Monday, April 5, 2010

Knowing God: Abraham, pt 2

This story we read earlier, in Genesis 22, coincides with what we read while praying in Luke 14, that there is a cost in following God, and it involves giving up your possessions.
(we placed a marker board up on the platform).
When I think of possessions, I remember playing football in high school. We were practicing with all the upper classmen. We were short jerseys. A guy a lot bigger than me needed the jersey to play in this practice. He didn't have to take my jersey, but he needed one. There were plenty of other people wearing jerseys, but he decided to take mine. The important thing to remember, was that everyone needed a jersey to play. So I didn't want to give mine up. Unfortunately, after the scuffle, this bigger, older guy had successfully taken my jersey off of my body.
I remember fighting tooth and nail for that jersey, and how small I felt after that. What God was asking Abraham to do was similar, and it is what God is asking us to do today, is to come with our possessions and lay down them down.
If you think you don't have any possessions to lay down, then go through the list of things you have, what you look like, your identity, the impression you try to make on others, and go through your profile, your career, your tangible and intangible possessions.
As we come closer to knowing God, this is part 2 of Abraham's story. Abraham had to come to this point where he was no longer clinging to his son, Isaac.
In Genesis 22, Abraham was tested by God. God said, "Abraham," and Abraham said, "Here I am." God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." If you stop there, you see that what Abraham did was he listened to God.
A lot of us would say, "I don't think so." We'd say, "That's enough. What God? You're breaking up!" As tough was it was, Abraham listened to God.
The idea of human sacrifice was not foreign to Abraham, coming from Ur. You learn, though, as you read the rest of Scripture, that it was something God did not permit. No human sacrifices for Him. But He did want everyone to give up everything, without there being competition for Him. God still wants that.
Abraham had been 75 years old when God first told him he would have a son. Later, in Genesis 15, Abraham was told again he would have a son. Then Abraham took matters into his own hands with Hagar, Sarah's servant, because God was taking too long. God said that wasn't the way God promised, and Isaac was still on the way. 25 years after the promise in Genesis 12, and Abraham laughing in Genesis 17, and Sarah laughing in Genesis 18, Isaac was born.
When we arrive at Genesis 21, Isaac was born, and Ishmael, the other child, was sent away. God comes to Abraham, describing Isaac as the one Abraham loved. God told Abraham to sacrifice him as a burnt offering.
When you made a burnt offering, you would kill the animal, cut it up, and set it on fire so that only the ashes remained. It was a symbolic fire, representing the offerer being given up completely to God. God's asking Abraham to do that with Isaac.
Abraham had some faith! He listened to God! He didn't tune God out. Have you ever tuned God out?
God wants us, in a culture of materialism, to give Him first place in our heart. He will work on you and me until we come to this point, where God is first.
God may be speaking to someone today about something you own. It doesn't have to be a son or daughter, but could be a house, career, car, clothes, education, relationship with someone, and God wants it. He wants to be Lord, and Lord means ruler over everything, and everything means everything.
God may be speaking to you about your possessions, just like He did with Abraham.
It could be an emotion, like bitterness. This doesn't mean you can't be rich or that you can't be successful, but that you can be a wealthy person without possessing any of it.
Once I had a friend who understood it that way, and took all his money out of a savings account, went to a subdivision, and threw it in someone's front yard. I asked, "Why didn't you throw it in my front yard?" He said, "Aha!" But he was wrong. This is a true story.
Think of people God uses greatly, and how He gives them difficult messages sometimes. Like Hosea, where God tells Hosea to go marry an unfaithful woman. Really, God? I was thinking, beautiful, funny, Godly. No, God said to marry an unfaithful woman.
God told Jeremiah to tell words to the people of Judah, and for over fifty years Jeremiah suffered abuse, seeing hardly any fruit from his ministry. But God used him.
Isaiah was called, and went forward, and God told him he would speak a message the people did not want to hear, and that they would rebel.
God may be speaking to you and telling you a difficult message today. Listen to God. Abraham listened.
God wants us to lay things down (I wrote an "L" on the marker board)

