Sermon Series: Living Biblically, Part I ~ You Want Me To Do What? ~ April 8, 2018 ~ Genesis 17:1-8
So we’ve got this show, “Living Biblically,” and the plot revolves around this film reviewer by the name of Chip Curry.
And Chip is shocked, or shaken a little bit, when a good friend of his, a best friend, who is his same age (and he’s probably in his forties) suddenly dies. So he’s facing these eternal questions. What happens next? He’s really depressed, because it’s caught him out of left field. And he’s kind of down in the dumps, and as he’s moping around his apartment trying to process this event, his wife drops another bomb on him, telling him that she’s pregnant. So Chip is dealing with these eternal life questions and dealing with the reality that he’s soon going to be a father. And he figures, OK, it is time to snap out of it. It’s time to get my you-know-what together. But how? Well, one day he finds himself in a bookstore, and he accidentally picks up and purchases a Bible. And he has an inspiration. “I know what I’ll do, both to get over this loss that I have suffered and to prepare for my upcoming role as a dad! I’m going to live by the Bible, word for word.” And the shenanigans that happen after that are where we get the comedy of the show.
So I thought, well first of all you can catch it tonight if you want at 9:30, you can DVR it. It’s not something I would use for a Bible study, it’s not meant to be. But it’s cute, it’s a good show. And it made me wonder: What do you think people would imagine living biblically looks like today? What would we have to do to live biblically? I suppose the first rule of living biblically comes right from the beginning, we get back into the Garden of Eden: When God tells you not to do something, don’t do it. We know that Adam and Eve were told, “Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” They eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After they disobey, sin enters what was a perfect world. Romans 6:23 tells us “The wages of sin is death.” Which means Adam and Eve were originally created by God to live forever. They were supposed to be eternal. But because they thought they knew what was better, that they didn’t need God, they could figure it out on their own, sin enters the world. Death enters the world. Adam and Eve messed it up. Those that follow them didn’t really do any better. In fact it got so bad, and one point God preaches a three word sermon: “It’s gonna rain.” And he tells Noah to build a boat, and eight people get on the boat and all the animals get on the boat, and then God presses control – alt – delete, and all of humanity gets a do-over.
Nine generations after Noah, a young boy is born by the name of Terah, and then he has a son which ends up being Noah’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson. And his name was Abram. Abram was living in the city of Horan. Horan is a city in northern Mesopotamia. It’s location is on the branch of the Euphrates river, and it was a very important commercial center, of which Abram took great advantage, because Abram ran a successful business and ended up being a significantly wealthy man. He had a large herd of animals: goats, sheep, camels. He only had a wife, Sarah, he didn’t have any children, as we mentioned. He did have a nephew, Lot. Lot had a large family. So he had a large herd, he had a large extended family, he had a lot of servants – life was good for Abram. UNTIL, one day, God in chapter 12 of Genesis says to Abram, “Abram, leave your country, your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” Now, with a little bit of study it’s not really that much of a mystery as to why God would want Abram to leave Horan. Horan was famous for its worship of Lunar gods. They were significantly pagan, in fact, the pagan worship in Horan was so deep, so entrenched, that it persisted not only throughout the rest of Old Testament times, throughout all of the New Testament times too. It was not destroyed until the 13th century, the 1200s, by the Mongols. So that was a heavily pagan influenced area. So it makes sense, God telling Abraham, leave this city, this area of idolatry.
You’ve got to figure, Abraham must have said, or at least thought, “Lord, you want me to do what?” I mean, God didn’t tell him where he was going. God didn’t tell him how long it would take to get there. God didn’t tell him at this point what would happen once he got there. I imagine he didn’t necessarily want to leave. I mean, things were going well for Abram. Successful business. I mean, it was no small thing logistically to gather up everything that they had accumulated – take his wife Sarah; his nephew Lot and his extended family; all of their servants; all of their household goods; all of the livestock, the goats, and the sheep, and the camels – and go off and travel around and camp in tents? That was not an easy undertaking. It was not like you taking your family camping. We’re talking about thousands of people and several thousands of herds of animals. And you just want me to take off and go someplace, and you’re not going to tell me where it is? I can understand Abram asking, “You want me to do what?” Now let’s not forget, at this point, Abram is 75 years old. Change is hard, especially when you get older. Nonetheless, Abram goes. Remember the first rule I mentioned of living biblically: When God tells you not to do something, don’t do it? Well the second rule, I guess you could say, would be the reverse, the reverse is true as well: When God tells you to do something, you’d best do it. So even though he did not know where he was going or how long it would take to get there, Abraham goes. Living biblically means we need to do the same. When God tells you to do something, do it. Don’t give it a lot of thought.
Many of you folks know my story, because I’ve shared it before, but ministry was a second career for me. I was going to be a rock and roll drummer, that was my dream. But while I was trying to do that, I was a mailman.
