June 24, 2018 TOUGH DECISIONS
TOUGH DECISIONS WE HAVE TO MAKE
June 24,18 Genesis 22:1-18
Many, many years ago when I applied to the New England Conference three of us had to go before the Board of Ordination. It’s that process United Methodists have to do in order to be ordained in our denomination. Besides schooling there are those papers to write, those sermons to turn in and much more so that those who are serving have a chance to see what you believe, how you are to defend what you believe to make sure you’re on the right course to be a Methodist. I say this because when I went before the New England Conference I had to submit a sermon, a biography, and basically what I believed. It was then that three of us went before three groups of 5 clergy to defend each paper we submitted. As you know, I wasn’t accepted there, praise the Lord, but I was accepted in the old Central Illinois Conference, which is now the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. Praise the Lord for that opening!
I say this because during our defending our sermons one fellow used today’s Scripture about God asking Abraham to offer his promised son Isaac up to him as a sacrifice. A few of those clergy who had read his sermon began to tear it apart. To this day I can still picture us sitting there and that pastor telling this fellow who turned in that sermon that he could not believe in a God who would ask him to do such a thing. In fact, that pastor said if he had his way he would remove all those types of things from the Scriptures, much like one of our former Presidents did. I was amazed, shocked, upset. Now, was he doing this to get this guy to defend his sermon, or did he believe that? I must say I wasn’t sure, but I had my hunch. I wanted to yell out to my new friend tell him why you believe what you believe. Defend what you said. Don’t know whatever happened to him, or if he made it that year, but I know I didn’t and I had to defend my sermon as well, which I believe I did, which might have been why I stand before you these days and not serving a church in the New England Conference. In that conference I would have been like a fish out of the water.
You know, there are tough decisions we must make in life. Moses had a tough decision to go back and lead the people out of bondage and to the Promised Land. Noah had a tough decision to build the ark among the criticism, the laughter, the mocking of his community. We can’t forget the tough decision that Eve had to make when confronted by that snake-in-the grass in front of that tree with the forbidden fruit on it. When the Hebrew children were forced with the decision to worship the Babylonian king and reject God or be tossed in the fiery furnace, they had a tough decision… face certain death or stick to their convictions. Daniel had a decision to make when a degree was made to stop praying to anyone but the king or face the lion’s den. Esther had a decision to make to either go before her king husband though not summoned, or let her people be destroyed by those who wanted to get rid of the Jews. Judas had a decision to make, follow Jesus to the end, or turn him over to those who wanted to destroy him.
Throughout history tough decisions have had to be made by people, not only in the Scriptures but in life as well. President Harry Truman had to make the tough decision to use a bomb so powerful it would destroy a large city and all that was in it in order to bring WW II to a possible end. George Jones sang a song about the choices he had to make in life, and some of them were not the wisest. Criminals have choices that effect their lives forever. A man and woman must make tough decisions when a marriage proposal is offered. Do I love that one enough to spend the rest of my life with them, warts and all, or not?
In this morning’s Scripture we know that Abraham has enjoyed his son Isaac for these 13 or more years since his birth. He was his promised son. He was the one that would carry on his name, and would carry on the mission God had called Abraham to do. But one day God decided to test Abraham. It is recorded in chapter 22 of Genesis. It begins, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here, “Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.”
That had to be the toughest decision Abraham had to make in life. This was his son. In fact, it is pointed out this: God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” God was very specific. God had given this promised son to Sarah and Abraham when Sarah was 90 and he 100. Now, this promised blessing, this child who one day would carry on the mission of God was to be the sacrifice? How could this be? When Abraham went to bed that night he must have had a great conversation with God. We will never know. We don’t even know what he told Sarah the next morning when he was leaving. He probable said he was taking him to help with the sacrifice God had called him to offer. For if he had told Sarah what he was doing I’m sure she would have revolted. But no one knew what God had asked Abraham to do. Not Isaac. Not Sarah. Not the servants. This was just a one-on-one moment.
It was a tough decision. His stomach must have churned all night and with every step for that three-day journey to the mountain God would lead them. He may have sung to himself, “Trust and obey for there is no other way but to trust and obey.” “Father what are you singing,” Isaac might have asked. His reply, “My son, just having a moment with God.”
