Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Faith We Continue to Glory

Read Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Proverbs 3:5-6, and Romans 4:13-25)

The story of Abram and Sarai is a miraculous story indeed. It is one of the great accounts of how God is faithful to his promises, and we are called to be faithful even through our disappointment and even through long periods of waiting. There is a lesson in this story for all of us. If we continue in faith, we will be glorified. And in our glorification, so too is God glorified.

In Genesis 15, the Lord told Abram, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendents be.” But, time passed and no child was born. Then, when Sarai was 90 and Abram was 99, they conceived their first child as the fulfillment of this promise made by God.

To conceive at Abram and Sarai’s great age is unheard of. In the most current and advanced medicine, Omkari Panwar made history when she delivered twins via c-section in India in July of 2008 at 70 years old. Today, Omkari’s story is almost unbelievable in and of itself, so for Abram and Sarai, people who lived thousands of years ago, who thought fertility was reserved for those of a younger age, people who had no medical technology to cure barreness, for them to conceive, it was truly a miracle attributed to God Almighty.

After God had made his promise to them, but prior to getting pregnant, Abram and Sarai must have thought that their time to have children was passed.
They were too old now. The belief that they would conceive children, let alone be the ancestors of a multitude of nations, must have waned or died altogether.

Whether it is with similar or very different circumstances in mind, isn’t that how most of us feel? At a certain point in our lives, if something hasn’t happened yet, don’t we begin to doubt in the prospect of it ever happening at all? (Don’t we lose hope?)

Sarai and Abram are one extreme situation, a long term extreme. Just yesterday, I saw a very short term extreme to the same point. In the Kingston girls’ varsity basketball game against Minisink to go on to the regional finals, Rachel Coffey, Kingston’s star player, only scored one basket in the first half. Everyone was waiting for her to get hot, but shot after shot, she missed until she got timid and stopped shooting at all. For Kingston to win without her seemed improbable, although the rest of the team kept them in the game. Finally, late in the third period, Coffey made a basket. Then, another one. Then, another one. Then, another one. Everything the crowd had been waiting for, everything that her coach had been waiting for, everything Rachel had been waiting for began to take shape. It was wonderful to see what we knew had the potential to happen actually become reality. Kingston went on to win the game. Hope waned in the second quarter, but it was renewed some 20 minutes later.

So it is with our lives, (although the timeline is most often somewhere between 20 minutes and 90 years.) We want something, not out of selfish ambition or sinfulness, but out of a great hope that comes from our hearts. We want to find a partner to spend the rest of our lives with, we want to have children, we want work that provides financial stability and utilizes our gifts. When the time comes, we want our children to find love and have children and find meaningful employment. We want the same for our grandchildren. Amidst the hope for these pillars of Christian life, we hope for other things as well. We hope to shed that one problem that has continued to plague us. We hope to find that one ministry that will inspire us. We hope to survive and heal from that one trauma that has scarred us.

You could say that life is a battlefield, and we hope against hope, that one day, we will win the battle.

But as time goes on, our faith often begins to wane. We cry out as the psalmist did, how long, oh Lord? And still we wait.

This is a pivotal moment in our lives. In the midst of the storm, when the stock market is crashing, when the cancer is back, when your children and grandchildren are struggling to live and be happy, what do you believe? Who do you believe in?

These doubts that it’s never going to happen, these feelings of hopelessness, this blank and fearful stare into the future, are some of the great poisonous thoughts to the spiritual life. They are signs that we are turning away from God. That our faith is crumbling.

But we cannot let our faith crumble. Faith is a choice. We will not turn our backs to God. We will not give up hope. Not if we’ve waited 10 minutes too long and not if we have waited 99 years.

Why? Because Jesus of Nazareth is getting ready to go to Jerusalem, and to die on a cross as a criminal so that we might live. Jesus is willing to give his life to show us, to prove to us that God is faithful. That God comes through on his promises.

Jesus didn’t know the end of the story anymore than you and I know the end of our stories, but he was faithful. God led him down a dark road, saying all the while, trust me. If you trust me and you keep going, not only will you be glorified, I, God, the maker of heaven and earth will also be glorified.

So Jesus trusted him. He kept walking in faith. His friends turned on him. The authorities beat him up, they put him in jail, but he remained faithful. They killed him, and he remained faithful. From our perspective, from the human perspective, that’s the end of the story. Jesus is dead. He gave his life, he remained faithful, and for what? He died.

But from the divine perspective, the story has not even begun yet. If this were a book, you have only heard the introduction. Because the story actually begins when God fulfills his promise and raises Jesus from the dead. The story begins on Easter. That is the beginning of new life, not just for Jesus, but for all people.

The Beastie Boys, which are the most famous Jewish, white, rappers ever, and whose music is respected in its genre, once said in their popular song, Paul Revere: “You think the story’s over but it’s ready to begin.”

Abram and Sarai thought their story was over, childless and in their 90’s. Many of us think our story is over, at least in some aspect. But guess what? A new story is ready to begin.

Romans 4:17 says, God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” The life that you do not have, God is raising up. Trust in that! Have faith in that! The things that you do not have, the situations you are not in that you desperately want and hope for, God is calling into existence. Trust in that! Have faith in that!

This is our God that we are talking about. And our faith in him matters! God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4: 17). Your belief in God’s unlocks the power of this reality in the world.

I know the road gets weary. I know that you get tired of being disappointed so you want to give up. But don’t give up on God. God fulfills the promises that truly give life.

We can’t understand why some things happen and other things don’t. That’s the message of Proverbs 3: 5-6. At some point, our understanding fails us. Acknowledge God though, and God will direct your path into the place where abundant life is found.

Abraham “did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Therefore, his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:19-22).
Abraham and Sarah’s faith made them right with God. Maybe when she didn’t get pregnant in her 20’s like everyone else, Sarai had some doubts. Again, maybe in her 30’s. Maybe in her 40’s she silently began to curse God. But at some point, both of them renewed their faith, and believed in God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Because of Abraham and Sarah’s faith in God, and because of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises, people are as numerous as the stars. Just like God said. Entire nations have been born of Abraham and Sarah.

When you are at the end of your rope, when you can’t imagine the future anymore, don’t quit on God. Keep the faith no matter how long you have been waiting, no matter how uncertain the future seems. God is calling into existence something new. A new chapter in life for you!

Remember what happened to Jesus. His death was not the end, but the beginning of our history as Christians. Take Jesus’ story, take Abraham and Sarah’s story and make it your own. You might think the story’s over, but it’s ready to begin.

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