Monday, February 22, 2010

Knowing God: Abraham, pt 1

When you think about your high school days, do you think about them as a time you wish you could go back to? Or a time where you say, "Whew! I'm glad I'm done with that phase of life!" Maybe a mix? When I was in high school, I had a very interesting class. By the time I graduated, about 25% of my class was no longer in school. Some of them were in jail or put away for drug abuse or bringing guns to school. I remember one friend who was a great football player, who was a friend of mine. One day I was saying hi to him, hanging out with him, and the next day he was being escorted out of school with the drug dogs for possession and having a hand gun. I never saw that one coming. A couple of girls had to drop out due to pregnancy.

That's the setting for an important lesson I learned. One day in a teacher's class, she was trying to get our attention, and we were arguing and goofing around, not paying attention at all. When I think of people who teach high school, I think of this scenario, and I pray for them. In fact, a teacher who teaches at any level in our church has my prayers. My mother is a teacher, and I hear a lot of stuff and I pray for you guys. This teacher finally had an idea.

She took us into the hallway, paired us up, had us stand in our pairs, and handed us one blindfold per pair. The one person had to guide their blindfolded partner one lap around the school hallways. The first pair to do it successfully without injuring his partner and leaving the blindfold on would be the winner. At first it was fun to make your partner bump into walls and stub their toe, but then it became serious when we realized we were losing the race. At the end, I don't know who won the race, and I don't think it was my pair. We learned an important lesson about teamwork and depending on each other.

This teacher decided to bring us together and give us this gift of teamwork that we hadn't yet developed. This teacher's class was never the same after that. We all felt a little different about this teacher after that and respected her more. It may be discouraging to the teacher to hear that I can't remember what she taught us in class (though since I know certain things I must have learned something from her), but I remember this way that she decided to invest in us and teach us about life.

In a similar way, God came to someone who had no order, a pagan person in need of God, and brought this benefit and blessing to a man named Abram. In a place called Ur of the Chaldeans, God began to bless Abram. The Chaldeans were also called the Babylonians, and that region is modern day Iraq. The Bible says the Lord had said to Abram. They were in Haran, coming from Ur when God spoke, so it is possible that God had begun working on Abram when in Ur.

When we read Genesis 12, it says "The Lord had said to Abram," meaning God spoke to him before chapter 12. Terah, in chapter 11, had this plan to take his family from Ur to Haran. When they arrived in Haran, Terah died. God had spoken to Abraham either before that time, or here when they were at Haran.
We read this frequently, but do we think about the setting? Think about how Abram didn't know this God who came to him. He had no reason to believe this God. Now he hears and obeys God. If you're taking notes, the first thing to write down is:
1) It's never too late to get to know God. Abraham was 75 years old when God came to him. He was 20 years past the point of getting senior's discounts. God said, "Leave your country, your people, and your father's household, and go to the land I will show you." Verse 2, "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
Imagine God speaking to you like that. We know God. If He spoke to us like this we would be amazed. How much more amazing for God to speak like this to a man who did not know Him. Most of the commentators say Abraham was a pagan man worshipping someone or something else, probably the local gods of Ur. For 75 years of his life he had done this! Now he changes.
The unknown God comes to him and he listens. Is it any wonder the Bible continually talks about Abraham's faith?
I was reading a biography of Billy Graham, written by Jerry Jenkins, and at the beginning Jenkins describes how he was talking with Billy Graham one day and the secretary came in and said to Billy, "It's for you; it's the President." Jenkins' first reaction was, "Yeah right, it's the President." After Billy Graham got off the phone, he confirmed that it was in fact the President of the U.S. who had called for Billy Graham.
Imagine Abraham's position, that there was a God who came to him and said, "I'm going to give you all these things." It'd be like getting a letter from Donald Trump saying, "Hey, you, I want you to come to this city in Florida, I'll meet you there, I'll have a lot of money waiting for you, I'll have real estate for you that you can invest in, and I'll give you all these things." You would say, "What's the catch?"
