Where there is a Well there is a Way

In Africa and other developing countries, water is a daily and crippling challenge. Without water you can't grow food, you can't build housing, you can't stay healthy, you can't stay in school and you can't keep working. Children, especially girls under the age of fifteen, often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds which is full of disease that makes them and their families sick. Wells bring clean, safe water closer to where people are living cutting down on illnesses and the time used to fetch water which can better be spent on other things.

There are five things that digging wells can help in these countries. The first is education. Education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and yet over half of the world's schools lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Lack of clean water has serious effects on students' academic performance and attendance rates. Second is hunger. Relieving hunger begins with access to clean water. It may seem simple, but we forget that without access to a reliable source of water, food is hard to grow and even more difficult to preserve and prepare. Globally we use 70% of our water sources for agriculture and irrigation, and only 10% on domestic uses. Third is healthy living. In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. Fourth is poverty. The lack of water is an often insurmountable obstacle to helping oneself. Without clean water, the possibility of breaking out of the cycle of poverty is incredibly slim.

Lastly, water has long been at the center of conflict in these countries. You can travel tens or even hundreds of kilometers without seeing a single water facility and even then it is not of good quality. Finding water is becoming increasingly urgent to ease the strain on local community tensions. Water is the source of many conflicts within nations and between them. The causes of this conflict are complex, but one thing is certain: water shortages raise tensions, and in turn tensions make access to water more difficult. The digging of wells can reduce these tensions.

Today’s sermon is titled, “Where there is a well there is a way” because wells can be a way to better education, relieving hunger, healthy living, less poverty and less conflict in developing countries today. Wells are one way to help the physical and emotional needs of the world. This was also true in the time of the Patriarchs. Without water people could not have survived in the desert for very long. The lack of water took a physical and emotional toll on all living things. In our scripture this morning, wells will also take on a spiritual quality. Because of Isaac’s obedience to the Lord he was blessed with water wherever he went. “Where there is a well there is a way” meant that God was taking care of Isaac’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Physically, he had water for his family, for his flocks and herd and his crops. Emotionally, he didn’t need to worry about him or his family dying of thirst or losing his flocks and herds to a lack of water. And spiritually, he could trust God to provide for his daily needs knowing that the same blessing that the Lord had promised to his father Abraham was now extended to him.

We will see that God’s blessing is upon Isaac as he becomes very wealthy as a farmer and a shepherd. But Isaac’s life was not without trouble. Some of his troubles were brought on by himself and other troubles were brought on by others as they saw the blessings of God in his life. We will see conflict involving water this morning as we study this passage and we will notice that even though Isaac is abundantly blessed by God his life is not trouble-free which brings us to the big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

Before we begin the study of our scripture this morning let’s pray: ​​ Heavenly Father, we thank you that your Holy Spirit is among us this morning. I pray that your Spirit would move in this place and among those who are listening online. I pray that our hearts and minds would be open to what you want to say to us individually and corporately as Christ followers. Illumine us, teach us and grow us to spiritual maturity through your Word and your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is Abundance and is found in Genesis 26:12-14. This is what God’s Word says, “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.”

The first thing we notice is that Isaac has become a farmer. We don’t know how long he has been in Gerar but it has been long enough to plant crops and reap its harvest. What is significant is that the first time Isaac plants his crops in the area and in the very same year he reaps a hundred-fold. He reaped this abundant harvest even in the midst of a famine in the land because the Lord blessed him. This fulfilled the promise made by God back in verse 3 that if Isaac stayed in the land of Gerar, God would be with him and would bless him. He chose obedience to God over the attractions of Egypt. There must have been a good source of water nearby for his harvest to have been so great. He was probably using the wells that his father Abraham had dug when he was in the same area back in Genesis 20 and 21. In Genesis 21:25, we see Abraham complaining to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized from him.

Next we are told that Isaac became rich and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. A literal reading shows the repetition of the word “great.” ​​ “And the man became great, and he continually became greater until he became very great.” It is the picture of a person growing wealthier and more powerful because God has abundantly blessed him. But Isaac’s life wasn’t trouble-free. Last week, we saw that his troubles came because of his own actions. He lied about Rebekah being his wife and that caused tensions between him and his neighbors. We are not told that they were upset with Isaac and Rebekah but we notice in verse 11 that Abimelech had to order the Philistine people to not molest them or they would be put to death. They must have wanted to harm Isaac and Rebekah for their deception. Second, his troubles came because of the blessings of God in his life. Because of his abundant wealth, his neighbors, were envious of him. They had access to the same soil, sunshine and rain as Isaac but his hundred-fold harvest was greater than theirs and his flocks and herds were more abundant. He had also accumulated many servants during his time in Gerar. Isaac’s neighbors did not appreciate how successful and powerful he had become and they despised him and his success.

This brings us to our second point this morning which is Animosity found in verses 15-22. This is what God’s Word says, “So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

The Philistines are envious of Isaac and they showed their displeasure by stopping up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug. These were the same wells that Isaac had been using. He relied on these wells to water his crops, his flocks and herds and to keep his family alive. Water was essential to his survival in the region. Think about how much the Philistines must have hated Isaac. By stopping up the wells they wouldn’t have access the water either. It seems they just wanted to hurt Isaac and run him off their land. Then his troubles get worse as Abimelech orders Isaac to move away from them. Abimelech orders him to move away which suggests he has the upper hand but states that Isaac “is too powerful for us” making his words more of a request than an ultimatum. Nonetheless, Abimelech’s involvement makes the banishment more official. The fact that the Philistines and Abimelech are so focused on getting rid of Isaac shows how much the wells and the water were a blessing from God. The Philistines were probably not finding water in their own land like Isaac was. Isaac was blessed by God but that didn’t keep the troubles away from his doorstep reminding us of our big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

We notice that Isaac moves away instead of fighting for his right to use the wells or taking offense at the Philistines or Abimelech. He simply obeyed their demands. He had every right to those wells because they were his father’s and the water should have been his. He had done nothing wrong and was just trying to take care of his family. But he walked away when confronted and didn’t take offense at being wronged. God is pleased when his people live in peace and harmony with the world. We see this in Romans 12:16a & 18 which says, “Live in harmony with one another. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” And in Proverbs 19:11 it says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” To overlook an offense is to take no notice of wrongs done against oneself, to refuse to retaliate or seek revenge, to let affronts go, or in a word forgive. This is what Isaac does here and will also do again later in our passage this morning. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to strive to live in peace and harmony with everyone and to forgive and not take offense when wronged. That is important as we live our lives among believers and unbelievers.

We are told that that Isaac moves and encamps in the Valley of Gerar settling there. It is possible that Isaac had been living in the city proper because in verse 8 Abimelech was able to look out a window (probably from his palace) and see Isaac and Rebekah caressing. ​​ If this is true he may not have moved too far. It may have been like moving from Carlisle or Gettysburg to Idaville; moving from a town or city to its suburbs. He probably stayed close by so he could continue to use the wells his father had dug when he was living in the area. These wells had been stopped up by the Philistines after Abraham had died. The Philistines didn’t seem to care about the previous treaty made between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21. The Philistines just wanted to control and claim all the resources of the land for their own, even if they didn’t intend to use them. We are told that Isaac reopens his father’s wells and gave them the same names that his father had given them. It is significant that Isaac knew the names of his father’s wells and where to find them. He was making the statement that he now owned them as Abraham’s son.

We continue to see more evidence of God’s blessing on Isaac as his servants dug a new well in the valley and discovered fresh water. Some translations say “springing water” or “living water.” They not only found water but water from an underground spring instead of stagnant water from a cistern. It would have been fresh water that would always be fresh because it came from a spring. But we see that trouble was not very far away. The herdsmen of Gerar, seemingly having followed Isaac, quarrel with his herdsman claiming that the water from the new well was theirs. So Isaac named the well Esek which means “quarrel” or “disputed.” Then Isaac again walks away from conflict and dug another well but the herdsman quarreled over that one too. This well he named Sitnah which means “to accuse” or “to oppose” relating to the word “satan” meaning “opposition.” It has the connotation of a formal complaint. It seems that the herdsmen of Gerar filed a legal, formal complaint against Isaac to seize this well as their own.

We notice a couple of things: One, God continues to bless Isaac because every well he dug he found water. We see this in that the herdsmen of Gerar continue to harass him as he digs new wells and finds water. If these wells didn’t produce water there would be no reason harass him. He would have just continued to move farther away from their land until he did. Two, Isaac again and again takes the high road. He doesn’t start a confrontation; he doesn’t take offense. He moves on trusting in God to provide the water needed for his family, flocks and herds. God continues to bless Isaac as he tries to faithfully live in peace and harmony with his neighbors.

After the formal complaint is filed against Isaac, he again moves on and digs another well. No one comes to quarrel over this well meaning that he must have moved far enough away from the land of the Philistines that they did not need to harass him anymore. Isaac names this well “Rehoboth” which means “room”, “open spaces” or “enlargement. This name praised the Lord for ending the conflict and giving Isaac and his family “room” to flourish and be fruitful in the land. It is the same root word used in Genesis 13:17 which describes the breadth of land that God showed to Abraham. God told Abraham to look to the north, south, east and west and promised him that all the land as far as he could see would belong to his descendants. Isaac and his descendants would possess all this land and would flourish and be fruitful there. Isaac’s life was not trouble-free but God continued to abundantly bless him over and over again even in the midst of trouble. (Big Idea)

This brings us to our third point this morning which is Assurance found in verses 23-25. This is what God’s Word says, “From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

Isaac moves from the area of where he dug the well, Rehoboth, to Beersheba. Beersheba was the same place where Abraham and Abimelech had made a treaty earlier in Genesis 21:31. The words “that night” show how significant it was that Isaac returned to his father’s homestead. The Lord appeared to Isaac the same night he returned to Beersheba and assured him that he was same God that was the “God of his father Abraham.” This is the first occurrence of this title for God that will continue throughout the rest of Genesis. The title reflects God’s personal commitment to Abraham in fulfilling his promises to him and involving him in the fulfillment of the promise to bless his offspring and in turn to bless the nations. He renews this personal commitment here to Isaac as he will later on with Jacob. God enters into a personal relationship not just with Abraham but also with his descendants. The Lord also told Isaac he did not need to be afraid because he is with him. Everywhere he dug a well he had found water because the Lord was with him. God was assuring Isaac of his protection and provision physically, emotionally and spiritually.

God also reiterated and reaffirmed the covenant blessing that Isaac would have numerous descendants. This covenant that Isaac was now a part of was for the sake of God’s servant Abraham and affirmed that Isaac was the true recipient of the Abrahamic blessings. But it was not for anything Abraham or Isaac did but because of the grace of God. The honored title, “my servant”, will also be used of the great leaders of Israel: Moses, Caleb and Joshua. God appearing to Isaac after the troubles in Gerar would have been an encouragement to him like it had been for Abraham. God also speaks to us and encourages us today.

Then Isaac did three things. The first reminds us of what Abraham did in the past: He built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. He was following in his father’s footsteps expressing his faith in the Lord. The altars built by the patriarchs were a grateful response to God coming and speaking to his servants. Baldwin says, “Worship seemed to be the first thought. They heard and received God’s word and gave themselves in adoration and worship pledging their obedience.” Then Isaac pitched his tent and his servants dug a well. These actions show Isaac’s commitment to worshipping the one true God as his father did and to making his residence in the land of promise in obedience to God. In the midst of troubles Isaac was still blessed by God. God proved faithful in producing water every time he dug a well providing for the fundamental needs of Isaac and his family. And in gratitude Isaac worshipped God thanking him for his protection, provision and blessing on his life. This brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to worship God with thanksgiving for his protection, provision and blessing on my life. This worship is not supposed to be a one-time thing. We should continually worship the Lord for his protection, provision and blessing on our lives.

My conclusion is adapted from Weirsbe’s commentary. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord. When we become followers of Christ some of the spiritual wells or blessings that we receive are the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Holy Spirit, sacrifice and service. In our individual lives or even in the church we sometimes allow these wells to be stopped up by the enemy. The Bible is full of warnings against this. 2 Timothy 4:3 warns us that there will be a time when people will not endure the sound teaching from God’s Word but will look for teachers to say what they want to hear. 1 Samuel 12:23 warns that when we don’t pray we are sinning against the Lord. Malachi 1:6-14 warns us about not offering our best in worship to God. Hebrews 11:6 warns us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Luke 14:26 warns us that we must be willing to sacrifice everything even father and mother or our own lives for the sake of Christ. Matthew 12:31 warns us about disregarding the power of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin. Matthew 25 warns us about not serving the least of these. The goats are the ones who did not serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or the prisoner and they will go to eternal punishment.

We’ve just had the Revival on the Farm and we continually pray for revival for Idaville Church and for the church universal. Weirsbe says, “Whenever there has been revival of spiritual power in the history of the church it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.” We must evaluate our individual hearts and the corporate hearts of our church to see if any of these spiritual wells have been stopped up by the enemy. And if they have we must begin to dig and reopen those wells. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to evaluate the spiritual wells in my life and the life of Idaville Church and reopen the ones that the enemy has stopped up.

As the Worship Team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Most Holy God, enable us through the power of your Holy Spirit to reopen those spiritual wells in our lives and in our church that Satan, the enemy has stopped up. Help us to worship and thank you for the blessings you have given us. And help us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors and to not take offense against those who wrong us. For your honor and your glory. Amen.

 

Sibling Rivalry

Since the beginning of human history there have been sibling rivalries. Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, the first siblings on earth didn’t get along. Since then, sibling rivalries have dotted history in many shapes and forms. Some sibling rivalries are purely playful, competitive one-upmanship, while some siblings sue each other over money or defamation. Some take the form of constant bickering and arguing while others live out their days amid a frigid silent treatment. Siblings have even gone to war against their brothers and sisters in the pursuit of wealth and power, not stopping even until the other was dead. These stories of sibling rivalries prove that it's impossible to expect brothers and sisters to get along all the time. Just because you're related to your brother or sister doesn't mean you will like them. I found the following examples of famous sibling rivalries.

Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, he and his older brother Edwin were locked in a brutal sibling rivalry. The brothers were both aspiring actors and fought for the attention of their father, a famous Shakespearean performer at the time. When John began supporting the Confederates, Edwin had him thrown out of their home for treason. Though Edwin was very famous for his acting talent at the time, his legacy has been overshadowed throughout history by his brother’s heinous crime.

Eppie Lederer and Pauline Phillips. These sisters are better known as Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. They were twin sisters who wrote competing high-profile advice columns starting in the 1950s. In 1958, Life magazine published an exposé entitled “Twin Lovelorn Advisers Torn Asunder by Success,” which featured “bitter exchanges” between the two. It seems the feud began in the mid-1950s when Pauline allegedly offered to write "Dear Abby" for their hometown newspaper for less pay if it promised not to print "Ask Ann." The twins were never the same after that. It is said that this sibling rivalry has been passed down even through the sisters’ children.

Adolph and Rudolph Dassler. In the 1920s, they created a shoe company in Germany together in their mother’s laundry room. As business boomed, so did the tension between them. The actual feud allegedly stemmed from a mere miscommunication during a WWII air raid but barely five years later, the brothers were dividing the company into two separate shoe brands Adi's Adidas and Rudi's Puma. The rivalry continued for more than 60 years, as the Dasslers' companies earned the loyalties of different athletes, celebrities, and even their fellow German townsfolk.

Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine. They were sisters and actresses during Hollywood’s Golden Age and were known rivals. As they rose to fame, both were nominated for Best Actress during the 1942 Academy Awards. Olivia was assumed to be the winner by many, but Joan famously went home with the Oscar. In a 1978 interview, Joan said, "You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands. I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to…I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she’ll be furious, because again I’ll have got there first!"

How many here today have siblings? I have a brother, Christian, and a sister, Laurie. They are twins like the subjects in the message today. My brother, Christian, is older than Laurie by a whole three minutes. From my perspective I wouldn’t say there was sibling rivalry between us growing up. There may have been between Chris and Laurie since they were only born three minutes apart. But there were definitely times in the past that my brother and I wouldn’t let her forget who was born first. What about you? Did you and your siblings experience any sibling rivalry? Maybe it was grades in school or vying for attention from the same friends or vying for the love and attention of parents that caused the rivalry. Maybe the rivalry was in sports or in the same job or field.

This morning we are going to delve into the story of a sibling rivalry that started before birth. In fact it pretty much started at conception. There was a war of sorts going on in their mother’s womb that would be the beginning of a sibling rivalry that would last many years. The brothers would eventually make up and be able to coexist but their descendants would not end up on the same happy terms. We are going to see that the characters in this narrative go through struggles just like the generation before them. All their struggles had the capability to derail God’s will and plan for their lives. But they never did because God is sovereign and in control of all things. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that God’s will and plan is accomplished even in the midst of our struggles. It doesn’t matter what we are struggling with. Maybe it’s in our relationships with family at home or with friends at work or in the church. Our struggles may come due to our sin and trying to do things our own way. No matter what we are struggling through our struggles cannot stop or thwart or change God’s will and plan for our lives or for the world. God’s will and plan will always be accomplished even in the midst of our struggles.

Before we dive in to our scripture let’s bow our heads and commit ourselves and the study of God’s word to the Lord this morning. Dear Heavenly Father, give us ears to hear and eyes to see what truths you have for us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We are in Genesis 25:19-26 and there are three points to the message this morning. The first point is Devoted and we see this in Genesis 25:19-21. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.”

Last week we heard about the account of Abraham’s son, Ishmael and today we begin the tolodot or the account of Abraham’s son, Isaac. There are a couple of differences in the two accounts that we notice. One, Abraham is mentioned twice here but only once last week. This repetition stresses the connection of Isaac to Abraham, who was the one who received the promise. Two, we notice here that Isaac’s mother, Sarah is not mentioned but last week Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, was. ​​ Also, here it doesn’t state that Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob but last week it stated that Abraham fathered Ishmael. Three, last week what followed was the names of the sons of Ishmael but here Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, where she is from and who her father and brother are, is highlighted. This tolodot links the following story back to how Rebekah came to be married to Isaac and forward to the struggles that Jacob will have with Rebekah’s brother later on.

As we look at the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob seem much more prominent than Isaac. Even in this passage that begins the tolodot of Isaac, he seems to be overshadowed by his father, Abraham, and his wife, Rebekah. As Pastor Stuart said last week, Isaac seems to be a transitional character, but Isaac is an important link in the chosen line that would lead to Jesus. God used the traits and personalities of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to call his people out of paganism and into a relationship with himself and to make them into his chosen people and a royal nation. Take away Abraham’s obedience to the call, Isaac’s obedient faith or Jacob’s tenacity and the nation of Israel probably doesn’t survived the exiles to be a nation today. God was able to take all those different traits and personalities and mold them together in order to fulfill his plan and purpose for the world. Those traits and personalities caused many struggles but God’s will and plan was still accomplished. (Big Idea)

In verse 21 we see the first struggle that could have derailed God’s plan: Rebekah was childless; she was barren so was not able to have children. So far we haven’t been told how long she has been barren but in verse 20 we see that they were married when Isaac was forty and in verse 26 we are told that Isaac is sixty when Rebekah gives birth to the twins. So Rebekah has been barren for twenty years. Sarah was barren for 39 years and it took nine chapters in Genesis for Sarah’s barrenness to be resolved but only took one verse to resolve Rebekah’s. Rebekah’s barrenness is like a “ditto” reminding us of Sarah’s barrenness and God’s provision of Isaac. We can presume that Rebekah had all the anxiety, concern and uncertainty of Sarah’s barrenness.

