Shalom. Greetings. Peace. My name is Abram. Little did I know that one day I would be known as the patient patriarch. I haven't always been patient. My life has been full of challenges, difficulties, failure; but I've had some victories too.
Let me tell you my story. It wasn't easy leaving Ur. Some say that the garden of Eden was just a stones throw from there. The cradle of civilization. You probably think that Ur was rather primitive, but you would be surprised at how comfortable you could be in the home I left behind. Ur was an advanced civilization. It had running water and indoor plumbing. There were large baths for conversation and relaxation. There were museums and libraries, plenty of cultural activity. Ur was a five-star town.
The holy record says of me, by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going. By faith Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise. As in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise. He was looking for the city whose architect and builder was God. Who would have thought that Sarah and I would have been mentioned in God's honorable Who's Who.
We left the luxury, the beauty, the ease of Ur for a life long camping trip. I was a pilgrim wanderer, living in tents for the rest of my life. Wherever I pitched my tent, I built an altar. I prayed. I talked with God. I guess that's why I came to be known as the friend of God. But God called me out. He called me to be separate. A keeper of the sacred oracles. A keeper of the story. Of his story. God has ever had a remnant to serve him, and you yourselves are part of this long unbroken line, that the true knowledge of God might never be extinct.
Well, moving day came and it was especially hard for Sarah to leave. To say goodbye. To leave her home, her friends, her family. The house was just the way she liked it. The international markets were so convenient. Shopping was a breeze. The choices were great. Fresh produce, silk, baskets, spices. We were just getting pomegranates on our trees. We sorted through our possessions and kept only those things most prized. We wanted to travel light for we were not coming back and we had the largest yard sale you've never seen.
As we started out it was a large caravan. My father Terah was with us. We took the usual route, the trade route, up along the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia, between the rivers, north and then west towards the great sea. Out of courtesy to my father we stopped for a few years in Haran and called Haran home. He wanted to rest for a while and enjoy the grandchildren, the last few remaining years of his life.
Can I give you a piece of advice? One thing I've come to understand and believe is that the happiest place on earth is where God would have you to be. It's not the easiest, but it's the happiest. And I'd ask you a question. Are you where God would have you be? Are you doing what he'd have you do? You may not hear an audible voice, as I have been privileged to hear, but you will hear his call just the same. By the teachings of his word, by the events of his providence, you will hear him.
The story of the patient patriarch begins in Genesis 12. In our Scripture lesson this morning we heard of the call of Abraham and the promise. The promise of blessing. Abram was blessed to bless others. He was a conduit and a channel. It also says that through Abram all the world, all the people of the Earth would be blessed.
At age 75 Abram left Haran and finally arrived in Canaan, only to find that the land promised to him was already occupied. It was inhabited by the Canaanites and the first place Abram lingered was in Shechem. It was a beautiful place. Many shade trees. The oaks of Mara were there. Large stands of oak, the terabith. There was a wide grassy plain between two large mountain peaks. It was a gorgeous, productive, hospitable land. Deuteronomy describes it as a good land with brooks and fountains and gushing springs flowing out of the valleys and hills. A land of wheat and barley. Of vines and fig trees and pomegranates. A land of olive oil and honey. The stones were made of iron and from those hills they could dig copper. Could this be the place that God would have Abram settle in? Was this Abram's new home?
And yet, to Abram, a worshiper of Jehovah, there was a heavy shadow that rested upon the wooded hills and fruitful plains. In the groves were set up the altars and idols of the area's false god's. If ever there was a lack of rain, or there was not enough childbirth, or an unfruitful season, these local gods were deemed angry and demanding. For their blessings to flow, it was believed that the gods required gifts and sacrifice, even human sacrifices, and this took place in the high hills surrounding this area. There was a distressful foreboding in Abram's heart as he pitched his tent and yet the Lord assured him that he was going to be protected and that he would give this land to Abram and to his descendents.
Abram traveled a little further south toward the Negev. He traveled, looking the land over, wondering where he should settle. There were a large number of people with him, flocks and servants and livestock. It had been good to stop for a while in Haran, and not having to travel each day. I'm sure they were ready to settle down.