Abraham was going to be blessed. Since the beginning of Genesis, this was the first time God came to an individual to begin blessing the earth through a singular family. What does this mean for us? God has a purpose for the Godly people and the ungodly people. Abraham was ungodly, until God showed him His purpose for him.
God came to Abraham like if you were summoned to the White House and given money, position, and welcomed by the President. Abraham had to check his pacemaker.
They took all the people and their possessions and set out to Canaan, as far as the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. There Abraham built an altar to God, Who had appeared to him.

Note the second point: 2) Knowing God also means blessing others with what God gives you. In verse 2, God tells Abraham, amongst all the ways God will bless him, that "you will be a blessing." That is a command in Hebrew, to be a blessing. This jumped out at me! God also told Abraham in no uncertain terms that he was to take what God had done and bless others. Abraham himself was supposed to be a blessing. As you read the story of Abraham's descendants, Israel, eventually their name had become like a curse when God judged them. Either you are a blessing or a curse to others. God commanded that they be a blessing. Galatians 3 talks about us in Christ being descendants of Abraham, through our faith in Jesus as Abraham's seed. We too are to be a blessing, as inheritors of the Genesis 12 promise to Abraham.
What do you have that could be a blessing to someone else? Spiritual gifts, promises from God about God providing, Hebrews tells us God will never leave us or forsake us. We see new mercies every morning. I believe that God wants people He blesses to be a blessing to others. If you have received financially from God, are you blessing others with it.
We purchased a 2000 Mitsubishi Mirage in 2001, and the reason that 4 cylinder runs so well is, I believe, because we use it for God. When someone needs a vehicle, we have let many people use this car.
In our church, every week I'm teaching, preaching, leading worship, counseling and encouraging people, managing the church, and using my spiritual gifts. I need you to encourage me in the same way by using your spiritual gifts. God has blessed each of us with spiritual gifts. Are you using yours? Are you using your blessings for God's people?
Another king, Abimelech, said later to Abraham, "God is with you in everything you do." The world is watching us, and looking to see if we are a blessing to others, and if God is working through us in all we do.
If we don't share the blessings God gives us, it's kind of like ordering your food at a restaurant, and you're starving. You're drinking water, eating tortilla chips, and the server comes in with your tray of food that you've been waiting for. You notice his mouth is full, and can't understand what he's trying to say. He lowers the tray and then before leaving he takes another bite of your food, saying, "This is really good stuff!" He licks his fingers, then he takes some chips, saying, "That's really good too!" He tastes the soup, "Wow. I think I'll take the rest of this food!" The server is not supposed to taste the food.
If that were to happen, you'd leave without paying (some would still pay). That is how it is when we horde our spiritual gifts to ourselves in the church. They are not for us, they are given to us for others.
This is also like a man who was in a desert, and found a well. He was parched. The well was an old hand pump well. Next to the hand pump was a jug with a cork in it, and a note attached, which said, "Please use this water to prime the pump, and you'll get fresh water out of the pump." He pops the cork and sees that there is water in the jug. He can take a risk and pour it out, or be safe and drink the water. After deliberating, he decides to go for the fresh water. He pours the jug into the well, and begins to pump. Nothing happens, and he continues pumping (squeak, squeak. Squeak, squeak). He continues pumping, and the spout starts to drip a little, then increases to a slow dribble, and then a smooth flow of water, and then a gushing amount of water flows out. A small stream develops on the sand, and then it grows as he keeps pumping. He has much more water than a jug! He fills the jug, drinks his fill, douses himself, runs the water through his hair, and drinks some more! He fills up the jug one last time, then pulls out a pen (where he got one in the desert, I don't know. Use your imagination!), and scribbles in the paper, "Believe me, it really works!" That's what God wants us to do when He gives us blessings.
The reason for those blessings is not so we can be king or queen of your little world, but so that you can bless others. This is part of the Great Commission, to be a blessing to the world! Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you! Be a blessing! Be with someone's kids, and when someone is grieving, put a hand on their shoulder.