We notice a contrast in the way Isaac and Abraham handled their wives’ barrenness. When confronted and struggling with Rebekah’s barrenness, Isaac and Rebekah did two noteworthy things. One, they were patient for twenty years and waited on the Lord’s timing to be revealed. They didn’t try to figure it out on their own. They didn’t try to do in their own strength. They held onto their faith in the Lord’s promises to them. This brings us to our first principle this morning: God is pleased when his people are patient and wait on his timing. On the other hand, instead of waiting on the Lord’s timing, Sarah finds a surrogate wife for Abraham in Hagar and he agrees to Sarah’s plan for a son. They didn’t trust the Lord to take care of Sarah’s barrenness and they didn’t wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises to them of a son. Abraham and Sarah’s struggles and taking things into their own hands had the potential to derail God’s will and plan but it didn’t. God did the miraculous and Sarah conceived Isaac in her old age.

The entire book of Genesis emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the wisdom of his timing. Psalm 31:14 -15a says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.” Baldwin says, “Trusting in the Lord means having faith in his way and his timing and demands patience. We can learn a lesson here that we need these same attributes to navigate the tests that are sure to come in our Christian walk. Every believer needs to hold on to their faith no matter what comes. That is spiritual maturity to hold on instead of taking the easy road to just let go of their faith.” That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to be patient and wait on the Lord’s timing in the midst of my struggles.

Two, Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah but we never see Abraham praying to the Lord on behalf of Sarah. Isaac was devoted to Rebekah. He cared for and loved her so as the NLT says he pleaded and interceded to the Lord on her behalf. This would not have been the first time in twenty years that he prayed for her to become pregnant. The Hebrew word “entreated” means Isaac kept pleading and kept praying on Rebekah’s behalf until God answered his prayer. This brings us to our second principle this morning: God is pleased when we intercede for others. Weirsbe says, “It has been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly but he was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling his covenant. True prayer is being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word.”

The Lord answers Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah becomes pregnant. This answer to prayer shows the importance and effectiveness of intercessory prayer and God’s response to it. It also shows that the seed was provided by God and Rebekah was able to conceive by the direct action of the Lord. The first two mothers of the promise were able to conceive because God provided the miracle of conception. Ross says in his commentary, “Isaac was the son of Abraham, the heir of the promise and Rebekah was of good stock and carefully chosen to be the bride but these facts are not sufficient to produce the next heir of the promised blessing; it will still take divine intervention.”

Our second point this morning is Distressed and we see this in Genesis 25:22-23. This is what God’s Word says, “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people will be stronger than the other; And the older will serve the younger.”

Isaac and Rebekah are confronted with the second struggle that could derail God’s plan: Rebekah is having a hard and difficult pregnancy. The narrator tells us there are twins in her womb that are “struggling” with each other. But Rebekah doesn’t know that she is carrying twins and doesn’t understand what is happening inside of her. ​​ All she knows is she is troubled and in distress. It is so difficult that she questions whether her pregnancy is even worth it. It’s worse because the struggle in her womb was an answer to prayer. The Hebrew word for “struggle” means to “abuse,” “crush” or “oppress.” It implies a violent collision as the children were “smashing” against each other inside her. These words were used to depict the oppression of the poor and to describe skulls being “smashed” together. It was not a mild discomfort and suggested that what was going on was not normal.

In the ancient world events during pregnancy and birth were considered ominous. Rebekah realizing there was something going on inside her that she couldn’t explain thought that possibly God was trying to speak to her in some way. It seems she wanted to understand God’s will for her life and for the life inside her. So, instead of following in her mother-in-laws shoes, trying to take things into her own hands in some way, Rebekah makes a correct choice. In her distress she goes and inquires of the Lord. She realizes that her pregnancy was because the Lord had willed it in the first place and he would have the answers. This brings us to our third principle this morning that God is pleased when we seek his counsel. There were other avenues she could have sought but probably because of the influence of Isaac in their marriage she inquired and sought the counsel of the Lord. When we are suffering or struggling physically, emotionally and or spiritually or in any other ways we also should inquire of the Lord. God is pleased when we seek him in the midst of our struggles.

We are told that the Lord answered her. The Hebrew word used implies she got her answer from the Lord in the form of an oracle. An oracle was a divine utterance delivered to a person usually by another person, in answer to a request for guidance. They could also be indications of favor or disfavor communicated through designated mechanisms such as with Gideon and the fleece. Later in Israel a divine response was given by means of the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate on the high priest's ephod, or by casting lots or given by the prophets. We are not told how Rebekah received the oracle but if we take it on face value we can believe she received it directly from the Lord. The oracle answered her question of what was happening to her and why. The Lord tells her that there are two nations in her womb and the two peoples will be separated or divided. This means that she will be the mother of twins but it also means their descendants will be incompatible and not able to coexist together. This dividing was going on even now in her womb. This dividing reminds us of the tensions between Abraham and Lot and Isaac and Ishmael in which separation was the best resolution to the struggles between them. This same resolution will be played out later with Jacob and Esau.

The Lord goes on to tell her that one of the peoples will be stronger than the other and that the older would serve the younger. This expressed God’s sovereign choice of the younger son getting the blessing instead of the older one. Before the twins were ever born the Lord was predicting what would happen in their later lives. The struggle within Rebekah’s womb foreshadowed the competition that would come later resulting in the older brother serving the younger one. Later in Genesis the nation of Edom that came from Esau will be enemies with and under the subjection of the nation of Israel that came from Jacob. This was all part of the sovereign will and plan of God for his chosen people. This story makes us acutely aware that the Lord is aware of, concerned about and involved in the very existence of the unborn. It also suggests that human personality is well on the way to being formed even in the womb. God’s answer probably didn’t bring Rebekah much comfort but she seems content and is able to endure the pain of her pregnancy. Both Isaac and Rebekah sought after the counsel of the Lord in prayer for the struggles of barrenness and a difficult pregnancy. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to seek the Lord’s counsel in continual prayer in the midst of my struggles.

The third point is Divided and is found in Genesis 25:24-26. This is what God’s Word says, “When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

When the time came for Rebekah to give birth she had twins proving the truth of the oracle from God. Only time would tell who the stronger one would be and what would happen when the older one ended up serving the younger one. The narrator wants us to take notice of the unusual birth of these two boys. With the birth of the firstborn we are take notice of his appearance. He came out “red” and his whole body was like a hairy garment and his parents named his Esau. Names in the ancient world were important and often made statements about deity or the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. Esau is described using only adjectives and his name came from three plays on the sounds of words. Esau (esaw) means “hairy” (se’ar). The Hebrew word for “hairy” (se’ar) sounds like “Se’ir” which will be the place that Esau settles. The Hebrew word for “red” (admoni) sounds like “Edom” (edom) which was Esau’s nickname relating to his red skin or hair and later to the red stew which he sold his birthright for.

The second born came out with his hand grasping the heel of his brother so they named him Jacob. Jacob is described in action from the very beginning. His name made statements both about deity (God) and the circumstances surrounding his birth. Jacob (ya aqob) means “may God protect” and sounds like the word for “heel” (aqeb), or “watch behind” or “to follow closely.” It has the idea of God watching our “six” like in the military, protecting and guarding our rear flank. We can see that God was already protecting Jacob in the womb and would surely protect him in the future. Heel (aqeb) sounds like the word for deceived (aqab). So because of the way Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, as we will see next week, the name Jacob came to mean someone who had the tendency to supplant, to trip, or to cheat. Jacob latching onto Esau’s heel conveys the ideas of deception, betrayal, and opportunism. Hamilton in his commentary states, “Even the infantile Jacob is acting out the oracle of Yahweh. From the very moment of birth the divine plan is in evident operation.” The parents observed the unusual circumstances of the births in view of God’s oracle and commemorated them in the naming. This commemorative naming was recognition that God’s oracle was the answer to their prayers.

Lastly, we are told that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to her sons. Our narrative is bookmarked by how old Isaac was when he married Rebekah and how old he was when Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebekah waited on the Lord for the continuation of the promise to be realized for twenty years confirming the faith of Isaac and the faithfulness of the Lord’s promise. God in his sovereignty did not allow their struggles of barrenness and difficult pregnancy to get in the way of his will and plan. (Big Idea)

Brothers, Clifton and William Prentiss, were born near Baltimore, Maryland. When the Civil War began, Clifton enlisted in the Union Army and rose through the ranks to major. William enlisted in the First Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States. On April 2, 1865, after the Union and Confederate armies had been stalemated at Petersburg, Va for almost ten months, General Grant ordered a full assault to break the Rebel lines. Major Clifton Prentiss led the 6th Maryland as they attacked the Rebels and was reported to be the first officer to enter the enemy's line. Almost immediately, he was shot in the chest. William, defending the Confederate trenches against his brother's regiment, was struck by a shell fragment above his right knee. ​​ 

An account given in 1920 by J.R. King in the National Tribune recorded this "pathetic incident": "Two of the 6th Md. men like many others were going over the field ministering to the wounded without regard to the uniform they wore, came upon a wounded Confederate, who after receiving some water, asked if the 6th Md. was any way near there. The reply was, "We belong to that regiment. Why do you ask?" The Confederate replied that he had a brother in that regiment. "Who is he?" he was asked. The Confederate said, "Captain Clifton K. Prentiss." Our boys said, "Yes, he is our Major now and is lying over yonder wounded." The Confederate said, "I would like to see him." Word was at once carried to Maj. Prentiss. He declined to see him saying, "I want to see no man who fired on my country's flag." Colonel Hill, after giving directions to have the wounded Confederate brought over, knelt down beside the Major and pleaded with him to see his brother. When the wayward brother was laid beside him our Major for a moment glared at him. The Confederate brother smiled; that was the one touch of nature; out went both hands and with tears streaming down their cheeks these two brothers, who had met on many bloody fields on opposite sides for three years, were once more brought together." William died on June 24, 1865 and his brother died on August 18 less than two months after his brother. Clifton was buried next to his brother William, and they have lain side by side for more than a century.

We will see later in Genesis that Esau and Jacob were reconciled just like Clifton and William Prentiss were. If you are going through a sibling rivalry today, it is not too late for you to be reconciled to them, either. It will take patience, it will take prayer, and it may take you being the bigger person. This is true in sibling rivalry conflicts and with conflicts with other human beings. With the help of the Holy Spirit, if we will humble ourselves to the other party, sibling or not, reconciliation can take place. So, I want to encourage us with that this morning.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song, let pray: Dear Heavenly Father, let us be people of reconciliation. You are our supreme example of wanting reconciliation with us by sending your son to die on a cross for our sin. I pray Lord that we would in the midst of our struggles wait upon your timing and not try to fix it on our own. I pray that we would seek your counsel through prayer in the midst of our struggles as well. Take us from this place and give us divine appointments with those who need to be reconciled to you and allow us to proclaim your salvation to them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Good Hands

You’re in Good Hands with – All State. That’s right, you are in good hands with All State. Probably all of us have seen the commercials for All State with these guys. The “You’re in Good Hands” slogan started in the 1950’s when a general sales manager at the insurance company rushed home after learning his daughter was ill. His wife, comforting him, noted that the girl was “in good hands” with the doctor. The manager recalled the incident at a sales meeting, and the slogan, “You’re in good hands with Allstate” was born. What are the qualities that All State wants their customers to believe they have that means they are in good hands? They want their customers to believe that they are knowledgeable, approachable and leaders in the field of insurance. They also want their customers to believe they are trustworthy, reliable and dependable, that they will take care of them when there is a problem and that there is nothing to worry about if you are insured by them.

Character is defined as attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual; moral excellence and firmness. Your character, good or bad, is made up of different qualities and we all have the choice as to what our character will be. I think we all probably strive for the same qualities that All State wants their customers to believe they have. Those qualities also remind me of the character of God. God is trustworthy, reliable, dependable, he takes care of us and we have nothing to fear or worry when we are “in his good hands.” As Christ-followers we know from scripture and from our own experiences that we are “in good hands” with God. Psalm 33:4 says, “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Matthew 6:25-26 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

As we think about the character of God, I believe it is important to evaluate our own character. We should ask ourselves: Am I trustworthy, reliable and dependable? Do my loved ones feel cared for by me? Do people feel like they don’t have to worry if they have been placed in my hands or if a task is left in my hands? Do I possess the same character qualities as God? This brings us to the big idea we will explore this morning that God is pleased when we exhibit his character. We want to emulate the character of God. We want to be more like his son, Jesus. I believe that God will use us for his purposes when we exhibit his character and it is important for our witness as Christ-followers that others would say that they are in “good hands” with us.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart, opened up the beginning of chapter 24 to us which tells the story of Abraham sending his servant to Mesopotamia to find Isaac a wife from his family/clan and not from among the Canaanite women. The servant was led by God to find Rebekah, who was the granddaughter of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. When Rebekah tells her family about what the servant had said and done, her brother, Laban, invites the servant into his house, gives his camels a place to stay and be taken care of, and places food before the servant and his men. But the servant would not eat until his story was told and that is where we pick up the passage this morning.

The phrase, “in good hands” will be important as we study this passage and see how the character qualities of the main players fit in with it. Before we begin, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we praise you for your many attributes. You are trustworthy, reliable and dependable. You care for us and we don’t not need to worry about anything because we are being held in your good hands. Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us this morning. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear what you want us to understand from this passage. Give us opportunities to share your good news with those in our spheres of influence who do not know you as their Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points to the message this morning. The first is Witness, this is the witness of the Servant, found in Genesis 24: 34-49. This is what God’s Word says, “So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’ “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’ “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’ “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’ “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also. “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ “She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’ “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”

The servant is giving witness to Rebekah’s family about everything that has happened from the time that Abraham has commissioned him to find a wife for his son until the present, with a couple variants. There is a lot going on and a lot to notice in this long narrative. The length, the detail and the retelling of the story shows how important this story is to the continuation of God’s promises to Abraham. The servant begins by identifying himself as Abraham’s servant and informing the family of his master’s abundant wealth. He is not modest as he lists all that Abraham owns such as sheep, cattle, silver and gold, etc. This list reflects what Abraham acquired in Egypt and Gerar and is a more comprehensive list of his wealth then we have seen before. He also tells them that Sarah has borne a son to Abraham in her old age and that the ​​ son has been given all that Abraham has. He is enticing Rebekah’s family to agree to allow her to marry Isaac. Why does he begin with Abraham’s wealth? He wants her family to believe that the son of Abraham has the wealth to take care of Rebekah. I also believe that the servant noticed that his gifts to Rebekah brought out the materialistic character in Laban. In verse 30 we notice that as soon as Laban saw the nose ring and bracelets on his sister’s arms and heard her story he makes a great show of hospitality towards the servant. He’s probably thinking there was more where that came from.

The servant twice mentions the oath he took to find a wife from Abraham’s family and not from among the Canaanite women. This shows the importance of finding a wife from Abraham’s family. Baldwin says, “The success of this enterprise was depended on the separateness of the people of God, a necessary condition for developing a counter-culture that would reflect their walk with God.” Notice that servant never mentions that Abraham commanded him not to bring Isaac to Mesopotamia. He probably thought it would give the family the idea they needed to meet the son first before giving their ok.

Up to now the servant has focused on Abraham’s wealth and his kinship with Rebekah’s family. Now he turns to how the providence of God led him directly to Rebekah. He recounts his prayer to God to show him the right woman and how God answered that prayer. The servant knew that God had led him to Rebekah because even before he was done praying she came to the well and gave the servant a drink when he asked her. Then the sign that he was waiting for was fulfilled when she offered voluntarily to water his camels. Further verification came when he asks Rebekah whose daughter she was and she answered that she was the granddaughter of Nahor who just happened to be Abraham’s brother. The servant knew that the Lord had led him to exactly the right place at the right time to find the right woman. He knew God was in control of all that happened and he bowed low and worshipped the Lord. Now the servant asks Laban and Bethuel to show him the same kindness and faithfulness that the Lord showed Abraham’s servant in finding Rebekah in the first place. He wants them to act in good faith the same way the Lord has and make a decision one way of the other. If they say “yes” then he can take her back to Isaac or if they say “no” he can move on to find someone else.

We see certain character qualities in the servant and Rebekah that are the reason why the Lord chose them to play such a huge part in the next installment of the blessing to Abraham and his descendants. The servant was loyal, patient, determined, and humble. He had integrity and a heart for prayer, thanksgiving and praise. He praises and worships God every time he answers his prayers. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to be a person who prays before I act and to praise and thank the Lord for answered prayers. Rebekah was generous, kind, friendly, hospitable, practical and hard working as seen in volunteering to water the servant’s camels. Their character showed that the blessing was in “good hands.” The servant and Rebekah were able to be used by God for his purposes because they exhibited his character and I believe that God will use us as well for his purposes when we exhibit his character in our daily lives. (Big Idea).

Our next point is willingness and we will see this in the willingness of the bride to go back with the servant to Canaan. It is found in Genesis 24: 50-61. This is what God’s Word says, “Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the Lord. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.” But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.” But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.” Then they said, “Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.” So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?” “I will go,” she said. So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.” Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.”

Laban and Bethuel say they realize that the Lord has been at work in this matter and give their consent for the servant to take Rebekah to become Isaac’s wife as the Lord has directed. It is interesting because this part of Abraham’s family was probably not following the one true God as Abraham had been for close to a hundred years. Stenberg says, “The Mesopotamians undergo a process of discovery that brings home to them God’s management of the world.” And Hamilton says, “It is not the servant, Abraham or Isaac, but rather their God that Laban and Bethuel find persuasive.” God was in total control of this situation.

The servant worships the Lord for their. He provides the bride and her family with costly gifts. This would have been seen as the bride price and the “mohar” which would compensate the bride’s family for taking her away from her family. We notice that the servants gives the gifts to Rebekah’s brother and mother and not to the father. It seems that the father may had been ill and only brought out for the initial negotiations with the servant. Or it is also possible that it was normal for the brother and mother of the bride to take the lead in these types of negotiations. Finally, after the servant had recounted the story, after Rebekah’s hand in marriage had been given and the gifts handed out the servant and his men now eat, rest and spend the night knowing that the task was satisfactorily completed.

The next morning the servant announces that he is ready to leave and take Rebekah back to marry Isaac. This seems abrupt but he may have been worried that Abraham would not live long enough to see his new daughter-in-law. The family pushes back wanting Rebekah to stay with them for ten days before leaving. This was probably normal so the woman could spend some final days with her family knowing that they may never see each other again. It would have also made sure that the marriage arrangement was on the up and up. The servant though pushes back as well and plays the “God” card. Now that the Lord has granted him success in his journey he wants them to send him on his way. It was important for the servant to return to his master to report on the success of the mission. We see a determination to finish the task at hand as another of the servant’s character qualities. ​​ 

The family leaves the matter in Rebekah’s hands and without hesitation she says she will go with the servant. Rebekah recognized the will of God for her life and was willing to follow that will wherever it led. Discernment and obedience to the will of God were other character qualities of Rebekah. We also need to be discerning the will of God for our lives and then be obedient to that will. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to listen, discern and obey the will of God for my life. When our character aligns with the character of God, we can be better equipped to listen, discern and obey God’s will for our lives. Once Rebekah has decided to go, her family sends her and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. It is interesting that neither Abraham’s servant nor Rebekah’s nurse is specifically named in this passage. As Pastor Stuart said two weeks ago, Abraham’s servant may have been Eliezer, but we aren’t told for sure. Rebekah’s nurse is named later in Genesis as Deborah. This anonymity may be so we focus on the major characters in this passage which are Rebekah and later on Isaac.

