If you are serious about the Christian life, eventually You get to a point where you just want to be a giver.
- Jesus first appears as our Savior. Perhaps that is because He wants to heal us from whatever it is that has paralyzed us: hurt, guilt, or fear. But eventually a time comes when Jesus makes it clear to us that our paralysis was healed so we can get up and get back to serving.
- Our first conversion is about realizing how much we need a Savior in our life. The second one is about being converted away from our own life. It is about going with Jesus to the other side of discipleship where we are givers. And we are never really disciples unless we follow Him there.
- The consumerism of our culture is so pervasive today that even when we approach Jesus and His church, we wonder what we are getting for our dollar. We assume that money is ours, and we will support the work of the church if we get good service. Or we assume that we should at least feel better about ourselves after giving.
- But sometimes giving isn't fulfilling. And to expect to receive a feeling of fulfillment when you give to the church isn’t actually giving; it’s buying.
- The reason to give is because Jesus is trying to turn you into a giver. It is who you were created to be, and to follow Jesus is to be led back to be who you really are.
- It isn’t the consumerist agenda that most impedes our ability to be givers. The real impediments are the emotional ones. Nothing impedes more than past hurts. You can spend the rest of your life burying the dead or the pain of the past. This turns your face to the past and makes it impossible to continue following Jesus to the place where you are transformed into a giver.
- There is only one good reason to give. You have crossed over. You are now a giver.
- Whenever we have lived without a sense of the holy in our midst, we try to become our own saviors. But since that is a tough job, we are too anxious to do anything wonderful for those around us. So we need to see God graciously in our midst to offer grace to others.
- As we follow Christ it is a way of rebuilding sacred community, helping people find the sacred center of their lives, and by tying heaven and earth back together around a God who dwells with us.
- When you prioritize life around meeting your needs, you allow those needs to define you. If you let your needs define you, you will never be more than a consumer. And consumers just keep consuming because they never have enough.
- The further you progress in life, the more needs you accumulate.
- The church has a different definition of your life. We choose not to call you consumers. We call you stewards. From the beginning, the Bible has defined us not by our needs but by our calling.
- The point of life is to be a good steward of the grace and the blessings that God has entrusted to you.
- Stewards realize they don’t own a thing. The steward’s job is to manage everything that he or she holds for the sake of the Lord’s work.
- The needs of the church aren't our real priority. Our real concern is for our spiritual health as a church. We give not because the church has needs, but because we need to be givers.
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded. This is a transcript of the message.
We all want to know the point to our lives. That’s why in our bravest moments, we ask questions like:
- Why am I here?
- What is my mission in life?
- How will I know if I have done well in life?’
For the last six weeks we have followed the journeys of Abraham, who would tell us that the point to our lives is: You were blessed to be a blessing!
Abraham assumed that he and his childless wife Sarah were blessed when God told him that they would have a son. He was 75 years old when God made that promise. He was 100 years old when the child named Isaac was finally born. Now that the boy had begun to grow up, God told Abraham to go to the mountain of Moriah and offer Isaac as a living sacrifice. Without even an argument, Abraham sets out with his only blessing to do just what God told him.
When I am preaching, it is my passion to proclaim how the Biblical text is God’s Word to our congregation. I want to help you find yourself in the text. I want you to see that this isn't an ancient story, but it is God’s story of our lives as well. So today’s text has created a difficult challenge for me. What exactly is God trying to tell us with this text?
I've had an interesting and challenging time preparing for this sermon. I was overwhelmed by how different our world is from the ancient one. I dared to wonder, “How can we be worshipping the same God as Abraham?” Abraham is held out as a model of faith in both the Old and New Testament, but we would throw a father in jail for attempting to do what Abraham did. Child sacrifice may have been a part of the ancient world, but today we incarcerate religious parents who even refuse to give medical attention to a child. I started thinking, “Uh, oh, maybe I can find a new text for this Sunday.”
Next, I decided I would spiritually sanitize away the scandal of the story. I reasoned, “God isn't going to let Abraham kill his son. This is only a test.” But I found little comfort in that. This text is too great. We would all fail it. We all should. When the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham simply says, “The Lord will provide.” Is this God’s Word to us from the text? Maybe. It’s certainly true that the Lord provides, and it sure sounds spiritual. But what do we do with this advice? The next time you fill out a credit card application and you get to the income box, try squeezing in the words: “The Lord will provide.” They will love that down at the bank. Besides, Abraham wasn't taking Isaac up the mountain to give him a spiritual devotional. He was really going to kill that kid. So I abandoned trying to sanitize the text.
