Last week I began our Lenten journey focusing on three “T’s”, temptations, testings and troubles. Hopefully we learned how they affect us but more importantly we discovered anew how Jesus faced them and overcame them for us, and hopefully came away believing that as children of the same heavenly Father we can call upon the ever present indwelling Jesus to deliver us whenever we face them in order to give us victory. Today I want to add a fourth “T” to the mix. It is “time” and I base the topic on today’s Old Testament Lesson which is a snapshot from the life of one of the most important figures of the Old Testament, Abram, who as you may already know had his share of temptations, testings and troubles.
Let’s jump right into the Lesson – [Genesis 17:1] When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” It should be obvious from reading these words that God had talked with Abram before. (“confirm my covenant.”) The first time was 24 years earlier when God asked Abram to leave Haran, his father’s family and go to a new land. He had said:
“[Gen 12:2] I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram obeyed and took his nephew Lot, his wife Sarai and all the possessions and servants he had acquired while living in Haran and set out for the land of Canaan. This was certainly a test for Abram that required a great amount of trust. He had his bout with troubles for the next dozen years. His wife bore him no children, there was famine in the land, men were hitting on his wife who was still a beauty even as a mature woman. Yet in spite of the troubles God blessed Abram with wealth and protected him. When the Pharaoh of Egypt made a move on Sarai, believing she was Abram’s sister, the Lord inflicted diseases on him and his household. When he and Lot had a disagreement and Lot took the better land in the valley near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God saw that Abram thrived.
After about a dozen years God reaffirmed His covenant with Abram that he would be the father of a great nation. Abram pointed to the calendar and said, “I’ve been trying to make that happen but nothing!” God told him to look at the stars and count them such would be his offspring.” Abram must have shared this with Sarai who felt responsible so she suggested providing a child for him through one of her maidservants, Hagar. This test or temptation Abram failed because time he thought was running out. He was in his upper 80’s. This did not produce the happy home everyone thought it would. Sarai was envious of Hagar, Hagar was jealous of her child and hold over Abram, and Abram acted like the innocent victim. God in the meantime let Abram stew in his sin and didn’t communicate with him for 13 years which is the account before us.
According to a poll taken by George Barna about 10 years ago, 44% of adults make their moral choices based on “the desire to do whatever will bring them the most pleasing or satisfying results.” Only 24% made their choices based upon “religious teaching or Bible content.” Right up there with “personal pleasure” in determining the choices we make is also our impatience. We want instant and rapid gratification. We want a pill to take away pain or an infection or a craving or an addiction. We want an accelerated program (fast track) to get us where we want to be. We want to go to the store and find exactly what we want when we want it. We want the right job or career to fall into our laps. We are an impatient people. We have trouble with stop lights and too many people in the express check out line, how can we expect to handle a molding of our character and purpose that may take years, decades or a lifetime?
God calls His people to live by faith. Part of the life of faith as I said last week involves understanding that life is full of troubles and temptations that are trying to derail, frustrate and defeat us and also tests that are trying to refine and improve us. Time is what all of these have in common. We are who we are both because of genetics and because of experiences. We have been shaped over time and depending on how were handled and how we handled those experiences determines if we became fine wine or sour grapes. Impatience spoils the finished product. I remember my mother decided once to make root beer. It was a recipe that required the beverage to age in the bottle. So we capped off dozens of bottles and put them in the cellar with all the other cans of fruits of vegetables and waited for the yeast and sugar and what all to work. Unknown to us my mother would check the progress every day by opening a bottle and tasting it. By the time it actually turned into root beer there was hardly any left to drink.
Abram is held up as one of the great icons and heroes of faith, yet he was far from a perfect example of a faithful, godly servant. He knew God’s will, yet many times he acted on his own and suffered mightily for it. Does that ring true for you? Have you made decision that you knew were not in keeping with the Ten Commandments and then paid a price for it? Have you grown impatient with God and acted on your own and then created a mess that needed cleaning up? Why God lets us have our own way is a mystery of his love for us. Why He only allows the consequences of our behavior to affect us and sometimes not even that instead of heaping extra punishment on us and completely forsaking us is an even greater mystery of His grace and love. But then consider the impossible. He travels the road we have chosen to travel with us. That is the impossible to comprehend mystery of the incarnation.
Abram’s unfaithfulness and impatience was met with God’s faithfulness and patience. In fact he offered him a new beginning. Not only does He restate His original covenant, He reveals something new about Himself to Abram. For the first time in the Bible God calls Himself, El-Shaddai, which means, Almighty God, the God for whom nothing is impossible. He reminds Abram that the harder life gets for him, the more God can do. He also changes Abram’s name to Abraham (from “father” to “father of many”) and Sarai’s to Sarah (from “princess” to “princess of many.”) This moment is all about God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love, God working His good in His world for our salvation. What He did for Abraham he does for us. Jesus entered our world, put on our shoes and walked with us through troubles, temptations, tests and time so that we would never walk alone or walk without hope or walk without trust or walk without forgiveness or walk without knowing that He could take even our missteps and work His good.
Within a year Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac and two great nations are begun those descending from Ishmael (Arabs) and those descending from Isaac (Hebrews). Abraham would live another 75 years marking him as one of the last people to endure beyond the century mark.
This story is not primarily about the great faith or the great accomplishments of Abraham and Sarah, it is about the faithfulness and power of God. To their credit they believed that God could do whatever he wanted either with them or without them and they chose for the most part to be involved. We have that same opportunity. We know that God who chooses to work His good through people and time. Are we willing to trust him with our time, talents and treasures and follow His good and perfect will?