The Bible In 13 Words (Genesis 15:1)…
I love what Joanne just said about feeling unqualified or perhaps unprepared in some ways. This morning as I was driving to church, the sky was a beautiful deep grey and I thought to myself, I thought to myself, today is a new day, God’s blessings and His mercies have been made new for us. And this image came into my mind of a person, you know, in an ICU hooked up to a ventilator and a feeding tube with IVs coming out of his or her arms and I thought to myself, that’s me. I’m on life support. We’re all on life support. Every day we rely on God whether we believe in Him or not, whether we follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior or not. We are completely and utterly dependent on Him. No matter how capable we get or how accomplished we are, we need Him every single day for the air in our lungs, for the food in our bellies, for our bodies that work often times without our control, and so I just want to encourage the folks on the India team, but also all of us, to just celebrate that we are dependent on God and that’s Okay. Because when we are dependent on Him, He gets the glory. He gets the honor. He gets the attention. He gets the credit when we do great things and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Mike Woodruff asked me to speak this weekend and I gladly accepted. I do want to encourage you though and assure you that Mike’s coming back next week. I’m just keeping the saddle warm for him for this weekend but it’s a privilege because he said that, you know, you’re only going to have about 20 minutes so that in and of itself is a giant hurdle for me ‘cause I’d rather preach for an hour than for 20 minutes. And he said I’d also like you to tie in the faith story, the missions experiences that people are reading about, and also communion at the end. So I was reading maybe 10 days ago through my Bible Through the Year book, in which I’m six months behind but I’m trying, okay?! J So I was reading through it and what it does is it gives you a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament and then a portion of one of the Psalms + one of the Proverbs. And so I was reading through it and it just happened to be Genesis 15 and I read this verse and, while every verse in the Bible is important, this verse caused me to pause and I just stopped there. And I thought there’s something here, I mean, this is jumping off the page, this has been highlighted it seems a little bit more than the verses I just read before it , so let me read this to you. It’s only a verse.
“After this the word of the Lord came to Abram (Abraham) in a vision,
Do not be afraid, Abram,
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
And, and it was just one of those strange things where I immediately thought this is going to be what I get to teach on next week. It’s only a verse and I probably won’t get through half of it just like last night I only got through the first third of the verse but that’s OK! J We can do it another time and finish up.
So I was reading through it and I thought, Well, God called Abram to go. God appeared to this man Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans in Southern Iraq 4000 plus years ago and He said go, leave the country where you are from, leave most of your family, leave your culture, leave your language, leave perhaps the family business, leave your dreams and all the things you had planned to do with your life and go. Go to this strange land, I’m going to lead you there and I’m going to make of you and your descendants a great nation. I’m certain Abraham did not understand all of what God was talking about at this point but this is what God said: I will make of you a great nation and you will inherit the land that I am giving you.
And so Abram went. He trusted. He didn’t have this book to lean on; he didn’t have necessarily parents who were followers of Yahweh who had given such a great foundation for him in his life. He just saw a vision and just like this verse jumping off the page at me, there was a sense in which Abram must have said, “I have got to follow this voice; there’s something about Him, there’s something about what He’s calling me to do that if I choose to stay here, I’ll be missing out. If I don’t obey God, I’m going to be missing out on something or someone.”
And so he goes and this verse starts with “after this.” so the “after this” in this verse shows that Abram has gone and he’s left everything and he’s got a menagerie of people with him perhaps and after some time and travelling there were some kings, five against four that started fighting in Genesis 12. It so happened that the winning teams took up the loot, the bootie, the possessions and so forth from the losing kings (including kidnapping Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and all of his possessions—he and they and it were all confiscated and taken as slaves or as possessions of the winning kings).
So Abram decided to divide his men, to divide the people who were with him, and they attacked the winning kings in the middle of the night. God blessed them to route those winning kings, and remember that this is just Abraham now, and his men, and they were able to retrieve his nephew back and his family members and all of Lot’s possessions. Now, I imagine that as Abram was falling asleep that night, there was a sense of, “Oh my goodness. What have I gotten into here. God said to follow me, to go, and I’m obeying him and I’m going, and now I’m battling kings. Okay I won today but what if they regroup tomorrow. I’m not a military man. I’m not prepared for this. This is not something I can do.”