The last thing that Rebekah’s family does is bless her. Notice they did not invoke the name of the Lord with this blessing. They bless her to increase in numbers, to thousands upon thousands, and that her offspring would possess the gates of their enemies, meaning they would conquer their enemies. It is significant that these blessings mirror the blessings that God promised to Abraham. Mathews says, “The author (of Genesis) is declaring Rebekah the divinely chosen instrument who helps realize the promise made to Abraham and his descendants.” Rebekah’s character is equal to Abraham’s and she exhibits the character of God which means the fulfillment of the divine blessing is in “good hands.” After the blessing we see Rebekah, her maids, Abraham’s servant and his men mount their camels and leave for Canaan.

The final point this morning is welcome talking about the welcome of the bridegroom. We see this in Genesis 24: 62-66. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself. Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

The narrative now turns to Isaac. It seems since we saw him last he has changed locations from Beer Lahai Roi to the Negev. What has probably happened is that in the time it took for the servant to go to Mesopotamia and back, Abraham has set Isaac up with his own homestead, in the hopes that the servant’s mission is successful. We notice that one night Isaac is out in the fields “meditating.” This word could mean “prayerful” or “contemplative” or even “lamenting.” We can only wonder what is going through Isaac’s mind. He has lost his mother who he was very close to. He is awaiting news of whether the servant has found a bride for him or not. It’s possible that he is lonely in that Abraham has set him up with a home but has not stayed with him there. He is probably regularly calling out to God in the pain of his mother’s loss, in his loneliness and in the uncertainty of what the future holds for his life.

Isaac “looks up” and sees the camels approaching and Rebekah also “looks up” and sees Isaac. To “look up and see” indicates that what is about to be seen is important. What is important is that Isaac and Rebekah get their first glimpse of each other. We are told that Rebekah gets off her camel. It seems in that time and place it was unladylike for a woman to be on a camel in the presence of a strange man. She asks the servant who is the man that is coming to meet them and when he tells her that the man is his master she covers herself with her veil. Notice that the servant now refers to Isaac as his master. We already heard that Abraham had given everything he had to Isaac, and this now includes his servant. She puts on her veil which was a mark of chastity, modesty and submission. Her face would now be covered until their wedding night.

The servant reports to Isaac all that had transpired and a number of things happen as we end the story and the chapter. One, Isaac brings Rebekah into the tent of her mother and marries her. This signified that just as Isaac has replaced Abraham within the blessing, so has Rebekah replaced Sarah. Rebekah now becomes the next mother in line to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that he will become a great nation. Two, Isaac loved Rebekah. As with any arranged marriage the couple doesn’t start out loving one another but Isaac and Rebekah fell in love with each other and their marriage was more than a marriage of convenience. Lastly, Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. It is clear that Sarah’s death deeply affected her son. Rebekah’s arrival would prove to be a source of solace and support. There would be a good balance and compliment in their home.

Other character qualities of Rebekah in this section are that she was alert and expectant. She was waiting to see the man whom she would spend the rest of her life with and when she saw him she obeyed God’s will for her and became his wife and a comfort to him after Sarah’s death. She was also chaste, modest and submissive. We also notice some character qualities of Isaac. He had a quiet and patient faith. He was seeking after the Lord as he meditated in the field. He showed grace and humility as he humbled himself to take Rebekah as his wife because the Lord had arranged and ordained it.

In his sermon titled "Think Hard, Stay Humble," Francis Chan told about a man named Vaughn who radiated the love of Christ to everyone around him: There were a couple of guys who came to his church who said they were inspired by their former youth pastor, a guy named Vaughn. The next week another person named Dan told Francis "I know Vaughn. He's a pastor in San Diego now, and he takes people into the dumps in Tijuana where kids are picking through the garbage. I was just with Vaughn in Tijuana. We would walk in the city, and these kids would run up to him, and he would show such deep love and affection for them. He'd hug them and have gifts and food for them. He'd figure out how to get them showers. Francis, it was eerie: the whole time I was walking with Vaughn, I kept thinking, If Jesus was on earth, I think this is what it would feel like to walk with him. He just loved everyone he ran into, and he would tell them about God. People were just drawn to his love and affection." And then Dan said this, "The day I spent with Vaughn was the closest thing I've ever experienced to walking with Jesus." Hearing this made me think, “Would anyone in their right mind say that about me? Would anyone say that about you? … As I thought about all this, I prayed, "Lord, that's what I want. I don't want to be the best speaker in the world. That doesn't matter. I don't want to be the most intelligent person on the planet. That's not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for someone saying, "Wow, he's a lot like Jesus."

God is pleased when we want to and strive to be more like Jesus. He is pleased when we exhibit his character. (Big Idea). Earlier I put forth that each of us need to look into our own hearts and evaluate our character. Does our character fall in line with God’s Word? Do we daily exhibit the character of God in our lives? That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to evaluate my character to see if I am exhibiting God’s character in my life. If we are that’s great and we must keep it up. If we aren’t then it is time we make the necessary changes to align our character with his.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, help us to be praying people and a thankful people for answered prayer. Help us to listen, discern and obey your will for our lives. And help us to evaluate our character and align it with yours. As we leave this place today give us divine appointments with those who do not know you as their Lord and Savior and use each of us as witnesses to your love, your holiness and your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Jehovah-Jireh

Who thinks about the products you buy before purchasing them? Who checks to see if they are tested for safety or how they will work under extreme conditions? As you probably know most everything is tested in some way, shape or form. It might be cars and planes tested for safety. It might be food tested for taste or quality. It might be cell phones tested for durability. I would bet that some of us just buy things and don’t really worry or seek out the results of the testing done to them. There are four reasons why product testing is important. One, testing gives insight into system level functions. This means each part is checked to make sure it will work properly with the whole. The product is only as good as the sum of all parts working together. Two, testing catches product defects early on. Product defects have the potential to cause serious injury, so, in order to protect users, company reputation and integrity, it is important to minimize the risk of defects by thoroughly testing products before they are sold. Third, testing is important for quality assurance. There are certain standards that products need to meet in order to be distributed and applied which ensures they are safe, reliable and of high-quality. Four, testing is important to find out what the product can endure. Stress testing is important in order to figure out how the product will function under extreme temperature, weather, pressure, or other harmful conditions.

This morning we are going to be looking at another kind of testing – the testing of a human being. We can be tested in many ways and by many things. We go through testing or trials because of the choices we make or the sins we commit. We may be put through tests and trials by the world or by Satan. We may also be tested by God. We should not be surprised that God will test his children. He will test us as a means to reveal our obedience. He will test us so we will “fear” or reverence him in order to keep us from sinning. He will test us to humble us, to know what is in our hearts and whether we will keep his commands. He will test us to bring about our good and he will test us to bring glory to himself. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God’s purpose for testing us is to bring us to spiritual maturity; a spiritual maturity that brings about obedience, trust and total submission to Him. We must have occasional tests or we will never know if we are maturing spiritually or not. Briscoe says, “Faith is matured through the experience of stressful testing in the same way the cardiovascular system is strengthened through exercise and the muscles are developed by lifting weights. (Faith) often demonstrates itself more fully by its responses to the furnace of affliction than the warm shallow waters of ease and prosperity.” It would be good for us to remember that we are never too old to be tested, that God tests the faithful and that being tested by God is a compliment.

This morning in Genesis 22:1-19, we will see Abraham being tested once again. Weirsbe gives us insight into Abraham’s previous testing: He passed the “family test” when God told him to leave his family and step out in faith to go to a new land. He failed the “famine test” going to Egypt doubting God would provide for him. He also failed by not trusting God to protect Sarah and himself from Pharoah. Abraham then passes the “fellowship test” when he gave Lot first choice of the land. He also passed the “fight test” when he defeated the kings and passed the “fortune test” when he said no to Sodom’s wealth. He failed the “fatherhood test” when he went along with Sarah’s plan to have a child by Hagar. And he passed the “farewell test” when it came time to send Ishmael away even though it broke his heart.

Up to this point, Abraham’s faith has been wishy-washy or timid. Today we are going to see that his faith will be rigorously tested in the most extreme conditions. When we come to the end of this story, we will see that his faith has been transformed into a triumphant faith. His life of testing by God has produced a spiritual maturity of obedience and trust in Him. The question we want to ask ourselves as we study this passage this morning is what does it take to transform our faith from timid to triumphant? How does God require us to respond when he tests our faith? We find the answers in the example of Abraham, which brings us to our big idea this morning which is timid faith, when it becomes tested faith, is transformed into triumphant faith. Before we dive into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us. Help us to open our hearts and minds to your Word. Let us glean your truths from our passage and put us in positions this week to share those truths with those who desperately need to hear them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our first point this morning is TEST and is found in Genesis 22:1-2. This is what God’s Word says, “Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Our passage begins with “sometime later” and we need to go back to chapter 21 to see what happened before. We see three events happening. One, Isaac is born. Two, Isaac is weaned and there is a great feast. It is at this feast that Ismael was mocking, maybe Isaac. Sarah saw Ishmael as a potential threat to Isaac’s inheritance and she told Abraham to get rid of the Hagar and Ishmael. This greatly distressed Abraham but God told him to do as Sarah had said. Three, we see a treaty being made between Abimelech and Abraham. Abraham now owns a well and settles down in the land of promise. We are told that Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. As chapter 22 opens, most commentators believe that Isaac is now at least a teenager so it is probably ten to fifteen years later.

We are told that God is going to test Abraham. God calls to Abraham and tells him to take his only son, Isaac, whom he loves, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. The intensity of this story is seen in two ways. One, the narrator uses the word, God “Elohim” instead of the more personal name “the Lord” to show who is speaking to Abraham. This is the narrator’s way of emphasizing that it is the Most High God, Abraham’s God, the one who gives and takes away who was testing him. There is no doubt as to who is asking this of Abraham. Two, in the original language God says, “please, take your son.” We have seen this before and in each instance he is asking the person to do something extraordinary, something that defies rational explanation or understanding. We can know that God is fully aware of the magnitude of this test for Abraham.

A burnt offering was the language of tabernacle sacrifice. It was a sacrifice where the entire animal was burned on the altar. With this type of sacrifice, the offerer is saying they were completely submitting themselves to the Lord. ​​ We can only wonder what Abraham must have been feeling. It had taken a hundred years for him to have a son born to him by Sarah. And this son was to be the promised son which would give Abraham descendants like the stars in the sky. This is the son through which his descendants would possess the Promised Land. We don’t know what Abraham thought but we do know what he did next.

Our second point this morning is OBEDIENCE and is found in verses 3-10. This is what God’s word says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded 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. 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 and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and 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.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him 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.”

The first thing we notice is that “early the next morning,” Abraham got up and prepared to do what God had commanded him. We have seen a couple times as we have studied the life of Abraham that he gets up “early the next morning.” In chapter 19, he gets up “early the next morning” to see if Sodom had been destroyed or not. In chapter 21, he gets up “early the next morning” to send Hagar and Ishmael into to the wilderness. Here Abraham gets up “early the next morning” to set out to sacrifice his son as the Lord commanded. “Early the next morning” means he was resolute, he was decided and his obedience was prompt. His mind was made up that he was going to obey God no matter what. He was going to trust God no matter the outcome.

Next we notice Abraham preparing for the trip. He saddles the donkey, gets the servants and Isaac together and he cuts the wood for the burnt offering. Most commentators feel the order in which he prepared to leave shows a hesitation especially the cutting of the wood for the burnt offering. Normally, if you were traveling to make a sacrifice, you would chop the wood once you got to your destination. You also wouldn’t want to carry all that excessive weight on the journey. But it is also possible that Abraham didn’t want to cut the wood once he got there because any hesitation on that end could cause him to change his mind. I believe everything Abraham did was part of God’s sovereign plan and we will see that later in the story. Next we notice that the journey took three days. Imagine what that must have been like for Abraham. To walk side by side with his only son knowing that when they get to their destination he was going to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. This was God taking Abraham’s timid faith, making it a tested faith, so that it would become a triumphant faith (BIG IDEA).

As they come close to the place God told him to go, Abraham does and says some things that probably seemed strange. He tells his servants to stay with the donkey. He tells them he and Isaac are going to go worship and then “we” will come back to you. He takes the wood that was on the donkey and placed it on Isaac. Again, this begs some questions. Why did he tell the servants to stay back? Why did he say that both of them would return to them after worshipping? Why did he take the wood off the donkey and make Isaac carry it? Maybe he didn’t want to have to worry about the servants trying to stop him from sacrificing Isaac. Maybe he was trying to deceive the servants and Isaac by saying they both would return. Or maybe his faith was so strong that he knew even if he sacrificed Isaac on that mountain God would be able to raise him from the dead and both of them would return to the servants? This is what the writer of Hebrews believed in Hebrews 11:17-19. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced 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.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

We can see Isaac as a type of Christ in this story. Isaac carrying the wood may be seen as the equivalent to Jesus carrying his cross. Or at the very least a picture of Jesus carrying the weight of our sin to the cross. So with the wood being carried by Isaac and Abraham carrying the fire and the knife it says they “went on together.” Again, we can only imagine what is going through Abraham mind as he walks side by side with Isaac. They probably walked in silence most of the way, Abraham thinking about what is to come. Isaac finally asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Abraham answers his son that God will provide it. And we are again told again they “went on together.” We are reminded with this exchange between “father” and “son” that there is a deep affection and love for each other which makes what Abraham is going to do that much harder. We are also reminded of God, the Father, sending Jesus, his son, to the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

When they reached the place God had told him about Abraham again didn’t hesitate; he built the altar, put the wood on it, bound his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar. He then reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. We can notice that it seems Isaac went onto the altar willingly as the burnt offering. Abraham is over 100 years old and Isaac’s a teenager. We have to believe that at some point Isaac must have realized he was to be the offering and could have ran away or overpowered his father and got away. Commentators mention this as a picture of Isaiah 53:7, 10 that talks about Jesus being like a lamb led to slaughter who did not open his mouth and that the Lord made his life an offering for sin. We notice that Isaac exhibits the same qualities of perfection looked for in sacrificial victims. We see why Isaac was seen as a type of Christ.

Our third point this morning is DIVINE PROVISION and is found in verses 11-14. This is what God’s word says, “But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Abraham is fully submitted to God’s will and is about to plunge the knife into his son. At the last possible moment the Angel the Lord calls Abraham’s name to stay the execution. God’s timing is never early and never late; it is always perfect. We notice that the name “Lord” is now used. The same Lord, who is our savior, father and friend is “the Most High God” holy, sovereign, and creator God. The God who tested Abraham once again shows himself to be the gracious Lord who keeps his promises. The angel calls his name twice because he urgently needed to get Abraham’s attention. Abraham was to not lay a hand on the boy nor do anything to him. The angel’s “now I know” is an admission that the ordeal was a test and a confirmation of Abraham’s depth of loyalty to God. Then the Angel tells us what triumphant faith is. Triumphant faith is a faith that “fears God” and is willing to give up everything (even an only son) in submissive obedience to the Lord. (BIG IDEA) Ross says, “The fear of the Lord is drawing near to the Lord in love, adoration and reverence but never forgets that the Lord is the most High God and shrinks in fear at such an awesome deity.”

Next, we see the truth of Abraham’s words, “God will provide.” He looks up and sees a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham was surprised and recognized this was a miracle from the Lord; one second there was no ram and the next second there it was. God had truly provided the sacrifice for the burnt offering and Abraham sacrifices the ram as a substitute for his son. Then Abraham does something we have seen him do before. He commemorates the place and calls it, Jehovah-Jireh. Jehovah-Jireh has a dual meaning, which are literally, “The Lord Sees” and “The Lord Will Provide.” He is celebrating that God not only saw him but provided for him. I found something interesting which I only would have found by studying God’s Word in context and verse-by-verse. At the end of chapter 21, when Abraham made the treaty with Abimelech, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree to commemorate that place and he calls the Lord, “El Olam” or “the Eternal God.” Abraham was praising the God of the long-term and of the future. In this chapter when Abraham names this place “Jehovah-Jireh” he is celebrating the God of the short-term; the God of the details of our lives. God will “see” to it that even the littlest details of our lives are cared for. We can trust God for the future but we can also trust him for the here and now.

Our last point this morning is DIVINE BLESSING and is found in verses 15-19. This is what God’s word says, “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time. This tells us that something important is about to be said. God emphatically reiterates the promises he has already made to Abraham. We can notice some interesting things. One, God swears by himself. This is first and only time in Genesis that God does this. There is no one higher to swear by and it affirmed the promises on the integrity of God’s own name and reputation. Abraham could depend on God to keep his promises; he could take these promises to the bank. Two, the reason for the blessings is because he did not withhold his only son from the Lord. He was willing to give up the promised descendants and the Promised Land that they would inherit. He was willing to give up all worldly things including his son for the Lord.

Abraham’s relationship with God was the most important thing to Him and God would “surely” or “really” bless him. These promises were going to be better than all the others. We see in the earlier promises that Abraham’s descendants were compared to “the stars in the sky” but now they are compared to the “sand on the seashore.” His descendants were now promised to “possess the gates of their enemies” meaning they will conquer their enemies’ cities not merely inherit the land. It is promised that through his descendants “all nations on earth will be blessed.” This implies that the world had already been blessed through Abraham but more blessing is to come through his descendants all because of Abraham’s obedience. Imagine how we could bless the people and the world around us today if we would just be obedient.

Finally, as we come to the end of the passage it says that Abraham returned to his servants and they set off together for Beer-sheba where Abraham stayed. Isaac is not mentioned as returning with them but we can surmise that he did. We have seen this before in Genesis as the most important character is mentioned and the secondary ones are not even though we know they are involved. What the narrator wants us to remember here is that Abraham is the central figure. It was Abraham’s faith that was tested and was found triumphant (BIG IDEA). But we should come away from this story more impressed with God’s faithfulness than with Abraham’s compliance.

There are many things we can take away from this passage. What truths does this passage have for our lives today? What next steps can we take? First, I think each of us should evaluate our faith. Is our faith timid? Has our faith been tested? And has our faith been found triumphant or something less? After evaluation if you determine that you have a timid faith it would be important to ask God to move you toward a triumphant faith. But, know that if you ask for a triumphant faith, then your faith will be tested. That is the process we all must go through to mature spiritually and to take our faith from timid to triumphant. So maybe this next step is for you. My next step is to ask God to move me toward a triumphant faith knowing that my faith will be tested by him.

Next, maybe after evaluating your faith, you can say that you’re faith has been tested and found triumphant. Great!!! But we know from Abraham’s life that we are never too old for testing as God wants to continue to mature us spiritually. As long as we live on this earth there is possibility of testing. God wants our faith to keep on growing and that requires testing. There are also times that our faith may waver as hard testing comes and we may fall back into a timid faith. We must be ready and on guard for all the tests and trials that come our way. We must be resolute and decided (just like Abraham was) in how we are going to react to them when they come. Our reaction must be obedience and a complete trust in the Lord. So maybe this next step may be for you. My next step is to be obedient to and completely trusting in the Lord when testing comes so my faith will continue to be triumphant.

Second, I feel this passage is asking us to dwell on a major question this morning. That question is what is your motivation for being a Christ-follower? Why do you love God? Why do you take up your cross daily and follow him? We are promised so much as we follow Christ. Is it because of the promises that God has given you that you follow and serve Him? I would say that this is a wrong motivation for being a Christ-follower. Look again at Abraham. He had been promised many great things for being in obedience to God. And in the end Abraham was totally ready to give up all those promises. Abraham “feared God” and was totally committed to and submitted to God. God was number one in Abraham’s life; not the promises that he was given and not even the child of promise that was given to him in his old age. In the end, the only motivation that Abraham had for following God was to “get God.” To know God more. To surrender to God more. To fall deeper in love with God more.

