- What test or trial are you going through presently or have you gone through recently? What do you believe God is trying to teach you through this situation?
- Do you strive to be comfortable and happy or Christ-like? What does your prayer life reveal about what your priorities are?
- What regular practices do you have in place that help you to hear God’s voice even when you cannot feel his presence?
Good morning Hope City! So good to be back together after an incredible DAY yesterday at Serve Day! DAY FOR HOPE was amazing! Wasn’t it? Check out this picture… I love how we were able to gather together and serve Tatum Ridge. Barry Dunn, the principle said….. Did. You know that this week, Hope City is going to be sponsoring a Reading Professional Development this week. We’re going to be providing all the coffee each day for them. You guys are continuing to have an impact on this school, and we aren’t giving up! We’re just getting started. I love it!
This morning we are continuing our series called Sunday School Remix. We’re taking a look at some of the old school Sunday School stories that you grew up hearing or learning and answering the question, what does God have to say to me today about what I learned and heard yesterday. We’ve talked about the story of Gideon in week 1 and realized that God wants us to go with what He’s given us. Last week we looked at the story of David and Goliath, and saw that God isn’t asking us to defeat our giants, but that He’s already defeated them for us!
When you think of Sunday School, it’s hard not to think about people who found themselves in situations that were scary! I mean, you’ve got Daniel in the Lion’s Den, you’ve got Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace… and you’ve got Moses standing before Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the land.
Fear is a very real emotion… one which MANY of us face. Men, do you remember the first time your wife was pregnant? WOW! That can be the most fearful 9 months of life. You have to sleep with one eye open, wondering if the woman next to you is going to kill you!
When I was a kid my family and I lived on Long Island, NY. One thing I remember doing with my Dad was riding downtown and jumping on the Staten Island Ferry. I loved boats, and anything that had to do with the water. So we would take the ferry across the river and then back again.
Being little meant that I was short and needed to be picked up to see over the railing, because there was just so much to see! (Trash in the Hudson river) I climbed into my dad’s arms and leaned out a little over the edge. I remember seeing the huge wake that the ferry was creating, white water rolling over on itself. I watched as the hull of the boat cut through the Hudson River. While I was watching, my dad leaned out even further. I felt like this scene from the Lion King… I instantly panicked. Fear coursed through my body. I screamed, “DADDY DON’T LET ME GO!” Fear had gripped my body. I grabbed a hold of his arms and pulled myself in tight to him.
Even though I was young, I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “Peter, I will never let you go.” And that was my first picture of God, a father who loved me, whose strong arms wouldn’t let go. I could trust him.
Every year our family goes to the Outer Banks for vacation, and where we stay there is a fishing pier that I love to walk out on. Several years ago, a Tropical Storm rolled in, bringing with huge 8-10 foot waves. I wanted my kids to experience the power and majesty of these waves crashing through the pier.
I’m telling you, that pier was rocking and rolling! It was getting wrecked by the waves. So naturally I had to be out on it. I held my 6-year-old daughter Grace’s hand as we walked out to the end of the pier. I picked her up in my arms and leaned out over the pier to show her the waves. Her natural instinct was to scream, and grab hold of me tightly. Her little hands gripped the skin on my forearm digging in deeply. She screamed the exact same thing: “Daddy don’t let me go.”
What’s up with us dad’s anyway? Fear is a very present reality for so many of us.
I wonder what it was for you? When did you go through something so frightening or earth shattering that it changed your perspective or what you believe about the world.
Perhaps it was a major car accident. You saw your life flash before your eyes… You walked away from that accident and it changed you. Or maybe it is that illness that the Doctors can’t explain or treat yet. You’ve been going to doctor after doctor, being bounced from one specialist to another. Yet, there is still no answer.
Moments like these cause us to see life through a different lens and to see God in a new, fresh way.
These types of moments are not new. They have been happening for thousands of years. It is the same types of problems, just a different set of circumstances in a different era.