I imagine those were his last thoughts as he was falling asleep, that the anxiousness and the stress and the fear over the unknown, the uncertainty of what was going to unfold in the future being in a strange land in essence all by himself with God. Yeah, he heard his voice but we have no record of Abram growing closer to God before this, so he probably didn’t have this deep relationship with God over many years like we have today (though perhaps he did; I am just speculating). I imagine that as he was falling asleep, he was perhaps contemplating, “Maybe it’s time to go home. I’ve come this far, I’ve obeyed God, maybe I’ve built up enough “divine insurance” here to where it will negate my disobedience in going back home where it’s safe.”
Perhaps that is what Abraham thought; perhaps not. But it is DEFINITELY what I would’ve thought.
And so it’s not a shock to me that God appears to Abram in a vision at night and says,
“Don’t be afraid.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
It’s not a shock to me that God said that because Abram needed to hear it.
As a quick aside, I quickly want to say is that I’ve heard many people say this – students and adults alike – and I’ve even felt this at times – “Oh if I could have just been alive back then, seeing God do miracles, the plagues on Egypt and the Red Sea parting and us walking through it. If I could have seen the pillar of fire by night and the cloud of day to guide us, if I could have just heard God’s voice and seen Moses’ face glowing as he came down from the mountain meeting with God, then I would believe. Then it would be so much easier to do what God asked.” I’d even settle for a vision like Abraham had. I just wish God would speak to me audibly.
Even the disciples got to see Jesus; they got to hear his voice; they got to see Him move and see Him do miracles. It must have been amazing.
But I just want to encourage us that, yes, they had that blessing and that was amazing, that must have been phenomenal.
But first of all, we’re going to get to see Jesus some day. We’re going to get to see God with our eyeballs and it’s not just a nice theme or feeling we’re going to have in heaven. We’re going to see God and He personally (not metaphorically or through an angel or another person) is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes. It’s not just a metaphor, it’s real. He’s really going to do that. And that’s encouraging to me.
Regarding wishing we could see Jesus face to face now, it’s also helpful for me to look back at John 6 and to realize most of the people who saw Jesus with their eyes walked away from Him. They saw Him do miracles; they saw Him heal people and raise them from the dead, they got a couple of free lunches, but when He started talking about what we’re going to celebrate today (Communion) – the first ideas of having to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven, most of them were like, “Okay, we just wanted a free meal and some magic tricks. See Ya. This is getting a little bit strange.” So they left him, and then Jesus looked at the twelve and said, “You too? Are you going to leave too?”
So there’s a sense where, yes, we desire to see God and that’s wonderful. We desire to see signs and miracles, and I don’t think there’s anything necessarily in and of itself anything wrong with that, but those things weren’t enough to sustain the faith of the people who met Jesus. For many, many of the people in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible chronicles their faithlessness even though they saw all these miracles and signs. So I just want to encourage you that Abram got to see a vision; a Word of the Lord came to him. But we have the entire Word of the Lord. Not just a verse that came to Abram in the middle of the night; we have the thousands of verses from Genesis to Revelations, and we can use it anytime.
But how often do our Bibles gather dust on our shelves? And again, I don’t say that to make any of us feel guilty; I am pointing at myself as well. I started reading through the Bible eight months ago, so theoretically I should be eight months through the 12 month course. I’m two months through it. You know, I’m reading the Bible once every four days on average amidst everything else I have going on in life, and I think God’s proud of me, but I’m still taking baby steps, and it’s like geez, you know, I should be farther along than that now. We’ve got everything we need here in this Book and not only that, not only do we have the Bible on the outside of us, but if we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we have God living inside of us too. Think about that for a second. Yeah, Moses walked with God; that’s wonderful to have God next to you. But we have God living in us. I know on paper which one I want more.
So back to the text. God encourages Abram and the text says the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, and He said, “Do not be afraid.” The word “fear” or “afraid” appears 206 times in the NIV and God’s not repetitive for the sake of just going on and on about the same thing. God repeats Himself only when necessary. He doesn’t’ mince words and He doesn’t waste them. He repeats things when He wants us to really get it. “Hello, please listen to this; please focus on this. Don’t be afraid, Abram,” And again, this fear isn’t the same as if we’re doing something for God or if we’re stepping out and doing the right thing in a situation and we feel fear then immediately God says, “I see faithlessness in you and I’m mad at you.” No, that’s not the case. It’s not having fear that God disapproves of; it’s what we do in response to the fear.
For example, sometimes my fear causes me to do the right thing. Sometimes when I see guys speeding by me (I assume they’re guys!), I just want to drive fast and I want to go 100 miles per hour and keep up with them but my fear of getting into an accident, my fear of leaving my wife a widow because I just wanted to be cool or something, that fear stops me from driving 100 miles per hour after them. That’s a good fear.