Andre Crouch wrote a song called, “If Heaven Was Never Promised To Me.” In it he asks “Is it just for heaven’s gain?” “But if heaven never were promised to me; neither God’s promise to live eternally; it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life – living in a world of darkness he came and brought me the light.” The question is would we be willing to give up eternity in Heaven for God? Would we be willing to follow God if there were nothing in it for us? Would we willing to follow God only for the benefit of living a life loving God with all our heart, minds and souls and loving others? This is what Paul is saying in Philippians 3:7-8. I am reading from the Living Bible translation: “But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile—now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ. This is the place that we need to be as followers of Christ. Every single day of our lives should be in the pursuit of getting more of Christ. That brings us to the last next step, which is to Spend the rest of my life in the pursuit of knowing Christ better every day.

Now lastly, I don’t want to forget another important part of the passage seen in the title I chose for this sermon, Jehovah-Jireh, “The Lord Will Provide.” First, we all have stories of times and ways that God has provided for us all through our lives. The question is: What do we do when God provides for us? Do we even see or acknowledge it? Do we rejoice and praise him for it? Two, we all may have things coming up in your lives that we need God’s provision to get through it? Maybe you need God to provide physical, spiritual or emotional healing for you or a loved one. Maybe it’s your circumstances. Maybe you need God to provide financially for you and your family? You’re struggling to make ends meet and without God’s provision you don’t know what you will do. Maybe you are dealing with fear and/or anxiety and you need God to provide peace and his presence to quiet those fears and anxieties in your heart. We need to go to God in prayer for his provision for whatever struggles we are going through today.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song I invite and encourage you to come to the altar this morning. Come rejoicing and praising God for his provision in your life or come praying for the provision you need this morning. Coming to the altar is not a silver bullet. You most definitely can do the same where you are sitting. But what coming to the altar does is allows us to rejoice with you and praise God with you for his provision in your life. It also allows us to pray with and for you for the provision you need from God today. Our final song is called “You Always Provide.” As you sing or listen think about the words. Some of it says, “God, you see us every moment” “You always provide every season of our lives” “You always provide every moment every time.” Powerful words that I hope you will take with you this morning and share with those you come in contact with this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARK 5: THE SPIRIT UNITED CHURCH

This morning we continue our sermon series on the 8 Marks of the Church. So far we have looked at the Spirit-filled Church, the Son-confessing Church, the Scripture-keeping Church and the Sacrament Observing Church. Each week we have been focusing on a myth about the church which is perpetuated by the world wanting to twist what the church is, what it has to say and what its purpose is. And by Satan who wants to weaken the church and make it ineffective. We need to be aware of these myths and be united together with the Holy Spirit to continually strengthen the church.

Each week we have talked about an urban legend which are misguided, dangerous or both and the same goes for the myths about the church. ​​ Who remembers throwing rice at a newly married couple? You may remember then that the practice was stopped because birds would eat the rice left on the ground and sometime later the rice would expand and the birds would explode. How many people believe that rice is dangerous for birds? How many people believe rice is not dangerous for birds? For some reason, people just can’t get enough of urban legends about food causing living creatures to explode. For years, couples planning their wedding have been warned about not throwing rice at the ceremony because birds will be tempted to eat it, causing them to blow up. Now that can’t actually happen. Rice, whether it’s cooked or uncooked, poses no threat to birds. But Connecticut state legislator Mae Schmidle tried to introduce a bill in 1985 that would ban rice-throwing. She called the bill “An Act Prohibiting the Use of Uncooked Rice at Nuptial Affairs” and insisted birds can’t digest uncooked rice. Schmidle said ministers had told her they found dead birds after weddings, victimized by innocent rice celebrations. This myth was repeated in Ann Landers’ advice column. In 2002, a project conducted by a biology professor at the University of Kentucky tested this theory and found that while rice expands in size by 33 percent when soaked, birdseed expands by 40 percent. Since your bird feeder isn’t surrounded by detonated birds, rice is probably fine. The professor even fed rice to birds and noted no adverse effects.

Today’s mark of the church is the Spirit United Church and the myth is “you can be united by any vision in your church and be a healthy church.” This myth can be dangerous because it can cause professing children of God to be united around a vision for the family of God that is not in line with God’s vision, and it can lead the family of God into a lesser vision than He has for them as their good Father. Also, the vision for the church is made effective by the Holy Spirit and if Satan can get the church to believe that any man-made vision will do then the Holy Spirit is taken out of the equation making the church even weaker and less effective. We know this is a myth because Jesus said a clear mark of a healthy church would be a church filled with people who are united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given.

Before we study this 5th Mark of the Church, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we come humbly before you asking to fill us with your Holy Spirit, uniting us together as your church. Unite us to be your witnesses in the world as we pursue, grow and multiply disciples. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Each week we have been looking at the different marks of the church and studying the scriptures about what Jesus taught, the Early Church taught and what the Apostles taught about each one. Let’s first look at what Jesus taught about the Spirit United Church in Acts 1:6-8. This is what God’s Word says, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is interesting that the disciples thought they knew what their mission was going to be. Like most of the Jewish people, the disciples still believed that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God and that it would be realized by Israel conquering its enemies and being restored to the national prominence it felt was due them by being God’s chosen people. The disciples were probably thinking of the positions of authority that Jesus would give each one in that kingdom. Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer their question but tells his disciples (and I am paraphrasing), “It’s none of your business.” “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The Greek word for “time” is chronos and the word for “dates” or some versions say “seasons” is kairos. Chronos denotes a duration of time. Kairos is event-oriented time. Chronos marks quanity and kairos marks quality. Jesus wants them to understand that the purposes of God for the world is none of their concern. All time is under God’s authority and his timing is always perfect. Ogilvie says what he senses Jesus saying to the disciples and to us is that the power of the Holy Spirit will be entrusted to people who can accept God’s authority over time.

Jesus then tells his disciples two things. One, they would receive power but not the political power they were thinking of. It would be the same supernatural power that Jesus exhibited while he was on the earth and it would be given to them for a very special purpose. This was the far greater power of the Holy Spirit and it would unite them as they fulfilled that purpose. Zechariah 4:6b says, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Just as Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism his disciples would be similarly anointed to be his witnesses in the world. These ordinary men would do extraordinary things and even greater things than Jesus did while he was on the earth. The Holy Spirit would make their preaching effective, people would be converted and the Kingdom of God would grow exponentially. Wiersbe states, “The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not a luxury it is an absolute necessity.” We can’t fulfill the mission God has given us without the Holy Spirit.

Second, he tells them that they would be his witnesses. What were they going to be witnesses of? They were going to be witnesses to what they saw and heard while with Jesus. They were to be witnesses to who he was and what he came to earth to do. They were to be witnesses to the good news that Jesus Christ came to save the world from their sins. The Greek word for witness is “martus” which means to avow what one has seen, heard or knows. Our word, martyr, comes from the same root, denoting someone who bears testimony for another person, or some cause, with his death. The disciples were going to witness to what they saw and heard from Jesus and they would bear that testimony to the world even if it meant their death. And we know that all of the disciples except for John died a martyr’s death. Lastly, God’s mission for the disciples was going to be organized and global. They would be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What does this passage mean for us? One, we will be effective witnesses if we witness to our personal experience with Jesus. We can only witness about what Jesus has done for us and our own personal salvation. Two, this witness is a witness of deeds more than words. There was a story in Barclay’s commentary about David Livingstone who was a missionary and explorer in Central Africa. Journalist/explorer H.M. Stanley, who was famous for his search of David Livingstone, said, “If I had been with him any longer I would have been compelled to be a Christian and he never spoke to me about it at all.” The sheer weight of the witness of David Livingstone’s life was irresistible. Could that be said of you or of me? Third, to be a witness means to be loyal no matter the cost even if it means our death. For us it probably means being willing to die to ourselves and give up control of our agenda and our purposes for our lives. But we must be willing to die for the faith if it comes to that.

Four, who are we to be witnesses to and where are we to be witnesses at? Who has the Lord put on your heart to share his good news with and introduce to him? Who in your life may miss out on the abundant life they can have on this earth and the eternal life they can have in heaven if you are silent? We need to be on the lookout for those who need to hear the good news of Jesus. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear God will show us who we need to be witnesses to. We are to be witnesses where God has placed us, starting at where we live, work, play and learn. Our mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples starts with the most intimate relationships where people really know us and can observe our life and witness. But it also means our nation and the world. We are called to be his witnesses and it is important that we are conduits or channels of Holy Spirit power not reservoirs or holding tanks.

Next, let’s look at what the Early Church taught about the Spirit United Church found in Acts 4:32-35. This is what God’s Word says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

In this passage we see both the supernatural and the practical implications of being a Spirit United Church. Imagine this scene: The church was born of people from all walks of life, who were from different countries and spoke different languages. The only way that the early church could function with the kind of unity that was of one heart and one mind was because of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only one who could bind the hearts and minds of those new Christians together. ​​ There is no way this can be done through human effort. When our hearts and minds are truly transformed by Jesus Christ then the Holy Spirit can make us one unified to fulfill the Great Commission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. I find it telling that right before our passage we see that the apostles and all the believers were praying and then we are told they were of one heart and mind. If we are truly praying for each other and each other’s needs, disunity can never find a foothold in the church.

This unity of heart and mind was because of the common bond found in Christ. They had been shown grace and mercy by Jesus as he died on the cross for their sins and rose again. They had also been and would continue to be persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Through their struggles in the faith they came to truly know and understand each other’s hearts, minds, goals, desires and personal struggles. The Holy Spirit worked in the lives of these people who were so different from each other and removed all selfishness and self-centeredness from their hearts so they would be unhindered to do the work that they were called to do.

The practical implications of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit was a generosity which flowed out of a love for one another. They realized that their possessions were not their own but were God’s to be used any way he saw fit. They were stewards not owners of what God had given them. They sold their possessions so the community could help anyone who was in need and scripture says there were no needy people among them. Barclay says we can note two things in this passage. “One, they had an intense sense of responsibility for each other. It seemed unthinkable to them that anyone could have too much and someone else could have too little. Two, this awoke in them a real desire to share all they had and it was utterly spontaneous.”

The Early Church was united, unselfish and unafraid. Their prayer in verse 24 was answered as they were given power to testify to the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. They knew their identity and exactly what God expected from them. As believers draw closer to God and to each other and are of one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit they became a powerful force proclaiming the good news of Jesus with boldness. God’s people allowed God’s Spirit to make them one in heart and mind. There was an unlimited commitment to Christ and to each other and it was expressed by unrestrained loyalty to one another.

How can we tell if Idaville Church is filled with the Spirit and is of one heart and one mind? First, we will truly want to know and care about what is happening in each other’s lives. We will want to know and care about each other’s burdens, struggles and needs. We will pray for each other and we will know when and how to help in a specific or tangible way. Like the early church who valued each other more than they valued possessions, we will truly value one another above the things of the world. We will see the Holy Spirit work in us to remove selfishness and self-centeredness from our hearts. Second, we will be unified by the Holy Spirit to accomplish our God-given mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. This happens when we boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ where we live, work, play and learn. ​​ If we are a Spirit United church, the Holy Spirit will be at work daily in our lives. We will see the evidence of that as we are filled with the Spirit, as we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as we keep and obey God’s Word and as we observe the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.

Next, let’s look at what the Apostles taught about the Spirit United Church in Ephesians 4:4-6. This is what God’s Word says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul spends the first three chapters of Ephesians laying the doctrinal foundation of Christianity. Then in chapter 4 he begins discussing spiritual unity. He did it this way because our unity must be built on the solid foundation of God, the Father, Jesus, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our unity must be built on the truths of God’s Word first and then it grows when we love one another and work together to live out the Great Commission.

Paul relates seven basic spiritual realities that unite all true Christians. First, there is one body. We are many parts, in many places, speaking different languages and having different cultures but we are one body. We see this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Christ is the head and the church is the body. There must be unity for the work of the church to be accomplished and this unity is founded on a common love for Jesus and for each other. Second, there is one Spirit. The Greek word, “pneuma” means spirit and breath. Just like a human body is dead without breath, the church would be dead without the Holy Spirit. Third, there is one hope. We are all called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world. We all have the same goal which is a world redeemed in Christ and this is accomplished as we pursue, grow and multiply disciples. Four, there is one Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through Him. Christ died and rose again for the entire world and for the church and he is the only one we should be worshiping and obeying. The Greek word for “Lord” is “kurios” which means “master” and was the title of the Roman Emperor. Paul is saying that Christians are united together because they are Jesus’ possession and are in the service of one master and king.

Next, there is one faith. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that Jesus raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Our faith is in Jesus Christ alone and no one or anything else. This confession identifies and unifies the church. Next, there is one baptism. In the early church baptism was a public confession of faith. Membership in the church comes through baptism and identifies a person as belonging to Christ. Baptism is the unifying mark of all believers. Lastly, there is one God and he is our Father. As Christians we are all God’s children in the same family, worshiping, loving and serving the same Father, and because of this we should be able to walk together in unity. Paul ends with three statements about God. God is over all meaning that he is in control of all things. God is through all meaning he created the world and is still actively and powerfully working in the world and in us guiding, directing, sustaining, upholding and loving. And God is in all which talks about the presence of God being in his children. It means we live in a God created, controlled, sustained and filled world.

So, we not only see this mark proclaimed to us through teaching, but through the picture or the metaphor of the Household of God in Ephesians 2:19-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Paul gives us a picture of a building made with stones. This building is made of people who used to be strangers and foreigners but now are citizens and members of God’s household. The foundation of this building is the apostles and prophets and the chief cornerstone is none other than Jesus Christ, himself. The key of course to this building is Jesus Christ because he is the one who gives life and through his Spirit comes unity in the household of God. All the pieces of this building join together and rise to become a holy temple in the Lord. This living temple is holy, set apart for God and made to glorify the Lord. In this temple God is worshiped and receives glory, honor, and praise. Christ dwells in the hearts of his people and the heart is the basic worship place in God’s kingdom on earth. This is important because if you are just coming to this building on a Sunday morning and going through the motions and not worshiping God in your heart, your worship will be weak and meaningless. Barclay says, “The church will only realize her unity when she realizes that she exists to give a home and a dwelling place where the Spirit of Christ can dwell and where all people who love Christ can meet in that Spirit.”

This leads us to the question: How will we know if this mark of The Church marks Idaville Church? First, our church will feel like a loving family. The household of God, with God as Father is a place where loving one another is a dominant feature. Next, our church will look like a good marriage. Ephesians 5:31-32 talks about two becoming one and that is what the church and Christ should be, united as one. Next, our church will feel like a healthy body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 talks about being one body with many parts unified by one Spirit. There is unity and diversity in the Body of Christ. Next, our church will look like a united nation. 1 Peter 2:9 talks about us being a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. We are called by God and set apart to do his will in the world. Lastly, our church will have theological, philosophical, relational & missional unity. We will be unified together in every way.

Our desire as a body of believers is to have a church filled with people who are united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given the church in the world. Looking back at the survey questions pertaining to this mark all five questions were in the most difficult for us. The second most difficult of all the questions for us as a church was the people in our church know their specific role in helping to accomplish the mission and vision of our church and desire to do so. The third most difficult question was whether the people in our church know the mission and vision of our church and are fully supportive of it. The seventh most difficult question was whether the people in our church know the core values of our church and consistently live out those values with each other and those outside our church. The ninth most difficult question was it is clear that our church is united by the Spirit of God and not just good ideas. And lastly, the seventeenth most difficult question for us as a church was the leaders of our church are clearly united by the Spirit as they lead our church.

So let me start with knowing the mission and vision of Idaville Church. Our mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples is in many different places to remind us of it. It is on the banners up here. It is on the front of your bulletin and on page 3 of the 2022 Yearbook among other places. The vision “We are preparing for company” is new for 2022 and came out of the Board’s Dream Retreat. You can find it on the top of the front page of the bulletin and also on page 3 of the Yearbook. Our Core Values are also new this year and came out of the Board’s Dream Retreat. You can find them on the front of your bulletin. We will brainstorm other places in the church building to put them so we can all be reminded of them.

How can we live these core values out with each other and those outside the church? I would suggest we could all pick one or two and be intentional about living them out in our daily lives. One that I would suggest is number 2: We are a family that is loving, caring and welcoming. This will go a long way in living out our 2022 theme of “Love One Another.” It would also fulfill our vision of “we are preparing for company” and being ready when company shows up to Idaville Church. Another one would be number 4: We are a church that reaches out, spreading God’s Word, God’s glory and God’s promises to those who do not know them. We can live this out with those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card: Pick one or two of our Core Values and live them out in our church and outside of our church.

Next, knowing our specific role in helping to accomplish the mission and vision of our church and desire to do so. First, I hope we all have a desire to live out God’s mission for the church to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. The vision “we are preparing for company” is the way we want to act as a body of believers in order to accomplish the mission. Our themes of Unity, Holiness, and Love One Another, are ways we can live out that vision. If we are unified, pursuing holiness and loving one another we will be prepared for company and will be better equipped to accomplish the mission. The best way that we can know our specific roles is by taking the Spiritual Gifts Survey and then serving in the ways God has gifted you. Again, one of our goals this year is a 20% increase in volunteers on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening but it can also include serving at other times and events outside those days. That brings us to the second next step which is to Take the Spiritual Gift Survey if I haven’t already done so in the past quarter. You can see me to get your survey. If you took your survey home to complete, please bring them back when you are finished filling them out so I can record your results. I will then give them back to you to keep.

The last two questions talked about it being clear that our church is united by the Spirit and that the leaders of our church are clearly united by the Spirit as they lead our church. This is something we all need to evaluate for ourselves by searching our hearts to see if we are Spirit United people. As we become more and more a Spirit United people we will then become a Spirit United Church that is united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given the church. That is what I want for myself and for Idaville Church and I hope you do too. That brings us to the last next step this morning to Search my heart to see if I am united with the Spirit of God around God’s mission for the Church.

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we leave your house to go out into the world, help us to be more loving and united together as one, as we are to be united with you. Help us to be a healthy body unified by your Spirit and help us to be a united nation, holy and set apart to do your will in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

MARK 3: THE SCRIPTURE KEEPING CHURCH

This morning we are continuing our sermon series on the 8 Marks of the Church. So far we have looked at the Spirit-filled Church and the Son-confessing Church. This morning we will be looking at the Scripture-keeping Church. Each week we have started with a myth about the church. The first two myths have been perpetuated by people who want to take the power away from the Holy Spirit and who want to reduce Jesus to just another good person or as C. S. Lewis put it to make Jesus out to be a “liar or a lunatic.” Our myth this morning is perpetuated by people who want you to believe that the Bible, the Word of God, is just another book. This is because they don’t want to live under its authority or ultimately under God’s authority. These myths about the church are misguided, dangerous or both which is why we need to be on guard in the church and be reminded of the truth.

The myth or urban legend I am going to recount to you this morning is from the 1970’s. It is the death of Life cereal spokesperson Mikey. Some of you might remember him. This new cereal was being introduced that was supposed to be “good for you.” These two brothers aren’t going to try it so they put it in front of their younger brother, Mikey. Mikey is the kid who hates everything so they believe there’s no way he will like it. But of course he does to their shock. The following comes from an August 19, 2021 article by Jake Rossen about the origins of urban legends. “In the 1970’s Mikey, the star of the Life cereal commercials was a big hit. At some point, word spread that Mikey had succumbed to a dangerous combination of soda and the effervescent candy Pop Rocks. The rumor grew so widespread that in 1979 the mother of child actor John Gilchrist, who played Mikey, got a condolence call from a stranger. The story likely stemmed from schoolyard discussions about Pop Rocks, which were fizzy carbonated candy, and how eating them seemed dangerous. It wasn’t, but the story was so widely believed that it seriously damaged sales of the candy. General Foods, which owned Pop Rocks, even begged John Gilchrist’s parents to let him film a commercial letting people know he was still alive, but they refused. The grisly story continued for years and all the negative publicity forced General Foods to discontinue Pop Rocks soon after. They have made a comeback, however, in case you’d like to test this theory out for yourself.” This myth was misguided but it’s interesting in showing how rumors spread and can cause harm. This morning’s myth about the church falls under the dangerous category. The myth we will talk about and study today is that “You can believe what you want about the Bible and be a healthy church.”

