Learning to Hope

Romans 4:18-21
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 

25 years is a long time to wait, especially when you are already old and God promises you and your wife you will have a baby. Paul said after this period of time, Abraham hoped against hope and trusted God that He will deliver on His promise.

If you have been through great loss and sadness, it is hard to hope for good again, but we can learn to hope again just like Abraham and Sarah did. It takes time. But we are reminded that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not stay there (Psalm 23). Take time to look at the Psalms to see the goodness of God and His wonderful works for you (Psalm 103). Remind yourself of passages in the Bible that give hope (Romans 15:4), like the story of Abraham and Sarah. Cry out to God in your pain, and He will in time heal your broken heart (Psalm 147:3). Surround yourself with encouraging people who will lift you up in your pain. I had a friend, Benjamin, who gave me an assignment to take a mason jar and fill it with accomplishments, positive things, and what God has done for me. It was an encouraging and hope-building exercise to see all the great things God has done. The jar is full. Your jar is full too. You can hope again.

Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. 

He grew in faith

Abraham’s great unwavering faith did not happen overnight. He grew in faith.

Romans 4:16-25
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

We are told by Paul in Romans 4 that Abraham did not “weaken in faith” or “waver” at the promise, yet when you read Genesis you see a lot of wavering. But what we must see is what Paul pointed out about Abraham’s faith here in Romans 4. It grew! He grew in faith! Abraham became fully convinced over time. Abram (“father”) turned into Abraham (“father of a multitude”). As Abraham grew in his faith and continued to give glory to God, he became fully convinced that God was able to do whatever He promised.

You will see below the times Abraham and Sarah wavered as they “grew in faith.”

Genesis 12 – Abraham lied to project himself. There was no need to lie. If God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would conceive and bear a child, nobody would have the power to kill Abraham.

Genesis 15 – Abraham asked God, “Where is the son you promised me?” God promised Abraham again, and he believed. Genesis 15:6 is often quoted in the New Testament. But notice what happens in the next chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 16 – Abraham and Sarah came up with an alternate plan to bring the promised son into the world. Sarah convinced Abraham to go into her servant girl, Hagar, and have a son. Ishmael was born.

Genesis 17 – Abraham fell on his face and laughed at God’s promise of him and Sarah having a son. He also begged God that Ishmael might be considered the promised son.

Genesis 18 – Sarah also laughed at God’s promise.

Genesis 20 – Abraham lied again to protect himself. See Genesis 12. It was unnecessary to lie. God’s promise of a “multitude of nations” through Abraham showed that Abraham was not going to be killed at that point.

Now, consider what happened after Isaac was born. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Look at where Abraham’s faith had come. He did not lie. He did not waver. He did not try to form an alternate plan. He did not fall on his face and laugh and ask for another way. Abraham just did what God said.

But what gave Abraham such strength to offer up Isaac? His strong faith. Look at what Hebrews says about what Abraham’s faith did for him.

Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

By this point, Abraham had such trust in God’s promises that he concluded by faith that if Isaac was killed on that altar, then God would raise him from the dead. That’s incredible faith!

But remember that Abraham did not get to that faith overnight. He grew in faith. Just like you and me. Growth is a process.

I would encourage you to go back over those chapters and take note of all of the great moments of Abraham’s faith. We can list out our failings or moments of weakness in faith, but can we also look back at the times we stood strong in faith? Abraham left everything to go to a strange land (Gen. 12). He showed great humility and generosity to his nephew Lot (Gen. 13). Abraham fought for and rescued Lot (Genesis 14). He trusted in God’s promises (Gen. 15). He obeyed God and was circumcised at 99 years old (Gen. 17)! Abraham showed generosity toward strangers which turned out to be angels (Gen. 18). He prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), and he also prayed for Lot (Genesis 19). As you think about Abraham, think about your own faith. You are growing. Don’t just focus on the failings, focus on the victories!

And They Laughed at Him

 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district (Matthew 9:23-26).

They laughed at Jesus. The crowd is surrounding this family and the little twelve year old girl that just passed, and they are crying, playing flutes and wailing. That, I believe, was a normal part of how things went when a loved one passed. In comes Jesus and says she is not dead, just sleeping. Can you imagine how you would react if Jesus came into a room with your departed loved one and declare to you that she isn’t really dead?

How would you and I react? We might have had the same reaction. We’d like to think differently that we wouldn’t laugh at Jesus, but I think a lot of us would probably have had the same instantaneous response. You’re nuts, Jesus, that girl is plainly dead. Of course she was dead, and Jesus knew that, but Jesus also knew what he was about to do.

This wasn’t the first time people laughed at something God said. Remember Sarah? When God told Abraham that ninety-year old Sarah would have a baby, she laughed in her tent (see Genesis 18:9-15). God was pretty merciful to her, because then she proceeded to lie that she didn’t laugh! But again, put yourself in Sarah’s sandals, her body was effectively “dead” when it came to childbearing (Romans 4:19), so laughing would be a natural reaction to God’s promise of her bearing a child. Don’t forget that Abraham also laughed at the same promise (Genesis 17:17).