But there are other times when my fear stops me from doing what God wants me to do. Sometimes I’m afraid to invite a neighbor to church or sometimes I’m afraid to ask a friend, “Can I pray for you?” Sometimes I’m afraid to pass out a really great Christian-living book that’s made a big impact in my life to someone who perhaps might not be a follower of Jesus, and I’m scared what are they going to think of me. Are they going to laugh at me? Are they going to get offended? Maybe they’re a really devoted follower of another religion, and giving them a Christian book might offend them; I don’t want to make them feel bad, but I just want them to meet this Jesus, so sometimes I have that fear and I don’t do it. I don’t follow through with what I believe God wants me to do.
There are other times when I feel that God wants me to go to people in Target and just walk up to them and say, “Excuse me. I’m so sorry to interrupt you. I’m sure you’re on your way home for dinner. I just wanted to let you know that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much. And if there’s anything I could pray for you about, I would love to do that. If you want me to get out of your face and scram, I’ll do that but I just wanted to tell you, that’s all.” I’ve wanted to do that so many times but I’ve never done it.
Now, does that mean I’m not going to heaven? No. Does that mean God doesn’t love me? No, He loves me. But He died for me, He was stripped of all his clothes except for a little cloth and He was put up maybe 8-10 feet in the air on a cross, He was beaten and crucified and people were mocking him saying, “Climb down off that cross,” when He could have. He could have easily done it, and they said, “See, He can’t even save Himself,” and He took it; He exposed himself. And He did that for me and He did that for us.
And so when I get scared and don’t step out in faith to introduce others to Jesus I get frustrated at myself, possibly more frustrated than God is at me because I want to do this. Because God has helped me to get to the point where I get how important He is. He’s not just good for me, Jesus isn’t just a nice choice that I’ve made or a flavor that works well with my pallet or taste buds. He’s good and He’s necessary for everyone. Some people just don’t know that, they don’t realize. Many people have heard and rejected Jesus but many people have never even really heard, and it’s not just people in India, it’s people in Indian Creek, it’s people in this area. Many people don’t know that Jesus really loves them, don’t know what Good Friday and Easter are all about. My wife lived in the U.S. all her life and was raised Muslim, but she told me as we were dating and after she became a Christian, that at her first Easter she said I had no idea this is what Easter was about. I literally thought it was just about eggs and bunnies. So I just think, friends, that there is so much that stops us from obeying God, so many times that our fear stops us from doing in God’s name what He made us to do…and we’re missing out on the life that Jesus invites us to enjoy.
I think back to the story of Esther and I shouldn’t say story because that makes it sound sort of fictional, I should say the account of Esther. She becomes queen and she’s put in this position where all of a sudden she’s noble and powerful and she’s in this situation where her uncle Mordecai comes to her and says our people, God’s people, are about to be wiped out. The king has been tricked by this ruthless man Haman into making this law that says all of God’s people have to be destroyed. And Mordecai says Esther, you need to go in front of the king and plead on behalf of your people, God’s people, and she said,
“Now wait a minute, hold on a second. I mean I’m the king’s wife and all and he really loves me, but if I go in front of the king when he hasn’t summoned me the law says that I have to forfeit my life, that I die. He hasn’t summoned me, I can’t just barge in there and waltz in there and demand an audience with him. I’m too scared, I’m the queen, yes, but let me just ease into my role here. I’m just getting used to the whole royal court thing.”
And Mordecai responds, “Esther, who knows but that you were brought to this position of influence and power and prestige for just this purpose, for just this time?” He’s saying, “Esther, you’re beautiful on the inside and out and God loves you, but heaven forbid that you think that God allowed you to become queen just because of your good looks, just because of your character. It’s because of this, this MOMENT, so that you can step out in faith, faith in God, that even if you do lose your life in front of the king, God is with you and God’s going to bring you to a better place, but that you would step up and stand out for those who are about to suffer.”
And she weighs the consequences and she eventually does what needs to be done.
