Why Abram?

We find ourselves in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. It is really the beginning of the story. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are prehistorical. They explain how certain things came to be. The twelfth chapter is the beginning of the history of God’s Chosen People, the Hebrews. According to the text it all began with a man named Abram. The name Abram means “exalted father.” It is impossible to completely understand the story of God’s Chosen People without a basic understanding of Abram. According to verse four, Abram was seventy-five years old when God spoke to him. I do not play the numbers game with the Bible. If the Bible says Abram was seventy-five years old, then Abram was seventy-five years old. The Lord tells the seventy-five-year-old Abram everything in his life is about to change. God commands him to relocate. God’s words to Abram should not be taken lightly. They are important words. If you examine those words closely, you discover it is a sevenfold promise. Count them with me:

  1. I will make you a great nation.
  2. I will bless you.
  3. I will make your name great.
  4. You will be a blessing.
  5. I will bless those who bless you.
  6. Whoever curses you I will curse.
  7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Never forget, Jesus was a descendant of Abram. That fact is not wasted on the Jews.

God’s request to relocate was clear, but no destination was given. He is to leave Mesopotamia and settle in an unknown location. I guess, Abram was lucky. Without instructions, he settled in the land where God wanted him to be, Canaan. Abram traveled safely, but he did not travel alone. Along with his possessions and the people he had acquired, he traveled with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. To celebrate their arrival in Canaan, Abram built an altar to God. I do not want to complain, but this is the church. Someone must complain. Why not me?

I find the selection of Abram to be odd. Do not think of Abram as a saint. Think of Abram as a man. In basic terms, God choose an established elderly married gentleman to be the father of a new nation. It is important to note seventy-five years old Abram and Sarai had no children. God does not need my advice, but I am going to give it. Abram was an odd choice. If you are going to start something new, then you need someone young. Young people have new ideas. Young people have more energy. Young people like change. Young people like to move. Young people procreate to create a new generation and, in this case, a new nation. None of those things apply to Abram. I do not want to sound critical but many of the aged have a hard time thinking out of the box. The aged look forward to that afternoon nap. The aged love remembering the good old days. The aged celebrate their stability. The aged love their grandchildren because they go home at the end of the visit. Do I have to go on? Abram was an odd choice, but we should not be surprised because God has always selected the odd and imperfect to serve. We find that to be the case on the New Testament too.

It is the custom in many churches to look at the disciples during the season of Lent. We like to think of them as saints, but they had their imperfections too. Through human eyes, none of them would have been selected to start a new organization. Through critical eyes, each one was flawed. Many years ago, I came across a fictious letter written to Jesus by a consulting group regarding the disciples. You may remember it. It reads like this:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given because of staff consultation and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

We should not be surprised God chose Abram because God has always chosen the imperfect. How faithful are you? Perfection is not important to God. The only thing that matters to God is faithfulness. There is no way you can question Abram’s faithfulness. Do you remember the story?

It is found in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. Abram’s name has been changed. Abram, exalted father, is now called Abraham, father of the multitude. The father of the multitude has one child, Isaac. Abraham was one-hundred years old when Isaac was born. Sarah was ninety. According to the story, Abraham is instructed by God to travel the region of Moriah. He traveled three days with two servants and his son Isaac. They have everything they needed for a burnt offering, wood, and fire. The only missing was the animal to be sacrificed. At some point, Isaac discovers he is the one to be sacrificed. Abraham pulls his knife and surrenders his son in his heart. At the last second, the boy is spared, and any question of Abraham’s faithfulness is erased. Only one question remains. How faithful are you?

As I wrote this message I thought about my own calling. As I look back on my life, I see my call clearly. I felt my call from a young age. However, from a young age, I tried to ignore it. When I was in high school, I was terrified of public speaking. I shook like a leaf in front of the smallest group. My dyslexic eyes made it hard to me to read the smallest part. I found myself memorizing longer parts. I graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration. It was a good degree for me, because I really did not know what to do with my life. I got a job at a local bank and worked there for over a year. Then, I sold ad space in a small independent newspaper on the shores of Lake Erie. I hated the bank job, but I liked the sales job, because I was not over supervised and built a weekly relationship with my customers. However, I knew that job was not going to be my career. I had two jobs in three years. I call those three years my wilderness experience. I was lost in many ways. Not really knowing what to do I decided to go to seminary and face my fears.