Next, I tried to take the focus off Abraham and place it on God. But then I was forced to ask, “What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his only son?” The answer, of course, is the same God the Father who would sacrifice His only Son. I read of a preacher who said, “I have five sons and I would not offer up any one of them for any one of you! But God had only one Son and He offered Him freely for the sins of a world that did not even heed His action nor desire His grace.” I have always found that statement memorable. This is why I look at Abraham’s action and see it as a truly high point of faith! But that leaves me with an overwhelming embarrassment because it is easier for me to feel the despair of old Abraham than it has ever been to realize the heartbreak of God the Father at the cross, where His Son was sacrificed for my sins. “That’s it,” I thought. “That’s the angle I’ll go with on Sunday. That at least will make sense.” But this text wasn't done with me. In my bones I knew I hadn’t yet found God’s Word for our congregation. God wants us to do more than feel His pain.
I was “sweating it” now. Most preachers organize their week remembering that “Sunday’s coming”. But I have to have a detailed outline ready to go by Monday morning when a group of us meet to plan for the worship service. So, I knew I needed to “get going”. I sat down again before this passage and asked, “How do I rescue this text for a contemporary congregation?” That’s when it hit me. I realized the silliness of all my previous thinking. I can’t rescue or make sense of God’s Word, nor have I ever been called to try. God’s Word is God’s. So I just surrendered to the text. After that, I could almost hear Abraham tell me: “As my story reveals, I've made a lot of mistakes along my journey. And the worst of them were because I was trying to make sense of God and what He was doing or not doing. Now, I just trust Him.” There it is. That, I believe, is God’s Word for us today. “Now, I just trust Him.”
We all trust and hope in something. If you are a student, you trust in your hard work and hope it will eventually get you a degree. If you in in business, you trust in your skills and hope they will produce a profit or a promotion in the marketplace. If you are a parent or grandparent, you trust in your love and hope it will take root in your children or grandchildren. If you are a preacher, you trust and hope that you can make sense of ancient Biblical texts.
Whatever it is that you are counting on, that is your Isaac. It is your blessing from God, given to make you a blessing to others. When the chips are down, we cling to this blessing whatever it is: education, health, skills, family, love, or a capacity for hard work. We all have something, some Isaac, and when the going gets tough, that is our blessed hope for how we will make a difference in life. But what will you do on the day God asks for that blessing back? If you can’t let go of it, then God is not your god. Then the blessing is your god.
Let’s take it a step further. What if the blessing to which you cling is a promise made by God’s Word? Perhaps you are drawn to the promise of a future filled with hope, the promise of a good work in your life, or the promise of a coming Kingdom where justice and peace replace poverty and violence. If we can’t cling to our abilities, our skills, and our loved ones, can we at least cling to God’s promises? Sometimes, no. Not even God’s promises can become our god.
Throughout this sermon series, I have consistently mentioned how good Abraham was at building altars. It was his constant means of sacrificing his failures and his understanding of God. But when he strapped his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham was giving God’s own promise back to God. Abraham had already sacrificed his past when he and Sarah left home to begin the journey with God, and now he as told to sacrifice his future. After that, there would be only God.
The issue isn't the reliability of God’s promises, which are always fulfilled in God’s strange timing. The issue is the sufficiency of God alone. Do you see the harshness of this text? I’m not trying to sanitize a thing about it. These are probably the hardest words I will ever have to speak to you as your pastor.
Sooner or later we all stand right beside Abraham with our most cherished blessing on the altar. It is then that we have to respond to the hardest question the soul will ever face: Do you still want God, if there are no blessings attached? Do you still want God if it is now God plus nothing? It is only then that you truly know if you have been worshipping God or worshipping the blessings.
When the Apostle Paul was writing about Abraham in his Epistle to the Romans, he claimed that Abraham had learned to hope against hope. That’s a wonderful phrase: hoping against hope. It means we have one great hope that stands against all other hopes. We have one God and so many blessings. You can count on your blessings most of the time, but you better not make them the one great hope.