I don’t think God was mad at Esther for offering a rebuttal to Mordecai, for being scared while she obeyed Him. But in the end she did what God asked her to do and so she has been celebrated for nearly 3,000 years. Wow. What awaits us in heaven from God for our faithfulness to Him despite our fear? J
But God’s asking us to do this as well, friends. Who knows but that God blessed us to be born, most of us, in the 20th century in Lake County or to live in this area where we don’t have to worry about police barging in and throwing us in jail, and we’ve got great laws and other kinds of safety nets and safeguards for just this purpose, to go and share the Person and love of Jesus with those around us. Who knows but that God blesses us to live long lives for this reason—to go and share Him with others. Most of us in here will live to be about 78, 82, maybe a little more; my dad’s 93—many nations around the world have a life expectancy of half that. So if God lets us live twice as long, wouldn’t it make sense that God expects maybe twice as much from us? Twice as much sacrifice, twice as much going like he called Abraham to go? Jesus said to those who have been given more, more will be expected. I think that on paper, we agree with that; it makes sense. If I have two legs and a body that work out really well and I’m supposed to run a quarter mile lap around the local high school track faster than someone else who doesn’t have legs that work or doesn’t have a body that functions well at all and they can barely feed themselves or tie their shoes. Wouldn’t it make sense that God would say, “Yeah I expect you to run a little faster than them. Yeah.”
And so God HAS blessed us, friends, and He says we will be made rich in every way, not just in regards to money, but in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion and through us, our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Now again, this isn’t just money here; it isn’t just that, but it’s our opportunity; it’s our intelligence; it’s our education; it’s our time; it’s our ability – the fact that most of us don’t have to work 17 hours a day for 10 cents a day, you know, sewing buttons on shirts and that’s what we do and that provides just enough for us to eat to survive to work the next day. Most of us don’t have to work that hard. And so we have more time to do other things. We live life longer on earth and I think God is just saying, “Come on. Step out. I will be with you. Let’s do this…TOGETHER!”
I had this thought a couple of years ago of a bird flopping around in the puddles on the ground and, you know, God gave birds feet and they should use them, right? It’s okay, they’ve got to come down to the ground to get food and so forth but I just thought to myself, imagine what God would say or what we would say if we could talk to a bird and the bird said,
“Yeah, you know I never really fly much. I just try to be as good of a walker as I can. I’m just trying to be the fastest bird walker, just using my feet quickly on the ground.”
And I feel like we would say, “Then what are the wings for? What are you supposed to do with those?”
I feel like God would say to the bird, “Don’t try to be the best walker on the ground. Fly. Soar. Don’t just step. Soar. That’s what I made you to do. And don’t just hop around from branch to branch fluttering your wings a little bit. I want you to leave the nest. I want you to leave the safety of the tree, and I want you to soar over the 2,000 foot canyon to where you’re like, oh my goodness, I hope these wings work. They better because if they don’t down to the ground where I’ll be going FAST.”
That’s faith. That’s the faith that Abraham had in response to God’s command to go, and that’s the faith God wants us to have too in Target, in our neighborhood, in our kitchen, at work, etc. When we step out and we’re like, well, God has promised me that He has equipped me; God has promised me that He will go before me; He hasn’t promised that He will protect me from all suffering. Absolutely not. There might be times when I’m soaring over the skies and I get shot down. Well, okay, then the next bird coming, there’s one less bullet to knock them down. But God has promised to be with us. Jesus said, “I will be with you always to the end of the age.”
And there’s the sense that when someone promises to be with you, it’s kind of implied that you’re going to go somewhere. If I promise to stay next to my children while they sit at home watching TV all day, yeah that’s maybe some good quality time spent together, but my protection, my being with them, isn’t really necessary. They’re at home. But if my children are starting to go out, starting to leave the nest, starting to venture out into some experiences that they’re not quite used to, that they’re not quite sure that they’re capable of, and if I say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m going to be right with you, I’m just going to be a few cars back but we’ve got cell phones and I’ll keep my eyes on you and I’ll do everything I can if you get into trouble to make sure you get to where you want to be,” then that makes sense. So I think that when God tells us He will be with us, He is implying that He expects us to go, to get out of our comfort zones for Him.
So the question we have to ask ourselves, first, is “what are we so scared of?” And the answers shouldn’t be “I’m scared of getting eaten by a bear,” but in terms of spiritual fear – what are we afraid of? What’s stopping us from reaching out to our neighbors? What’s stopping us, not necessarily from going 10,000 miles away to India, but it could be that, but what’s stopping us from stepping outside of our comfort zones and saying, “God I’m willing to get chaffed for You. I’m willing to get a little bit sweaty; I’m willing to get a little bit uncomfortable. I’m willing to not play it safe. I’m willing to do that for You. I’m scared and I don’t know how it’s going to work out; I kind of feel alone but help me. I’m willing to do this for You because I think this is what you made me to do, to step out of my comfort zone because like David Weil said earlier today, ‘we’ve only got one earthly life to give to Jesus.’”
