Everything has a starting point and what we’ve been talking about throughout this series is that faith has a starting point as well.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp, or at a vacation Bible school.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
But as you got older, the starting point of your faith as children took some hits as we noticed that there was a gap, between what you had been taught about God and what you experienced as an adult.
And so sometimes our childhood faith doesn’t survive the rigors of adulthood as life chips away at it. It’s not that we chose to abandon faith, it just got lost in the rear-view mirror.
So, what we're doing over the next few weeks, is hitting the restart button and asking the question, "What if we didn't know anything, were would we start? What if we hadn’t been handed any building blocks or a framework for faith, where would we start?"
The first week, we said that the starting point for the Christian faith is a question; who is Jesus? The way you answer that question sets the foundation to build a framework for your faith.
Last week, we tackled a term that always rears its ugly head in discussions about faith . . . Sin. It’s an uncomfortable word that we don’t like to talk about. In fact, we often try to replace it with “mistake”.
But the word mistake is inadequate. A mistake is something you do on a math test or your tax returns.
Jesus talked about sin . . . A LOT . . . but when Jesus talked about sin he talked about it connection to relationships. Jesus said, what all of us have experienced, that sin breaks relationships.
But Jesus’ purpose in talking about sin . . . A LOT . . . was restoration, not condemnation.
He taught that sin separated us from God, and forgiveness connected us to God. But if we only think of ourselves as mistakers, we will never seek forgiveness because a mistake doesn’t require forgiveness – only correcting.
So, what I suggested was that restarting your faith requires an honest look in the mirror and coming to terms with the fact that perhaps you are not just a mistaker. We should at least consider the possibility that we are in fact sinners. That’s where we left off.
If you weren’t here, or if you’re going to miss any of the weeks, it’s important that you read or listen to them online because all these messages build off each other. I would also encourage you to do the homework assignments I hand out to you each week. Those can also be found online if you miss one.
Today, we’re going to be talking about something really exciting . . . history.
I know, most of us are not very interested in history but it’s important because the reason some of us drifted away is that we didn’t know the history of your faith. We don’t know the starting point.
So, today we’re going to go back in time and help tie together the history of faith to your faith.
You may not know this but the three largest faith traditions . . . Judaism, Islam, and Christianity . . . all had the same starting point.
All three believe . . .
• There is a single God that created the heavens and the earth and that his creation was good.
• The first man on earth was Adam.
• Somehow humanity messed the whole thing up.
• God looked at the world and because he was compassionate, he had a decision to make, “Do I wade into this mess and try to find a starting point for cleaning up the mess that someone else created? Or do I just hang a big ‘out of order’ sign over the earth?
• God chose the latter and began interacting with the world in a strategic way to fix the problems of the world through a guy named Abraham.
It’s here, at Abraham, that the three different traditions go their separate ways. Today, we are not going to explore each of their paths but we are going to listen to a conversation between God and Abraham because in this conversation there’s a statement so powerful that I want us to wrestle with it.
Let’s listen to our text this morning.
Up to this point, it had been years since anyone had heard from God. But he shows up and speaks to a man named Abram . . . who was 75 years old and should be kicked back in his recliner and enjoying retirement . . . and He tells him to uproot his entire life. And in return, God promised . . . land and a son that would lead to many offspring.
So, Abram along with his barren wife and nephew, named Lot, head out on this journey of faith.
Well, time passes and Abram is an even older man.
• He’s left his homeland. He’s left all of his security.
• He’s got a barren wife who is waiting for this promised son.
• His whole life is a faithful risk toward the promises of God . . .
• So, he’s got a lot to be afraid of . . . a lot is on the line here.
And so God once again shows up and he says “Don’t be afraid . . . Don’t be afraid of life and its circumstances . . . I have a plan for you. If you trust me, everything is going to be fine.”
And then he gives 2 poetic images of himself . . .
“I am your shield” . . . and as long as you are under the shield, it doesn’t matter what comes raining out of the sky . . . I will protect you and you’ll be just fine.
“I am your great reward”. You may not have all thing things you wanted and life may not be exactly what you expected but don’t overlook the greatest gift. I am God.
And when things get a little difficult . . . and that will happen . . . don’t give up. Don’t tap out. Don’t lose sight of who God is and what he has called you to do.
After God speaks to Abram, Abram talks back to God. Now usually, this is indicative of a problem . . . when someone talks back to God in scripture, that’s not a good thing.
But remember Abram is a man of faith who has been completely obedient to God up to this point . . . but he’s struggling with his faith because many years ago, God had promised to him land and a son. At this point, he doesn’t have either.
He’s confused, and the question is whether the promises of God are, in fact, trustworthy.
Sound familiar to any of you? You have read the promises of God and you look at your life and you say, God, I just don’t see it.
• It says you’re good but life is bad
• It says that you’ll never leave me but I feel alone most of the time
• It says you’ll protect me but I feel beat up every day.
• It says that you’ll work everything out but it seems like everything is falling apart
• God, I just don’t understand
This is the place that Abram finds himself. He knows the promises of God but, like you and I, life has been chipping away at his faith and now he’s struggling with doubt.
But I want you to hear this . . . doubt is an important part of faith because doubt wants resolution. By faith, you wrestle with God through your doubt . . . you struggle with your frustration and confusion to get to a place where you can say, “I don’t understand but I trust you.”
Abram is taking his doubt to God and seeking resolution so that he might have a deeper faith in God.
Now, at this point, God could have simply said, “Hey, guess what, I’m God . . . I don’t need to answer questions from silly old men . . . so deal with it.”