When one spouse lays another in the grave, when you drive home on the day you have lost your job, when the marriage has failed in spite of all of your best efforts, when the thing you were praying not to happen has happened, it is then that you have to hope against hope. You hope against all your blessings that are now lost. You hope against your ability to understand. You hope against even your understanding of God and His promises. Then, all that is left is to hope in God alone. Sometimes that is all there is. And the proclamation of Abraham to us is that is all there needs to be.
Well, as you know, God didn't let Abraham actually kill Isaac. But it was close. As the knife was about to come down, an angel called from heaven to tell him not to touch the boy. Now, God knows you trust. Then the old man saw a ram and sacrificed it instead. So the Lord did indeed provide but not until Abraham gave up Isaac.
Abraham lived to be 175 years old. I believe that every day he enjoyed his son more than he did before this dramatic day on Mount Moriah. He could enjoy him because he wasn't afraid of losing him. And that’s because he had already given Isaac back to God. You can only enjoy a blessing if you don’t have to keep it.
- We all know about dreams that haven’t worked out as we had hoped on our journey through life.
- When that happens, we feel the right thing to do is “settle”. After all, we reason, “Life is what it is.”
- Eventually in life we feel the need to deal with reality. But God is never impressed with our visions of reality.
- God prefers to deliver blessings through the preposterous.
- God is not done with your life. God is not done with the church. God is not done with the world.
- We are a people who have to live with hope.
- It is God who creates reality, and with God all things are possible.
- God is powerful enough to do all that He will to do and adequate enough to accomplish all that He intends to accomplish.
- Our calling isn’t to worry if we will receive the dream --- that’s up to God. Our calling is to work for the dream, to pray for it daily, and to allow it to mold and shape our lives.
- Our identity is shaped more by God’s promises than it is by the fulfillment of the promises.
- We are blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. And the blessing that the world needs from the church is for us to believe in what we claim to believe.
- We must pray, work and dream of peace in the Middle East. Is that preposterous? Absolutely! But the last thing you ever want to tell God is to be realistic.
Because God is on life’s journey with us, even the detours can become the path to another blessing.
- After we realize that our efforts at being the hero of our dreams have only created great mistakes, we spend much of the rest of our lives trying to make the mistakes run away.
- Mistakes don’t run away for long. That is because God isn't interested in making the problems go away, but God is very interested in transforming the problems into a blessing for us.
- Nothing is more likely to encourage men and women to rectify their errors than the reminder that the Lord isn’t unmindful of what they have done and requires an accounting from each one.
- The blessing isn't that we always get what we want. It certainly isn’t that we are protected from making big mistakes. The blessing is that we always get to be a blessing to the families of the earth.
- The Bible makes it clear that the Jews and Arabs were meant to bless each other’s families. From the perspective of heaven, the presence of neither is a mistake. And God will not let either run away.
- God has brought the families of the world to our own doorstep. Our country has long been a blended family. It doesn't matter how they got here. It doesn't really matter that big mistakes were made along the way. What matters is if we are being a blessing to these families.
- You are not a mistake. Neither are the choices that you regret, or those problems or those people you wish would just run away. Not if it is all placed in the hands of God, where everything we call a mistake is no longer a mistake. It is an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else.
- Today’s question is: Can we sacrifice control not only of our dreams, but also of our mistakes?
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded. This is a transcript of the message.
Of all the things God calls us to do in life, none is more important, or more difficult, than the call to wait.
Everyone in the sanctuary today is waiting on something. Some are waiting to see what will happen in an important relationship, or with their children or grandchildren. Others are waiting to see what will happen at work, if they will ever find a job they truly like, or if they will ever be able to retire. Still others are waiting to see what will happen with their health. Some are even waiting to see if they will survive their diseases.
Maybe the hardest waiting is waiting upon God. You have claimed one of the promises of Scripture as God’s promise to you:
Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Jeremiah 33:3: “Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you do not know.”
Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purposes.”
Philippians 1:6: “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion...”
You have taken at least one of these promises to heart, and now you are waiting upon the Lord for the fulfillment of what was promised. So the question today is: How do you survive the wait?
That is certainly the question that Abram was asking in our text. We don’t know how long it has been since he and Sari packed up life in Haran and began their journey with God, solely because God made a promise to them. God promised them a son, land, and a future if they would only follow. But clearly the old couple thinks it has been too long. They have had some good times and some bad times on the journey. What they haven’t had is a son. So they just keep waiting, wandering around, and hoping the promise will come true. God has already spoken a second time to reaffirm the promise. Now, when He comes a third time, He begins by saying in verse 1: “Do not be afraid, Abram.” Don’t fear for your future. Don’t fear that you will not have a son.