For three days maybe, Abraham was justifying what he believed that this was the promised one given to him and Sarah. So, counting on the promises of God he continued the journey. And I believe we see in the Scripture lesson that Abraham was standing on the promised rock of salvation that God would provide the offering needed, and that everything would turn out okay.
I think it is found in that one Scripture where when they got to the bottom of the mountain Abraham said to the servants these words of assurance. “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Did you catch those powerful words? “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” There was a lot of trust in those words that Abraham said to his servants. Somehow, someway, God was going to work it all out. Abraham had to just put his faith to work in trusting God.
Thinking about this sermon, thinking how difficult it seems, I had to change the last hymn because a different hymn came to mind that I think if he had had it then, Abraham would have sung all the way to the mountain where God led him. It goes like this, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.”
That chorus is what grabbed me. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” That’s often my prayer. That’s often a thought that comes when facing something more than I can handle. It’s trust and obey for really, when you get right down to it, there is no other way. Whether it is my life, the life of the church, or in Carole’s life or our future, if I’m honest about it, it is on Christ the solid rock I stand, for all other ground is sinking sand.
That’s why Abraham takes his son and walks up that path to where God was leading. That’s why Abraham could answer Isaac’s question about the sacrifice by saying, “God will provide.” His trust wasn’t in the now, but in the One who called him to do what he was about to do.
You ever had to make a tough decision? I don’t mean where you are going to eat after church today, or what car you might buy soon, or where you might go on vacation. I bet most of us have had to make some tough decisions. It could be about an illness. It could be about a job. It could be about a move. It could be about anything we are asked to face. It could be about what we believe about God or Jesus. But many of us may not have had to deal with a decision like Abraham had. But then, I think, you know, there have been many life and death situations in life that people have to make. They have to leave things in the hands of our God. It’s not easy, I’m sure. It’s tough to make those kinds of decisions. If you are a Christian, you just learn to trust in the God who has been your solid rock. For Paul the apostle, he would tell us that we are winners no matter what we face. Making the tough decision to follow where God leads, to do what God calls us to do, to trust when we don’t know what will be, that takes faith. Some people might say it takes guts. Maybes so. But I believe it takes a whole lot more faith. Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.”
So, Abraham and Isaac walk the trail, build the altar and then the hard part. “When they reached the place, God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. BUT the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So, Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided.”
If you had been Abraham, how would you have handled the situation? Isaac was so precious in Abraham’s life. Teaching him the ways of the world was what he was doing. He might have even been teaching him about his God and how to listen for his voice, and much more, how to obey that voice. What would you have done? Would you have argued with God? Would you have walked away? Would you have been like Jonah who went in another direction instead of going where God wanted him to go? Life is full of tough decisions all the time.
And here is something to think about from this story. Can we not relate it to God’s offering of his son on the cross? You ask how? Well, like Abraham Jesus was God’s only son. One day he was asked to deliver him up for the sins of the whole world. He had to climb the mountain to Golgotha where they nailed him to the cross. God had a tough decision to make to allow his only begotten son to take upon himself the sins of the whole world. No easy decision. He had to watch the rejections, the cursing, the mocking, the challenges that the people did against his son. His son, in reality, as we all know, became the Lamb of God sacrificed for the whole world.
The end of Abraham’s story is found in the last few verses that says, “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offering all nations on earth will be blessed, because you obeyed me.”
Why did God put Abraham to the test? To see how strong, he was. To see how strong his faith was. He tested him to make him a better man, a better leader, a better father, a better follower of God, a better example for the world to read about. Tested. Tried. Staying true. He had come through the tough decision of his life and he did it by grace and God’s glory.
We too, are often tested. We will never know how strong we are if we aren’t tested from time to time. We often say God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but the problem is we don’t know what we can, but God does. Maybe that’s why he pushes us further on. He doesn’t do it to punish us. He does it to make our faith strong for the big things in life we might face. The test is really this…when tough decisions come, in whom do we trust?
Lessons to be learned today? God always provides. You can always trust God. Have faith even when you face difficult times. Trust and obey for in reality for we who follow God, there is no other way. And lastly, as the closing hymn says, “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
So, it is…so may we have the faith to make those tough decisions in life by trusting in the one who will always provide for us. It’s on the solid rock of our faith that keeps us strong.