Most of us enjoy traveling. We enjoy our vacations. We look forward to them. The change of scenery is great, but we know from experience what it's like living out of a suitcase, and what to do with the kids? To travel at night, perhaps try some Benadryl. We know that it's challenging to take care of laundry and meals. A different bed or perhaps a different pillow. When you travel do you take your pillow? I know someone who does. We could be staying in the Taj Mahal; she takes her own pillow. It was no different then for the women, the children and the older folks. They were tired of this trip, and they wanted to rest from the journey.
In Genesis 12:10 it says, there was a famine in the land. No rain. Abram might have said, I've been traveling now for years. I left the comfort and luxury of my home for this dusty trail. Camping in tents. You promised me land, and when I get here it's occupied, and to top it off, the land you promised me has a famine. Thanks a lot for this dustbowl. You're my friend, God. Couldn't you do better than this?
Well this wasn't Abram's response. He was the patient patriarch. Patience is accepting a difficult situation without giving God a deadline to remove it. Patience is waiting without worrying. Patience is a fruit of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience. I don't know about you, but I could do with a little more patience. Ours is an impatient age, isn't it. Just try lingering at a traffic light when it turns from red to green.
Most of us would like to enjoy what it's taken our parents a lifetime to accumulate. Families and nations are in debt because of impatience. Ours, it seems, is an age of entitlement. The austerity measures in Greece have caused anger and unrest, and there's an attitude of entitlement in the crowds that are looting and ravaging England at this time. When something goes wrong, it doesn't go our way, we have a tendency to take things into our own hands to make it right. Perhaps, because we're finite and we feel we have to pack it in in just a few short years. But with God, thousand years is as a day. Patience is taking life as it comes, believing that God has ordained it for a purpose. What can we learn? How can we grow from those things that try our patience?
One important lesson is this. There are some things that cannot be changed. They must be accepted. We need to learn to live with them. Other situations can and must be changed and so we find the courage to do so. But all the while, we have to have discernment to know which is which. This is the tension we grapple with. Patient acceptance, courageous change, and the discernment to know what to do. There are times that do call for dynamic, courageous change, and you probably remember the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It's been a delight this week to study this special man of God, and to see how he endured the difficulties that God allowed to cross his path. What a challenge to be patient like Abram. Although his patience wavered at times he trusted that God would honor his promise of land and son. Don't you like Scripture. The honesty, the transparency, no cover up here. Abram lost some and he won some. He had enough failures to encourage us, enough victories to challenge us.
Notice with me if you would, Genesis 12:10 – 13. And there was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came about when he came near to Egypt that he said to Sarai his wife, see now, I know that you are a beautiful woman and it will come about that when the Egyptians see you, they will say, this is his wife, and they will kill me but they will let you live. Please say to them that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you and that I may live on account of you.
Here Abram reasoned. How can God make of me a great nation if I'm killed. So Abram told a half truth. He concealed the fact that Sarai was his wife. She must've been dropdead gorgeous. She must've been a ten because Abram told this story twice. First to those in Egypt and a few years later to Abimelech.
Well he got in trouble. He betrayed his trust in God's divine care and he received a royal escort out of Egypt. Notice chapter 13:1 – 3. So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him and Lot with him. And Abram was very rich in livestock, silver and gold. And he went on his journey from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been before, in the beginning, between Bethel and Ai. And to place the altar which he had made there formerly, and Abram called on the name of the Lord. What now Lord? I've come full circle and here I am again.
Have you found yourself, in your life, coming around to things that you haven't quite mastered, or temptations that you struggle with? It seems God allows them to come around again for us to demonstrate our loyalty and our maturity. There's a wonderful paragraph in Patriarchs and Prophets, and it reads this way. I think it has particular import in what we're talking about.
