We’re talking about obstacles; life is full of them, everybody has them. They’re challenging and difficult to maneuver. They cause us to slow down and at times they’ll make you want to give up and just throw in the towel or not even try at all. And sometimes obstacles keep us from drawing near to God.
In other words, there are obstacles - valid reasons – that some of us keep God at arms-length or don’t believe in God at all.
- It could be suffering in the world and you can’t reconcile a good and just God against what your observing. Particularly a day like today when you wake up to the news of two mass shootings.
- Maybe you’ve known Christians who have wronged you in some way and you’re thinking, “Why would I want to be one of those?”
- Some take issue with the exclusivity of Christianity.
- It might be that the narrative of scripture doesn’t line up with scientific theories that you’ve been taught, and you just can’t get past what you see as discrepancies between the two.
- Sometimes obstacles aren’t even that specific. It isn’t that you have some big issue with God, you simply don’t care.
The obstacles that stand between people and God are real, and they’re big. There are questions that haven’t been answered and things you just can’t get past.
But what you’re going to hear me say throughout this series is that resolving your questions and overcoming your obstacles is not the thing that will draw you near to God.
So, instead of doing a series on why you should believe the bible, why there’s suffering in the world, why sometimes Christians do bad things, or whether there were 7 literal days to creation, I want to talk about the personal nature of a relationship with God because I believe that when you experience God in a very personal way, those obstacles that were too big to overcome, get a little bit smaller.
In fact, when you think about the summary statement of Christianity you see that it’s extraordinarily personal. It’s found in the book of John and it begins with these words, “For God so loved”.
The introduction to Christianity, the introduction to this whole question about whether God really exists and the obstacles that come with that question begins with something intensely personal “For God so loved” and I believe that when it dawns on you that God loves you, God knows your name, God cares about you, everything on your list of obstacles begin to get a little bit smaller.
Suddenly, whether Adam and Eve were historical figures, how did they get dinosaurs on the ark, who wrote the bible, were there 7 literal days of creation, it doesn’t matter as much.
God so loved . . . that he did something, he got involved. And today, I want to take you back to God’s first involvement that ultimately paved the way for this thing we call Christianity. This story takes place thousands of years before Jesus and it’s not about God sending commandments, or laws, or providing a FAQ sheet but instead God reveals himself to one individual in a very personal way.
And he reveals himself in stark contrast to what everybody else in the world thought about God. They viewed God as some sort of cosmic vending machine that you just had to figure out how many quarters to put in to get God to do what you wanted.
So, throughout the world, people did all sorts of things; sacrificed animals, cut themselves, gave money and riches, and burnt things, trying to get God or the gods to do what they wanted
- You need God to bless your crops just do these three things and God will bless them.
- You want more children, offer up a couple of animals in exchange for a kid.
The world was full of superstition, so families had their own gods, pieces of real estate had their own gods, places of work had their own gods, and each town had their own gods.
There was all this confusion about God and people’s approach to God was a little bit like it is now, they negotiated, “God, I want you to sit down at the bargaining table and don’t say anything. Just listen for a minute and let’s see if we can work this out. I’ll do this but here’s what I expect you to do in exchange.”
But after you’ve put in enough quarters and you kicked the machine two or three times and you don’t get anything in return, you turn around and walk off and say, “It just doesn’t work. There’s no God.”
That’s the kind of world God interrupted thousands of years before Jesus when he appeared to man named Abram, who would later become Abraham.
We’re going to reading from two different texts this morning: READ Genesis 12:1-2, Genesis 15:1-6
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.
Now this is a problem, Abram and Sarah were way beyond their child-bearing years. They have lived their long marriage wanting to have children; they most likely had done everything they knew to do with their household gods, and the customs and superstitions that people said would guarantee a kid, but it didn’t work and they still didn’t have any children. It was an embarrassment, a social nightmare.
But Abram trusted God. Afterall, no other god had approached him in such a personal way. 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 and everything God had promised, hadn’t happened, and he’s got a few questions that need to be answered.
So, God once again shows up in personal way and he says “Don’t be afraid . . . 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, when you face really big obstacles . . . don’t give up. Don’t tap out. Don’t lose sight of who God is; The God who loves you, who knows your name, and has called you!
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. This is an obstacle.
He’s confused, and the question is whether the promises of God are, in fact, trustworthy.
Sound familiar to any of you? Maybe 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. These are obstacles.
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 and obstacles to get to a place where you can say, “I don’t understand but I trust you.”
Abram is taking his doubt – this really big obstacle - 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, our obstacles, occur.
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 in life is perfect and meeting up to the expectations you have of God . . . it becomes an obstacle and you walk away or keep God at arms-length.
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”.
Despite all his questions and all his obstacles, Abram had faith in God . . . and because he did, God blessed him and restored him and made things right between them.
As we wrap up, I want to take you to another passage in scripture, Matthew 18. Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that he going to be arrested, executed, but on the third day, he will come back to life. As usual, they were confused.
The reason they were confused is because they believe that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on earth and that any minute, he was going to whistle, and the angels were going to swoop down from heaven and Rome was going to be overthrown.
Jesus’ suggestion that he was going to be executed was a huge obstacle for them. One that they would much rather overlook because it didn’t fit into their narrative of how God was supposed to act.
And so, kind of ignoring what Jesus has just told them, one of the disciples asks, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” I mean we’ve all been faithful to you; we’ve all followed you through this revolution, we’ve all paid our dues, we’ve all put quarters into the vending machine and so we want to know who’s earned the right? Which one of us do you like best?
In response, Jesus calls over a little child and has him stand in front of the disciples. And I’m sure they had no idea what this had to do with their very serious question.
Jesus pauses and then he says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.”
Unless something about the way you think and the way you operate changes. Unless you’re willing to come to God, on his terms instead of your own, you’ll never get there.
There will always be an obstacle and no matter how hard you work to overcome that obstacle, you’re never going to get there unless you humble yourself and allow God to be God; God who loves you, God who knows your name, and God who calls you to draw near.
And here’s the summary. You take the story of Abraham, you take this story, you put them together and you get clarity about the terms with which God establishes this personal relationship with people, and it’s summarized in two simple words; Trust and humility.
Abraham said, “I trust you, even though I don’t have answers to my questions”.
And Jesus says, “You’ve got to come with the humility of a child”.
God’s invitation in both these stories isn’t that you’ll get all your questions answered. His invitation is to trust him and to love him, and to humble yourself before him because as you move into a relationship with Jesus, it becomes personal. And it’s not that these obstacles and questions go away, but over time they just get smaller.
You may never overcome your obstacles, but don’t let that get in the way of God drawing near to you. Allow God to be your shield. Allow God to be your great reward!