I worked at the Post Office. I started off as a mailman, driving a jeep, delivering mail in Lynn Massachusetts. I transferred to the inside, became a clerk, I worked in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I eventually transferred over to Salisbury, Massachusetts where I ended up being what you would call the Postmaster of that town of Salisbury. It was a good job. I was never going to get wealthy, but it supported my family. I could have raised a family on that, lived on that, and retired on that. This October 2018 would have been my last day of work. I had good health insurance, life insurance, good benefits. When I left, I had six weeks vacation. But God wanted me to do something apparently, and so in 1997 I quit the Post Office, and I headed to Bangor, Maine to attend Bangor Theological Seminary.
Now, I wish I could stand here before you and tell you, “I was such a man of deep faith that God told me to do something, and I just said, ‘Yes, Lord!’ and followed him because I’m just a wicked awesome Christian!” That is so far from the truth. The truth is I argued with him for three years on whether or not I was going to do this thing. And when I finally did decide to do it, I can’t even tell you if I really gave it a lot of thought, because if I really gave it a lot of thought, I wouldn’t have done it! I mean, when I got up in Bangor I had no job, I had no source of income, when my kids got sick and had to go to the doctor or hospital I had no insurance. I had nothing! That was stupid! My father-in-law was not a happy camper! But God took care of me. There are so many things in my life I have done way wrong. This is one I got right (so I like to tell that story a lot). The point is, when God tells you to do something, you do it. You know what, I would say don’t even think about it too much, because if you spend too much time thinking about it, you will end up being too much of the decision. I want less of me in the decision and more of Him in the decision! Now we always end up rationalizing and arguing with ourselves and doing things that make human sense. It doesn’t make human sense to pack up your entire family, all your herd, your nephew’s family, all you own and take off in tents to a destination where you have no idea where you’re going. That makes no human sense whatsoever. So I would say, when God tells you to do something, do it, don’t think too much about it. Just obey.
So the question is, is God asking you to do anything? Is there a small still voice inside of you whispering, “You know, you should really go to church more often.” “You know, you should really spend some time in God’s word.” I mean, I spend hours sitting in front of the television, or in front of the video game console. I should spend a little time. “Maybe I should come to Bible study.” “Maybe you should spend more time in prayer.” “I text 500 times a day to talk to people, I don’t spend a lot of time talking to God.” “Maybe you should put a little something in the offering plate because you’ve been so greatly blessed.”
What is it that is making you think these things? I couldn’t tell you in 1997 what it was that made me step off the cliff. I couldn’t articulate it, I was too immature as a Christian. I can tell you today. I know exactly what it was. That still small voice inside of you – that’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Holy Spirit speaking to you. Now I know there are people who will say, “No it’s not, that’s just guilt! You’re just trying to make me feel guilty!” And I say to that, who says the Holy Spirit can’t use guilt? Where is that rule written anywhere? Guilt is not necessarily a bad thing, I mean you can have toxic guilt or toxic shame and that’s not a good thing, but guilt sometimes keeps us on the straight and narrow. If you feel guilty about something you did that your parents didn’t like or that your mom or dad didn’t like or that you did to your friend, remembering that kind of keeps you from doing it again, doesn’t it? So guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so maybe the Holy Spirit is the one that is saying to us, “You know, I bless you constantly. You have a roof over your head. You have food on your table. You have a family or friends or a church that loves you and encourages you. And you don’t have any time for me? I’ve blessed you with all these things! I’ve given you a living, a job that pays for all the cell phones we own and the car payments that we make! I’ve blessed you financially beyond your wildest dreams, and yet you just pass that offering plate by? You’re not going to put anything in it so I can help others through my church?” Maybe that is the Holy Spirit whispering to us, reminding us, telling us how much God has blessed us. So if we want to live biblically, when God tells us to do something, we’d best do it. No matter how weird – “Quit your job and go to Maine!” – or difficult. You know what else was weird? “Leave your church in Maine and move to Hartford!” That went over about as well with some friends in Maine as it did with my father-in-law when I left to go to Maine! “You can’t go to Hartford, you’re gonna DIE!” No matter how weird or difficult, when God tells you to do something, do it!
Well, in Genesis 17, our reading this morning, God tells a story. When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai – ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.” So, God tells him to move from Horan, and then 24 years later, he says, “Good answer, Abram. Now I’m going to make a covenant with you.” What is a covenant? A covenant is kind of like a promise, but it is much more than a promise. A promise is like, remember back when you were in high school and you finally asked that girl to go steady with you. And you were a junior or senior, and since you already had your class ring, right, you took off your class ring and you gave it to her and it was way too big so she had to wrap all the yarn around the bottom of it so it would fit on her finger. And that was telling the world that you promised one another that you were boyfriend and girlfriend. That’s a promise. And when she got tired of you she gave you her ring back and told you to pack it. A covenant is much more. A covenant is a voluntary binding and solemn agreement which involves mutual responsibilities, Marriage is a covenant. “Mawwiage! That blessed arrangement!” (Gotta love the Princess Bride!)