There was a man whose perspective was forever changed because of an encounter that he had with God. His name was Abraham. Abraham’s story is found in the book of Genesis. Genesis is easy to find you just open the front cover and there you are. Turn to Genesis chapter 22. That’s on page 14. In Genesis we see the beginning of God’s story. We see how God begins to reveal Himself for who He is and how He is working in the world. And one of the people we meet in God’s story is Abraham one of the Sunday School Heroes of our faith… The story of Abraham is amazing because God says 2 things to Abraham In Genesis 12. He says,
- You’re gonna move
- You’re gonna have a baby
Both things happen! This is not just any kind of baby though. God miraculously provides a son to Abraham and his wife Sarah when they were 100 years old. 100 years old. How crazy is that? They named him Isaac, which means Laughter in Hebrew… Check this out.
5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
6Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Let’s be honest, can we do that? How funny would it be to see a 100 year old pregnant woman?!? Can you imagine Betty White with a Baby Bump? Jimmy Fallon would have a field day with that one!
That was Abraham and Sarah. The family that they had always longed for was finally here. They were able to experience the joys of watching little Isaac take his first steps and speak his first words. They watched their little boy’s mind investigate the world around him. They were normal ordinary parents like you and me. But all of a sudden their lives were anything but ordinary.
Abraham is now well over 100 years old and Isaac is probably 15-20 years old when God speaks to Abraham again. Hey, do any of you have a 15-20 year old? Raise your hands. I’ll be praying for you. J This is what Genesis 22 says.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2Then 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.”
Okay, TIME OUT. What’s the deal with this? Abraham has to be thinking, “This is not a part of the plan!” 1. You said, You’re gonna move, 2. You’re gonna have a baby, and now you tell me a third thing? You’re gonna kill the boy? What?”
God is asking Abraham to take some wood and lay his son on top of it, and then take a knife and drive it into his son’s body. He says, offer your Son. Your Only Son. The one you love. God fills in all the details. He knows exactly what He is asking Abraham to do.
God is very clear about what He is asking Abraham to do. He is testing Abraham. God’s Tests do not show Him where we need to grow they show us. We need to pt. 1 – “Grow through what we Go Through.”
Can you imagine some of Abraham’s logical questions… God, don’t you know that this is my only son. I’ve waited a century to hold him in my arms. What’s wrong with you? How can you be a good God? You must be crazy. Why did I listen to you so long ago?
God was asking Abraham to take this knife in his hands and do the unthinkable. We need to have an honest moment here. I think of my own son Noah… and I got to tell you, I COULD NEVER DO THAT. This was a moment that no father should ever have to experience with his son! What would you do if God came to you and said, I want you to give up your kid. Can you imagine giving up the one thing that you cannot replace?
I know what it is like to feel something invaluable be taken away from you.
In 2004 after countless doctor’s visits, my dad was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. He was 54 and in the prime of his ministry career. He was successfully leading a church in the suburbs of Philly. He was a faithful husband, a loving dad, a pastor of 25 years, and one of my best friends. The course of my life has forever been changed due to this man’s love of Jesus and his love for my family and me.
I’ll never forget that phone call I had with my dad. I told him that I was angry that God allowed this to happen. I didn’t understand why God could allow this. I was asking WHY is God doing this? I felt like that little boy saying, “Daddy, don’t let me go.” I was filled with fear.
Right in the middle of me questioning Why God would do something like this, my dad quietly, but firmly said to me, “I don’t know Peter, but I know that God is good. It will be alright.” This had to have been the heart of Abraham.
Many of us find ourselves in situations like this. WE DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE, or very HAPPY. It feels scary, or out of control. God’s deepest desire for your life isn’t Happiness, it’s Holiness. It’s not comfort, but Christ-likeness. Grow through what you go through. Your greatest pain in life may very well be the place of greatest growth. But what do you do in these moments, let’s look back at Abraham…
3Early 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. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5He 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.” 6Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
Abraham prepared for the journey. Abraham’s response was to get up early. There was no delaying what needed to be done. He took the wood and literally placed it on his son. Can you imagine? Dad’s you are out gathering wood, knowing the whole time that this is the very wood that your son is going to lay down and die on.
In tests and trials, pt. 2 Determination Determines Outcomes.
I don’t know about you, when my wife, Tiffany, asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I find a million other things to do before do what she asked me to do. I am a world-class procrastinator. And you know what? Tiffany has never even asked me to do anything close to as crazy as what God has asked Abraham to do. Are there any other procrastinators out there? Come on, put your hands up. Oh, okay, you’ll do it later? Cool. Don’t lie… You do this too. We delay the things that we don’t want to do.
