech king of Gerar heard this, so he sent some servants to take her.

Again we see Abraham, with blinders on, making a decision solely based on the horizontal. 

So God intervenes on Abraham’s behalf again…Genesis 20:3-10 (NCV)

3 But one night God spoke to Abimelech in a dream and said, “You will die. The woman you took is married.”

4 But Abimelech had not gone near Sarah, so he said, “Lord, would you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Abraham himself told me, ‘This woman is my sister,’ and she also said, ‘He is my brother.’ I am innocent. I did not know I was doing anything wrong.”

6 Then God said to Abimelech in the dream, “Yes, I know you did not realize what you were doing. So I did not allow you to sin against me and touch her. 7 Give Abraham his wife back. He is a prophet. He will pray for you, and you will not die. But if you do not give Sarah back, you and all your family will surely die.”

From this passage it is clear that the sovereign God could and would have kept Abraham and his family safe even if Abraham had not tried to hide the truth.  Even when Abraham made poor decisions God moved, God kept both Abraham and Sarah safe.

Listen now to Abimelech and his interchange with Abraham…

 

8 So early the next morning, Abimelech called all his officers and told them everything that had happened in the dream. They were very afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham to him and said, “What have you done to us? What wrong did I do against you? Why did you bring this trouble to my kingdom? You should not have done these things to me. 10 What were you thinking that caused you to do this?”

Very good question!  I can tell you what Abraham was not thinking about and that was a sovereign God who is real. 

A mighty God who has a plan and made a promise. 

A loving God who is very interested in every detail of our lives and will not let His will be thwarted. 

Abraham had blinders on.  He was making choices based on the horizontal.  At that moment, it wasn’t God who was real to Abraham, but King Abimelech and the presumed threat to his life.

This is made very clear by Abraham’s answer to Abimelech, verse 11 Then Abraham answered, “I thought no one in this place respected God and that someone would kill me to get Sarah.

What?! Do you see what Abraham was doing?  He was accusing others of the very thing he himself was doing…having no respect or fear of God.   If Abraham had respect for God at that moment he could have rested in the security of his sovereign God.  But instead, with blinders on, he made sinful choices.  Isn’t that just what we do?  When we don’t get what we want or think we need, or when we are afraid we might get something we don’t want…we resort to manipulation, anger, sulking, lying, making others feel guilty, whatever we can do to get what we want or what we think God wants.

I find it interesting that, like Abraham, we can so easily find fault in others and be blind to our own very poor choices.  Even accusing others of the very thing we ourselves are guilty of.  Abraham accused them of having no fear or respect for God, yet there he was walking into this situation with no respect for God.

Now lets look at some passages that help us open our eyes to vertical living,  that is, making choices in light of the fact that God is real and life is about Him.

Colossians 3:1-4 (NCV)

1 Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Think only about the things in heaven, not the things on earth. 3 Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. 4 Christ is your life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory.

The NIV says, “Keep seeking the things above, and set your mind on the things above.”  Now ask yourself, in any given situation, what is more important to me right now?  Is it getting what I want or is it pleasing the Lord?   Are my eyes fixed on the horizontal?  Do I have blinders on?  Or am I willing to let go of what I want so that I can respond to this situation in a way that pleases the Lord?

Let’s look at Abraham again, but this time as a good example.  With eyes aimed at heaven.  In Gen 22 we have the very familiar story of God testing Abraham’s faith by asking him to offer up his son, the son of promise, on an altar to God.  Listen to what doesn’t happen between verses 2 and 3.

Genesis 22:1-4 (NCV) 1 After these things God tested Abraham’s faith. God said to him, “Abraham!”  And he answered, “Here I am.”

2 Then God said, “Take your only son, Isaac, the son you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Kill him there and offer him as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

3 Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took Isaac and two servants with him. After he cut the wood for the sacrifice, they went to the place God had told them to go.

No questioning.  No arguing.  No clarifying.  No second guessing.  No weaseling.  No crying.  No manipulating.  No whining.  Just pure obedience.  Why?  What is the difference between Abraham in this situation and the ones with Pharaoh and Abimelech?  Heb 11 gives us a very real clue…Hebrews 11:17-19 (NCV) 17 It was by faith that Abraham, when God tested him, offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. God made the promises to Abraham, but Abraham was ready to offer his own son as a sacrifice. 18 God had said, “The descendants I promised you will be from Isaac.” 19 Abraham believed that God could raise the dead, and really, it was as if Abraham got Isaac back from death.

Abraham took his blinders off.  He saw the sovereign God of creation and never took his eyes off Him.  Abraham believed that somehow God would return Isaac to him, even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead.  Because, really, is anything to difficult for God?  Can anything thwart God’s plan?

From the moment God made His request to the moment the Lord said “Abraham, Abraham, Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way” Abraham’s eyes were on the Lord.  And having his eyes on the Lord allowed Abraham to loosen his grip on his son.  When our eyes are on the Lord we too loosen our grip on the things we think are important and even on what we think is essential to God’s plan. 

What are you holding too tightly? 

What can’t you live without? 

What do you think you need to be happy? 

What are you afraid of? 

If you have blinders on and are focused on the horizontal then you will be unable to respond to life in God-honoring ways.  But if you take those blinders off, and live in light of the vertical, looking to God, your grip on what’s important to you begins to loosen.  It becomes easier to say honestly, “Lord, I love you more.  I love you more than these.”  It’s then that for you God is real, and life is about Him.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NCV)

17 We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles. 18 We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.

.

3. Believe that God has a plan and will keep His promises. 

I simply want to say in regard to this point that God promised Abraham and Sarah a son.  And through that son and his descendants the world would be blessed.  That blessing is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.  On a hill, years after Abraham and Isaac were there, stood a cross where a Father offered up His only Son whom He loved.  To place on Him the punishment that you and I deserve, for living as if we are god and life is about us.  

God has a plan that no one could thwart.  What is the end? 

What is God trying to accomplish? 

Why did He offer up His Son for people such as you and me? 

God wants you to be His friend.  God wants a relationship with you.  God wants you to be with Him.  Look at the end of the book, read the last page…

 

Revelation 21:3-7 (NCV)

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.”

5 The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.”

6 The One on the throne said to me, “It is finished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give free water from the spring of the water of life to anyone who is thirsty. 7 Those who win the victory will receive this, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

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