The early church even sold land so others could have money. Be a blessing. I believe God is saying this to Darlington, Lafayette County, to be a blessing here and in the world.
Number 3) Last thing, chapter 15. This is so important, because we start off the Christian life so well sometimes, but then we taper off a little.
Abraham was experiencing in Genesis 15 what Christians still struggle with, that is, "God, You said it, but I don't see it." People say, "God, if You're good, and You promised, and You're with me, then how come I don't see this?"
Some people say, "How come there is evil in the world, if God is good?"
It is very important to understand, that knowing God means having faith, when what we hear is different than what we see.
When God is telling us one thing, but our eyes are seeing something else, that's when faith is tested. God had told Abraham that his offspring would inherit the land, but Abraham had decided that since he was childless Eleazar would inherit everything. God was coming to him, saying, "What are you doing? Did you forget My promise?"
Today, God is asking some of you, "What are you doing there? Did you forget My plan for you? My promises? Why are you going in that direction? Didn't you hear Me? Don't you remember Me?"
Abraham said, "You have given me no children, so a servant from my household will be my heir." Watch what God does with this man who has already stepped out in faith. God does this still today. He not only corrects him, but He goes one step further, by taking him outside and showing him the stars. God takes the time to give Abraham an object lesson, to persuade him, to convince him and assure him. What does Abraham do in response? Verse 6, "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." Right there. Knowing God means believing what I hear from God over what I see with my own eyes.
This is the point where many people say, "That's it, God! I'm done! Because I don't see it! God, show me the money! I've been enduring this situation for years, and You promised!"
Abraham was 75 when God made His promise. How old would he be when God fulfilled it? 100 years old. I have prayed for one of my uncles since I was in 7th grade, that he would come to faith in Christ. Not only has he not trusted in Christ, but he might be further away from the Lord than he ever was before. This is without a promise.
Imagine God promising. It will take 25 years before it is fulfilled, but Abraham had faith in God. That is so encouraging, because it means that if God has promised you something and it hasn't happened yet, you can keep trusting, keep praying, and keep having faith in Him. Tomorrow you'll wake up and be tempted to be discouraged. Knowing God means having faith in Him no matter what. Believe what you hear over what you see.
Faith in God through Christ is the only thing God sees as a way for human beings to be righteous.
But maybe you're a person who is saying, "God hasn't done anything, so maybe He needs my help. I'll help God fulfill His promise." No, no, no. Abraham tried that, to speed things up, eventually sleeping with Hagar, his wife's servant, and having a child. But that still was not God's plan. God specifically said through Abraham and Sarah the child would be born. We are tempted to speed up God's plan, because we think God needs a little help.
When Emily and I were living in Dallas, three times we tried to buy a house, but God kept shutting the doors. We couldn't figure it out. We had a chance to speed up the process, by taking a financial risk, but after praying decided not to. Then God moved us here to Darlington. We have friends who are still trying to sell their houses in that part of Dallas and the suburbs. We thank God for saving us from that.
There's an old country song, "I thank God for unanswered prayer." God is always moving. Stay faithful to Him.
Remember, it is never too late to know God; God wants you to be a blessing to others, and Believe in God even when what you hear is not what you see.
If you don't know God like Abraham didn't know Him, He has come for you in Jesus Christ, and made a way for you to know God through Jesus' death on the cross and coming to life from the dead. If you believe in Jesus, you will be saved.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Knowing God: Noah

Have you ever been disappointed greatly in life? Have you ever disappointed someone else? Maybe a friend, an employer? Once when I was working in landscaping, I worked for someone who wanted a lot of plants all in one place. When we arrived, my crew had not brought a few peripheral items because someone thought they weren't important. I remember how upset and disappointed my boss was at that. It was a very big event, and we had to hurry in order to get things where they were supposed to be. I remember disappointing someone I respected. His expression is in my mind.
I also remember times when someone has been extremely impressed with what I have done. Do you? You went above and beyond and were recognized?
Noah, in Genesis 6, fit into the latter category of greatly impressing God, when everyone else around him fit into the first category of disappointing God.