That reminds me: I was thinking about one of the founding fathers, Patrick Henry, who said, “O, that I had more than one life to give for my country,” and I feel like he almost got it right, that if we can get to that point where we say,
“Oh, but I’ve only got one life to live for Jesus! Darn. Because I want to pour myself out even more for Him. I want to empty myself for You, Jesus.”
And it’s hard and it doesn’t happen overnight but I think God wants us to get to that point and I think that if we don’t do that, yes, God loves us, yes, just like with Esther, God’s will is going to be done, if that team didn’t go to India someone else would have, right? God wants us, but He doesn’t need us, but when we disobey Him we miss out on some of what He had planned for us. And someday we’re going to get to sit at the great wedding feast of the Lamb, and while it’s not our works that gain us a seat at the table I sure would love to bring a housewarming gift for Jesus when I get to heaven. A housewarming gift that says,
“Jesus, I didn’t really wrap this well and it’s not as good/nice/put-together as it could have been but this is for You, this is all of my little sacrifices that no one saw that only You noticed, all of my imperfect attempts to love You and love others, here it is just kind of wrapped in paper and I just want to give it to You as a thank You. Not a payback but just a thank You. You deserve that much from me at least.”
I want to present something great to Jesus. And my guess is that deep down all of us want to do that as well.
Okay, well wow, I’m running out of time. SURPRISE! J I’ve got to get to the verse, “I am your shield and your very great reward,” but I’m supposed to stop at 9:47 and it’s 9:48, so I have to wrap this up. I told you that it’s just not easy to get through all this in one sermon!
But let me say this: 206 times afraid is translated in the NIV. The first time is in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve hide from God; when they sin and when they don’t run toward the perfect God who loves them, they run away from Him and they said we were afraid so we hid. They had no reason to be scared of God, no reason to be. But they did. And then the last time the word afraid is translated in the NIV it’s a little bit different. Listen to what Jesus says in Revelation 2:10 to the church at Smyrna; hopefully this will encourage us. Jesus says,
“Do not be afraid [sound familiar?] of what you are about to suffer. [Wow] I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for ten days but be faithful even to the point of death.” [He’s implying that some of those Christians were going to die for Him.] “But be faithful and I will give you the crown of life.”
Whew; yeah. Again, Jesus is not saying if you step out for Me, if you leave the branches and leave the trees and leave the nest and you soar for Me that it’s going to be an easy flight; there’s going to be turbulence; there’s going to be mountains; there’s going to be cold; there’s going to be predators; there’s going to be all kinds of difficulty when you step out of your comfort zone, but I will be with you and I’m going to give you the crown of life someday that can’t be taken away from you. Your earthly body is going to decay but your soul will not, I will give you a new body that won’t, you’ll get the crown of life and I’ll wipe away your tears, you’ll get to see Me. Just endure; just step out for a short time.
S let me read, before I close in pray, this little poem I wrote about sticking with Jesus through hard times. It will be on the screens and, if you want, in the lobby, in the welcome center, and in the family information center, there are these little brown sheets that have just a few poems that I’ve written about sticking with God during tough times.
Here it is:
With knuckles white and lig’ments strain’ed taut
And bulging disks thus weighted with a load
A battered face deep-scarred from battles fought
While trav’lling uphill both ways through this road
With hope crash-landed on deserted isles
And peace in pieces shattered on the floor
I’m boxed in and surrounded in these trials
Outmanned, outgunned, outlasted in this war
And yet throughout my soul’s long, darkened night
Though sense be blind with feelings feeling numb
Upheld am I by Grace’s gentle might
He carries me throughout these depths I plumb
Though broken and depleted currently,
His grace, says He, sufficient is for me
Almighty God, I thank You that You are with us just as You were with Abram and in some ways better than You were with him. You want to live in us. We have Your entire word and we have 2-4,000 years of history of imperfect flawed very normal men and women in Scripture and out of Scripture who have followed You and through whom You have done great things. God, help us to be encouraged by that. Help us to overcome our fear, help us to care more about what You think than what people think of us. God, help us to be obedient even when we’re scared, help us to trust that You are going to carry us that in our weakness You say Your grace is sufficient for us because your power is made perfect when we are weak, when we think we can’t do it, that’s where You say, “Good, now we’re getting somewhere. I will be with you, I will help you.” Help us, God, to trust in you. Help us, God, whatever it might be for us. Help us to step out of our comfort zone and to do it for You and if we mess up, if it blows up in our faces, if we make a royal mess out of everything help us to remember that You write straight with our crooked lines, You bring diamonds out of coal, You will bring good out of all the suffering we experience. We pray this in Your name Jesus, Amen.