Interesting that God named Abraham and Sarah’s child, “Isaac,” which means laughter.

Here we have two examples in Scripture where God came into a hopeless situation and promised the impossible, and the reaction was the same. The people laughed. God then continued to work the impossible and their sadness and hopelessness led to true rejoicing and a faith that was strengthened.

Maybe we are facing situations in our own lives that we might consider “dead” or “impossible,” but remember that God can bring to life what we consider dead, and he can make possible what we see as impossible. Let’s finish with a question that God asked of Abraham and Sarah after Sarah laughed.

Genesis 18:13-14 – The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Just like God said

And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
(Genesis 21:1-2)

Today is a reminder for us that God keeps His promises.

He keeps His promises on His time table. It took 25 years after God’s promise, but Abraham and Sarah had their son. They had times when they wondered and even tried to go about fulfilling their own way, but in the end, God came through. I can get impatient, and it is good for me to remember that God’s timing is not mine. Another of God’s promises to Abraham took 2,000 years to fulfill, that being the promise of Jesus.

He keeps His promises just like He promised. What He promised, in detail, He delivered. Men keep promises and then adapt them later because the original promise cannot or won’t be kept. God is not like that. There is no “bait and switch” with God.

in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,
(Titus 1:2)

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” 
(Numbers 23:19)

“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
(1 Samuel 15:29)

Return to your mistress and submit to her

The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.
(Genesis 16:7-11)

Hagar was on the run. She was really treated poorly by Sarai, and felt the only option was for her to run away. God appears to her and speaks to her, and what does He say?

Go back home and submit yourself to Sarai. What? Sarai was really being harsh with Hagar. Sarai put her in a really bad situation and now is treating Hagar like an enemy. It doesn’t seem fair that God would send her home, but He did.

Three points about this:

  • God’s answers are not always easy to hear. Below you will see a passage from Peter about slaves and masters. How does a Christian behave when being mistreated? God’s answer doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but remember what Jesus did when He was cruelly treated?
  • With that command came reassurance and comfort from God. The Lord was watching what was going on at home with Sarai and Hagar, and He was fully aware of the affliction Hagar was enduring. God’s blessings and provision were promised to Hagar even as she had to deal with a mistress who was very harsh with her.
  • Running away is not always the right answer. There was a time for people to flee and runaway. Christians fled from persecutions. Jesus fled to the other side of the Jordan to avoid the murderous attempts of the Jewish leadership. God told Jesus’ parents to flee to Egypt to avoid King Herod. There is a time to flee, but running away is not always the right remedy. For this situation, God wanted Hagar to go back home. Here’s another example. Onesimus was a runaway slave who ran into Paul while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Paul taught him the gospel and Onesimus became a believer in Christ. But what did Paul do? He sent Onesimus home to his master, Philemon, with a letter. Paul did not keep Onesimus with him and only send the letter to Philemon. It may be that instead of running away from a difficult situation that God wants you to fight and stand for Him through that difficult situation.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:18-25)

When You Don’t Listen to God First

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
(Genesis 16:1-2)

Abram and Sarai were promised a child. They were old. It had been 10 years. After a while a person starts to have all kinds of ideas. Maybe we can help this along. How about Hagar? Let’s try having a child through her! You might not appreciate what Sarai proposed, but try to imagine how desperate they were to have a child.

But just because we are desperate, impatient and wondering why God has not come through on His end of the deal, does not give us a green light to go outside His will. Abram and Sarai, just like so many of us, had to grow in faith and learn to wait on God.

We have to see, though, that there are consequences to not listening to God first. There are doors we open and things we set in motion that are irreversible when we listen to others first and forget to consult God.

Consider just a few consequences of Abram listening to Sarai first instead of God:

  • Think of the strain that put on Abram and Sarai’s marriage. Sarai quickly realized what she did was wrong, but there was no going back. Her husband slept with her handmaiden, and that could not be reversed. This is an example of how we can make a time of hardship into a real crisis. Yes we can appreciate that Abram and Sarai were sad, hurting and waiting for God to fulfill His promise, but what they did created a real crisis in their family.
  • Look at the strife that came between Sarai and Hagar because of this. Hagar began to despise Sarai, and then Sarai really treated Hagar so badly that Hagar ran away. God even took note of how badly Hagar was treated by Sarai.
  • What about what the problems that came in between Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants? For generations to come, these families would have problems, and all because of one weak moment in Abram and Sarai’s life. Because they did not listen to God first and wait on him, their families suffered strife for generations.

Listen to God first. Wait on Him, even when all other things are falling apart around you. Trust in His promises. Do not waver. Learn from the lessons of those like Abram and Sarai. Be cautious of letting your impatience turning an already hard situation into a very bad series of events.

Therefore from one man

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (Hebrews 11:11-12).