So God has made the same promise three times and still no baby. It is like coming to church to hear the promises over and over: “He that has begun a good work will bring it to completion...”
This time Abram doesn't just say, “Thanks for the reminder.” No, he protests. Verse 2: “But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’” It was as if to say, “It is time to get realistic. It is time to settle for the possible. I’m too old to keep hoping because the hope has started to hurt.”
We echo this when we find ourselves thinking lines such as, “I used to dream about having a calling, but now I’ll settle for a job.” “When we were married we vowed fidelity, but now I’ll settle for staying out of each other’s way.” “I started school excited about learning, but now I’ll settle for getting good enough grades.” We might as well say, “I guess I don’t need you to do a good work, God. I’ll settle for okay. God, how about blessing Eliezer and we will call it even between us.”
Notice how God responds to Abram’s, and our, plans to settle for the realistic. He doesn't try to persuade Abram to keep believing. Nor does He cuddle or cajole him. He certainly doesn't say, “Wow, look at the time. I better hurry up with that kid of yours.” No, God simply reaffirms the promise, making it all the more fantastic. Verse 4: “Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man (a slave born in Abram’s household) will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens...’”
This is the most important thing to remember when you are waiting. Look not to the possible and the realistic. Look toward heaven. “...count the stars --- if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” All that we have is God’s often-repeated promise and a choice. But if you want to do more than settle in life, you have to look toward heaven and to wait upon God.
Now why is that? Why does God wait so long to give Abram and Sari that baby? Why does God wait to unfold His promises in life? Why do we just keep wandering around waiting, waiting, waiting?
Abram wasn't just wasting time. No, his waiting became the means by which God molded Abram’s soul. That is why our waiting is all about as well. While we wait, we are making the most important choices of our lives. These are the choices that will determine if we have the soul to be a blessing.
Remember, that was the original blessing. God told Abram, “I will bless you that you may be a blessing.” So the blessing wasn't that Abram would have a son, and it isn’t that you will get all your dreams. The blessing is to bless others, which means to give them a taste of the bliss of heaven. And it is the waiting, when it is done well, that molds your soul into a blessing to those around you. That’s because waiting creates a choice to keep believing. You can’t bless if you don’t believe.
Verse 6 tells us that after lifting his face toward heaven, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This is the first time we find the word righteousness in the Bible. And isn’t it striking that it has nothing to do with moral codes, the law, standards, thin-lipped piety, or the other things we associate with righteousness? Righteousness has to do with expectancy, with hope, and with a choice to look toward heaven and believe.
Some have wondered aloud why God should declare someone righteous, that is forgive their sin and fit them for heaven, just because they believed they were going to become a father! But this is to miss the point. God was stimulating faith through His word so that Abram would learn to trust the Lord for all that he was unable to do for himself. In exactly the same way God still proclaims His truth through His Word in order that men and women might believe Him and trust Him to be all that they could ever wish for in time and eternity.
Are you starting to see how waiting shapes us into a blessing? We need people who are walking through life expectantly. We need hope. We need believers. The people around us are counting on us to believe. Even if they don’t believe, they need to at least believe that we believe. That’s because there is no blessing in cynicism. All of the important things in life: raising children, maintaining healthy relationships, making a difference, building community, or working for justice are accomplished only by those who believe in something.
The church believes in something. We believe that not only did heaven come down to us in Jesus Christ; not only did He die for our sins, our unrighteousness, and our failures to believe; not only did He rise from the tomb, but Jesus Christ is now reigning over all the earth. And we believe that one day He will bring the righteous Kingdom of God fully to earth.
We have heard this promise for a long, long time, and yet we are still waiting. There are plenty of reasons to doubt and to settle for a world full of violence and injustice. But those of us who choose to still believe, should walk through life as a blessing, particularly to those who do not believe.
Our belief in the reign of Jesus Christ makes us a blessing for several reasons. For one, it makes us a blessing because we long ago gave up the illusion that we are in control. And isn't that already a blessing? Nothing righteous happens when we are in control. After this third visit from God, Abram built another altar and again sacrificed his plans to control God’s promises. Secondly, when we are stuck in confusion, conflicts, or even routine, we can look up to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Seeing His grace for us again, we can more easily offer grace as a blessing. Thirdly, we have a righteous vision of what the world is supposed to look like. That’s why we go to depressed neighborhoods, poor countries, and wherever Jesus Christ is at work building His Kingdom.
