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Dear Christian friends,
We don’t see our grandkids enough. We haven’t seen our latest edition, Eliana, since she was about three weeks old. At three weeks, babies eat, sleep and fill their diapers. When they are done with that, they start over again.
A couple of days ago, Ben took a photo of Eliana and her older sister, Noelle. Eliana is sitting in Noelle’s lap. She is smiling. Her eyes are wide open. She is growing.
If you are a parent of a child and are with that child every day, you probably don’t notice the child growing. Grandparents who see the child only occasionally see the big changes that take place over a few weeks or a couple of months. If the child doesn’t grow something is wrong. Something needs to change.
God says the same thing about a Christian. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children.” As Christians we need to take a more serious look at life and the challenges and temptations life presents. Life is not playtime anymore. In Hebrews the writer says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Babies live on mother’s milk; adults don’t. The Scripture exhorts us to grow in the knowledge of God’s grace. In other words we need to grow up and be able to discern; we need to put on our big boy or big girl pants.
So it was with Abraham. As we follow his life lessons were learned reminding us all about the need to “Mature in the Lord.” 1) Look at your past and learn from it; 2) Understand your need to grow; 3) Listen to the promises the Lord gives you.
After Abraham had gone to war against the King Kederlaomer, king of Elam to free his nephew Lot, the Lord reminded Abraham to take note of what he had done. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” The Lord gave Abraham a revelation and reminded him what he had done and would continue to do.
Our Synod’s seminary professors used to say that when students were sent out into their vicar year (the year spent in a congregation working under a mentor pastor) “they go out boys and came back men.” They grow up from what they learn and experience. There are days or periods in life when a person grows up.
I wasn’t in the military, but I have seen and talked to men and women who served and came back different people, more mature people. God wanted to remind Abraham that was true for him. He was Abraham’s shield and reward and promised to continue to be that.
I saw an episode of “60 Minutes” a few months ago that explained the “Iron Dome” that the Israeli government has deployed over its country. Israelis showered with small and medium sized rockets from her enemies which attempt to damage her cities and kill and maim her citizenry. The Iron Dome is a mobile all-weather air defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 4 to 70 kilometers. It is quite effective.
But there is no shield like THE SHIELD – our God. Abraham experienced that in a very literal way. The Lord protected him against the forces of Kederlaomer. Abraham didn’t have anyWest Pointgrads or combat ready Marines, but only members of his own household to go to battle against an army that had conquered land and kingdoms from 1000 miles away. The Lord, his shield, didn’t want Abraham to forget it.
Don’t forget how the Lord has been your shield. God only knows the dangers and tragedies that have been turned away from you. He promised to do so. How? “No harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Some may quickly object. What do you mean “no disaster will come near your tent?” Lots of godly people die or have dying children, deadly diseases and cruddy circumstances. But our God promises, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him… For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”
We are at war with our spiritual enemies who want us to despair in our sin. Yet the promises of God from his Word are so much more powerful than the doubts that the demonic forces want the world to have. Our God has been our shield and he is still in place.
“I am your shield, your very great reward.” Remember when Abraham came back from war, he was greeted by Melchizedek, the King of Salem and the Priest of the Most High God. That was such a joyous experience. But he was also greeted by the King of Sodom who said he wanted to make an exchange - all the people that Abraham freed while Abraham could keep all the food, the goods, the cash Kederlaomer had taken. Abraham refused. He had made a vow that he would depend on the Lord for all… and not a heathen king. The Lord was Abraham’s reward!
The Lord fills our every need, especially the most important. In every human soul, there is a longing, a thirst that cannot be quenched with anything this world offers. That thirst goes way beyond having all the fun things like clubbing, or recreation, or fame or fortune. In fact, that thirst every human has even goes beyond the more noble pursuits in life like education, the arts, or even charity.
The prodigal son went to a far country and tried everything that money could buy. He eventually found himself with the pigs. How about the woman that Jesus met at the well? She met a man who knew everything she ever did. What happened? She realized she needed a kind of water that came not from the well, but from the lips of Jesus. The prodigal son and the woman learned to know that they needed to hear the words of forgiveness. They needed to know that in spite of what they had done they would be welcomed into the Father’s house.