It is by close, testing, trials that God disciplines his servants. He sees that some have powers which may be used in the advancement of his work and he puts those persons on trial. In his providence he brings them into positions that test their character and reveals defects and weaknesses that have been hidden from their knowledge. He gives them opportunity to correct these defects and to fit themselves for service. They are educated, trained and disciplined and prepared to fulfill the grand purpose for which their powers were given them.
A couple weekends ago we had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage back to Andrews University. To retrace our steps back to Andrews. To go back to that special place that helped shape our lives. Seminary was a high experience. I enjoyed. It was invigorating. Enjoyed it more than college actually. The optimism of youth. I left there thinking I could change the world, and I've had some influence but I definitely haven't changed the world. There were wonderful experiences of worship at Pioneer Memorial church. Transcendent times with God. The music. The choir. The spoken word. The grandeur there. When vision becomes cloudy it's good for us to go back to where we last saw the light, and where we last felt the passion. We can rekindle the flame when we go back to these special places.
Abram did exactly that. After the royal escort out of Egypt he went back to that altar that he had built and there he communed and talked with God and his life was changed.
Two weeks ago we accompanied Jeremiah and Emily back to Andrews so he could complete his master's degree in architecture. In the wee hours of Thursday morning we left Chattanooga, driving north to Berrien Springs, and we were driving the moving truck. We got to Andrews late that afternoon, Thursday, just with enough time to clean the house a bit and to partially unload the van.
Friday was the only day we were going to have to set up and settle in and to get things done. Like a mother bear caring for her cubs I was being rather assertive and productive, getting things done. It was an older home and the dryer had an old electrical pigtail, and that had to be changed. So I went down to the hardware store, got that. Put that together. Leveled the drier. Then we had to settle in the kitchen. Needed shelf paper. Went down to the dollar store. Not once, not twice, but three times.
It's hard to calculate just what you're going to need, but as I left from one of the shops at Apple Valley, I pulled into the center lane, the suicide lane on old 31, and I guess I stayed in that center lane longer than was appropriate. I drove probably three blocks to make a left turn. Why get in the other lane if you're going to turn left anyway? I stayed there and I was the recipient of an unsolicited gesture, and I thought to myself, have I grown in grace the last 30 years? Have I grown in the Christian graces? I had to laugh when I noticed the message on the marquee of the Apple Valley market. It said this. Patience is coolness and absence of heat and haste. To be honest I was in a hurry. Patience is something we all could use a little bit more of. I don't know about you but I could use more of that. Are you battling some areas in your life that you've come full circle to? Is it time to make some changes? Perhaps turn northward?
Well the years were passing by and there was no land yet for Abram, and no son. There were quarrels between the herdsmen. Abram and Lot got together and they began to talk. The land was not able to support all their wealth and so they parted company. Abram magnanimously said, Lot, you go ahead. You choose first. I'll take what's left. Lot of course chose the better, he chose the fertile plain and Abram was stuck there in the Hills. In Genesis 13:14, once again the promise is given. God asked Abram to look to the north, the southeast, and the west and all that he could see, this land I'm going to give you and your descendents. They will be like the dust of the earth.
Well time goes on and in Genesis 14 the story is shared about the people coming in and conquering Sodom and carrying Lot away. There is the story of Abram and his 300+ warriors who protected his livestock. They had a very victorious battle and Abram was perhaps at his finest at this time. He didn't take any spoils. He gave to those who helped him.
Then we come to Genesis 15. Again the promise is given. God ushered him outside to look up at the stars. You've seen the stars in beautiful, primitive, quiet places, perhaps Lake Powell, where they're just inumerable. God said look up. Your descendents will be as the stars in the sky and Abraham here believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abram was having some victories. He was growing in the right direction. He was becoming the father of the faithful.
But notice Genesis 16:3. And after Abram had lived 10 years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife took Hagar the Egyptian maid and gave her to her husband as his wife. Abram's faith waivers here. It's been 10 years. He and Sarah thought God could use a little help and so they took matters into their own hands. Abram was 86 years old and a child came to Hagar. Ishmael was born and from that day on there was trouble, and there's still trouble, isn't there?
