Romans 15:1-8 and Romans 16:1-10
You fit into this story. Somehow, someway, you are here in the lives and in the actions of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. You know of God. You have a relationship with God—and you define how that relationship is—because somehow, someway, you have heard from God. I'll say that again. You have heard from God. God has revealed God's self and God's plan in your life so many times. He turns you a little each day. He calls out to you a little each day. He shows you His love for you a little each day. You see, you are the clay, and He is the potter. He is at work in you. You are on that potter's wheel spinning and spinning and spinning around—and some of you today know this exact place—your world is moving so fast and you feel like you're a heap of wet mess without much shape—but God is with you like he was with Abram. And God is designing and equipping you for such good things, for such truly great things.
You have to decide if what I just said is true. I believe it is true. I know in my heart that it is true.
You know about Abram. He was blessed by God. He heard directly from God. Recall the first verse of scripture we shared together moments ago. God says outwardly to Abram there in Genesis 15:1, "Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you and your reward will be great."
Boom! Music to us if we heard that, right? "You will be protected and your reward will be great!"
And we are so like Abram—each of us—in this way. The first word out of Abram's mouth, upon hearing this glorious proclamation from God is, "But..."
"But," he says, what good are your blessings here when I don't even have a son?"
That is so you! That is SO you. Your line back to God may not be exactly like Abram's. It may not be a son you request. Instead, you may want that dream career path, that certain relationship, that marriage you thought you signed up for when you stood at the front of the church all those years ago. You may want that dream house, or that pain-free life that has for decades seemed so elusive. It may not be an object; it may be a status. You want feel good. You want to feel respected. You want to be valued, appreciated, and loved by your peers, family, and likely your whole world. That's what you want. It's like there's some mythological blessings store and you want to go in there and shop for what YOU want. Yes, you are like Abram in that you want YOUR blessings.
You are like Abram in that you want to be blessed the way you want to be blessed. Like Abram, you want to call the shots here.
Yet here's the part that is tough for us to understand. You have your blessings. You have God's protection and God's rewards—but here's the catch. Specifically, here's your catch. God chooses the rewards, you don't. God chooses how He'll bless you. You don't.
Yesterday in the sermon prep, I talked about Phiona, the Queen of Katwa. I mentioned Robert, her coach, in that prep. Robert, by the way, is like Phiona. He's not fictitious. He's a real deal.
Now Robert, who lives in or near Katwa, has a dream, a good dream. He might have even called it a godly dream. He wants to be a civil engineer. He studied for it. He is good at it. And come on now, an engineer makes so much more money than a minister at some Christian Outreach place. He's married and is the happy father of a very young daughter. He wants what is best for his family, and what is best, he feels, is having money. Daily, he sees how hard life can be. The kids he coaches are living in extreme poverty. This ministry gig is just a side job, a temporary position. He feels he will be blessed when he becomes an engineer.
While coaching these kids, he applies for an engineering job. And oh, is he good in his interview. He's direct and persuasive. He says the right things. He looks the right way. He's poised, confident. And, get this: he impresses the man on the other side of the desk who, after the interview, says, "Someday a job here will be yours!"
That someday actually comes. Robert gets the call after how many months of waiting. But Robert doesn't just wait. Robert doesn't spend his days looking out onto some future horizon; he does what he does. He coaches. He coaches this whole group of ragtag kids who are as devoted to him as he is to them. He realizes his blessings aren't in money and some financially secure dream job: his blessings are right where he is with just what he has.
Your blessings are right where you are. Your blessings are right with what you have. Some of you today are in hurting places. Some of you today are being hurt by your surroundings, but you are that wet mess of clay on that potter's wheel. God loves you and God is working you.
What you have to do is open the door. Open the door not to your future. Open the door to the future God has for you. Dream of being an engineer all you want, but God may have a bigger blessing for you. Here's a clue. His blessing will actually come when you bless him.
Open the door to your future. Here's scripture I want you to hear. It's Ephesians 3:20 which says, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." Listen to this good news! Listen to this blessing! There is a mighty power at work within you. No matter your age, no matter your circumstances, no matter where you've been or how often you've royally screwed up, there is a mighty power at work within you.
Get this. It's our first sermon note. Abram received God's direct promise, but doubted. We question, too.
Some of you are like, "Yep, that's true. I totally don't see God's work in my life. I totally don't hear—or, actually, don't want to hear—that God's mighty power is at work in my life. There may be some door somewhere to my future, but I don't know where it is or I don't know how to find it."
Others think, "No, I don't question." Yet you do question God indirectly when you look at the news and get completely discouraged. You question God indirectly when you shake your head in dismay at one or both presidential candidates. You question God when you wonder how this church can fund its active missions programs, programs like The Summer Lunch Box Program, Project Lucas, or the Women's Resource Center. When you think, "Oh, we can't do that," what you're truly doing is questioning God's power.
Abram doubted. Again, God says, "I will protect you and your reward will be great." Abram response is our response. "But God," he says, "what good are your blessings when I don't even have what I want?"
God gets Abram. He says, "Your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son. Count the stars in the sky, and you'll have more descendants than that."
For a moment, Abram is cool with that, then he isn't because after the LORD tells him that He is the LORD who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him this land as his possession, Abram says, "How can I be really sure I will actually possess this land?"
God is the potter. You are the clay. Trust God, even when you can't see where He's leading you. Trust God, even when—or especially when—you can't see all that He wants you to be.
Here's the second point on your notes page. Abram, Sarai, and Hagar all acted on their own behalf, but God's plans incorporate peoples' mistakes.
Do you catch all the mistakes these three make? Abram makes a big mistake when he listens to his wife and sleeps with Sarai's servant. That's goof up one. Goof up two is when his wife comes to him with the problem she created. Abram tells Sarai to deal with it on her own.
Hagar's mistake is that when she knew she was pregnant, she begins to treat Sarai with contempt. She's disrespectful. Her second mistake is that she decides to run away.
And Sarai? Her mistake is she blames everyone for her decisions. She also treats Hagar poorly.
Hear this though. God worked then and God works now. Despite what they've done wrong, despite what you've done wrong, God works to make all things good.
Here's the third note. To experience God's sufficiency, we must face our insufficiency. Abram was 86 years-old when he heard the promises of God that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky. He grew tired of waiting. He was 99 years-old when he had his first son. He had to come to the end of his power—he had to finally get that he couldn't do it, before he let God take over.
He didn't open the door to his future until much, much later. Don't wait. Open the door to your future.
Ecclesiastes 7:8a has it true. It's on your notes page. It says, Finishing is better than starting. Don't wait. Don't look at your beginning as if it is yours, because it is not. It is God's, and God's plans for you are so much greater—they are so much bigger, bolder, and brighter than you can imagine.
Here's Ecclesiastes 7:10.Don't long for the "good old days." This is not wise.
Some of you need shift your focus from the rearview mirror to the windshield. And you need to shift the focus from what was to what will be. Don't worry. God is your wind shield. He will block the dangers that come. He promised you love. You will be enveloped in His love. It may not always be a joy ride. You'll hurt and you may wonder, but God is there. Every moment, every movement is one where God is still reaching you, still teaching you.
Open the door. Open the door to your future, which is the future He wants you to have. I close with Jeremiah 29:11.For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."