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Faith in the Face of the Furnace

The English language is always changing! Every year, new words and phrases are added to our vocabulary and old ones are dropped out. For example, in 2019, the Webster’s Dictionary added over 600 new words & phrases. Some of these were words like:

Screen time: We’re certainly getting a lot of that these days

Go-cup: That’s just a disposable cup that would hold your coffee or other drink as you take it ‘to go’ from a resturant

Detectorist: one who uses a portable metal detector as a hobby to find lost coins and artifacts and such…

Double-dipping: You’d think that one would have been the in the dictionary already, but that was new for 2019

Chai Latte: We apparently talk about those enough to warrant an entry in the dictionary.

And I would guess that most, if not all, of those terms are familiar to you – that’s why they’ve been added to the dictionary. Everybody uses those terms and phrases.

Of course, in the 2020 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary, there will be a whole new set of words to be added.

Words like:  Coronavirus, Covid-19, Social Distancing, Self-isolation, Flattening the curve,

These are all terms that we’ve all come to know very well in just a very short period of time. And hopefully, these are words that will drop out of use just as quickly! I think we’re all looking forward to the time when no one needs to use the terms ‘self-isolation’ or ‘social distancing’ anymore.

But this morning, and actually for the next few weeks, I want to talk about three other words. These three words have been around pretty much forever – and according to the Bible – they will continue to be around pretty much forever.

You see, I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter 13 this week – which is often referred to as the ‘love’ chapter of the Bible. It talks about all the things that love is – love is kind, love is patient, love is not proud, love is not jealous – all those things….

But at the end of that chapter – there is short little verse that just seemed to catch my attention this week. It goes like this in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 13:

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The Joy of the Lord

We’re going to pick up our story today in Genesis chapter 21 – hopping over chapters 19 & 20 – but I would certainly encourage you to go back and read those chapters sometime this week – that will help you fill in the blanks of the story yourself.

Now while you’re turning to Genesis 21 in your Bibles, let me give you just a really quick summary of the story so far.

As I’ve pointed out before, the key issue in the whole story of Abraham is the issue of descendants. Namely that Abraham had none. One of the first bits of information that we read about Abraham was that his wife Sarah, had been unable to become pregnant. And of course, this is a big deal for any family, but it was particularly an issue for Abraham’s family because God had specifically promised to Abraham that his descendants would grow to become a great nation and they would inherit the land of Canaan or as we often call it “the Promised Land”. God was going to bless all of Abraham’s descendants and they in turn would be a blessing to every family on the earth.

However, through most of our story, Abraham has been childless. Several times God has appeared and reaffirmed his promise to Abraham – but by the time Abraham was 85, he still had no child on the horizon. So Abraham and Sarah decided to be proactive and help God out a little bit. They decided that Abraham should have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. This was culturally acceptable – but was certainly not what God had in mind. The problems and the discord that this caused in the family became evident almost immediately. As soon as Hagar was pregnant, Hagar treated Sarah with contempt and Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away even before the child was born. Thankfully, God intervened and Hagar returned to Sarah and Abraham – and in due time, Hagar had her baby – little Ishmael.

Well, for many years, Abraham raised Ishmael as his dearly loved, one and only son – the son that he presumed was God’s promised child. But when Ishmael was 13 years old God appeared to Abraham and again reaffirmed his promise that Abraham would have a son – and that son would be born from Sarah – even though she was now 90 years old. God further clarified that Sarah’s son, Isaac, would be the one whom God would bless and would cause his descendants to grow to be a great nation – they would inherit the promised land, and they would be a blessing to every family on earth.

Of course, this was exactly what God had promised 24 years earlier – God’s plans had not changed even though Abraham and Sarah had not been careful to follow his plan. Despite their lack of faith, God remained faithful and today, we finally get to the part of the story where God finally does exactly what he said he would do for Abraham & Sarah. So in Genesis chapter 21, verse 1 we read:

The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2 She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. Genesis 1:1-2

I love how this chapter starts: The Lord kept his word. He did exactly what he had promised. Despite the impossibility of it all – (considering that Abraham and Sarah were well past the age of having children – Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90) – despite the impossibility of them having children, God kept his Word.

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Trusting a Person – Not a Plan

Last week Jesse and Greg gave us a fine demonstration of a three-legged race. With a little duct tape to ensure they were perfectly in sync, they made their way across the stage – and believe it or not, they did it without disaster. I guess they’ve known each other long enough and worked with one another often enough to successfully journey together and travel in sync without tripping each other up.

And all of this was an illustration for us of what our walk with God sometimes looks like.

Now of course, we don’t have duct tape to keep us perfectly in sync with God as we attempt to walk with Him in our day to day lives – but that’s the goal. To walk in sync with God – to follow his lead, to do as He does, and to stay close by His side as we journey through life together with Him.