13 years later Abram was 99 years old. The promise of a son was given again, and Abram fell to the ground in laughter and said, I've heard this before. It's been 24 years now since you first made this promise. Will a child be born of me when I'm 100 years old? Abram said, we've got it covered. We've got an heir. We've got a son. We've already solved the problem. Oh that Ishmael might be the promised one. But God said to him, no, Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you will call his name Isaac. Through him I will establish my covenant.
A short while later, Abram was in his tent looking out on the horizon when three visitors came this way, and he went out and implored them, invited them, urged them to come in that they might experience his hospitality. He served them. He picked out the heifer and helped and he stood by them as they ate. During the meal one of them asked, where is Sarah your wife? Abram said, she's just in the other room. The one said this time next year Sarah will have a son, and he could hear Sarah's laughter in the background. She said, can I have pleasure from Abram at his age? Shall I bear a child when I am this old?
But it happened. The promise was fulfilled in Genesis 21:2 and 3. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him from Sarah, Isaac. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. 25 years after the original promise, finally the promise was honored.
Abraham had experienced many difficulties, and these difficulties had developed his faith. He became more and more patient and now he was ready for the ultimate test. The test of the love of the father for his son.
You remember the story recorded in the 22nd chapter. The trip to Moriah. Abram received a vision, a dream. God spoke to him in the night and said Abram I want you to take your only son, the son you love, Isaac, and I want you take him and offer him to me as a sacrifice. So Abram got up early in the morning without telling Sarah and they started out. In the midst of the journey Isaac mentioned, father I see the wood, I see the fire, but where's the sacrifice? Abraham prophetically says, God will provide himself a sacrifice.
They came to the place and they began building the altar, placing the stones there and placing the wood and Abraham conveys to Isaac how the story is to play out. Isaac is compliant, cooperative and assists and makes it as easy as possible for his father. He's laying there on the altar, waiting for what will come. This was common practice in Abraham's day. The sacrifice of a firstborn to appease the gods, to gain the favors necessary to sustain life, for the gifts of rain and sun and a good productive year, it was felt and believed that gifts were required. Sacrifices were demanded for these favors.
What a risk God made by asking Abraham to offer his son. It could be troubling that God would ask Abram what the local heathen gods seem to be asking. To demand sacrifice, human sacrifice, but he was willing to be misunderstood and to take that risk to demonstrate his love and his provision. God provides. Our God provides.
There Abraham was, arm outstretched, dagger in the hand and a voice called from heaven. Abraham, Abraham, do the lad no harm. Stop. Abraham raised his head and saw in the distance a ram caught in the thicket, and he helped Isaac off the altar and placed the ram there and again the covenant and the promises are shared.
The good news today is that God is not angry. God provides. It's not what we do, it's what he's done that matters most. Abraham could take Isaac off the altar and rejoice and celebrate in the God who provides. The true God in love and mercy provides all that his children need. What a story Abraham had to share when he returned home to those around him. My God provides.
The story has a very sad yet hopeful conclusion. In Genesis 23, the story is told of Sarah's death. At the age of 127, Sarah dies, but Abraham, a sojourner, has no place, no land and he has to buy a little piece just for a place to bury his wife. Abraham patiently waited for the promised land. The only land that was ever deeded to Abraham was that field in the cave of Macpelah where he buried his wife.
I pray that you and I will, through life develop the patients we need. Patience and trust for the end times. Are you more patient today than you were a year ago? Are we a patient church? Are you patient with yourself? Are we patient with each other? Are you patient with God? At the appointed time, Isaac was born. At the appointed time, Jesus was born.
At the appointed time, the end will come and Jesus will return. In a very little while he who is coming will come and will not delay. God provides. Safety in a foreign land. He provides victory in the battles of life. He provides shelter of home. He provides his own sacrifice and in response to all that he has done, we express our love and appreciation by giving and serving. Our God provides. We can trust him to take care of us.
Hymn of Praise: #30, Holy God, We Praise Your Name Scripture: Genesis 12:1-5 Hymn of Response: #99, God Will Take Care of You
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 10/26/11