from sermon series
“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
Sometimes life just doesn’t seem to make sense. Some of the things happening in the world around us do not seem to make sense. Why do we so often judge people good by their physical appearance alone, even when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary? Why are plain, or even unhandsome, people that are good often ignored in politics? Why do pleasant-looking TV, movie, and sports ‘stars’ attract so much adoring attention, even if their personal lives lack reason for praise? Why are most of our presidents tall? Are we incapable of looking past stature when it comes to electing men worthy of leading our nation? Do Americans have the ‘Saul’ complex to the point where our judgment is clouded by appearance and charisma? Why is this so? Why do we keep trying the same old solutions that have not worked in the past over and over and over again? If it did not work before, why is it going to work now?Why do we always want more when we cannot even use or store the things we have now? Why does it become so hard to just say “no”? To just do the right thing?
If men and women were designed to live together, why did God make them so different? We have many differences and yet we are surprised when we have a hard time getting along. We disagree. Sometimes it seems like God does not make sense. Why did He put that tree in the garden when He knew we were going to disobey Him? Why does He seem silent when we most need Him? And why does he allow people to be so cruel? Allow Satan to tempt us or allow death to take the ones we love? We often strain to understand why God is allowing these things to happen. What do you say, what do you think, and what do you do when God does not make sense?
Scripture is a record of God’s organized and specific interaction with purposely-selected people. Scripture is God’s special and written revelation to humankind to teach them who He is, what He wants, and how He operates. Without this special revelation, debate and discussion would never be able to definitively verify many of the things taught in Scripture. Not only would there be endless disagreement and discussion, as there is in intellectual circles that have rejected Scriptural teaching, but the sinful nature of humans would tend to enshrine falsehood and sensuality. Those who stumble onto the truth would get their opinions diminished to the point of being just one of many opinions, or lost altogether. Many of these people asked some of the same questions that trouble us today. And Scripture records what happened. We can learn from them. Scripture probably has no better example of an individual who faced uncertainty than Abraham. He is a man who is called a pillar of faith by those who read his story. But this was not always true. Abraham faced uncertainty and did not always respond with pure and complete faith. But when his story finally ended he became a father of nations, especially God’s specially-chosen nation, Israel.
Genesis 12:1 states, “And the Lord said to Abraham, Go from your country and from your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great.” Verse 4 records Abraham’s response–he went. I don’t think it was quite that simple. I don’t think it was quite that cut and dried. The Iraqi desert is a harsh place and that is the area through which Abraham and his family had to walk. It would have been very easy and very smart for Abraham just to ignore the voice and finish his life with the friends, the people he knew, where it was comfortable and safe.
When God said to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation,” Abraham was 75 years old and Sarah was 65 and barren. But God says to them, “I’m going to make your name great. You’re going to be the father of a nation.” Well, for ten years it did not happen. In Genesis 15:3, Abraham confronts God by saying, “You have given me no children.” You can almost hear the frustration in Abraham’s voice, “Lord, you have given me no children!” And how does God respond. Does the sovereign Lord of the universe point His finger at Abraham and say, “You insufferable wretch, how dare you question Me!” No! He takes Abraham outside and tells him to look upward and says (15:5), “Look up at the heavens and count the stars if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” He essentially tells Abraham that it is not yet time but that if he would continue to believe the fulfillment would surely come. But Scripture records a tragic event. Abraham and Sarah did not wait for God’s fulfillment to His promise. They decided to fulfill God’s promise themselves. They altered God’s best plan with their own human reasoning. Notice, they were not opposed to God’s plan, as Satan might be, they wanted its fulfillment, but they tried to fulfill it with their own human strength, their own human effort. Ishmael was born. He became the progenitor of the Arab nations who would later become the sworn enemies of that very nation that God called Abraham to start. Ironic, isn’t it? By his faithlessness, Abraham cursed the very people he was called to be the father of.
Fifteen years after the birth of Ishmael, when Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Lord God Almighty. Walk before me and be blameless. I’ll confirm my covenant between me and you and I will greatly increase your numbers” (17:1-2). Within a year, Isaac is born. Twenty-five to twenty-six years after He first made His promise to Abraham, God fulfills it. He fulfills it despite Abraham’s advanced age and Sarah’s barrenness. If only Abraham and Sarah had waited, there would be no conflict with the present-day Islamic nations that support terrorism, nations inhabited by descendants of Ishmael.