This is a dangerous myth because if you can put doubt in someone’s mind about even the smallest thing in God’s Word, you can cause people to not believe the bigger doctrinal truths found in there as well. This undermines not only God’s authority, but the deity of Christ, his work on the cross, sin, salvation and so much more. God’s Word points us to our creator who loved us and sent his son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our sins. It tells us how we are to live on this earth and how we can have eternal life. If you don’t believe the Bible is truth you will not believe that what Jesus came to earth to do is true and that he is the way, the truth and the life, and now your salvation is in jeopardy. It is definitely b slippery slope. Before we begin to dive into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we look into your Word this morning, open our hearts and minds to your Holy Spirit. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth and help us to use your Word as a light for our path as we navigate our lives in this world we live in. Amen.

Our first point this morning is the Scripture Keeping Church and the Teaching of Jesus, found in John 14:21, 23-24. This is what God’s Word says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

I want to take a minute and remind you of what God’s Word says about itself. God’s Word is truth, it is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. God’s Word is a lamp and a light. It is God-breathed and eternal. It is successful in that it will accomplish God’s purposes no matter what, it will not come back void. God’s Word is able to save our souls and can keep us from sin. It cleanses us and will keep our way pure. God’s Word is inerrant and infallible. That is God’s Word. Just because someone doesn’t believe these things about the Bible, doesn’t mean it is anything less than these things. It is still God’s perfect Word given to us to show us what he is like, to show us how to live life on this earth in obedience to him and to point us to the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. But we have a problem and it’s not a new problem. The problem is that people take the parts of the Bible they disagree with and say it’s ok to not believe this or that all the while still calling themselves Christians and claiming to be in a relationship with Jesus. There are non-negotiable doctrines in God’s Word that must be believed in order to call yourself a Christian. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. But there are also non-doctrinal things in the Bible that on the face of it you might say “it’s no big deal if I don’t believe this or that.” Believing whatever we want about the Bible is dangerous for numerous reasons concerning our faith and once we decide to not believe one thing here or there it will be easy to not believe more and more as time goes on.

In our scripture Jesus said that those who “has” and “keeps” his commands is the one who loves him. Where do we find the commands of Jesus? In God’s Word. To “have” the commands of Jesus means to make them your own, to take them into your heart, mind and soul. To “keep” his commands means to obey them. It means to live them out in our daily lives. It is more than just having a head knowledge of God’s Word. It goes deeper than that. It should go down to our hearts and to our very souls. To use a sports metaphor: we need to eat, sleep and breath God’s Word. Every ounce of our being, every single second of every day, should be in obedience to every word in the Bible. We can’t pick and choose what we want to believe or not believe. The mark of true love, the mark of a true Christian and the mark of a healthy church is obedience to the entirety of God’s Word. If we love Jesus we will prove it by keeping his Word. Not just keeping it the way we want to keep it, not just believing the parts we want to believe, but believing it as the inerrant, infallible Word of God, not adding to or subtracting from it. The person who believes in the Word of God this way will be loved by the Father and the Father and the Son will make their permanent abode or dwelling in them. If we believe the Word of God in these ways we will experience the immediate presence of God.

Jesus follows up with telling us one of the reasons it’s dangerous to believe what you want about God’s Word. Those who do not believe in and obey God’s Word prove that they do not love Jesus. Our love for God and Jesus is shown through our obedience to his commands and teachings found in the Bible. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t consider ourselves a Christian and pick and choose what we want to believe about the Bible. We can’t be a healthy church and believe what we want about the Bible. The marks of a healthy church is believing what the Bible says and showing our love for Jesus and the Father by being obedient to everything it says. It is important that we mention both Jesus and the Father because the words found in the Bible are not only Jesus’ words but the Father’s as well. There is no higher authority. But isn’t it interesting that we want to be the highest authority so we only believe what we want about the Word of God and change it to fit what we believe.

 

Our second point is the Scripture Keeping Church and the Teaching of The Early Church found in Acts 2:42. This is what God’s Word says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This verse tells about another mark of a healthy church. A healthy Church in the first century and today is marked by the Apostle’s teaching. Acts chapter 2 tells us of the story of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came as tongues of fire and rested on the disciples, filling them and allowing them to speak in tongues. Peter then stands up and links the OT texts with the ministry of Jesus and Acts 2:41 says that three thousand were converted that day. This was the power of Jesus’ teaching passed down through the disciples to the people. This was the apostle’s teaching which was everything Jesus told his disciples while he was on the earth. God told Jesus, Jesus told his disciples and they told the rest of the world. The apostles’ teaching was authoritative because it was the teaching of the Lord communicated through them. This teaching would take the written form of the NT scriptures that we have today. The Christian Church is most readily recognizable in those churches which have continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching from the First Century until present day and that includes Idaville Church.

 

Barclay says, “It was a learning church. The word teaching or doctrine in verse 42 is not passive it is active. The phrase means they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught.” Christianity is not a static relationship but an active relationship in pursuit of God and Jesus more and more each day. It is not being content with sitting idly by but learning from and obeying God’s Word daily. We can’t know God’s Word without reading and studying it, we can’t obey God Word without reading and studying it and we can’t believe God’s Word without reading and studying it. The mark of a healthy church is knowing God’s Word, obeying God’s Word and believing God’s Word entirely from cover to cover.

 

I like what Weirsbe says, “The three thousand converts needed instruction in the Word and fellowship with God’s people if they were going to grow and become effective witnesses. The early church did more than make converts; they also made disciples.” They were in line with the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 which says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (there it is) And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Our mission statement – Pursue, Grow and Multiply Disciples – embodies this. This is what Idaville Church is about. This is our DNA. If we are going to be a healthy church we must make disciples who also make disciples and this is done through teaching what the Bible says and teaching obedience to everything the Bible says.

 

Our third point this morning is the Scripture Keeping Church and the Teaching of The Apostles. We will see this in the teaching of Paul the Apostle found in 2 Timothy 3:16. This is what God’s Word says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.What does it mean that scripture is “God-breathed?” It means that the power of God’s Word to change a person’s heart and bring about obedience to its teachings is because the Bible originates with God. God is the final authority on all things and because of that the Bible is true and dependable. The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is vitally important to the Christian faith. Satan has been attacking it since the beginning. Is it any surprise that people try to prove that God did not create the heavens and the earth as Genesis 1:1 says? Or that people question and disregard the commands and teachings of Jesus in the Bible? The world does not want to accept that God has complete and final authority over every aspect of their lives. The Holy Spirit used men like Moses, David, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Peter and Paul to write the word of God. God prepared them for that task. This supernatural influence on the writers guaranteed that what they wrote down was accurate and trustworthy.

 

Paul goes on to tell us that this God-breathed, inspiration is profitable or useful for four things. The first is for teaching or instruction. When we teach the Word of God we are instructing others about what it says and how it can be applied to our lives. The Word of God is our guidebook for life and our code of conduct for the Christian life. If something happens in your life or you have a question about life you can be assured that you can find the answers in the Bible. It can instruct you in your daily lives if you allow it to. The second and third are “rebuking” and “correcting.” This is the disciplinary authority of Scripture given to us and the church. God’s Word commands us not only about church discipline but is also our guidebook in implementing church discipline. Because the Bible is God-breathed inspiration and because it reveals the truth it exercises authority over those who disobey it and sin against it. “Rebuking” is pointing out sin and confronting disobedience. “Correcting” is the gracious, loving yet firm way we are to guide an individual back into obedience. We definitely don’t do this well in the church today. I think we have forgotten the concept of reconciliation that the Bible talks about. Neither side is gracious, loving or repentant and that makes it difficult for reconciliation to take place in the church.

 

The fourth thing God’s Word is useful for is “training in righteousness.” God’s Word shows us how to conduct our lives, how to be holy, and how to mature in our faith becoming more like Christ. I like how our churches themes of unity, holiness and love for one another fit so well here. It’s because they are biblical. Jesus commands his people to be unified, holy and loving towards one another. Weirsbe sums up these four useful things about God’s Word, in this way: “They are profitable for doctrine (or teaching) which is “what is right”, for reproof (or rebuking) which is “what is not right”, for correction which is “how to get right” and for instruction (or training) in righteousness which is “how to stay right”. A Christian who studies the Bible and applies what he learns will grow in holiness and avoid many pitfalls in this world.” If we, at Idaville Church, are going to be a church that believes the truth about the Bible that means we will use God’s Word in our lives and in our church in these four ways.

 

Lastly, we also see this mark through the picture or metaphor of the Pillar and Buttress of Truth found in 1 Timothy 3:14-15. This is what God’s Word says, “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Pillars and buttresses are elements of architectural genius, used to uphold the most meaningful and valuable structures. Without these features certain buildings would not be able to hold their weight and would fall over. In a similar way, the Bible is the genius of God, because it upholds the truth about Him and His Gospel. I truly believe that if the Bible was not the God-breathed inspiration that Jesus, the early church and the apostle’s claimed it to be then we would not be sitting here 2000 years later still believing, teaching and obeying it like we are. The Bible would have passed away centuries ago as would have our faith.

 

Timothy would have understood Paul’s architectural metaphor. He would only have had to look as far as the Temple of Diana in Ephesus (picture) which had 127 pillars. A buttress suggests a strong foundation that would keep a structure from falling over or being swept away.

 

The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ and the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The pillar aspect of the church relates primarily to displaying the truth of God’s Word so that all can see it. It reminds us of a statue up on a pedestal. We are to put Jesus on display in our lives so that people are pointed to Jesus and not away from Him nor to ourselves. So a question for you this morning: “when people look at you, who do they see? Do they see Jesus? Or do they see something or someone else? Being the foundation of the truth means that the church protects the truth and makes sure it doesn’t fall. When we as a church turn away from the truth by not believing in and obeying God’s Word we compromise our ministry and mission and Satan gains a foothold against us and in the world. When we don’t obey the truths and commands of God’s Word the world calls Christians “hypocrites” and the Great Commission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples is stymied.

 

We must make a stand against sin and apostasy. Apostasy is the act of refusing to continue to follow, obey, or recognize a religious faith. Where have we heard that before? Every month or so we are hearing of another person who no longer calls themselves a Christian, who no longer believes the truth found in God’s Word and is not obeying those truths anymore. I for one am glad that the truth of God’s Word is not diminished just because people decide to not follow it, obey it or recognize it as truth. We as Christians and as the church, need to believe in and obey the Word of God because by doing so we uphold the truth about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what the world needs to hear, know and accept and that is what we are commanded to proclaim and live out. We must proclaim and live out the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. That is a mark of a healthy church and that’s what I want Idaville Church to be and I hope you do too.

 

How does this apply to us? How will we know if this mark of The Church marks Idaville Church? First, we will want to hear the Bible being preached and taught. Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Do you come excited on a Sunday morning to hear God’s Word taught in Sunday school and during worship? Next, we will want to read the Bible. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Do you spend time daily in God’s Word and then obediently live it out? In the Spiritual Life Journal, there is a “read the Bible in a year” guide. I would encourage you to pick one up if you haven’t (you can find them in the foyer where you pick up your bulletin) and use it to start reading through God’s Word. Next, we will want to study the Bible. Acts 17:11 says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Do you study God’s Word for yourself? You need to. Please do not take Pastor Stuart’s or my word or your Sunday school teacher’s word for everything you hear. If there is something we say that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t come from scripture come talk to us, ask us about it. I would welcome that. I would welcome to study the scriptures with each one of you.

 

Next, we will want to memorize the Bible. Psalm 119:9-11 says, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” In the Spiritual Life Journal, you will also find our monthly memory verses that we recite each Sunday. I would encourage you to memorize those scriptures along with us. Next, we will want to meditate on the Bible. Psalm 1:2-3 says, “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” Reading, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word are important ways we can know God’s Word which brings us to the next one which we will want to obey the Bible. 1 John 5:3 says, In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” When we eat, drink and sleep God’s Word we fall in love with God’s Word and with God and Jesus and we will want to obey God’s Word. Finally, we will want to emphasize Jesus as the hero of the Bible. John 5:39 says, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” One of the main reasons we can’t diminish the Bible is because when we do it diminishes Jesus and that is something we just can’t do.

 

Our desire as a body of believers and as leaders of Idaville Church is to have a church filled with people who believe in and obey the Bible completely. Again, it is exciting to see that from the surveys you filled out from Restor Renewal Ministries, that 3 of the 5 questions from the Scripture-keeping section were in the top 10 of the least difficult for us as a church and another one was in the top 15 of the least difficult. Let me read those four questions to you. The least difficult of the Scripture-keeping questions was “I believe the leaders in our church look to the Bible as the highest authority in our church, and lead our church in ways that are consistent with the truth revealed in it.” The next least difficult was “I consistently hear things from Scripture in Sunday sermons and other teaching venues that I desire to apply to my daily life.” They were four and five of ten respectively. The tenth least difficult was “our church regularly encourages me to read and study the Bible on my own and with other Christians.” And the fourteenth least difficult was “the people in our church have the highest view of Scripture, and believe it to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God.” These are the things we believe and embrace as a church and as a body of believers. Now the last question in that section scored as the fifteenth most difficult for us as a church. That question was “our church encourages and provides opportunities for accountability in living out the things we are learning together as a church through scripture.” So this tells us that the people of Idaville Church are interested in being held accountable to living out the things we are learning together as a church through scripture. That’s awesome. There are some ways that already happens: participating in Sunday school and or a small group are ways that you can be held accountable to living out what you are learning. When you are in Sunday school and or a small group and participating there is an accountability that naturally happens. Another way is to find another Christian and become an accountability partner with them. These all take intentionality. You must be intentional about being in and participating in Sunday school and or a small group. You must be intentional about finding another Christian to become an accountability partner with. Intentionality is important because without it, it will probably never happen.

 

At our dream retreat at the end of last year we set some quarterly goals that have to do with the things we are talking today. The first is we would like to see a 10% increase in the number of people attending Sunday school and or discipleship groups. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card: To be intentional about joining and participating in a Sunday school class or discipleship group. There are still three weeks left of our Genesis study on Wednesday evenings that you can participate in. And we are getting ready to start a Men’s Discipleship group in February and hopefully a Women’s/Girl’s Discipleship group by the Spring. These are great opportunities to be intentional about being accountable to living out the things we are learning together as a church through scripture. If you are interested in learning more about Sunday school or the different discipleship opportunities we currently have or that are coming up, just make a note on your communication card, and I will contact you.

 

The second is we want to see a 10% increase in the pursuit of holiness through salvations, baptisms and accountability. Another opportunity for accountability is by participating in the commitments found in the Spiritual Life Journal. I earlier highlighted the “read through the Bible in a year” plan and the “monthly memory verses” found in there. I would love to be an accountability partner with everyone here. It would be a two-way street as I want to be held accountable as well. Also, this accountability is about encouragement not judgment. In 2021, there were seven or eight people in our congregation that I was in an accountability relationship with. If you would like to talk to one of them about their experience just let me know and I will put you in contact with them. Also, it doesn’t have to be with me. You can be in an accountability relationship with another Christian. It doesn’t even have to be with someone from Idaville Church. But we would at least love to know that you are in one because we feel that it is important as we continue to pursue holiness as a church body. That brings us to the second next step: to be held accountable to one or mor of the commitments found in the Spiritual Life Journal. If you would like to learn more about being in an accountability relationship, just make a note to that effect on your communication card and I will get in contact with you.

 

As I close this morning I want to highlight one of core values that you see on the front of your bulletin which is “we live, model and share the importance of being biblically grounded.” If we are going to be biblically grounded as a Church, as a body of believers, we need to know, obey and believe God’s Word and the only way we can accomplish this is by reading and studying God’s Word for ourselves and with other believers. That brings us to the last next step which is “to know, obey and believe God’s Word by reading and studying it myself and with other believers.” These marks of a healthy church and the next steps take intentionality and I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you prayerfully consider them.

 

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Lord God, we thank you for your holy, inspired and God-breathed Word given to us. Let us not neglect its reading, its studying, its memorizing etc. Help us to grow more each day in knowledge and obedience to it. Do not let us believe what we want about it but through reading and study help us to understand and believe exactly what you intended it to say. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ 

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In an illustration from Preaching Today called “Fred Rogers Created Rather Than Complained” we read this moving tribute to him by Jonathon Merritt taken from a May 18, 2011 Q Ideas article called "Restoration in the Land of Make-Believe." Here are excerpts from that article.

Jonathon Merritt recounts how Rogers chose to reform society through his gentle and persistent influence on a children's television show. “In 1965, a thin, soft-spoken man sauntered into Pittsburgh's WQED, the nation's first public television station, to pitch a show targeting young children. The concept was simple enough: convey life lessons to young children with the help of puppets, songs and frank conversations. It doesn't sound like much. That is, until you realize that the man was Fred Rogers, and the program was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. But Rogers was more than a great neighbor or good host; he was a restorer. According to Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians, a "restorer" is someone who views the world as it "ought to be." Faced with the world's brokenness, restorers are "provoked, not offended." They work to make the world a better place by "creating, not criticizing" and by "being countercultural, not relevant." Using this definition, Rogers may be one of the greatest American restorers of the 20th century. Rogers got into television because he "hated" the medium and faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. Fourteen years later, he would create one of the most beloved American television shows of all time, and one that would shape entire generations of children. Rogers was a devout Christian that almost never explicitly talked about his faith on the air, but the way his show infused society with beauty and grace was near-biblical …. "You've made this day a special day by just your being you," he'd famously sign off. "There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are." In many ways, the lasting legacy of Fred Rogers will not be the greater emotional stability of generations of children or even a reinvigoration of imagination. It will be his example of how to restore the world through impassioned creativity and craftsmanship. For nearly four decades, Rogers entered our homes and entered our hearts. And each day without fail, he left our collective neighborhoods better and made our days a little bit more beautiful.

We have been studying Abraham, who has been led by God to the Promised Land for the express purpose of taking ownership of it. Along the way he has had many interactions with the people native to that area. Being a neighbor has not been easy for Abraham and I am sure we all have stories of hard times dealing with our neighbors. But God had blessed Abraham in order to be a blessing to his neighbors and we will see that played out this morning. Everyone that Abraham came in contact with were pagan peoples and he was still called by God to be a blessing to them. We can learn a lot from Abraham in how we should interact with those around us that do not know God.

Today we are going to see a second interaction between Abraham and Abimelech which goes a lot smoother than the last one because this time Abraham is treating his neighbor with respect. We can imagine that he is trying to make his neighborhood a better place by creating and restoring friendships instead of criticizing and deceiving. We will see him return to life as a peacemaker as we saw with Lot earlier in Genesis. Worshiping the one true God was countercultural to the way the Canaanites and other peoples in that land would have been living but Abraham wanted to live in peace and harmony with them. The only reason he was able to live in peace with his neighbors was because he had been blessed by God. We see these words in Genesis 12:2-3: “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.”

We’ve talked before about being in the world but not of it. That doesn’t mean we can be disrespectful to those who don’t believe the way we do or criticize them and look down on them. We are called to show the love of Christ to all people and this should especially be true to those who are far away from God. How can we reach the world for Jesus when we are pushing them farther and farther away from Him? We can’t and that is the problem that we have not only individually but also as the church. In Romans 12:14, we are commanded to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” And in Romans 12:17-18 we are commanded to, “Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” This is what we will see Abraham doing in our scripture this morning and it brings us to our big idea: “When we live at peace with our neighbors God can bless us so we can be a blessing to them.”