We need to know that we have been forgiven for the sins of our past but also our present and our future. We need to know that while we don’t deserve a reward, he gives us a reward, a reward of grace. When we do, that’s maturation.
Maturing is never ending. There are certain animals that grow until the day they die, in fact animals like lizards and iguanas and many others. Creationists like we are have wondered if that might be the explanation for dinosaurs. Before the Flood man lived much longer time periods; perhaps animals did too. If those animals kept growing, many of those lizard-like creatures may have been the dinosaurs whose bones are dug up now and then.
That’s a segue to the second point of our sermon. From cradle to grave we need to keep growing in the Lord. Abraham demonstrates that.
Abraham recognized the Lord was indeed his shield and reward, yet there was something more he was missing. He didn’t forget the promise God had given him. “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Abraham never forgot the promise the Lord had made to him, “I will make you into a great nation… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
If he was going to be a great nation, how was that going to happen? Sarah and he were childless. Abraham was well past 75 years old; Sarah was ten years younger but well past child bearing age. So Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands. They had a servant who had connections with the city ofDamascus. His name was Eliezer. They decided to put him in the will. They thought that they would help out the Lord and his promise.
I have wondered in the past how taking matters into their own hands squared with a passage in Romans where the apostle Paul wrote, “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” What I am saying is that Abraham and Sarah made the assumption that all of this would be worked out by adoption. Eliezer their adopted son would be the link to that great nation. Yet that’s not fair for me to say that. Bottom line is that Abraham didn’t doubt the promise God had given, he just thought the Lord had a different way of doing it.
Was Abraham impatient? Yet, it seemed to be humanly reasonable. I go to three elderly care places. Lots of elderly women are there. It is interesting that even the ones with dementia understand that women their age can’t have babies. I have been using Abraham in my devotions with them. A couple of weeks ago when I told them Sarah had a baby at the age they were, I thought we would need to call an ambulance for some of them. So Abraham and Sarah acted instead of waiting on the Lord. That certainly is a malady of sinful human beings – we act instead of consulting the Lord. I never discourage anyone from praying. Yet I believe that sometimes we use prayer as a cop out for our own laziness or unwillingness to take the time and effort to get answers from the Bible.
A teen wants a car; adults want to buy a home. The Lord doesn’t give a specific Bible passage in which it says ‘yes’ or no,’ but there are a lot of things the Bible would direct you to do and think about. Will it get in the way of my relationship with the Lord and those whom I love? Is it good stewardship of my time, talent and treasure? What are my motives? Is it possible that we overestimated our wisdom and abilities to make a good and godly decision and underestimate the wisdom of God to have all things figured out? Maturing means slowing down and including the Lord. That continues an entire lifetime.
Maturing in the Lord means trusting the promises God gives. Regarding the offspring our Lord clarifies the promise. “Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” Abraham, you son will have your DNA, your genes. Your chromosomes will determine HIS gender. God gave him a visual aid. “He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Your family will be like the stars in the sky. In fact, there will be a special star who would come out of his grandson Jacob. Your nursery is empty now but it’s going to change. In fact his, son would connect him to THE DESCENDANT that would save all.
The last verse is so important. The apostle Paul quotes it twice in the two letters that he wrote – “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed that not only that he would have a son but that the son was a link to his own personal salvation. The son he would have was a link to the Descendant who would provide the righteousness that Abraham and the billions born to this world need. God saves sinners not by transforming people to be sinless but by declaring us to be so through a perfect substitute, the descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ. He did what the billions, including you and me, couldn’t do. Believe what Jesus had done for you; he has provided the holiness you lack – that we all lack.
I am sure that more than once in your life you felt like you could never be forgiven. How wonderful it is to know, our forgiveness doesn’t depend on how we feel, but on the sure and certain promise that Jesus’ perfect life is the one that really counts. We have access to that perfect life as our own through faith. To embrace Jesus, is the heart and core of Christian maturity.