But he doesn’t. Instead he takes Abram outside and tells him to look up into the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. Then he said, “So will your offspring be”
Do you see all those stars? That’s how many people are depending on my promise. Abram, do you really think I’m going to let you down? You see, my promise isn’t just about you, it’s about the whole world; people from all nations, tribes, cultures, and languages. This is what I’m working for.
Look up Abram, as many as there are stars in the sky, that’s how many people I love. That’s how many people I want to restore back into relationship with me.
Here’s where some of our struggle, disconnect, occurs. Too often, we focus on a single star . . . the “me” star. We ask God, “What have you done for me lately?” and when we don’t feel that everything thing in your life is perfect and meeting up to the expectations you have of God . . . when you feel that God just isn’t measuring up to what you understand about him . . . you walk away.
And when we do that, we’re missing the point. God has a much bigger plan and he wants you to be a part of it but it’s not about you.
Well, when God speaks, you must respond and Abram is going to respond and I would like to suggest that this is one of the most important interactions in all of scripture.
Listen closely, “Abram believed the Lord”
Abram is told to believe that God has a really big plan that will continue long after he is dead and gone and Abram clings to that promise . . . “and it was credited to him as righteousness”.
Abram had faith in God . . . that was his starting point and because he did, God blessed him and restored him and made things right between them.
Now you would think at this point that Abram would stop asking questions but he doesn’t . . . He just can’t see how this is going to happen.
So the Lord says to him . . . ok, you need something to see then we’re gonna offer some sacrifices . . . “Get me a heifer, a goat and a ram, along with a dove and young pigeon.”
It’s interesting, when God gets us to a point where he wants to clarify someone’s doubt and solidify their faith; he always brings them back to sacrifice.
Well, Abram once again listens to God and . . . “he brings these to him and cuts them in two, arranged them in halves opposite each other.”
Now, in Abram’s time, the reason they would slaughter the animals and lay those animals out in two halves is because it was symbolic of a covenant agreement between the two, “I will keep my word. And if I don’t keep my word, you can kill me.” That’s how serious the terms of a covenant are.
Well, immediately upon the initiation of this ceremony of the covenant, “birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” Immediately, there’s opposition to the covenant. There always is. There’s always something trying to destroy it; something trying to separate you from God.
Let’s keep going . . .
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.
Here’s what happened when you entered in to a covenant. Half of a bloody animal here, the other half of the bloody animal there . . . the people who were entering in to the covenant would pass through the sacrifice saying, “I will make good on my promise, even if it kills me”
Who passes through? God.
God alone does and this is enormously important. Abram and God are not standing there entering into an agreement with God saying, “Abram, you go first. You commit yourself to me and when I see that you are doing all the right things and following all of my commands; show up to church, get involved in a bible study, pray every day, tithe . . . well, then I’ll commit myself to you.”
God looks at Abram and says, “I commit myself to you . . . Period”.
It’s a promise. Right there, God pledged himself to Abram, “I am going to do something about the mess in this world . . . even if I need to shed my own blood, I will make sure that my people are loved, forgiven, and restored.”
This is amazing because God is saying, “The promise is not dependent on you. It’s not about what you do, or who you are . . . it’s about what I do. I do the work. You simply trust.”
Isn’t that amazing!
But here’s what’s interesting . . . here’s where we three faith traditions begin to head their separate ways.
The Jews would come along and say, “No, no, no . . . the way you have right standing with God is by being Jewish. We are God’s chosen people, we are Abraham’s heirs and all people need to do to be in relationship with God is be Jewish.”
It’s who you’re related to that matters.
And then 600 years after Jesus, the prophet Muhammed would come along and say, “No, no, no . . . the way you have a right standing with God is to be Muslim and believe in God and his prophets plus you must do works and acts of righteousness. And at the end of your life, your good works will be measured against your bad, and Allah will determine if you have righteous standing.”
It's not just who you’re related to but also what you do that counts.
And then about 30 minutes after Jesus left the earth, the Christians starting arguing about this. One group said, “You have to be Jewish and keep the law of Moses and if you weren’t lucky enough to be born Jewish, you can become Jewish and we’ll let you be grafted in”. And yet another group said, “I’m pretty sure that all you have to do is have faith”. But they all said, “No, that’s too easy.”
And right on through the reformation, the Christian church has been split over the issue of how to have right standing with God.
How do you know when God says, “You’re approved, I love you, you are fine”?
4,000 year before any of these religions existed, before anyone considered themselves Christian, Muslim, or Jewish . . . God revealed a secret to Abraham.
And it’s almost impossible to comprehend that God would make the standard so simple.
The key, the formula, the way that you enter in to a relationship with me where I call you righteous and approved is not through who you are related to, and it’s not your stack of good deeds . . . it’s trust.
Trust that I love you, I have compassion for you, and I’m doing something to restore you.
Here’s the coolest part of this whole story . . . Abram had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son that leads to the Son of God, Jesus. The promise to Abraham is “I’m sending Jesus to deal with sin and to restore people into right relationship with me and everybody is counting on it.”
So, here’s the question we’ll end with this week. What if the starting point for a relationship with God was simply trust? Having faith.
Your homework this week is to think about which of these statements best reflect your view and why.
• God accepts me because of my birth. I was born into a household of faith and that faith was passed on to me. That somehow, I am made right with God because of my genes.
• God accepts me (or maybe doesn’t accept you) because of what you do (or don’t do).
• God accepts me based on what I believe.
• Or maybe a combination of any of these.
We’ll come back next week and we’ll continue to build upon this foundation of faith that we’ve been laying down over the past couple of weeks.