But without that duct tape, it seems we often get out of sync with God. We drift away, we do our own thing – and as often happens in a three-legged race – before we know it, we find our selves flat on our faces.

But the good news is that we can learn to walk with God with minimal faceplants. And the key word there is “learn”. It doesn’t come automatically. It takes time and practice to learn to consistently walk with God. Thankfully, God is incredibly patient with us – and He leads us gently, always encouraging us to get up once again and have another go at it – just to take it one step at a time.

And fortunately for us, God has also given us some great teachers too. We can look to the pages of Scripture to find many examples of men & women who – over a lifetime – learned to walk with God and so we can learn from their examples. One of those great examples, as I mentioned last week, was Abram.

Now Abram was a guy who didn’t start learning to walk wth God until he was about 75 years old – which seems really late in life, but considering that he lived to be 175, he still had about 100 years to practice and learn how to walk with God. So I think Abram’s 100 years of experience can offer us a lot to learn from. And so for the next several weeks, we want to take a look at Abram’s life – leaning from his example as he learned to walk with God.

Now last week, we saw Abram’s very first steps of faith. While he was still living with his father, Terah, God appeared to Abram and told him to leave his homeland and his father’s family, and to go to the place that God would show him.

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First Steps of Faith

The Christian life is often described as ‘walking with God’ and I think a three-legged race is a good illustration of what that can look like. Walking with God can be a thrilling journey when we keep in step with Him – following His lead. But when we get out of sync with God and try to do things our own way, very quickly can we find ourselves flat on our face. 

I think it’s a fairly common experience among Christians – especially new Christians – that in our attempts to daily walk with God, we struggle to stay in sync with Him and often we find ourselves tripped up and discouraged in the fact that we mess up so often.

But the fact is that no one just jumps in and walks perfectly in sync with God for the rest of their lives – it’s a learned process. It takes time to learn to walk with God.

Sometimes we read those incredible stories in the Bible of these heroes of the faith like Paul or Elisha or Daniel and they just seem like they’ve got it all together. But I guarantee you, there was a lot of practice and a lot of failures as they learned to walk with God.

I think Abraham is a great example of someone who had to learn to walk with God. I don’t know how much you know about Abraham, but aside from Jesus, he’s probably the most central figure of the Bible. He was the father of the nation of Israel – the father of Christianity really. It was through Him and his family-line that Jesus our Saviour born. And He wasn’t just a physical ancestor of Christianity – the Bible often points to him as our spiritual ancestor as well –  the first of those who were saved by faith.

But even heroes of the faith (like Abraham) had to learn to walk with God. Abraham had his ups and downs. He stumbled just like we do. But over time, and through a wide variety of experiences, Abraham learned to walk with God – to stay in step with Him. And as a result, Abraham had an incredible journey with God, and his life has left a lasting legacy even for us today several thousand years later. 

That kind of journey and that kind of legacy is possible for us too, as we learn to walk with God. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Abraham’s life – watching as he learned to walk with God, because I think there is so much that we can learn from him and apply to our own journey with God. I’m calling this new series “Learning to Walk” and I trust that we will do exactly that as we study the life of Abraham – that we will learn to walk in step and in close communion with our God, just like Abraham did. So let’s jump right into it!

Now as I mentioned earlier, Abraham is one of the most significant characters in the entire Bible. In fact his story is the first biography in the Bible. Up to this point, the Bible has been telling us about certain events – events like creation and the flood and building the tower of Babel – but when the Bible introduces Abraham, its not to tell us about a particular event – it’s to introduce us to a particular person and his family.

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Samson Finally Finding Faith

Today we’re going to wrap up our series on the Unlikely Heroes in the book of Judges. And it’s certainly been an interesting journey. We’ve looked at Ehud, Deborah, Barak, Jael, Gideon, and for the past several weeks now, we’ve been looking at Samson.

And of all the unlikely heroes that we’ve looked at, I think Samson started with the most potential – and has so far proven to be the most disappointing. Instead of being the leader that he could have been, Samson has shown himself to be selfish and arrogant. And as a result, he’s destroyed his marriage, his foolishness has cost the life of his wife and her family, and his own countrymen (the ones that he was suppose to rescue) don’t want to have anything to do with him.

And yet, despite Samson’s flawed character, God has still used him to begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines – just has He promised even before Samson was born. And while Samson certainly hasn’t pushed the Philistines out of Israelite territory, he has dealt them some serious blows. To this point in our story, he has severely crippled their economy by burning down all their crops, their vineyards, and their olive groves. As well, he has personally wiped out huge groups of Philistine soldiers.

So Samson is certainly public enemy #1 for the Philistines – but they can’t touch him. He’s got this incredible God-given strength and after their last attempt to capture Samson (which ended with Samson killing 1000 of them) no one dares to attack him. And so that kinda sets the stage for our final chapter today.

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