THE BLESSING OF TESTING
Dear Christian friends,
The Atlanta Public School System is going through an embarrassing time. Reporters investigated the scores from the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. They are standardized tests to gauge progress or lack of progress of students in areas of curriculum. Reporters found that many administrators and teachers were caught changing answers to make scores look better than they really were. Some reports state that the improvement in certain schools was so significant that the odds that it could actually happen were a million to one. Lots of people have a lot of egg on their faces. They should be ashamed of themselves. Many, rightfully so, will be facing severe penalties.
When I teach your children I give tests to benefit three people. I test your children for me. I want to gauge myself. Am I teaching clearly and succinctly? Are there certain areas of Christian teaching more difficult than others for young people to understand? Children can get bored and distracted easily? What am I doing to prevent that? Testing is a gauge for teachers.
Testing is for parents. Parents need to be interested and know what’s going on in their children’s education. They need to see if progress is being made. Tests do that so if help is needed it is sought. My personal opinion this is where the problem with our country lies – too many absent parents or uncaring parents.
Testing is for children. How else is growth measured? How else do we understand that children understand or not understand? Even preparation for tests stimulates knowledge. Children need to see that testing is good for them.
Our Heavenly Father knows testing and challenging our faith is good for us too. That’s what we are going to study today – “The Blessing of Testing.” 1) God’s tests are tough; 2) God’s tests toughen.
God does test us and our faith, but he doesn’t float a six page multiple choice/true and false test from the heavens that he wants us to fill out in no. 5 lead. His tests come from experiences he allows us to have. They can be tough – like Abraham experienced!
Something should be said about that. Job, who was really tested by God, once said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” He sends us good but he also sends us trouble. God allows all things to happen to us. If he didn’t do so, they wouldn’t happen. Jesus once said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father. Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.” With some, that numbering is very easy for the Lord.
But there is a difference between what God did to Abraham and when a person armed with all kinds of guns and ammo walks into a school or theater and starts shooting. God didn’t make the armed person pull the trigger inAuroraor Columbine orNewtown. They did those things from the evil core and nature they have – we all have. With Abraham, the Lord made that happen. He gave the order to Abraham.
Abraham and Sarah had waited so many years for their son. He was no longer a toddler. He was probably in his teens. Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Lord, did I hear that right? My hearing must be going! Why, I thought you said that you wanted me to offer my son as a sacrifice to you. There must be some communication problem here. I get it, you are just kidding.
No, Abraham you heard that correctly. Obey me! Sacrifice that son, for whom you waited so long, that son whom you so love. Give him to me as an offering on the altar of sacrifice.
Whoa! Wait a minute, Lord! Do you know what you are saying? For those outside the Christian family this sounds totally barbaric! Why would they even want to follow you? Lord, even for those inside the Christian family, this is so confusing and incomprehensible.
Many people complain that God who reveals himself in the Old Testament seems to do so differently than he does in the New Testament. In the Old Testament he seems so bloody at times. We hear how God toldIsraelunder Moses to slaughter whole nations and destroy all they had, men women and children. We ask, why? Yet, the wrath of God shows all its teeth when we investigate how amoral these nations were. Their religion was sick and so foul. They considered it to be worship when viewing it would have been rated “X” in a theater. There were temple prostitutes - both men and women. They even sacrificed children. Yet that’s the irony here. He destroyed nations for sacrificing children and yet wanted Abraham to do that very thing for which he condemned nations. How do we understand the tests that God gives people?
There are a couple of things to really take note of. The first is this: “Who has known the mind of God? Who can act as his Counselor?” Reread the book of Job when Job and his friends questioned and even accused God of doing wrong and not knowing what he was doing. When we think like that, zip the lip and show respect to the one who deserves our utmost respect. The psalmist says, “(The LORD) determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” Be glad we have a God that we can’t always figure out? Isn’t that the way it ought to be? Supposedly our smartest men and women are in Washington. They don’t even know how to budget and get along. Frankly, are you any smarter? Our God’s “understanding has no limit.”
Second point is that God’s tests are tough, some extremely tough. While unusual by any standard, God told Abraham to give up his son. Don’t always expect God to soft toss of a nerfball our way to catch. Sometimes the test is a ninety five mile an hour fastball right under the chin or even onto our shin.
Some of you know what Abraham felt. You were asked to give up your sons. Judy and I have had the phone call that nobody wants to get. If we went around this room most have a story about the fastball under the chin. They come in all kinds of ways – medical, relational, professional, financial, emotional, life and death. God’s tests are tough.
But they are sent to toughen and strengthen. Imagine what Abraham endured. “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” For three days they were on the road to the place where God would lead them. Where do you think that Abraham’s mind was for those three days? Even if he were living today, do you think he would be texting or messing with his I-phone or chilling with his I-pod? Don’t you think he would have been in constant conversation with his Lord rather than checking his Facebook page all the time? Don’t you think that constant conversation to be good?
I sent out an email about a man fromFloridawho road in a bicycle rally last Sunday inNorth Georgia. He was on 129 right byBloodMountainwhere theAppalachian Trailcrosses the road. He was going 32 mph down the road when his brakes locked and he was thrown onto the pavement. He thought he broke his back. He was rushed to the nearest hospital in Blairsville which is not right down the road. He had a lot to think about. Twelve broken vertebrae, seven broken ribs and a broken finger! He had lot of time to think. He had a lot of time to pray. His pastor informed me and asked if I would go and see him. He was not bitter or angry, but humbled by God’s mercy and love.
Why does it work that way? Remember we don’t know the mind of God, but we ought to know our minds. We get to be some real knotheads. The high hard one is often the only one that gets our attention. He is willing to prove to us how desperately we need him.
Think about it. It is so nice to know that we have a God who loves us so much that he won’t let us step away from him or allow us to put him on the lower half of our priority list.
Isaac was certainly loved by his parents. They had waited so long. It was so miraculous. Maybe God tested Abraham to choose between the Lord and his son. Maybe Abraham needed to be put to the test to see who was really his God. Maybe that is the question we need to be asking ourselves too when tested. Are we going to shake our fist at him….or submit to him? By the way, does shaking your fist at good really something that works?
When we look at the rest of the story, we see a very impressive reminder. Abraham took his only son, Isaac and was willing to sacrifice him as an offering to the Lord. It is amazing picture don’t you think. Three days to the completion of what God wanted to do with Abraham. Three days in the grave to the completion of what God wanted to do for a world that needed the blessing. Isaac, Abraham’s son carried the wood to where the sacrifice would be made; Jesus carried the cross to the place calledCalvarywhere the sacrifice was completed. Abraham was willing to go the ultimate to follow God; The Father was willing to offer his Son in death for payment of all sin. A substitute ram was provided for Isaac; a sacrifice of the Lamb of God was provided for us.
It is a good practice for bosses not to expect subordinates to do anything that they wouldn’t do themselves. If you want an employee to clean the toilet, then you should be willing to do the same. If you want the employee to make the coffee, then make the coffee for him or her also. Our Father in heaven was willing to offer his Son for Abraham and for you and me. I wonder what went through the mind of the Father, when Jesus cried out, My God, My God why have you forsaken me? But you know what? The Father in heaven was willing to offer his Son as a vicarious sacrifice for all the times we did shake our fists at him, for all the times we questioned his wisdom, for all the times we thought we knew better than the almighty God himself. Lord, give us the faith to believe that your testing is a blessing we need and we need to value.