We know the story of Noah because of the Flood, the Ark, and the animals. Noah's Ark is a common theme for nurseries and baby rooms. That is a big part of what happens with Noah and his family. But more importantly, it is what happens before the Ark that matters to God, and in light of our theme--Knowing God. It was because of who Noah was before the Flood came that he was in the Ark and trusted with the responsibility of these animals. It was because Noah found favor with God, because Noah was righteous in God's eyes, that he was used by God to preserve life on earth.
We're looking at the story of Noah and what it means to be favored by God. Adam knew God as provider, righteous Judge, Hope of salvation in the Last Adam, and Enoch walked with God and had a close relationship with God, and God took him. Those who know God through Jesus Christ will experience God's mercy. Noah has another lesson on Knowing God.
In chapter 6 verse 8, before it says "This is the account" which shows it is a new section in Genesis. The previous section ended with God saying, "I will wipe mankind whom I have created from the face of the earth, men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air, for I am grieved that I have made them." How terrible! What would make God to be grieved that He had made mankind? As we get closer to the end times events--by the way we are closer now than we have ever been before (am I going too fast?) :) Jesus said in Matthew 24, that this is what it will be like, as it was in the days of Noah before the flood, so it will be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. Violence. God says in Genesis that "I will not endure with man forever." Then verse 8 comes on the end of that, "but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord."
Have you ever been the only one who did what was right? You're the only one and everyone is pressuring you to do the wrong thing. The "everybody's doing it" crowd is pushing you to be one of them? This is Noah's environment, where he stands out like a needle in a haystack as the one who serves and follows God. The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 16 that the eyes of the Lord wander to and fro throughout the earth seeking to strengthen the hearts of those who are loyal to Him. God is working and moving, and He has a plan, and He's looking for people where He can say, ". . . but her, she found favor in my eyes." or ". . . but him, he found favor in my eyes." Or ". . . but that little boy, he is more righteous than anyone else of his time."
This is an important part of knowing God, and we learn from Noah that it is possible even when life is disintegrating around us and there is chaos, and it is dark, foggy, things are going bad, continue to serve God. Keep on doing what is right. The same old thing is still good enough. The same old Gospel does work, is great news, and does need to be told to people.
The word for favor is a word meaning "popularity," or "to find favor." Genesis 39:21, "The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer." The same word for favor is also in Exodus 11:3, "The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, furthermore the man Moses himself was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people." This word is used of Esther, in Esther 5:2, when she comes in boldly to the king's chamber and the king raises the scepter because she found favor in his eyes.
Joseph, Moses, Esther. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord! God is looking for these kinds of people--this kind of person. D. L. Moody used to always say, "The world has yet to see what God can do with someone who is fully committed to Him." D. L. Moody heard it from a man named George Mueller, who, at his own expense, started an orphanage, and many, many kids had a home because of his ministry. He said, "I don't know how this is going to happen, but I'll do it." He tried to be that man that the world has not seen yet, and D. L. Moody tried to be that man, and said, "by the grace of God I'll be that man!" He wanted what Noah had--to stand out!
Later on, Ezekiel said God would judge a certain people, and said even if Noah was in that group, God would still judge them. In other words, Noah had a reputation as a righteous man.
In Haiti right now, people are looking for food, clothes, medicine, relatives, and they are desperate. In the same way, God is looking desperately for people who are going to be righteous, and holy, and blameless; people who would be spared from judgment. What an extreme there!
The world is getting wiped out, but because of your faithfulness to me, Noah, I'm going to spare you and your family. I bet Noah said to himself, "Boy, it's a good thing we've been obeying God all these years. Man. It's a good thing we still serve the Lord."
What was it that made Noah get God's attention? Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. What made him find God's favor? Before the whole building of the Ark, Noah is righteous.