Abraham’s faith was not perfect. He stumbled at the birth of Ishmael. But God was not done with him, yet. When Isaac was 10-15 years old, God told Abraham to do something that was strange. Genesis 22:2 says, “And God said take your son, your only son by my promise, Isaac whom you love and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” What, a human sacrifice? That is what the unholy, dark religions of the world do! I am sure Abraham had a similar reaction.
Does anyone think that Abraham did not think about this? Hebrews 11:17-19 gives evidence that he thought hard about this. “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, though God has promised him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.’ Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.” Wow, what faith! After thinking long and hard about this, Abraham decided to do what God wanted him to do, even if he did not understand it, completely. Abraham knew that his God could raise the dead, if necessary!
Scripture records (22:3) that the next morning Abraham set out to obey God’s command. “The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son Isaac. Then he chopped wood to build a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place where God had told him to go.” Abraham did not linger in this journey like he had in his previous journey out of Ur. Abraham’s faith had grown. It had grown to the point where he believed in what he had not yet seen, the resurrection from the dead! As the story unfolds, we see that God does provide a substitute sacrifice. Isaac, in a sense, was spared dead by the death of another.
Why does God work in such mysterious and strange ways? Listen. Listen close. Because He wants to show us that He exists and He is active in our world. If God had given Abraham and Sarah a baby when he was 35 and she was 25, we would say, “Well, so what, that happens all the time.” But God has something special planned. “This is going to stand out. I want you and the world to know that I didn’t just wind this place up and let it go. I am intricately and intimately involved.” That is Abraham’s message for us. When God does not make sense, you need to recognize that He is on the move, He is doing something. He is involved. When God does not make sense, He is growing you. When God does not make sense, He is making saints. That is what He did for Abraham and that is what He wants to do for us.
Did you know that until Abraham was 75 years old, he lived in the middle of the Chaldean civilization and worshipped idols? He bowed down to stone and wood idols. He burned incense and gave sacrifice to them. But then God said, “You need to get out of this place. I need to change your environment, so I can change your character. I’ve got a long-term plan and it doesn’t involve the Tigris-Euphrates valley. It is going to be over there by the Mediterranean. It is going to be in a little land called Israel. And my long-term plan is still going to be in effect 5,000 years from now and you will start it all. My long-term plan is going to go all the way to the end of this age. Abraham, I have the next step for you, get up and leave.” Abraham is called a man of faith because he trusted God when God did not seem to make sense. He trusted imperfectly at first but God kept working with him and turned him into the great patriarch we know today—Abraham, father of many nations, father of those who walk by faith!
It is easy to wait when everything is wonderful. You do not grow faith without fear, without facing down all the what-ifs that come into your life. You do not grow self-control without temptation. There is a world of difference between innocence and integrity. Innocence is when one’s personal purity rests in never having faced anything that challenges its existence. Integrity is when one’s personal purity is chosen despite temptations to do otherwise. You do not grow grace without frustration. You do not grow trust without risk. When God does not make sense, He is making saints!
How will you respond when you feel God is not making sense? What will you think, what will you say, what will you do? Remember being three years old and wearing diapers. You had a problem but you grew beyond that problem. Riding a bike was a problem; swimming was a problem. And once we learned, once we got through it, it was never a problem again. God will enable you to grow through the things you think you cannot. The things you fear the most. When the world is unfair to you, God is still there. He knows you do not like it. You shouldn’t. There is much to dislike in this sin cursed world. But God asks, “How are you going to respond?” Let God grow you in the real laboratory of life. To do so, He may have to upset a few things. He told Abraham he had to move out of his comfort zone. He had to get him off balance so he could reassess his own life and break the routine and rebuild character. When you wonder what on earth is God doing, He is getting intricately involved in your life. Watch, respond, and grow with it. Had Abraham remained in Haran, he would have been just another insignificant figure in human history. But through God he built a legacy that impacted all of human history. Let us not forget, that unless God remembers something and values it, it will ultimately be worthless. It will ultimately be destroyed and forgotten.