Before we look at how God blessed Abraham and how Abraham was a blessing to those around him, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word given to us to show us how to live on this earth. Give us ears to hear from your Holy Spirit this morning so we can live the way you want us to as we interact with our neighbors especially those who don’t know you as their Lord and Savior. Open our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn that we can share it with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our scripture is found in Genesis 21:22-34. There are four points this morning. The first point is Confrontation which is found in verses 22-24. This is what God’s Word says, “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” Abraham said, “I swear it.”

This is the second time we have seen Abimelech. In Genesis 20:1 we saw that Abraham and Sarah were living in Gerar where Abimelech was the king. Abraham and Sarah deceive the king by telling him that Sarah is his sister and the king takes Sarah into his house probably to be one of his concubines. But God intervenes and Sarah is delivered before Abimelech can touch her. Abimelech is not happy with Abraham’s deception and in the end Abraham prays for God to heal Abimelech and his wives and slave girls so they could have children again. We notice that Abraham was not a very good neighbor in that story. He deceived his neighbors and indirectly caused them to incur God’s wrath. That first encounter sets the stage for this one. ​​ 

“At this time” refers to a time after Isaac has been weaned and Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Abraham and Sarah have probably been living in the area of Beersheba for a number of years. Abimelech approaches Abraham with the commander of his military forces, Philcol. Bringing his military commander with him could indicate a couple of things. First, Abraham may have been a person of some status. He may have had a political or even military presence in the area. Remember back in Genesis 14, Abraham had defeated the four kings with 318 trained men to get Lot back. Abraham probably has an entourage of substantial size and power at his disposal. Abimelech probably considered him a force to be reckoned with, especially with a powerful God on his side. Also, Beersheba was only twenty-five miles from Gerar so maybe there were tensions in the area and Philcol was there in case hostilities broke out. Later in the story we will see that it was possible there were ongoing problems on the border between Abimelech’s men and Abraham’s men.

Abimelech realizes that Abraham is doing well. His herds and flocks are prospering which dominates a lot of land and he now has a son with Sarah in his old age. He would have been seen as being richly blessed. Abimelech realizes this blessing because he says “God is with you in everything you do.” Abimelech has seen firsthand God’s blessing on Abraham and now has seen his continued blessing in the subsequent years since their last encounter. The sentiment that “God is with you” will also be noticed later in Genesis with Isaac and this same Abimelech, with Jacob and Laban and with Joseph and Potiphar in Egypt. This begs a question of all of us. Do people in your neighborhood or in your sphere of influence see your life and say: “God is with you in everything you do.” If not, we need to examine our lives and our interactions with our neighbors because they should be able to notice God’s work in our daily lives. That brings us to our first next step this morning, which is to “live my life in such a way that my neighbors see God at work in my daily life.”

Abimelech realizes that it is in his best interest for his people to live peacefully with Abraham and his people but is not sure if he can trust Abraham on the basis of their previous encounter. He is hoping that Abraham will treat him now the way he treated Abraham before. Ross states, “It is interesting that the two things that Abimelech knew about Abraham was that God was with him and that he could not altogether be trusted.” We may wonder who the superior party is, Abimelech or Abraham? Abimelech acts like Abraham is as he asks for a favor instead of demanding terms. In the previous encounter Abimelech being the king was the superior party who treated Abraham fairly. But now based on what happened before the roles seem reversed. Even though he is the king and commands an army he knows that a powerful God is at work in Abraham’s life. He is asking Abraham to show him the same “loyalty” in a covenant relationship that he showed previously.

Abimelech’s suggestion of an alliance of friendship with Abraham would not only be binding for the present but for their children and descendants as well. Abimelech is hoping that by brokering peace now it will bring lasting peace for his land in the future. Abraham’s response is short. The meaning is “I give you my word”, literally, “I, I swear.” The use of a second pronoun reinforces the certainty of Abraham’s pledge. Here the emphasis is solely on Abraham’s act of swearing but later on we will see that they both mutually swear an oath to live in peace and harmony with each other for generations to come. There is no confrontation or deception with Abimelech who doesn’t believe the same way Abraham does, there is only acceptance. I like what Hamilton says, “That God is with Abraham does not mean that he has a two to one majority over Abimelech. It means that others’ expectations of Abraham now increase.” This is why God has blessed Abraham. So that Abraham will be a blessing to those in his neighborhood around him. He needs to be more respectful, more helpful, more humble, more of a restorer than those around him. Especially those around him that do not know God and are far away from him. This is what it means to be a neighbor in the places God has put us. (Big Idea).

The second point is Complaint and we see this in verses 25-27. This is what God’s word says, “Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized. But Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.” So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty.”

Abraham swears to deal honestly from now on with Abimelech and his people. But before formally ratifying the treaty, Abraham lodges a formal, legal complaint. It seems that Abimelech’s servants had illegally and violently seized one of Abraham’s wells. Wells were important in a desert climate where water was the difference between the life and death of Abraham’s flocks and herds and the life and death of him and his family as well. Abraham’s claim to the water relied on two factors. One, that Abraham had dug the well and, two, that it was Abimelech who invited Abraham to reside anywhere in the land in the first place (20:15) giving Abraham the right to local pasturage and use of the well’s water.

The Hebrew suggests that Abraham had made this complaint several times with nothing being done about it. Here were the makings of a feud between the two men that had the capability to explode and cause irreparable damage to Abraham’s witness and to his relationship with Abimelech and the people in that region. There needed to be respect and restoration and this was a good test of their relationship in whether this vital resource could be negotiated fairly. We see how this negotiation plays out. They both brought their complaints to each other. They both listened respectfully to what the other had to say and were allowed to respond. Abraham was gauging Abimelech’s response to see if he knew anything about the seizure but seems convinced because he gives Abimelech sheep and cattle in order to formalize the treaty.

The gift of sheep and cattle was to cement their relationship. The act of seizing the well will not be allowed to cause potential unrest. We notice a number of things about this encounter. First, it is Abraham who gives Abimelech the animals, meaning that Abraham was the inferior party even though it was Abimelech who proposed the treaty. The gift was also given to cement a peace treaty between the two men. Abraham takes the higher ground in that he wasn’t going to let the dispute over the well cause hostilities to escalate. Second, this is another example of a “cutting of the covenant” that we saw between God and Abraham in chapter 15. “Cutting the covenant” was a ritual of cutting sacrificial animals in two and placing them in rows so that the two parties involved in the treaty could walk between the animal parts. This signified that whoever broke the covenant could be “cut” in two just as the animals were. Thirdly, we also notice that in neighborly fashion the two parties talk about the offense, give their explanations which are accepted and finalize the treaty to the satisfaction of both parties. The covenant ensured that disputes of this kind would not be repeated by their children and their descendants which would keep peace in the land for generations to come. Similar steps when used wisely today can produce harmony in the place of discord and cooperation where previously there was only confrontation. That brings us to our second next step which is to “strive for harmony and cooperation when conflicts arise with my neighbors.”

The third point is Committed and we see this in verses 28-30. This is what God’s Word says, “Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?” He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

Abraham wanted to show Abimelech that he was committed to the truth and to dealing honestly with his neighbors. Abraham in addition to giving the sheep and cattle also set apart seven ewe lambs for Abimelech. This must have been a strange act to do in that time because Abimelech questions it. He was probably a little wary of Abraham’s motives because he had been deceived before and it may not have been normal for people to be overly generous within a covenant. These were not for sacrifice but a gift to Abimelech. Abraham wanted something from Abimelech but it was only what he deserved and nothing more. Abraham had dug the well that Abimelech’s servants had seized and the proof was the seven ewe lambs. The lambs would have been vital to propagating his herd and the generous number of seven would have reflected how important the well was to Abraham and his descendants. Abimelech knew that this gift would put him under obligation to accept Abraham’s version of events surrounding the seizing of the well. Being able to supply this number of ewe lambs speaks to Abraham’s wealth and strength of bargaining position. ​​ 

The seven lambs were set aside as a “witness” that Abraham had dug the well and had the rights of ownership to it. It reminds me of someone giving a reward for a lost wallet. When the wallet is returned to the rightful owner the person who returned it might get a reward showing how valuable the returned item is. Just like the well was valuable to Abraham, so is the wallet to the owner. Only the owner of the wallet would be willing to give a reward for its return. The reward would be proof that the wallet really was theirs just like the seven ewes was the proof that Abraham had dug the well and it was his. Only Abraham would be willing to give this valuable gift to get the well back. In accepting this gift, Abimelech was legally acknowledging that Abraham had dug the well, releasing any rights to it and conceding that Abraham was in fact the legitimate owner of the well. This would also hold Abimelech to side with Abraham in any future altercations involving this well. Ross says, “By securing the right to the well Abraham was securing the continued enjoyment of God’s blessing to him, represented by the well. Abimelech gains a pact with Abraham to ensure the future stability between them.”

The last point is Commemoration and we see this in verses 31-34. This is what God’s Word says, “So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there. After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. ​​ And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.”

There is commemoration taking place in a couple of different ways here First, calling the place, Beersheba, where the two men swore the oath to each other. The Hebrew word “to swear” means “to bind by seven things” and the words “swear and “seven” are very similar. Beersheba means “Well of the Sevens” or “Well of the Oath” which fits the story of what happened there exactly. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that this event caused the place to be named Beersheba. Most commentators believe the city was already named but this event gave it more significance. Beersheba now becomes a place commemorating the treaty. Abraham has prospered under God’s blessing and has agreed to a peace treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba that will bring a peaceful coexistence allowing Abraham to serve God in the Land of Promise. This commemorative naming also preserved for future generations the record of how the property was secured. Once the treaty had been sworn, Abimelech and Philcol returned to their own land, the land of the Philistines. It seems that Abraham was living on the outskirts of the land ruled by Abimelech, but was close enough that Abimelech felt the need to make a peace treaty with Abraham.

The second way that we see commemoration taking place is Abraham planting a tamarisk tree. In the OT, trees were a symbol of life and blessing from God. Abraham has built altars but this is the first time we see him planting a tree. The tamarisk tree grew in sandy soil and was deciduous. It could grow up to twenty feet high and provide much needed shade in the desert. Also, its branches provided grazing for animals. Its leaves excreted salt, its bark was used for tanning and its wood for building and making charcoal. It was considered a holy tree and had purifying qualities. Planting a tree would have had as much significance as building an altar. This tree was a witness to what God had done for him in showing favor with Abimelech. He had been blessed by God and was showing the fruit of being a blessing to his neighbors as God had promised. Trees played an important part in Abraham’s life in the Promised Land. He stopped by a tree in Shechem (12:6), he built an altar by a tree at Mamre (13:18), he lived near trees (14:13) and entertained Yahweh under a tree (18:1). By planting this tree it reinforced his claim to the land. In some interpretations, the word “tamarisk” means “a strip of ground” meaning Abraham didn’t just plant a tree but actually laid out a plot of land. This would make sense in light of verse 34 that he settled down in the land for a long time. This tree was the proof of Abraham’s faith in God for his prosperity and security and the security of his descendants.

Thirdly, we see Abraham calling on the name of the Lord in worship. He is commemorating the way that God has orchestrated this treaty so that Abraham could be a blessing to those in his neighborhood. Now, Abraham legally owns a well in the land of promise and there will be peace and harmony in this land for his children and his children’s children. When Abraham called on the name of the Lord he called him, “El-Olam” or “the everlasting One.” This name for God is used only here in Genesis. God was revealing himself to Abraham in every event that took place in the Promised Land. Abraham knew that everything else would pass away but God would endure for eternity. He knew that God would never change so could cling to the promise that his descendants would one day possess this land just as he was possessing it now. Wenham states, “that after so many delays the promises of land and descendants at last seem on their way to fulfillment.” But now came the responsibility to use this land for the honor and glory of the Lord. This anticipates a peaceful coexistence that the Israelites should have with other tribes who would respond to the message of peace and desire to share in God’s blessing. By living peacefully with its neighbors, the Israelites could more readily become the channel of blessing they were intended to be.

Think about your own life. Can you look back and see God’s sovereign hand at work in your life to get you where you are today? I definitely can. That should cause us to worship our Sovereign Lord. That should cause us to call upon the name of the Lord in praise and worship. That brings us to our third next step which is to “call on the name of the Lord in worship for his sovereign hand at work in my life.”

Finally, we see that Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time, maybe for as much as ten to fifteen years. It was probably a great time of peace and happiness for Abraham. Tranquil old age was a sign of God’s blessing. This was going to be Abraham’s neighborhood for a long time and God had blessed him and would continue to bless him so he could be a blessing to those around him. We may ask what was the author’s point in including this story? Walton in his commentary says, “It has to do with covenant roots. Gradually Abraham is establishing roots in the land – digging wells and planting trees. Additionally as relationships are established with the peoples in the land the blessing is taking root. Finally, Abraham’s relationship with God is taking root as land and family become established.”

So how can we be good neighbors that would make not only Fred Rogers proud but more importantly our Heavenly Father proud? We can live into the example of Abraham. First, believers should agree to the request for peaceful relationships. Second, believers should try to restore peace when it is disrupted. Third, believers should strive to ensure that peaceful relationships continue into the future. Fourth, believers must use their peaceful, prosperous life to serve God. God brings us peace and harmony so we can be a blessing to those we come in contact with where we live, work, and play.

The question that again comes to mind after studying this passage is, “Does the world see God in our everyday life?” First, for God’s purpose to be fulfilled through us, the world should see God in us. As Christians we need to be aware that the people in our neighborhoods who don’t know Jesus are watching us to see if we are different than everyone else. They are watching what we say and do and our attitudes toward them. How do we react when mistreated? Do we grumble and complain like everyone else? They are watching us at work, in restaurants and across the street in our yards. Do we work hard or take shortcuts? Are we honest even in the smallest matters? They are watching and they should be able to tell that we are ambassadors of God and followers of Jesus without us saying a word. And when we do open our mouths and witness to the blessing and goodness of God we need to be careful that our words match our actions and vice versa. If we don’t the world will see us as hypocrites and they won’t be able to see God in us at all

Second, for God’s purpose to be fulfilled through us, we have to be walking with God. In spite of Abraham’s past deception, Abimelech recognized God in his life. Why? Because Abraham was a friend of God and walked in daily communion with God. He wasn’t perfect, but he had a reality with God and God’s gracious hand was on him. Abimelech could sense that in spite of Abraham’s previous failure in the incident with Sarah, he was a man who walked with God. As God faithfully provides us protection and our daily needs, and as we walk with Him and give Him the credit for His care for us, as Abraham did, He uses us in the ordinary matters of life to bear witness to a world that desperately needs to turn to Him. When we are faithfully walking with God our neighbors see it and will know that we have something they lack.

If you know the Savior, walking with Him and enjoying His faithful provision, God wants to use the ordinary events in your life to fulfill His purpose of blessing all the nations through the Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ. What a privilege to be used by the Eternal God as we live our ordinary lives on this earth!

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Lord God, I pray that your Holy Spirit would continually indwell us as we strive to be the kind of neighbors you want us to be in this world that you have placed us in. As we share the good news of Jesus Christ, help us to live in such a way that our neighbors see God at work in our daily lives, help us to strive for harmony and cooperation when conflicts arise with our neighbors and let us remember to call on your name in worship for your sovereign hand at work in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialized in 1897 by Pearson's Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. It was written between 1895 and 1897 and is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. It has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a number of television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. The novel has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, helped develop both the liquid-fueled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.

We may wonder why this type of story catches the collective imagination of countless peoples. Maybe it has something to do with this idea that our world is always in conflict and invasion seems at times to be imminent. According to Google, from the time of the American Revolution til the time H.G. Wells wrote his book there had been about 54 different conflicts between the United States and various groups including many different Native American tribes, and many different countries including Mexico, Britain, France, etc. But there has been a war of the world’s waging constantly since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. This is the war between God and Satan, good and evil, and Christians and what we call the “world”, which is the embodiment of everything that is against God and his will. As Christians, we are commanded to “be in the world but not of it” and to “not conform to the pattern of this world.” This is no easy task when we are bombarded, even invaded, by the world on a daily basis. But we are to stand firm and not be influenced by the world, in fact, we are called to influence it by being “salt and light” in the world on a daily basis.

This morning we continue the story of Lot and his family. Over the past several chapters we have seen Lot look toward Sodom, pitch his tent toward Sodom and eventually live in Sodom. Even after Abraham rescued Lot from the four kings, he returned to Sodom and continued to live there. Lot chose Sodom as his home because it was well-watered like the garden of the Lord and like Egypt. On the outside it looked nice but on the inside it was evil and perverted. Pastor Stuart showed us last week that Lot had compromised and it had weakened his witness with the people of Sodom. After all his years in Sodom, Lot had not had a positive influence on the people, in fact, the people had influenced Lot and his family and the result was a spiritual downward spiral that cost some of Lot’s family not only their physical lives but probably their souls as well.

Lot’s relationship with God had also deteriorated and we see this as we contrast the way Abraham is living to the way Lot is living. Abraham is sitting at the door to his tent when the visitors come; Lot is sitting at the gate of a wicked city. Abraham lives as a pilgrim in the world just passing through; Lot has settled down in the city of Sodom. We have seen Abraham building altars to the Lord but we never see Lot building an altar at all. Because of Abraham’s influence he became a blessing to the world; because of Lot’s worldliness he had no influence in Sodom or even in his own household. After separating from Abraham, Lot allowed his character and his relationship with God to weaken as he continued to compromise the ways of God with the ways of the world. God visited Abraham but we never see him visiting Lot. It is possible that the Lord could not be in close fellowship with Lot because his worldliness has so deteriorated their relationship.

When I think of Lot, I am reminded of Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Lot has been conformed to the “pattern of this world” and has not been “transformed by the renewing of his mind.” His heart and mind has been so infected by Sodom that he is not in tune with God or with his will. When we compromise the things of God for the things of this world it not only weakens our witness but our relationship with God, as well, which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “compromise weakens our relationship with God.” The world that we live in today also looks nice on the outside but after it pulls you in and conforms you to its will you notice the evil and perversion that is going on. By the time we notice that the world is influencing us we have a hard time reversing the process or sadly we don’t want to. This is why it is important for us as Christians to have a strong relationship with God and Jesus. This is the only way we can fight and win the spiritual battles that the world and Satan wages against us daily. This morning we will look at three ways, from our scripture, that the world affects us when we allow it to conform us to its image. Before we start to unpack those three ways the world affects us, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit on your people this morning. We pray for wisdom and discernment as we open your Word. Help us to find it in our hearts and to share it with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The three ways that the world can affect us is wavering, worrying and wondering. The first, wavering, is found in Genesis 19:15-17. This is what God’s Word says, “With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

We notice that these events are given a timeframe meaning that there is an order to these events and they will happen. The angels arrived in Sodom at evening time and Lot goes to talk to his son-in-laws sometime later. We notice that Lot has wasted the entire night because it is now almost dawn. The angels have seen what is going on in the city of Sodom and its destruction is imminent. With dawn coming the angels urge Lot to take his wife and two daughters and get out of Sodom or they will be destroyed along with the city when it is punished. We see the element of free will here. The city will be destroyed and Lot and his family is to be saved but he needs to take the initiative to take his family to safety or they will be destroyed as well. But what does Lot do when confronted with the fact that he needs to urgently leave the city or be destroyed along with it? He wavers, he hesitates and the angels actually have to take Lot, his wife and his two daughters by the hand like children and lead them out of the city. He seemingly continues to choose Sodom over God. He may not have liked what was going on in the city but there were things he did like about it and those had a stronger hold on him. The reason Lot was spared is because of the mercy of the Lord not because of his own righteousness.