There aren't that many times when the Bible calls someone a righteous person. There are only four people that the Bible calls righteous. Noah was the first person the Bible calls a righteous man. Simeon was the second one, in Luke 2.[1] The Bible says Simeon was a righteous man, waiting for Jesus the Messiah, and prophesied about his life. Later on, in Acts 10, Cornelius is called a righteous man, and God sends Peter to his house. This man was seeking God, and Peter told him about the good news of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11, finally, calls Abel a righteous man. Those [five] people.
So, aside from God, Jesus the Messiah (prophesied or in person), there is a small number of righteous people. Job is spoken of highly later on. I think righteous refers to Noah's faith in God, because later he's called blameless in his time, which would refer to his works and his actions. Genesis 15:6 tells us Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Noah believed in and followed God, a righteous man. God is looking for this type of person, even in 2010, even in Darlington, even in this church! And as we say all kinds of things about vision, planning, and what to do, we can't say as a Christian "that's somebody else's job to be a righteous person." "It's somebody else's job to know God more. Don't we pay staff members to pray and read their Bibles all day? Isn't that what they're supposed to be doing? Let them be righteous and blameless." No! This is for everybody! This is walking with God and knowing God! Everybody's job is to be more like God!
Noah is such a role model of this. He did things that caught God's attention. Have you ever tried to get someone's attention? When I was dating my wife, I tried to get her attention. It worked the second time. The first time was--a long story.
Look how old Noah is at this time. God comes to Noah, and he has his sons, and 5:32 told us Noah was 500 years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, so if you're saying I've walked with God for a year, and nothing happened, you've got 499 to go. In other words, it's not on my time table, but God's. My job is to be righteous, faithful, and trust God that He's going to do the best thing for me, and I may see a reason not to believe, but can't be discouraged. Keep on following Him. You may have too much month at the end of your money, but keep on being faithful to God and trusting in Him. Maybe you have a terrible relationship with one of your parents. Keep on serving God and being blameless. You take responsibility for your actions and serve Him. God eventually will honor that. Look at Noah--500 years of walking with God. Wow!
Noah would have looked at some of you in your 80's and said, "That's just a spring chicken." "I was a reckless teenager in my 80's. Didn't have children until I was in my 500's."
We can't say I've arrived at a point where I no longer need to do all this stuff. We can't say church is for kids, isn't it great to see the kids' program? Let's just talk about the kids, and support them. Isn't it great to see the teens? Let's just talk about the teen program and support them. But it's about you and me too! All of us! Our whole goal with the kids and teens is to teach and train them so they will serve as adults. Can you imagine what God can do with one person completely sold out to Him. Anyone in here can be the person who says they will serve God like that. Can you imagine if everyone in the sanctuary today said in unison "Yes God, we will be those people! You just say the word, and we'll do it!"
It's scary! God may say, "I want you to move to Haiti, and I want you to build an orphanage there, because I have many people who will trust in me, and they need a home!" But you say, "That's not God speaking! Is it? God will never ask me to do something like that." Yes, He might. I think sometimes that's our fear, that if we sell ourselves out to God He might get us out of our comfort zone. Well, the only way you can grow is to get out of your comfort zone. Take that as a challenge. Noah was out of his comfort zone, in a time of people who were not blameless, in a time that was so bad--worse than what we're experiencing most likely--so bad, that God wanted to wipe them all out. And Noah still was righteous, and blameless in his time.
I hope that hits you! How Noah stood out, and how God favored him.
This word for blameless also--Noah was the first of three people in the Bible who were called blameless. Job in in Job 1:1, and King Asa in 2 Chronicles 15 finish the list. Wow. Wouldn't you love to be in that number. "Nate is also called blameless." That would be awesome. Wouldn't I love for God to say, "Look, there's Nate, he's also righteous." Wouldn't you love to be able to put your name on that list?
This is all great, and many people here are saying "Amen," but its what happens tomorrow that counts. What happens tomorrow when what God wants us to do is not popular? Bill Cosby said, "I don't know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everybody." If you want to fail, just keep pleasing everyone around you. Sometimes we're looking for peoples' approval as well. Winston Churchill grew a mustache early in his political career. He had an aunt who disagreed with him about most things. His aunt one day said, "Winston, I don't like your mustache, and I don't like your politics." He replied, "My dear aunt, you will not need to come into contact with either."