Maybe the best way our belief in the reigning Christ makes us a blessing, however, has to do with this notion of expectancy. We, like Abram, wait as a people who expect to be surprised. Again, that is what righteousness originally meant --- expectant. Do you expect to look in the rearview mirror as you leave church to find Jesus in the back seat? You may be surprised and ask Him, “Don’t they need you back there at church?” But Jesus says He’s with you. Then you get home only to find out He’s not planning on leaving. How would that change things? To your amazement you find Him in the car again as you go to work tomorrow morning. So you get to work, or the place you volunteer, and introduce Him to your colleagues saying something like, “I guess it’s ‘Take your Savior to Work Day’”. How would that change the conversations at work, the jokes, or the decisions you make? The point, of course, is that Jesus is in all of these places.
Do you expect Him to be in your home, at school, where you work, or in the car as you run errands? Do you expect Him to do the most miraculous things in all of these places? You do, if you want to be a blessing.
Now, may it be so. Amen.
- We want our lives to make a difference for others. We have been blessed to be a blessing.
- What do you do when you get your life to what you thought was the right place, only to discover a famine?
- Sometimes when you have hit a famine, you simply have to make a change or take a detour for a while.
- No one who lives by faith can remain neutral on this holy business of being a blessing. You are either blessing or cursing those around you.
- The times we are most tempted to doubt that God will bless us is when we don’t have clarity about life’s journey.
- Trust, or faith, doesn't always bring understanding.
- Trust casts us upon the love of God, which is the great blessing. And you don’t know if you have received this blessing until there is a reason to be anxious.
- Wherever you are learning faith that is the right place for you to be.
- You cannot be a blessing without having an altar of prayer where you sacrifice your fears in order to see that you are held by the love of God.
- Even when we are lacking faith, God remains faithful to us. That is the source of our great hope.
- You have to receive love to give it. And the only way to receive love is to trust it.
We are called not just to receive, but to be a blessing.
- We all yearn for a sense of calling.
"The secret of human beings is the secret of their responsibility." ~Vaclav Havel
- We all know about hard labor/knocking ourselves out/struggling with hope. The question we ask is, “What is my calling in this struggle?”
- We have made an idolatry of our own generation, assuming that all of life’s meaning has to be found within our years. The ancients always understood themselves as part of a future that lived on.
- Abram and Sari were settled in Haran, into a life without a future. The worst part is that their society had given up hope and chosen barren comfort and security.
- For some reason, Terah had stopped his pilgrimage and settled at a place along the way. Perhaps you started out with a magnificent dream, but the demands of life have caused you to place your dream on a shelf in the closet of your soul.
- The call of God kindled something that had almost died out in Abram’s soul --- hope.
- You have to leave what is known to find hope.
- Life isn't about settling. It’s about following the sojourner God who is on the move.
- The Gospel has always been about leaving and cleaving --- leaving what is known but barren, and cleaving to the holy promise of hope.
- Whatever you have settled for, you have to leave to find the new place in life that God wants to show you.
- Every call of God is built upon the foundation of being a blessing.
- The altar is the place where we sacrifice what we have but cannot keep, in order to receive what only God can give but which we can never lose --- being a blessing.
Question #1 – What do you do when your prophet dies?
- You can try to hang on to all the things you learned, as if the prophet never died.
- You can look for a new prophet.
- There is always more of God’s truth to be learned from new prophets.
Question #2 – What will you do when God is silent?
- David chose to trust in a God who isn't on a leash and doesn't always come when beckoned.
- Jesus chose to stay on the cross.
- Saul chose to respond to God’s silence by becoming so desperate he went to a sorcerer.
- Our great temptation when we are disappointed with God is to listen to whoever is speaking.
- We need to be good stewards of our disappointments from God.
- It is easy to have “faith because of”. Real faith emerges as “faith in spite of”.
Question #3 – What are you going to do when it is time to stop leading?
- Reasons we are tempted to hold on to leadership too long!
- We grow accustomed to the privileges of being in charge.
- Never cling to anything but your God.
- Life is only lived well with open hands.
- The point of your life is to worship/glorify God and enjoy Him forever!