I was always taught that when there is a “therefore” in a Bible verse you need to find out what it’s “there for.” This “therefore” in Hebrews 11:11-12 connects the faith of Sarah to the innumerable multitude that came from the loins of Abraham. It was not just Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s relationship with God that brought forth these amazing blessings from God upon generations to come.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who promised. THEREFORE…

Sarah’s faith gave her power to conceive. See the “therefore”? Therefore Abraham became a father of multitudes. Yes God promised it, and Abraham believed it, but Sarah became pregnant because she believed it, too.

Sarah grew in faith to reach this conclusion. She had at times considered her own age and physical ability to conceive a child. When we look at passages like Genesis 16 and 18 we know that Sarah had her own growth process that she had to go through to come to the faith we see mentioned in Hebrews 11:11. Remember that Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar into the embrace of Abraham because she thought that would be the way to make God’s blessings and promises a reality (Genesis 16). It was Sarah who laughed inside her tent when she heard the men talking about her having a baby the next year (Genesis 18).

If that’s all you knew about Sarah would you have called her a strong woman of faith? If you were Abraham would you be tempted to think you are the strong one in this relationship and are carrying her along? Sarah had her moments of weakness, and she had need of growth, but look at what God did through Sarah.

Didn’t Abraham have to grow too? Abraham laughed too! When offered the handmaid Hagar, he went into her. He listened to Sarah instead of God. Abraham had his own process of growth he was going through.

All of this to say, men, that when we look at our wives who are following Jesus, know that God is doing a great work within them, and He will accomplish it (Philippians 1:6). Also know that because of that growth of faith within her, you and generations to come will be blessed immensely.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:28-31).

 

 

 

Sarah shall be her name

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
(Genesis 17:15-21)

We were studying and discussing Genesis 17 last night. In this study, we have been going through Genesis. Right now Genesis is focusing on the relationship God had with Abraham and his family. “Abraham is the father of us all,” Paul wrote (Romans 4:16). We sure can learn a lot from Abraham and how his faith in God grew and was continually challenged. But we can also learn about God and His awesome nature and character. He loves us. God keeps His promises. His blessings have no parallel in what the world can offer us.

God promised an old man and an old woman past the age of childbearing that they would have a child. He changed their names to forever memorialize that promise being fulfilled. “Sarah” would be a princess for God the sovereign King will bless her and kings would come from her. “Abraham” will become a father of multitudes, because his family will become like the stars and sands…innumerable.

Abraham fell on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). In the next chapter Sarah laughed (Genesis 18:12). What did God name the son to come? “Isaac” which means laughter! I love that.

I think about this in connection to our marriages. Here are just a few thoughts to consider:

  • Genesis 17 begins with God’s call to Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless (Genesis 17:1). The chapter concludes with a 99-year old man being circumcised in the flesh of his foreskins, along with all his household. If I want God to bless my marriage like God blessed Abraham and Sarah, then I must walk before the Lord and be blameless. We as husbands must commit to doing whatever God tells us to do, whatever is required, however difficult it may be.
  • God blessed Sarah. Men, are we praying for God to bless our wives? God reassured Abraham that He deeply cared for Sarah and was going to bless her richly. God called her princess. Think about that husbands. Do you and I view our wives as that princess whom God deeply loves?
  • The Lord can resurrect what is dead. He is the God of the impossible. In Romans 4:26-25 we learn a lesson in faith from Abraham and Sarah. God brings to life what was dead! If God can make an old man and old woman past the age of childbearing to have a baby, and if God can bring a man (Jesus) who was in the grave 3 days back to life, when what can God do for us today? Can God resurrect a dead marriage? With God’s help we can revive and rebuild what we and others around us may count as impossible!
  • God can make you laugh. Finally, just a thought to consider that God wanted this baby to be named Isaac. Whenever they cuddled that baby or called that son to dinner, they said “laughter.” Remember that the “joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). When God makes you rejoice, there is no one who can take away your joy (John 16:22).

The God Whose Plans Don’t Fit In A Sitcom

On a personal note: Thank you to all for your encouragement, prayers, and overwhelming support of my family as we walk through the recovery and healing process after our barn fire. God is good, all the time.

The God Whose Plans Don’t Fit In A Sitcom by Jason Hardin

I want to share with you a sermon that I watched this morning that I really needed. This sermon is by Jason Hardin, and it is called “The God Whose Plans Don’t Fit in a Sitcom.”

At the end of Jason’s sermon, he spoke of 4 conclusions that we can build our lives upon, and they were a blessing to me for sure.

  1. At pivotal moments in life, the people of God had no idea WHAT God was doing; some times neither will we.
  2. At many points in life, we won’t understand WHY God is allowing certain things to happen.
  3. And yet, the clear testimony of Scripture is that He knows perfectly what He is doing.
  4. Therefore, rather than being anxious about things we cannot change…let’s make sure to seek Him while He may be found.

I would add, I don’t know the what nor the why, but I know the WHO. Like the old song sings, “I don’t know about tomorrow, but I know Who holds my hand.”