We don't need everyone's approval or permission to obey God. God is probably working today and speaking to you about something, and I urge you to pray about it and ask what God wants to do with your life. Everyone who is still on this earth--God has a plan for you, even if you will only live another 30 days. My grandfather gets ill all the time and comes back. He's up there in age, but he prays. We think God has him here because he's a prayer warrior, and he can't physically do anymore, but he prays. I think it's perfectly normal for God to have someone just to pray. He takes the prayer requests and he's been in the church his whole life, and he prays for these people.
God has some purpose for us.
What is God's challenge for us? He wants us to be righteous, and looks for that needle in a haystack. If you've been watching American Idol, they look and search for the next American Idol! (Pants on the Ground).
How much more is God looking for that person who will be the next Noah. It doesn't matter where you come from.
I read an interesting story recently about recommendations. A Chicago bank was looking at a Boston man, considering him for their employment. This Boston investing house could not say enough about this young man. "His father," they wrote, "was a Cabet. His mother was from the family of Loathe (sp), further back, he has genes from the Saultinstalls, the Peabody's, and other of Boston's first families. We recommend him." Several days later the Chicago bank wrote back and said, "We are not contemplating using this young man for breeding purposes. Just for work." We get caught up in all of that sometimes. The thing that matters, is not the outward appearance, as Samuel said from God. It is the heart.
We can't go by the outward appearance, and don't be discouraged. You say, "But God I have a limitation! I have a handicap!" Moses said, "I can't speak," but God used him to speak to the people anyway. I always tell people, when they say "I don't have a spiritual gift," "Look, God could make Balaam's donkey talk and God used him. If God can use Balaam's donkey, God can use any of us!"
God can use you. What is God doing in your life. Noah was a blameless man, and God looks for that kind of person. What God does with Noah is amazing. He not only saves him and his family from the Flood, but God goes beyond that and looks to make a covenant with him in Genesis 6:18. "I will establish My covenant with you and you will enter the Ark, you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you." Then after the Flood, "I now establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you, the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the Ark with you." And Noah, showed his righteousness and blamelessness after the Flood by coming to God with a sacrifice. And the Lord loved it and said in 8:21, "The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart, 'Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every indication of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease. And God tells Noah in chapter 9:12, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come. I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and earth."
So the rainbow is a reminder to Noah and God of this covenant.
God's covenant extends to those who are righteous in His eyes. The Bible tells us to be righteous is not just by what we do, but by Who we believe in, in Jesus. The sad thing is we can't be righteous on our own. But the good news is we can trust in the righteousness of another person, who was perfect, and Who did everything right, in Jesus Christ. We can have that status in God's eyes. That's the beginning. You need to come to faith in Jesus Christ. That's where God wants to meet us. Believe in Him and trust in Him.
Even today, if you're saying to yourself, "this thing about Jesus--I've heard it, and it's baloney, I don't accept it." Even for you who don't believe in God, God has a plan for your life! If you will come to Christ, you will see the beginnings of that plan, but you have to trust Him enough to put everything in His hands, all the eggs in one basket, and follow Jesus.
I love God's reaction to what Noah did, and the covenant He established with him. There is good news today in Jesus Christ if you will believe. If you have believed, what can you take away? It's possible to have favor in God's eyes. How? Maintain that steady course. Read your Bible. Pray. Even if you just mute the commercials and pray, that's a start. Even just five minutes a day, that is a start. Make an effort to know God more.
There is great news, that God has a plan for each of us, if we will just follow Him, if we will just walk with Him and be blameless.
I urge you who are reading to pray about being more committed to God. Know Jesus, and believe in Him. This is the beginning of knowing God. Jesus said in John 17:3, "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent."

[1] I neglected to include Joseph, who Matthew calls a righteous person, making the list five people the Bible calls righteous. Thank my wife for catching that in my sermon and pointing it out to me!