Not Abraham. He was determined, He set out early and he packed for the journey. He prepared, he cut the wood, grabbed his knife… And went out on the journey.
As the two of them went on together, 7 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?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When faced with a difficult question, Abraham leaned in to the promise that God had made a long time ago. This was given when he was lying under the stars, wishing, hoping, and praying for a kid. It was long before Isaac was born—that God gave the promise that a nation would be made out of Abraham.
Why would Abraham begin to doubt God now? But God had said, “You’re going to kill the boy.” How can that make sense?
We learn that we need to Pt. 3 “BELIEVE THE PROMISE OF GOD, EVEN WHEN YOU CANNOT FEEL THE PRESENCE OF GOD.” The promises of God stand firm through out all of history. God doesn’t change, His character doesn’t change. Your circumstances may change, people may change. Your feelings may change, but God never changes. How do you move forward in times of crisis, trials and testing? By believing the promises of God.
When they arrived at the place that God had shown them Abraham bound his teenage son Isaac and laid him on the wood. That’s messed up. Look at verse 10 with me.
10Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “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.” 13 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.
Abraham obeyed God, even in the most difficult situation that I can imagine. He went to the edge of extreme. His human emotions had to have been pushed to their limits. He believed the promise of God even when He didn’t feel the presence of God. Abraham was willing to offer up every source of his finite security. He went to the altar with complete obedience.
Many people are called to lay something down on the altar, and they do. But they take along with them a plastic knife. I have a friend who was telling me about his relationship with his girlfriend. He was saying how they have begun to go down a really slippery slope. She started sleeping over, spending the night, and he was nervous for where this could go. He knows what God wants for relationships between a man and a woman. But he is also tired of being single and alone. What does he do? Does he come with a plastic knife or the real deal?
Often our obedience is not complete like Abraham’s but has some strings attached. It is slightly less serious than Abraham’s obedience. When God asks us to sacrifice our relationships, our finances, or our most valued possession conveniently we break out the plastic knife. It’s only strong enough to hurt a little, but safe enough that it can cause no real harm. Those things are worthless. And this is what some of you walked in here today with; a plastic knife. Sure God. I’ll do whatever you want me to do, so long as it doesn’t harm my social life. I really love going to the bar and throwing back a few cold ones with the boys. Or God I’ll give whatever you want so long as you aren’t challenging my financial security, or my personal comfort. God is radical. He wants so much more from us than what we can do with plastic knives. God is saying no more plastic knives.
Abraham didn’t mess around with plastic cutlery. He was fully obedient, and ready for the pain that his obedience would cause. Hebrews 11:17-19 says that Abraham expected Isaac to be resurrected. Let’s look at this together.
17By 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, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”19Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead,
His faith in God’s everlasting promise to make a nation out of his offspring was so strong that he was willing to suffer the pain of putting his son to death. Knowing that God would provide life again.
Abraham took, real wood, and a real knife. In his fear, Abraham chose to trust God with all that was near and dear to his heart. How about you? Where have you been tempted to break out a plastic knife and cop out on what God is really asking you to do?
Abraham’s whole story reminds me of another Father who placed wood on the shoulders of His only son. This time it was God the Father and His only son was Jesus. The wood he carried was a part of the Roman Cross. And while Jesus hung on the cross he shouted, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Or, “Daddy, Don’t let me go.” But on the cross, the knife of God’s judgment went up… Just like when Abraham raised his knife to take out his only son, God’s hand was raised and this time, God let the knife fall. He didn’t hold back. He let His Son go, so that He could hold you.
This time there was no Ram in the thicket. There was no substitution. In fact, He was the substitution. Just like Isaac, Jesus did nothing to deserve being on that wood. Jesus didn’t deserve to be on the cross. If anyone deserved to be there it would be me or you. We are the ones who turn our back on God and try to live life on our own. We are the ones who say, No God, I think I’ve got this. I’m going to do this on my own.
Some of you, your faith journey has hit a halt because of your fear. You are looking at your situation and your saying, it’s time to stop striving, it’s time to stop struggling and to trust God.
No more plastic knives. God is inviting you to come to the cross and accept what He has done for you. To trust that God is good, and that even though everything around you has changed, He remains the same.