Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Abraham & Sarah: Part 4

When we last sat in with Abraham and Sarah, they were striving to bring about the blessings of God through their own creativity and labor. They offered up Ishmael to God to be the fulfillment of God's promise of offspring. God wasn't impressed with their efforts and promised that a son from barren Sarah would fulfill the promise. So in the midst of tremendous acts of faith, and striking wavers, the overpowering grace of God was at work. What kind of life was created by God's gracious dealings? That's what I want to consider now.

In Genesis 18, God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. He promised Sarah that she would have a son. Sarah laughed at the thought of that. She had to be rebuked by God for her doubting. Abraham laughed at the promise of God in Genesis 17, and Sarah in Genesis 18. This lapse in faith, and the rebuke of God that results may seem like a crippling blow to Abraham's and Sarah's stability. How guilty must one feel after being directly rebuked by God? Let me read between the lines a little.

Surely we all know people who could be mighty servants of God if they could just overcome the constant guilt they have for not measuring up. Maybe we've heard people speak of not being able to forgive themselves. This may sound incredibly noble and martyr-like. "I'm so wicked. I'm not like other Christians. I just can't forgive myself for being this bad. I'm useless." Actually, those thoughts aren't noble; they're incredibly selfish and unhealthy. Love can't flow through such thoughts. And where the modern psychological movement may seek to enhance the self-esteem of such people, the Bible is far simpler.

Trust God. Stop thinking so highly of ourselves. In the words of Martin Luther, "You too are a mighty sinner." Accept that fact as a starting point. We should never be surprised by our sin. We hate it. But we're not surprised by it. There is no manner of depravity that we are not capable of if we un-guard ourselves. Knowing this forces us to look to the only One in the universe who can overcome our sinfulness, namely God. It's amazing. In the midst of our wavering faith, the only place we can go for comfort is to the God we lack faith in. This coming to God for the power to overcome our lack of faith is actually faith! We cannot overcome the guilt that flows from falling short. Guilt that isn't dealt with through the gospel continues to turn in on itself, effectively cutting off the ability to love. So we must turn to God, and accept his forgiveness, even when it is God we want to hide from. When we have faith in God like this, something beautiful happens - it overflows.

That's what happened with Abraham in Genesis 18. One minute Abraham and Sarah were being rebuked for lacking faith. The next minute Abraham is putting his life on the line out of concern for strangers. The Lord decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God let Abraham in on this plan since, "Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him" (18:18). Abraham was destined to be a blessing to all people. God knew Abraham's sin. But God also knew his plans for Abraham. So prior to God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, he and Abraham had a talk.

"Then Abraham drew near and said, 'Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?' (18:23). Notice that Abraham drew near to God. Abraham was still licking his wounds from God's rebuke. Yet, he drew near to God. Oh, that we would be so dependent. The child got a spanking, and crawled up on Daddy's lap. What's more, he moved on from his spanking to concern for the plight of others. He didn't wallow around in self-pity.

Where are the Abraham's today? Where are the ones who are absolutely realistic about their sinfulness? Where are the ones who don't pretend to have it all together? Where are the ones who just love others while not having it all together? Abraham and Sarah did not have an easy life. They were put in tremendously stressful conditions by God. Sometimes they passed their tests, and sometimes they failed. They never let their failures take their eyes off of God's gracious calling over their lives.

Abraham argued with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah for some time. We can tell by the timid tone of voice and careful choice of words that Abraham knew he was treading on thin ice by being so bold an intercessor. Here was Abraham, blessed by God to be a blessing to strangers. This is where we are as Christians today. We can learn a couple things from Abraham and Sarah in this part of their lives.

First, a relationship with God is always going to be one of debt. John Piper explained it well when he said (I'll paraphrase), "Every day you become more a debtor to grace. Are you content to be that, to live that way?" We won't outgrow grace. God is always our Benefactor. We never grow to the point where we're peers. Knowing that can free us from the guilt of not measuring up. It can free us to stop thinking about ourselves all the time.

Second, a relationship with God is going to lead to loving others. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others. It is a real slap in God's face for Christians to wallow around in self-pity as though the universe revolved around them. I fear we have taken on the self-centeredness of our culture in this way. We think the gospel is a self-help program instead of a world-conquering sword. So we internalize everything. Rather than being a blessing to others, the blessing stops with us. We can't let that happen. Will we put our wellbeing on the line for the sake of strangers? That's what Abraham did. Will we give up comfort or security out of concern for those around us?

If we want our marriage to be missional, we have to accept God's grace - by faith. Then we have to extend that grace to others - through love. And anything that stands in the way of those two things must be violently opposed - if we are, in fact, sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah.

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