A covenant is a voluntary binding and solemn agreement which includes mutual responsibilities. “I promise to have and to hold you from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…” A covenant is much more than a promise, and God is making a covenant with Abram. He is promising Abram that he will be the father of a great nation. The chosen people, the Israelites. He’s 99 years old, doesn’t have any kids yet, and he’s told he’s going to be the father of a great nation. In fact, he does something interesting in verse 3. At this, Abram fell face down on the ground. Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. You will now be known as Steve… no. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants, which means he’s going to have children, will become many nations, and kings will be among them!” So, Abram, which means “exalted father” now turns into Abraham, which means “father of many.”Now, again, we find this a little bit strange, because Abraham is 99 years old and he and Sarah don’t have any children. But God made a covenant with him, and a covenant is much more than a promise. In fact, he says in verse 7: “I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” So, this covenant has to do with his offspring, with his children, with his descendants. And it is eternal. “I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Then in verse 8 he says something which I find, when I first read it, a little confusing: “And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” Let me read that again:“And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live, to you.” He’s already there! Isn’t that kind of weird, giving Abraham land that he already lives in? That’s strange!
Well, not necessarily. See, Canaan is the promised land, it is promised to Abraham by God, but it was not empty. The Parazytes lived there, Jebusites lived there, the Canites lived there, the Canaanites all lived there. So Abraham is probably saying now, “Wait a minute. Lord, you want me to do what? You want me to go to war? You want me to forcibly take this land that you’ve already promised to me?” Yes.
What does that tell us? Another rule for living biblically: God is not Santa Claus. We don’t just say our prayers and then the next morning we find everything we need under the tree.
Sometimes we are going to have to work for our blessings. Sometimes it’s not going to come easy. Sometimes we’re going to have to do physical work. Sometimes we’re going to have to do intellectual work, get an education. Sometimes we’re going to have to do spiritual work. Sometimes we’re going to have to do some version of all three. But God is big on work. Remember, he only rested one day out of seven, and the Bible is clear. Proverbs 10, verse 4: Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich. 2 Thessalonians 3, verse 10: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” So, God may have a beard, but he is not Santa Claus.
So another rule for living biblically, Paul puts it this way: Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. How can you correctly explain the word of truth? You need to work hard at learning the word of truth. So God is telling us, anything worth having is worth working for. Is a relationship with God worth having? See, God’s blessings are often in the work itself, not just the results. There are too many people who want to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and they think that that’s going to be the most amazing thing. And what they don’t realize is that the journey to get to that point, what happens in between, that’s the blessing. Often times that’s where God will reveal to you his blessings, in between point A and point B. God is all about work, working hard to be a better person, to be a better Christian, to be a better husband, a better father, a better mother, a better son, a better daughter. Work hard.
Now, for Abraham, this relationship with God is about to get really interesting. In verse 9, God decides he’s going to mark the covenant. God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.”
I say for a third time, Abraham says to the Lord, “You want me to do what?!” Remember, Abraham is 99 years old. “You want me to take a knife and you want me to do what?” Now, the word circumcise literally means “to cut around.” Now, here, we just read, it refers to the surgical removal of the foreskin of a male. Why circumcision? How about like a pinky swear? Or a high five? I’m all over that, Lord, but you want me to do what? Thank God I got done when I was an infant, just in a hospital! Can you imagine, 99 years old?
But I have a theory as to why, why God chose circumcision. Remember verse 6, it says: I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! So, God’s covenant is connected to being fruitful, it’s connected to procreation. So why not have the mark of the covenant be directly connected to that which is responsible for procreation? Makes sense to me! But there’s another reason, I thought. When God makes a covenant, it’s permanent. Eternal. I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. It can’t be undone. A covenant from God to you can’t be undone. Just like circumcision, can’t be undone. I know there are lots of surgeries that we can have that if we don’t like the results we can go back and have them undone. I don’t know any guys lining up wanting to have their circumcision reversed. It’s permanent.
So the last rule for living biblically for today: It is permanent. Living biblically is not something we just do on Sundays. Lord, you want me to do what? You want me to live every day like it’s Christmas or Easter? Yes! What would it be like if we welcomed every single day like it was Christmas or Easter morning? You know what it feels like on Christmas and Easter, right? I don’t know what it is, but for some reason around Christmas time, everybody’s more happy! Right? People stop at the four way traffic light, “You can come through.” “Let me get that for you.” Everybody’s pleasant, everybody’s joyful, not everybody but more people are joyful and pleasant and just nice. On Easter morning, it’s like when you get up on Easter morning, I don’t know it’s just different. You just say good morning to everybody and you wave and you say hello! Imagine if it was like that every single day. Lord, you want me to do what? You want me to act like, live like everyday is Christmas and Easter morning? Yes he does. Yes he does.
See, it’s not that difficult, some rules for living biblically. I mean the rules for living biblically we’ve covered this morning: When God tells you to do something, do it. Don’t think too much about it. Work hard at being a better Christian so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Live every single day as if it were Christmas and Easter morning. That’s not too bad so far, right? We can handle that! Amen? Yeah!
Well, we went over some “do’s” this week when it comes to rules for living biblically. Next week, we’re going to look at some “don’ts!” So I invite you to come back for the second message in my sermon series Living Biblically for next week’s sermon, called “Sex, Lies, and Lobster!” You gotta come back to find out! And if you feel strongly about it, bring your pastor some lobster!