The second thing Abraham did in verse 3 was that he rose up early and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance, and he said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey, while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you. Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and placed it on his son, Isaac, and he himself carried the fire with the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up to his father, Abraham, 'Father.' 'Yes, my son,' Abraham replied. 'The fire, and the wood are here,' Isaac said. 'But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' The two of them went on together. When they had reached the place God had told them about, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife, to slay his son." I'm stopping in verse 10.
Abraham acted in faithful obedience. He didn't just listen, but when God said something hard, he acted in faithful obedience. Honestly, if I was Abraham, I don't know what I would do. I pray I would have the strength. If God said, "I want you to take your son, or daughter, and put a knife to their throat, and offer them up as a burnt offering," I don't know if I'd have the strength to do that. But this man did. He acted in faith and obedience.
Before you think that Abraham was just going to kill his son, remember that Abraham wrestled. There is a lot that happened between this two day period of verses 2 and 3, where God comes to him and early the next morning he obeys. The book of Hebrews sheds some light on this. Hebrews 11:17 is a divine commentary on this passage, where God tells us about another part of Scripture. "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' But Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead."
See that? Abraham wrestled and wrestled, and you picture this older man having a shouting match with God, questioning everything! He probably shouted, "God, You're not fair! You promised! How could You ask me to do this!"
25 years of waiting for this? Then all these years of raising Isaac and investing in his life?
Finally Abraham went through with this because he believed in God's promise.
Abraham acted in faithful obedience.
It's not enough for us to mentally assent to what God says. We are people of the mind, and we know what the Bible says. It's good to know what the Bible says, but what God wants is for us to do what the Bible says. When we read the words of Jesus, maybe someone had that passage memorized, and if so, then great! But to do it, is what counts!
God wants us to do what He tells us to do, especially with our possessions. God wants us to lay them all down. God has plans for the things He owns that you manage. Act in faithful obedience.
When I think of faith, I remember that story of the tightrope walker in Niagara Falls. He stretched out his line across the falls, and walked back and forth. Then he rode a unicycle back and forth. Then he pushed a wheelbarrow back and forth. He had gathered a large crowd, and he asked them, "How many of you believe I can push this wheelbarrow across the tightrope with a person inside it?" Everyone raised their hands. He asked, "Which one of you wants to come into the wheelbarrow?" No one raised their hands. Faith in God is getting into the wheelbarrow.
You rarely see God testing someone, but here God tested Abraham. I believe God never intended to kill Isaac, and that Scripture shows us that here. But He did intend to test Abraham and rid him of his attachment to his son. Why? God wants to be your only possession.
I urge you to commit yourself to follow Him today; commit your wife, husband, kids, family, friends, clothes, food, money, bills, debt-all to God. Give them up to God.
Remember the commercial where the athletes are running around the track and their sweat is green, and then the Gatorade label comes onto the screen with the words, "Is it in you?" God wants to know today, "Is it in you?" Do you have what it takes? God is asking, "Am I in first place in your life?"
In Communist Russia, the believers met in house churches, in small groups as an underground church. They would trade Scripture with each other, because not many people had the whole Bible. Each week they would go home with a new page of Scripture, and memorize it, then bring it back, and gradually memorize a lot of Scripture. They were in one of their meetings, when two KGB burst into the doors, armed with guns. The first of the two soldiers said, "Everyone line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now." Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more left. The second soldier shouted, "This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ, or stay and suffer the consequences." Another left. Finally two more in embarrassed silence slipped into the night, and no one else moved. Parents with their trembling kids beside them looked down reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down, or at best to be in prison. After a few moments of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, and said, "Keep your hands up, but this time in praise to our Lord, Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. Because we too are Christians, and we were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers," and the other soldier interrupted, "but instead we were converted! And we have learned by experience, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted."
I think of what would happen if something like that were to occur here. How attached are we to what we have?
(we watched a video of Abraham and Isaac, displaying what I had been saying)

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