Once outside the city the angel tells them to flee for their lives, not to look back, and to not to stop anywhere on the plain. They are to flee to the mountains or be “swept away” and destroyed. We don’t know exactly what is going on in Lot’s head at this moment but again he wavers. Maybe he was thinking about the good life he had in Sodom. He had come to Sodom with a lot of wealth and has probably parlayed that into more wealth. From 2 Peter 2:8 we know that Lot was a righteous man living among evil men and was tormented by the lawless deeds he saw and heard but he lacked the will to leave them. He may not have participated in their lifestyle but he couldn’t have lived day in and day out in that kind of environment without breathing the spirit of Sodom in. Sodom had become a part of Lot. When we are living “in and of” the world we waver when it comes to the things of God and we lack the will to stand up for what is right. We may not participate in what the world is doing but we allow ourselves to breathe its spirit in. Our standards start to erode away the longer we are exposed to the world and we may start to justify a certain lifestyle or sin. We think just a little bit of compromise here or there will be ok and so we waver when confronted by sin, we waver because of our love for the things of this world and we waver in the face of certain destruction. This brings us to our first next step which is to confess my wavering when it comes to the things of God and to purpose to stand up for what is right.

The second way the world can affect us is by worrying and we see this in Genesis 19:18-26. This is what God’s Word says, “But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

After being taken outside the city and urged to flee for their lives, what does Lot do? Does he run as fast as he can with his family for the mountains? No, he bargains with those who were sent to save them. He stops right outside the city and wants to make a deal with them. The reason he doesn’t want to go to the mountains is because he is worried he can’t get there before the disaster over takes him. The angels have come to his house to save him and his family from the disaster but somehow in his mind he thinks there is no way he can make it to the mountains in time to be saved. The angels have come to save him and he is worried about his safety. The world has so entangled Lot’s mind that he is not thinking straight and common sense has been thrown out the window. But I also wonder if he is more worried about his lifestyle than his safety. He asks the angels to allow him to go to another city called Zoar. Zoar is similar to the Hebrew word for “a small thing.” Baldwin says, “The pun reinforces his plea that he is really not asking for much. Lot’s “little” request amounted to no less than a reversal of the instructions he was first given.” He doesn’t seem to be taking the threat of his destruction seriously. He believes by going to the city of Zoar he will be safe but Zoar was one of the five cities in the plain slated to be destroyed along with Sodom. The world has not only conformed his heart but his mind as well and he is making wrong decisions and his thinking is distorted. His heart and mind should have been transformed through his relationship with God but sadly compromise had weakened his relationship instead. (BIG IDEA)

We again see God’s mercy as the angel grants his request. In fact, the entire city is going to be spared because Lot wanted to go there. We see the similarity here that as Abraham interceded for Sodom now Lot pleads to be sent to Zoar, in effect saving that city. The difference is that Abraham is being selfless and Lot is selfish. Abraham pleads for divine justice but Lot is looking after his own well-being and convenience. Lot proves to be fearful, selfish and faithless, all the things the world will do to us when we allow it to. The angels tell Lot he needs to flee quickly because the destruction can’t start until he gets to Zoar. Think about that for a second: the destruction of Sodom and the plain can’t begin until Lot gets to Zoar just like it wouldn’t have started until he was safe in the mountains. We see how messed up Lot’s reasoning and logic was. If we are living “in and of” the world our reason and logic will suffer just as Lot’s did. We will not make the right choices or decisions.

Next, we see the destruction that comes to Sodom. It happens once Lot reaches Zoar and the sun has completely risen. We are told two times that it is the Lord who caused the destruction. First, it is the Lord who rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah and, second, that it came from the Lord out of the heavens. This is important because it wasn’t just a natural disaster that took place but was judgment and punishment from the Lord. There was no doubt as to what happened to these cities and why. We are also told that the destruction was total in that it destroyed all living people and all the vegetation in the land. It was a complete and total annihilation. Keil & Delitsch says, “Not only were the cities destroyed but the soil as well. Even to the present day in the Dead Sea there is a sulphureous vapor which hangs about it, there are great blocks of saltpeter which are around it, there is the utter absence of the slightest trace of animal and vegetable life in its waters.” The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities was so complete that even to this day there is not exact certainty where they were located.

Then we are told what happens to Lot’s wife. The text says she looked back and became a pillar of salt. We are not told why she looked back but she seems to be longing for what she had there. Whatever it was, not even being with her husband and her daughters could keep her from disobeying a direct command from the angel to not look back. She became a pillar of salt and lost her life. According to Walton’s commentary the Hebrew preposition used means Lot’s wife didn’t just look back toward Sodom but had started going back to Sodom being caught in the burning sulphur that the Lord rained down. The angel’s command was not disobeyed by looking back but by willingly going back to Sodom. She must have been so enamored with the city and what it had to offer that she was willing to go back without her family and to a sure destruction.

Being “in and of” the world made Lot worried about a lot of things but all his worrying was really for no reason. He was worried about his safety but God was in control and even sent angels to save him. The Bible says a lot about worry: Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” and 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

For those who do not know Jesus as their Savior or for those whose relationship with God has been compromised, debilitating worry will be part of their daily life. But as Christians in a right relationship with Jesus we don’t need to worry because we know that God is in control of this world and we have the hope of an abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven. That brings us to our second next step which is to claim the promise that because of my relationship with Jesus I do not need to worry about the things of this world.

The third way the world can affect us is in wondering and we see this in Genesis 19:27-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

We are again given a timeframe. God has rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and the other cities in the plain at sunrise and then sometime later early in the morning Abraham goes back to the place where the Lord had first told him about Sodom’s destruction. He looks down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and sees the dense smoke rising from the plain. “Burning smoke” in the Bible demonstrates divine anger and judgment. Abraham now knows that not even ten righteous people have been found in the five cities. He doesn’t need to wonder about the fate of Sodom anymore. But he must have been wondering what happened to Lot and his family. The narrator has let us, the audience, know but Abraham doesn’t. We can be sure that he is hoping that they made it out alive? Or maybe he was already mourning the loss of Lot and his family and the inhabitants of the plain? This is the only chapter in the story of Abraham that he doesn’t speak. His quiet contemplation says it all. We are never told if Abraham ever found out about Lot and his family but after this chapter Lot disappears from the pages of the Old Testament.

This section ends with the audience being reminded of a couple of things. One, it was God who destroyed the cities of the plain. It wasn’t a natural disaster. Second, we are reminded that because of Abraham’s intercession Lot was spared from destruction. Sodom wasn’t saved but Lot and his two daughters were. And the reason they are saved is because God remembered Abraham. The verb for “remember” is important because it speaks to God’s covenantal faithfulness. The Lord was faithful to his promise to Abraham. We have seen this before when God remembered Noah and saved him and his family from the flood and brought them out of the ark.

Living in this sinful world will cause us to wonder. Just as Abraham must have been wondering if Lot and his family had been saved from destruction, we may wonder about our loved ones, our friends and family, and their salvation. Just like Lot who had the free will to be saved or be caught in the destruction of the city, our friends and family have free will to make a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and be saved from eternal separation from God or not. But that doesn’t mean we won’t wonder if they have made that decision. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep interceding for them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We live in a sinful world and this world wants to drag us down and drag us away from God. And because we live in this world we may wonder about the salvation of our friends and family and even wonder about our own salvation. Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe you are wondering about the salvation of your friends and family. If so this next step is for you: My next step is to keep interceding with God on behalf of the salvation of my friends and family. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on God for the miraculous to happen.

Maybe you are unsure of your own salvation this morning. If so you don’t have to wonder anymore. You can accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, right now. This final next step can be for you: Admit that I am a sinner, believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead and confess that he is my Lord and Savior. If you made that decision today, mark the back of your communication card and make sure you put your contact information on it, so we can be in touch with you. If you made that decision, you are still going to have to live in this sinful world as we all will, but you will never have to wonder again about where you will go when your physical body passes away. Your eternal home will be in heaven with God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we can read these stories in the Bible and wonder how it applies to us. Certainly the next steps are ways that we can apply this text to our lives. As we live in this world we need to be careful not to be “of it.” We must not waver when it comes to the things of God, we must not worry because God is in control and we do not have to wonder about our eternity because God has made a way for us to be in a right relationship with himself.

But Lot and his wife are also warnings for us today to what the world can and will try to do to us. If Lot couldn’t be in Sodom, he wanted to be as close as he could and his wife couldn’t bear to not be there. As Christians, we live in Sodom every day, we live in this world with all its surface beauty, fake happiness and prosperity. We have been warned to not let the world influence us but to influence it but that is not an easy task. We are given the chance to “escape” so to speak, not physically but spiritually. As Christians, we must continually strengthen our relationship with God and Jesus daily. We must be in his Word, we must be communicating with him through prayer, we must be studying and meditating on scripture and we must be evaluating our lives through its lens and not the lens of this world. We must be striving to live holy lives, set apart by God, and to be salt and light in this world that he has placed us in. We must be striving to be more like his son, Jesus Christ, every day. And we are given the means to make this happen which is the Holy Spirit. This is how we can be “in the world but not of it.” The question for each of us this morning is this: What will we do when given the chance to escape this world? Will we waver? Will we worry? Will we look back and even go back to the world and let it overwhelm and conquer us? Or will we put on the armor of God and daily fight this spiritual war of the worlds that we find ourselves in. This is what Jesus calls his followers to do.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask that you would give us the strength to not waver when it comes to following you in this world. We pray that you would help us to take all of our worry, anxiety and burdens and lay them at your feet. And God we pray that we would not grow weary of interceding for the salvation of our family and friends. Thank you for your Word and its truth and application for our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Laughing Matter

I would like to start this morning with a few Bible jokes. What’s a dentist’s favorite hymn? Crown him with many crowns. What kind of man was Boaz before he got married? He was Ruth-less. When was the first math homework problem mentioned in the Bible? When God told Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply. And finally: An elderly woman had just returned home from an evening church service when she realized there was an intruder in her home. Seeing that he was in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, the lady yelled “Stop! Acts 2:38!” Hearing her, the burglar stopped dead in his tracks and stood motionless. The woman calmly called the police and explained what was going on. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the lady did was yell a Bible verse at you.” “Bible verse?” said the burglar, “She said she had an ax and two 38’s!”

As I thought about this morning’s passage a couple of things stood out. One, life can be funny and life can be unpredictable and sometimes you just have to laugh as life happens. Two, there are times in life when we may want to laugh but in reality the situation that occurs is no laughing matter. And third, God has a sense of humor.

When I think about times when we may want to laugh but in reality the situation that occurs is no laughing matter I think of practical jokes. Practical jokes may be funny but they are usually at the expense of someone else and it is probably not funny to them. If you didn’t know, MASH, is my favorite TV show of all time. As I thought of this idea of practical jokes being no laughing matter I was reminded of a certain MASH episode. In this episode it's almost April Fool's Day, and Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester are getting into the spirit by pulling pranks. Colonel Potter learns that the 4077th is about to be inspected by Col. Tucker, a fire-breathing, Army-regulation quoting martinet who, according to Potter, "Picks his teeth with a rusty nail" and he puts the kibosh on all tomfoolery. Going against Potter's direct order, Hawkeye, B.J and Winchester get back at Margaret who has pranked all three of them recently. After finding her tent missing, she storms into the men’s tent, where waiting for her in Hawkeye's cot is a skeleton, which elicits a scream from her. The guys laugh in delight, causing a pillow fight which spills out onto the compound right into the path of the incoming Col. Tucker, who is not amused and he berates them all, including Potter. The next day, Tucker has nothing but criticism for the medical staff, hurling insults and sarcasm when they protest his lack of respect for their surgical prowess. After a confrontation outside, Tucker puts them all on report, and then tells them he plans to bar them all from medical service and have them court-martialed. Hawkeye, B.J., Margaret, and Winchester decide that if they're going to get busted, they might as well go out in style - pulling off one last giant prank on Tucker. In the Officer’s Club, they set it up so when Tucker asks for his trademark beverage, a bucket of it will dumped on him from the rafters. After being dumped on Tucker is apoplectic, red-faced with rage and after screaming at Hawkeye, he collapses onto the floor with an apparent heart attack. Talk about a time where a practical joke was “no laughing matter.” The Officer’s Club goes silent, and Col. Tucker asks for Hawkeye to come closer. As Hawkeye gets in close, he whispers: "April Fools." It turns out this was an April Fools plot hatched by the both Col. Potter and Col. Tucker, weeks in advance, pulled off to perfection. Practical joking can really get out of hand and at times is no laughing matter.

In our scripture this morning, found in Genesis 17:15-27, God continues to give additional information to Abraham about the covenant he is making with him. We will see that by Abraham’s reaction he thinks God must be playing the first April Fool’s joke in history on him and all Abraham can do is laugh but God is totally serious about the promise he has made to him. To Abraham what God has just told him is seemingly impossible and as we dive into our scripture this morning we will see that when God says he will do the impossible it is no laughing matter. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is “We can trust God to do the impossible.” God is in the business of doing the impossible and Abraham and his descendants will find this out as we continue to study Genesis. And God can and will do the impossible in our lives as well.

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning as we seek your truth in your Word. Help us to believe in your promises no matter how impossible they seem to us. Let us hold on to the fact that you are all powerful and that you can do the impossible in our lives, our families lives, our churches and in the world. Guide us this morning in our study of your Word, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our scripture this morning is found in Genesis 17:15-27. There are two points. The first one is God’s Promises and is found in verses 15-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you shall not call her by the name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth to a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”

If you remember a couple weeks ago we saw that the Lord appeared to Abram. He confirmed his covenant with him, he changed his name to Abraham, promised that he would be the father of many nations, and again promised that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession to him and his descendants. He then commands Abraham to circumcise every male in his household, including himself, and every male eternally for generations to come. Circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant between God and his chosen people and anyone who was not circumcised would be cut off for breaking his covenant.

The first thing we notice this morning is that God is still talking to Abraham and he tells him that he is no longer to call his wife Sarai but Sarah. The changing of a person’s name was significant. When you named something it was a privilege to do so and you had authority over it, such as when God allowed Adam to name the animals. Names also represented blessing and destiny such as when parents named their children. The names often expressed their hopes and dreams for them. The renaming of Sarah brought her into the covenant just as Abraham was because the child of promise came from both of them. Interestingly, Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose name is changed.

The second thing we notice is that it’s God who changes her name. Normally it would have been the husband who changed their wife’s name but this was done because the Lord was the one who would go on to pronounce the blessing on Sarah. The Lord would bless her and give Abraham a son by her. She would also be the mother of nations and kings of peoples would come from her. The name Sarai and Sarah both mean “princess” but there is a subtle change in the way the word is used. This quote from Charlie Garrett in his sermon, “The Promised Son, A Time for Laughter” explains it well. “Sarai is like “a princess” as if she is in a room with many princesses. But Sarah is like “the princess.” She is over all the princesses and the mother of all the people who would come from her.” Sarah would be a princess because she would be the one to bear the promised child. Just as Abraham was to be the father of many nations, Sarah would be the mother of many nations and “kings of peoples” would come from her. From Sarah, came King Saul, King David, King Solomon, and many other kings and ultimately from her came Jesus, the King of kings.

As God is telling Abraham that Sarah was going to give him a son he again falls face down in worship just as he did in verse 3. But this time as he falls face down he laughs and comments to himself. We can imagine that he probably thought God was joking. What did Abraham mean by his laughter? Most commentators don’t see it as laughter of unbelief. Some see it as laughter of joy and others as laughter of doubt mixed with faith. We have seen Abraham’s doubt mixed with faith before in chapter 15 when he questioned God about how the land of Canaan could really be his and his descendants when he didn’t even possess it at the time. ​​ It was also probably laughter brought on by surprise. For a split second, he must have been thinking, “Ok, God, that’s a good one, you got me.” Abraham is thinking that what God is promising is impossible; there is no way that a son can be born to a man who is a hundred years old and that woman can bear a child at ninety. Ultimately Abraham knew that God was all-powerful and he trusted that God could and would do the impossible, but Abraham was thinking in his humanness at that moment. He couldn’t understand how this was physically possible. We see Abraham doing some fast thinking and fast talking as all this must have flashed through his mind in an instant and what came out of his mouth was not what he must have been thinking but a comment that showed a doubt tempered by faith and a love for his son, Ishmael.

We see God’s answer to Abraham in verse 19. God knows Abraham’s thoughts and he answer’s his question about a man having a son at hundred years old and a woman bearing a child at age ninety with (and I am paraphrasing) “No, humanly speaking that is impossible but Sarah is going to have a son and he will be called Isaac.” God’s covenant would be established with Isaac and an everlasting covenant would be established with his descendants. God is going to do what Abraham sees as impossible because it is part of his plan for the salvation of the world. What is impossible for man is not impossible for God.

We notice a few things in verse 19: God gives Abraham the name “Isaac” for his son before he is even born. This reminds us of John the Baptist and Jesus. Next, we know that names have meanings. In Matthew, the angel tells Joseph to name his son Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. The name, Jesus, comes from Greek for Joshua which means “God is salvation.” Do you know what the name, Isaac, means? It means “he laughs.” Here’s where I believe we see God’s sense of humor. God says the ninety year old Sarah is going to have a son, Abraham laughs at that impossibility and immediately God tells him to name his son, Isaac, which means “he laughs.” I wonder if Abraham thought about why God name his son Isaac? Was it because he (and Sarah later on) laughed? Or was he thinking “God got the last laugh.” Isaac actually means “God has laughed” or smiled or looked favorably on. What will see later is that Isaac will bring laughter and joy to his family when he is born because God had looked favorably on Abraham and Sarah.

We can trust that when God promises to do the impossible he can and will do it and it’s no laughing matter; it will be fulfilled. Which brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to trust that God can and will do the impossible in my life. Whatever that is for you, you can claim that promise today and see what God will do. The last thing we can notice is that again God elects the younger son to be the conduit through which the covenantal line, the line that will bring his son, Jesus Christ, will come into the world. We have already seen this with Seth being chosen over his older brother Cain, Shem being chosen over his older brother Japheth and even Abram being chosen over his older brother, Haran. We will also see it later as Jacob is chosen over his older brother Esau.

I also learned something that I never really thought about before as I was studying this passage. This was the first time that Abraham had heard he and Sarah were going to have a biological son together. God had promised that Abraham would have a son but it’s not until now that a son was promised to come from Sarah. No wonder he laughed. Abraham must have been stunned to learn that Ishmael was not the son that God had promised to him so long ago. Ishmael was precious to him and he considered him his heir. For the last thirteen years Abraham had may have been living under the impression that Ishmael was the son of promise. Think about the relationship that they must have had. All of of Abraham’s love, all of his hopes and dreams have been poured into Ishmael. He may have even discussed the covenantal destiny with him. Abraham has not seen Ishmael as an obstacle to the covenant but as the solution.

As Abraham quickly recovers from his surprise, he suggests that God might work out his purposes in Ishmael. Abraham uses the phrase, “if only” and it is the only time in the Bible that God is addressed this way relating to the future. It was Abraham’s prayer that God would favorably look and smile upon Ishmael and provide for him. God not only knew Abraham’s thoughts but he also heard Abraham’s prayer on Ishmael’s behalf. In verse 20, we see God’s answer to that prayer. In God’s mercy and grace he complies with his request and promises to bless Ishmael making him fruitful and greatly increasing in number. Ishmael was going to be the father of twelve rulers and become a great nation. Later in Genesis 25:12-16, we see these words: “Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave woman, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes.” Of course, we know that Ishmael was also the father of the Arab people. God’s promise that he would be fruitful and increase in number would be fulfilled. Ishmael would participate in the earthly blessings but Isaac would participate in the spiritual ones as the child of promise.

