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Dear friends in Christ and friends of Christ,
Judy and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary this past week. Our celebration consisted of hot dogs and a Bible class on Wednesday. Wednesdays are not good days to have birthdays and anniversaries in our household. But throughout the day, I thought about the thirty six years. That’s a lot of anniversaries. I can’t remember what we did on the 17th anniversary or even the second. It is a good thing husbands are required to remember the day they got married rather than all the different things done on every anniversary. I have it on the inside of my wedding ring. That’s good planning.
I thought about the birth of our three children, the weddings of our children and included a prayer for a third one. I thought about the grandkids. I thought about the great blessings God has given us; I also thought about some of the trials the Lord decided to put us through and saw how they were for our good.
My thoughts turned to some of you, our family in Christ. In particular I thought of those of you whom we have known almost our entire married life. Judy and I were married a month before we moved to the South. Some of you, and some in this town, Judy and I have known longer than our own children. I thought of God’s blessings on you and I thought of the trials that you have gone through during the time we have known you. As we live life there are many different experiences that God puts us through. Thank God for the promise “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Here we are - God gets us through. So it was with Abraham. As we again join Abraham’s Road Trip we see “We Don’t Get What We Deserve.” Let’s look at 1) What we deserve; 2) What we get.
Our God is way better to us than we deserve. While I know we are supposed to be talking about Abraham today, I would like to skip ahead two generations to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. He is a fascinating man to follow. We see him grow up in the LORD. In his younger days he was a scoundrel, a dishonest man, a manipulator. His older twin brother wasn’t the godliest of people either, but Jacob took advantage of Esau. Jacob in essence stole the birthright that entitled the oldest son to have a double portion of the inheritance. Jacob even deceived his blind father and received the blessing that should have gone to big brother that included the promise of the Messiah through his family line. Jacob was a “me first man.” Yet God kept blessing him. Animosity resulted. Jacob fled.
After a twenty year separation of the brothers, a reunion was planned. It would turn out way better than Jacob expected. Jacob had an “Ahha moment” as the event was about to take place. During the twenty years God had heaped all kinds of blessings on Jacob even though he had cheated his brother. His family and possessions had grown exponentially. Just a day before the fearful reunion was to take place, he realized, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.” He had so much that he could break them into two camps.
Then the Lord even blessed the reunion. They held each other and hugged and wept on each other instead of a battle to the death.
Now let’s go back to Abraham. If you were here last week, Abraham had to flee the land of Canaan and run to Egypt to escape a severe famine. Abraham faced an overwhelming dilemma, but didn’t trust the Lord. He was afraid his beautiful wife Sarah would wow Pharaoh. He thought he would be killed so Pharaoh could make her part of his harem. To protect himself, and with the thought that Pharaoh would make him rich, Abraham was passing Sarai off as his sister and not as his wife. He threw her under the bus; he threw Pharaoh under the bus with his lies; worst of all, he threw God under the bus for his lack of faith.
What chivalry Abraham showed to his wife! Hey Ma! I know you might be spending time and nights with another man, but at least you will save my neck. Hey Ma! If you are really pleasing to him, he might even make me a very rich man because he will think I am your brother.
He used his wife to prop himself up. If we have a spouse only so we have someone to cook and clean and support us, that’s called using your spouse. When we become friends with people to get part of a network or get access to stuff, that’s using people. That’s what Abraham did.
God says “Love your spouse” not use your spouse and thus abuse your spouse. God says, “Love your neighbor,” not “use your neighbor.” Anything less than love, selfless love, is throwing them under the bus.
He threw Pharaoh under the bus. He lied to Pharaoh. When Abraham lived, no leader had more power than Pharaoh. Pharaoh didn’t know the Lord until he suffered the plague because the Lord was protecting Sarah and Abraham. Abraham was certainly not a good witness in introducing the Lord to Pharaoh. In fact, he was an absolute failure. All could have been avoided if Abraham had told the truth.
Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day America Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses. Austin O’Malley once said, “A lie has no legs. It requires other lies to support it. Tell one lie and you are forced to tell others to back it up. Stretching the truth won't make it last any longer. Those that think it permissible to tell white lies soon grow colorblind.” Liars need good memories. A lie in court is perjury. It is punishable to up to five years in prison. The trouble is it is rarely punished.
To our God who is truth lying is a big deal, “A false witness will not go unpunished,” says Proverbs. The Lord speaks in Psalm 101, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” Lies are a big deal. They are damnable.
Does everyone lie? That is certainly closer to the truth than the other way around. While the Bible says that Abraham is a model of faith, the model refers to looking to Jesus for forgiveness. He looked forward to the day of Christ, the great redeemer and forgiver of all mankind. While it is true he had bright moments, he is no different than any of us, there are many dark and shameful moments that only deserve God’s wrath and anger. Abraham was a sinner like all of us. Sin damns.
I read this and I thought it was really good analogy. Sin is like a man and his beard. We cut off the outward manifestations of a beard every morning but by the end of the day it all comes back.
Let me add this point. We are studying the religion of Islam on Wednesday nights. It is the fastest growing religion in the world. One really has to ask the question why. One of my professors once said that Islam is the most work righteous religions in the world. As we study it there is no doubt about that. In all that it stands for, there is emphasis on what a Muslim must do to win Allah’s favor. Our Wednesday class will also teach us what we can do to witness to Muslims. A Christian man converted from Islam said to do this, “Wonder with them, “Who is capable of keeping the law perfectly?” An honest, self-effacing look will come to one conclusion. I only deserve to be condemned.
Abraham got a good dose of seeing how weak he was. After he was escorted to the border and told to leave “Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.”
Abraham had to be so happy to be out of Egypt and he was richer than before he went toEgypt. His servants were still with him, even though they saw their master at his worst. Most of all, his wife who had every right to dump him into the Nile remained with him. It was obvious that God did not withdraw his hand of blessing from him Abraham for his stupidity and lack of faithfulness.
He doubtlessly remembered that promise God had given him to him when he was called from Urand Haranto the Promised Land, “In your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed.” The Savior would come from his family to bless the world with forgiveness. Good old Abraham knew he needed to be the front of the line to receive that same forgiveness that everyone needs so badly.
David would write words many centuries later but apply to all people for all time in Psalm 103. They were part of the absolution we used earlier in the service today. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they so reassuring? Do we deserve them? Certainly not! But we get them anyway.
“From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.” Abram returned to theland ofCanaan. He went back toBethel, the place where he had originally built an altar and worshipped the Lord. There he called on the name of the Lord - grieved by the sins that he had done, but graced again by his forgiving God.
Think about your life. We get up everyday. We have the best of intentions to live to the glory of God. It doesn’t take long for sinful language come out of our mouths. We get angry over little things. Maybe our spouse didn’t please us or our kids. In numberless ways we show how undeserving we are of God’s grace. Yet the Bible assures us that we are standing in God’s grace. Every day is a day of grace. We get to come to church and hear the Lord say to us again and again and again, “God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” We get what we don’t deserve – a lifetime, even an eternity of God’s grace.