Listen to this story about Jerry. Jerry is a fellow in his mid 30’s. Jerry and his wife sat in church week after week, year after year. Being a good church going person, trying to do the right thing, trying to grow as God wanted him to. Bringing his kids to church, doing all the right things. And then one Sunday morning the church brought in a Chinese national who came to share what God is doing in China, how God is opening up the government, opening up avenues for people to go and share their faith. And God started tugging on Jerry’s heart. He looked at his wife and saw that God was tugging on her heart, too. They prayed about it and they sensed that God was calling them to China. Jerry called the Chinese national and asked him whom he needed to contact to find out more information about missionary service in China. The Chinese national put him in contact with a man named Gordon, the head of a small mission group that has taken people to China. Like Abraham’s experience with God, Jerry’s experience with Gordon was strange. Over the phone Gordon said to Jerry, “Well, I would like to meet with you, that’s what we’re all about, but I’ve got a real busy schedule and if you want to meet with me, see me tomorrow morning; I’ve got an opening at 3:00.” Jerry said, “You said 3:00.” Gordon answered, “Yea, meet me at my office downtown in the middle of town at 3:00 am.” Jerry agrees. He set his alarm clock for 1:30 am, gets up, showers, gets in the car, and makes the hour drive through the empty roads and finally pulls into the parking lot of this little mission group. The parking lot is empty. The building is completely dark. He gets out of the car, walks up, and finds the door locked. He knocked on the door, banged on the door, I mean. There is no answer. He goes back to his car and prays a little bit, reads a little bit, sleeps a little bit. Five hours later, at 8:45 am, a receptionist pulled up in the parking lot and unlocked the door. Jerry looked up and saw her. “Great, at least somebody’s here.” He walked up to her and introduced himself. At 9:15 am, Gordon opened the door and walked through. The receptionist said, “This man has been waiting for you for a little while.” “I’ll be with him in just a few minutes,” Gordon said. About half an hour later, he beeps the receptionist and says, “Send that fellow in.” Gordon greeted him at the door and shakes his hand. No explanation is given about the long wait, no acknowledgment, he simply tells Jerry to sit down. Jerry pulls out his resume. He hands Gordon the resume and Gordon just kind of takes a look at it and plops it on his desk. Jerry is a bit mystified. Gordon speaks first. “Jerry, I’ve got three questions for you. They’re going to test you in a number of areas. Number one, what is one plus one plus one?” Jerry thought about this for a second. He’s not sure if it’s a trick question or what’s going on and he says, “three.” “That’s right,” Gordon answered. “Jerry, now the next one’s a little bit harder and testing a different skill, how do you spell China?” With a perplexed look on his face, Jerry says “C-h-i-n-a.” “Great ok,” says Gordon. Then Gordon said, “Jerry, last question, Who died for your sins?” Jerry said, “Jesus.” Gordon responded, “Thank you very much, we’ll be in touch.” Jerry just kind of stands there, perplexed, he doesn’t know what to say. Then Gordon speaks, “Well, we’ll be in touch. I’ll talk to the committee and we’ll let you know what’s going on.” Jerry turns and walks out, gets in his car, and drives home. Jerry meets his wife at the door and she anxiously says, “What did he say, what did he say, what did he do?” Jerry shook his head and said, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” Ten minutes later a car pulled up in the driveway. It’s Gordon. Gordon marched up to the door and rang the doorbell. Jerry opened the door. “Jerry, welcome aboard. I told the committee all about you and they voted unanimously that they want you to go with us to China.” Dumbfounded, Jerry replies, “You told them all about me? You don’t know anything about me. All you know about me is that I can spell, I can add, and I know Jesus.” Gordon smiled and said, “No, I told them you’ve got a passion for Jesus that puts your love and obedience to him ahead of all personal comforts. I told them you have a persistence, a patience to get through whatever comes your way unexpectedly. I told them you have enough self-control not to get angry when people are rude to you and neglectful of you. I told them you’re humble and will answer the stupidest questions. And I told them you trust God to work through people you’ve never even met, who can control your destiny. You’re just the kind of man, you’re just the kind of family that I want, that we need.”
Jerry went to China. Abraham went to the land promised to him for an inheritance. Both faced strange circumstances. And both were judged worthy by there faithful response. God does require that we as Christians should live good and virtuous lives on a daily basis. But we should never forget that when God does not make sense, when there seems to be a cloud between Him and us, He is creating not just a virtuous person but a saint. Virtuous people can live their everyday lives well. But it takes a trial-forged saint to follow God into the darkness. To follow Him when it does not seem to make sense!