God then tells Abraham that Sarah would bear Isaac by this time next year. Then as soon as God finished talking to Abraham he went up from him. Just as suddenly as he appeared to Abraham he just as suddenly left him. The meaning is that God visibly ascended in front of Abraham. There was no doubt as to who Abraham had been speaking with.

The second point this morning is Abraham’s obedience. This is seen in verses 23-27. This is what God’s Word says, “On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.”

Notice when Abraham fulfilled his part of the covenant. It says he did it “on that very day.” This is a chronological phrase and is also used in other momentous occasions in the bible. It is used in Genesis 7:12, when Noah and his family entered into the ark. In Exodus 12:41, when at the end of 430 years, all the Israelites left Egypt. And in Joshua 5:11, when the Israelites first ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan. Then the very next day God stopped supplying manna from heaven. By obeying God immediately it showed that Abraham did have faith that God would give him a child by Sarah. We see these words in Romans 4:18-21, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

There was no waiting around. Abraham obeyed God immediately and exactly as he had been instructed. We see Abraham’s obedience in three ways. The first way was in his personal obedience. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, so this was probably not something he was looking forward to at his age but he did it immediately. We can also surmise that he circumcised himself first. Courson says, “It was important that even Abraham deal with his flesh in this way, even though he was ninety-nine years old. As we get older we may think that we don’t need to pray or serve or do Bible study – I have already learned or done all I can. I am too old to be stretched spiritually anymore. Not so with Abraham.” We should be the kind of people that tells the Lord “we have had some great days here at Idaville Church, but what do you have for us now.”

The second way was in his parental obedience. It was important that as the spiritual leader of his family he circumcised his son, Ishmael, who was thirteen years old at the time. It is mentioned three times in our passage that Ishmael was circumcised. He was not left out of being blessed even though he wasn’t going to be the child of promise. This was keeping with the Lord’s promise in Genesis 12 that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. God is not going to exclude anyone from the blessing and will include everyone in his plan and covenant and we must do the same. Abraham also didn’t just tell Ishmael to circumcise himself; he took the responsibility for it. How many times do we tell our children or young people that they need to be praying or reading their Bible, etc. Instead we should be praying and reading the Bible with our children and young people. Each of us must be willing to take responsibility for the discipleship of others.

The third way was in his professional obedience. Abraham also took every other male in his household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner and had them circumcised. This is talking about all the non-family members including workers, slaves, foreigners, etc. Abraham made a stand to obey God completely and these other males in his household were not left off the hook just because they weren’t part of his biological family. This speaks to how we should conduct ourselves in our workplace. How can we as Christians use the position that God has given us in our jobs for his honor and for his glory? The Lord considers it worship when we are devoted to him at work.

We can learn so much about how we are to live into our relationship with God from Abraham. We must obey God completely and immediately, no matter what, no matter how far-fetched it sounds or how hard it will be to accomplish. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to obey God immediately and completely no matter how impossible the task seems.

Until now, the covenant had been unilateral and unconditional. Now God was making a partnership with Abraham and the covenant became bilateral and conditional. Abraham and his descendants would be required to mark or circumcise each male in their household with the sign of the covenant. This was not an option for God’s chosen people but an obligation. Circumcision marked God’s people as separated from the world and as his own. They were set apart by God as a holy people in a covenant relationship with himself. What was important was that their faith was lived out by obeying the command to be circumcised. Once it was done there was no undoing it, no turning back and it was not a private experience but a corporate one. Personal holiness is important but so is corporate holiness.

Covenantal signs are important because they serve as the visible response to being in a relationship with God. They also show that a person is totally committed to that relationship because God commanded them to do it. For the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision was the condition for a person’s inclusion into the community of God’s chosen people. It was a sign of initiation and participation into a relationship with God and a symbol of subordination to him in that relationship. Later in the Sinai covenant, the sign was the keeping of the Sabbath. In Exodus 31:13-17 God said that the keeping of the Sabbath was the sign between God and Israel which showed their continual participation in the covenant and their subordination to God, the covenant maker. We see in Ezekiel 20 that the violation of the Sabbath was one of the primary reasons for God’s judgment against Israel. Later, the sign of the Davidic covenant was the anointing of the Davidic king signifying that the king was chosen by God. By submitting to the ceremony, the king showed that he recognized his subordination to a divine kingship.

Today, we live under the new covenant and God still wants his people/us to be so visibly committed to him that it shows everyone around us whose we are; that we belong to God and that we follow Christ. The signs of the new covenant are seen as sacraments: baptism which is the sign of initiation into the covenant and communion the sign of continual participation in the covenant. There are also two others signs, that are not sacraments, that show we are committed to a relationship with God and Jesus. In 1 John 3:23 it says, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” We prove that we are committed to a relationship with God by showing love to one another. And John 15:10 says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” We prove that we are committed to a relationship with God by obeying him. Just as circumcision was not a condition of the covenant but a sign of participation in it we understand that baptism, communion, loving one another and obedience are not conditions of our salvation but are the appropriate and expected signs of participation in the new covenant. What does our salvation cost us? Nothing. What does our faith cost us? It should cost us everything. It should cost us everything that this world offers because they can’t offer us what we have in Christ Jesus. And it should cost us all of ourselves/all our will in that we submit all of ourselves to Christ and allow him to be Lord and Master over our lives.

In the OT, God wanted the Israelites to not only be circumcised in their flesh but to have a circumcised heart, as well. They had the physical mark of being in relationship with God but at times did not have a circumcision of the heart. They did not submit to God’s authority by showing love to one another and fully obeying him. If we have a circumcised heart, a purified heart, a sanctified heart, it will be a heart that is in total submission to God’s commands inwardly and outwardly, not just giving lip-service but living out our faith on a daily basis. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to have a circumcised heart that is in total submission to God inwardly and outwardly on a daily basis.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I pray that we would trust you to do the impossible in our lives. I pray that we would obey you immediately and completely no matter how impossible the task seems, and Lord I pray that we would have circumcised hearts that are in total submission to you inwardly and outwardly on a daily basis. I pray that your Word would lead and guide us as we live out our faith in the world. Give us divine appointments in order to share your Gospel with those who need your salvation. Give us boldness to share and strength to pursue holiness daily. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Promise Keeper

I am sure we all have made promises at some time in our lives. How many have been asked for a sign that you would truly keep your promise to them? What did you say or do to convince them that you would keep that promise? There are many ways to show that you are serious about keeping your promises. When a man and a woman are married they promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.” What they are saying is the only way that their marriage can end is when one or the other physically dies. It’s a serious commitment to one another. Other ways that we show the seriousness of keeping promises is raising our right hand or putting our hand over our heart or putting our hand on the Bible. In the Bible, one of the ways they showed the seriousness of their promises was to put their hand under the person’s thigh when making a vow. In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted to make sure that Isaac got his wife from his homeland and not from Canaan. So Abraham had his servant put his hand under his thigh and swear an oath. The thigh was considered the strongest muscle in the body so by swearing an oath in this way it says that the actions of those individuals (represented by the hand) are placed under oath to trust in the strength of YHWH (represented by the thigh of the believer) to play a part in working to fulfill YHWH's promises.

Another way we may try to convince someone that we are serious about keeping our promises is saying, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye” or something to that effect. How many have you ever said that? Another way you may have convinced someone that youwere serious about your promises is the “pinky promise.” To make a pinky promise involves the interlocking of the pinkies of two people to signify that a promise has been made. How many have ever done that? If you didn’t know, the idea behind this gesture was to signify that the person who breaks the promise can have their pinky finger broken by the other. If you think that would hurt. The possible origin of the pinky promise may be Japan, where it is known as 'yubikiri.' They believed that if you break a pinky promise, you would have to cut off your pinky finger in return. In fact, the word 'Yubikiri', means “finger cut-off”.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart, taught from the beginning of chapter 15 in which God reiterated the promise to Abram about having a child. God told Abram that he would have his own biological child, and that his offspring would number the stars in the sky. In this morning’s passage, God reiterates the promise to Abram that the land that has been promised to him and his descendants will one day be his. We will see that God’s promises do three things ​​ for Abram. They affirm Abram’s call which stimulates his faith, they assure Abram about the covenant which calms his fears and they anticipate the fulfillment of the promise giving Abram hope for the future. God will convince Abram that he takes his promises very seriously and he can fully believe that what he promises will happen. Today, we also can believe in the promises of God and can fully believe that what he says is true and will happen. Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “God takes his promises seriously.”

Before we begin our study of the text this morning, let’s pray: Lord God, we ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to what you want to say to us and to what you want us to share with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. Our first point is Affirmation and is found in Genesis 15:7-8. This is what God’s Word says, 7 “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” 8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

As our scripture this morning begins Abram is still in the vision where the Word of the Lord came to him. We are told for the first time that it was the Lord who brought Abram out of Ur and the reason he did this was to give Abram the land for him to possess it. For the first time in Genesis the Lord calls himself “Yahweh.” This introduction would make it clear that Abram must take the speaker seriously. The Lord reminds Abram what he had done for him in the past and by identifying himself in this way it proved to Abram who God was and affirmed his call on Abram’s life. It is God who called Abram out of his homeland and into a foreign land which was promised to him. By reaffirming his call the Lord was stimulating Abram’s faith. But then we see Abram questioning what God has just said. This is interesting in light of verse 6 which says, “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” What has happened between verse six and verse eight? I believe the difference in Abram’s mind is that the promise of the land was different than the promise of a biological child. There were no major roadblocks for Sarai and him to have a child. She may be barren at this time but Abram could believe that God would open her womb when the time was right.

But as for the land, there were native peoples living there who already possessed it. Abram probably felt helpless to dispossess the native peoples and take over the land for himself. He is probably trying to wrap his head around how he and his descendants would be able to possess and enjoy this land. We notice that Abram calls God, “Sovereign Lord” which signals that what he is about to say is submissive but will also be bold. He trusts in who God is and what he was saying but wanted a sign because he couldn’t understand or see how it was going to happen. This does not mean that Abram didn’t have faith in God’s promise; he was just asking for a sign to confirm it.

We have seen God give signs to other people in the Bible such as Moses, Hezekiah and probably the most famous is Gideon who put out a fleece of wool so he would know it was God’s will to use him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. We also saw in our study of the Book of John that Jesus did signs. In fact we see these words in John 20:30-31 which tells us the purpose of John’s Gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Asking for a sign did not constitute a lack of faith on Abram’s part. His call had already been affirmed by God and he was now looking for affirmation of the promise of possessing the land. Abram’s faith was not on shaky ground; instead his faith had been stimulated by God’s promises and was looking for a sign that would further grow his faith in God’s promises.

Faith is an important part of our Christian walk. In this day and age that we live in where people seem to be “losing” their faith left and right, we must allow our faith to be stimulated and to stay alive. One of the ways our faith is stimulated is by meditating on the promises of God and seeing how they are being fulfilled in our daily lives. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to “meditate on the promises of God, seeing how they are being fulfilled in my daily life and allow them to stimulate my faith.”

We will see in the next point that God doesn’t get angry because Abram asked for a sign. In fact God is going to give Abram a sign that assures him that the promise of the land is already a foregone conclusion. The Lord will perform a ritual that shows he is serious about the promises that he makes and Abram will know for sure that God will faithfully fulfill his promise to Abram. The second point is called Assurance and is found in verses 9-11 and 17. This is what God’s Word says, 9 “So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” And now moving down to verse 17 “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”

God asks Abram to “bring” a three year-old heifer, and three year-old goat, a three year-old ram, a dove and a young pigeon. The words “bring” or “take” are often used to introduce a ritual such as a sacrifice. ​​ These animals are the same ones that God will command the Israelites to use for their sin, fellowship and burnt offerings. We see this in Leviticus 9:2-3 which says, “He (God) said to Aaron, “Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. 3 Then say to the Israelites: ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb—both a year old and without defect—for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord . . .” Abram’s actions here are reminiscent of a sacrifice. Abram then prepares the sacrificial animals and places them on the ground according to God’s instructions. Next we see that birds of prey came down and try to drag the carcasses off but Abram drives them away. Abram driving the birds away could be symbolic of God’s future protection of his chosen people on the basis on Abram’s faith. It also seems to foreshadow the obstacles which Abram’s descendants would experience before entering into the Promised Land. Briscoe says, “God’s promises would be fulfilled but not without pain and trial for Abram’s descendants.”

Now I want to jump down to verse 17 where we see how the ritual was played out between the Lord and Abram and then we come back and pick up at verse 12. We notice that the sun had set and it was dark and a smoking pot and a blazing torch appeared and passed through the animal pieces. The smoking pot and the blazing torch represent the presence of God. This reminds us of the cloud by day and the fire by night which was the presence of the Lord protecting and guiding the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. We notice that the Lord passes through the animal pieces but Abram does not. That is important because it meant that the fulfillment of the promise rested with the Lord alone. It was unconditional in that Abram did not have to do anything for the promise to be fulfilled.

What about this strange ritual? What does it mean? First of all this ritual would have been known in the ancient world and Abram would have certainly understood the meaning of it. Second, this ritual was used to formally seal a solemn agreement or covenant between two equal parties. By passing through the animal pieces you were clearly stating that if you did not keep your promise then you could be cut in two just like the animals had been. Kind of like the pinkie promise. Normally, if the parties were not equals the inferior party was the one who walked through the animal pieces. But here the superior party, the Lord, was declaring that if he did not keep his promise to Abram he could literally be cut in two (if it was possible for that to happen to God). God is showing immense grace to Abram here. Also this act alone would have proven to Abram and to those who heard the story later how serious the Lord was about keeping his promise to Abram. This was the sign that Abram needed that took all his doubt away and calmed all his fears. ​​ Gibson states, “By God’s willingness to go through this let Abraham know nothing could stand in God’s way of the fulfillment of his promises, for his own divine honor was at stake in this matter.”  ​​​​ 

The Lord also gives us many promises in his Word. Those promises should calm our fears and take our doubt away that he will do for us what he says in his Word. But a lot of times we doubt and are fearful about a lot of things. We see our prayers answered or God’s promises fulfilled in our lives over and over again but we still doubt and are afraid. I want to challenge not only myself but you as well to trust and not doubt that God’s promises are trustworthy no matter what. God takes his promises seriously. That brings me to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to calm my fears and take all of my doubt away.”

Our third point this morning is Anticipation and is found in verses 12-16 and 18-21. Here Abram finds out for the first time that he will not personally possess the Promised Land and also finds out how and why his descendants come to possess it. There is an anticipation and a hope for the future that Abram has even though he will not see it and the future of his descendants will be full of hardship. Starting with verse 12 this is what God’s Word says, “12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Moving to verse 18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Abram falls into a deep sleep as the sun was setting and a thick and dreadful darkness comes over him. “Deep sleep,” “fear” and “darkness” all suggest awe-inspiring divine activity such as when God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep in order to take out one of his ribs to form Eve. Abram’s dread comes because he was in the presence of the Lord. As human beings to be in the presence of an almighty and holy God should cause us to have a holy fear. The presence of the Lord is not something we should take lightly. Abram is told that his descendants would be strangers in a country that was not their own and would be slaves and mistreated for four hundred years. That would be enough to give Abram a sense of dread and bring darkness to his soul.

But God gives Abram hope for the future of his descendants. He says the nation that enslaves them will be punished and that his descendants will come out with great possessions. God doesn’t mention the nation that enslaves Abram’s descendants but we know it is Egypt today. We also know that the people of Israel asked for gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians before leaving Egypt after the Passover and that the Egyptians were glad to give them those things ​​ and get rid of them. We see these words in Exodus 12:36, “The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.”

God then calms Abrams fears about his own future. He promises him that he will go to his fathers in peace and be buried at a good or “ripe” old age. To go to his fathers in peace was a promise that Abram would live a good quality of life with a sense of contentment and fulfillment. He would also live to a “ripe” old age meaning he would enjoy a long healthy life. He would have a great quality of life until the end and be spared a future of hardship and pain. God’s promises gave Abram hope for his future. They also give us hope for our future as well. That brings us to the third next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to give me hope for my future on earth and for heaven.”

Next we are told why the Lord will hand over the Promised Land to him and his descendants and why they have to wait for four hundred years. They are being given the land because of the sin of the Amorites. The Amorites are representative of all the Canaanite peoples. But the nation of Israel has to wait because the sin of those peoples has not yet reached its full measure. Their sin was so perverted that it was even an abomination to the earth. In Leviticus 18 it says that they will be vomited from the land. This really speaks to the patience, the justice and the holiness of God. He doesn’t just give the land to the Israelites without giving the Canaanites an opportunity to repent. If God had done that it would have been unfair and unjust of the Lord. The OT wars between the Israelites and the Canaanites were acts of justice not aggression and their judgment was mercifully delayed. It also shows the patience that God has for them as well. It makes me think of 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God wants everyone to come to repentance no matter how evil they may be for a time. He is always going to do the right thing even if it means giving the Canaanites four hundred more years to repent and turn to him before giving their land over to his chosen people.

God then makes a covenant with Abram. ​​ This is the first mention of the word “covenant.” Before, these things had been promises to Abram not a formal covenant. Now Abram knows for sure that these things will take place. The Lord also gave specific boundaries of the land that Abram’s descendants would possess. This area was from the northern reaches of the Euphrates to the land of Egypt. The western boundary was the Mediterranean and the eastern boundary was the Jordan River. This area has been calculated by scholars to have been around 300,000 square miles which is an area bigger than the second largest state in the US, Texas, which is 261,797 square miles.

God also names all the nations that were presently living there. We notice that there are ten nations mentioned. We are reminded that the number ten in the bible signifies completeness meaning that that they would completely possess all the land that God has promised them. One more thing we must think about. God had told the Israelites that the land would be theirs as long as they didn’t do the same detestable practices that the Canaanites did. We know that they did not obey God and were also displaced from the land. According to scholars, Israel has never fully possessed the land promised to them by God. They have been close as an empire especially during the reign of King David and later under his son, King Solomon but have never fully possessed it as a homeland. One day when the Lord returns this promise will be realized. This should give us pause. There are some promises of God that will continue on no matter what we do such as he will never leave nor forsake us, but there are others that require obedience from us. I am reminded of our memory verse from Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” If we are not obedient to what the Lord commands us to do, then he will not listen to our prayers. The promise of listening to our prayers is conditional on not cherishing sin in our hearts.

God is the ultimate promise keeper. He always keeps his promises and we do not need to worry that he will. In our scripture this morning we have seen that Abram’s faith was stimulated when God affirmed his call. We saw that God calmed his fears by assuring that he would be faithful to his promises. And we have seen that his promises gave Abram hope for the future as he anticipated going to his fathers in peace and that his descendants could anticipate being able to possess the land once they came out of slavery in Egypt and hardship in the wilderness.

In conclusion I want read some verses from God’s Word showing how his promises stimulate our faith, calms our fears and give us hope for the future, today.

First, God’s promises should stimulate our faith. Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should stimulate our faith.

Second, God’s promises should calm our fears. There are so many verses that talk about not being afraid because God is with us. In Isaiah 41:10 it says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Hebrews 13:6 says, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should calm all our fears.

Third, God’s promises should give us hope for our future on this earth. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

But God’s promises should also give us hope for our future in heaven. John 14:1-3 says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. Revelation 3:11 says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Matthew 24:30-31 says, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Acts 17:31 says, “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should give us hope for our future on earth and hope for our future in heaven.

I pray that the promises of God found in his Word will encourage you this morning. As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final song of the day, let’s pray: Awesome God, we thank you for the promises that you have given us in your Word. We know that they are trustworthy and true. We pray that they would stimulate our faith, calm our fears and give us hope for our future here on earth and for our eternity in heaven as well. We give you all honor, glory and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.