I started seminary in Indianapolis. I enrolled at Christian Theological Seminary, in the shadows of Butler University. I selected that school for some very local reasons. The logical has never worked for me. I knew, I had made a mistake from the first day. I stayed one long year and during that long year I was the Youth Director at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Frankfort, Indiana. (Their mascot of the local high school was a hot dog because they were the frankfurters.) It was not a great situation. I was the world’s worst Youth Director, and the Senior Pastor of that church at that time was a fool. I preached my first sermon in that church at the early Easter service. It was horrible. Someone called the church office the next day to complain because I was so poor. That person was not wrong.

After my year-long incarceration in Indiana, I transferred to Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I went there with nothing, but in my soul, I knew I was in the right place for the first time. Looking for a job, I found a bulletin board with index cards. One of those index cards changed my life. There was a small membership church near Lancaster who was looking for a student pastor. No experience was required. That evening I called the number on the card and set up an interview. The voice on the other end of the line was kind. The committee that interviewed me was kind. When I preached my first horrible sermon there, the congregation was kind. I pastored that church for three years and I have nothing negative to say about them. I learned a great deal during my time with them. I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to be a better pastor. I learned how to be a better preacher. However, most of all, it was in that church my call was confirmed. If I have done anything positive in the ministry, it is because of that kind small membership church near Lancaster, Kentucky. That congregation has a special place in my heart.

I am a living example that God is not looking for perfect people. I have a surplus of imperfections. You can ask anyone who has ever worked with me. I could have called this message Why Russ? However, this is equally true. I do not worry about being perfect. I only worry about being faithful. I hope God sees me as being faithful. This is the question you must answer. How faithful are you? It is not just the story of professional clergy. It is the story of anyone who wants to serve God in this world. Forget perfection and worry about faithfulness. Your faithfulness is the only thing that matters to God. Founder of the Christian Men’s Network, Edwin Louis Cole (1922-2002) once said, “Your faithfulness makes you trustworthy to God.” How far can God trust you?

Defeating Self-Doubt

Let me begin and end with stories about two bearded presidents. The twenty-third President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901). He was a Republican from Indiana. He served as president from 1889-1893. It was during his term the White House was wired for electricity. The White House was wired for electricity in 1891. Electricity had only been around about ten years. Many were still skeptical. Harrison was one. He must have wished it would have waited for his successor, Grover Cleveland (1837-1908). Historians tells us Harrison was intimidated by electricity. He and his wife, Caroline (1832-1892), refused to touch a single light switch. They were afraid of being electrocuted. They were so paralyzed by fear the Harrisons often slept with the lights on. If no servants were present to turn them off. I tell you that story for one reason. Our fears and self-doubts have a way of paralyzing us. It is a common fact today. That takes us to today’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis. Abram is ninety-nine-years-old. (I do not play the numbers game. If the Bible says he was ninety-nine, then he was ninety-nine.) His covenant with God was yesterday’s news. It had been twenty-four years since God made the great promise to make his descendants a great nation. There is only one problem. He still has no children with Sarai. Abram must have feared he was the reason for God’s inactivity. Abram had made many mistakes. You can find those mistakes between Genesis 12 thru 16. Yet in Genesis 17, we discover that God’s great promise had not been forgotten. To underscore this reaffirmation, God changes Abram’s name. Abram is now to be called Abraham. Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of many” or “father of the multitude.” The covenant is not just reestablished. It is expanded. Abraham’s self-confidence must have been restored. The way you look at yourself changes everything.

My goal today is to help you restore your self-confidence. That is no small task. How many people do you know struggle with self-doubt? Do you struggle with self-doubt? It is a serious issue. Have you ever stopped to consider Satan puts self-doubt into your life because he does not want you to maximize your full potential? He wants you to live in a shell, afraid to come out. God, on the other hand, wants you to live up to your full potential. He wants you to have the greatest impact on your little corner of the world because you are His ambassador. After all, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ! I am going to restore your self-confidence by asking you three questions. Each correct answer is illustrated in Abraham’s story.

This is the first question. Do you know yourself? Abraham was 99 years old in the Bible story. That means he had 99 years to learn about the world and himself. That is one of the things I like about growing older. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of the young is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” Experience has taught me age makes us secure. When you are young you feel like you have something to prove. You must be the fastest. You must be the strongest. You must be well versed in automotive repairs, construction, and French cooking. You must be the best looking and the most successful. Being young is exhausting. The older you grow the less you must prove and the more you learn to like yourself. Today, the only person I am trying to impress today is myself. I am no longer trying to impress you and I do not care if you do not like me. I do not want to sound arrogant. However, I do want to sound secure.

The most liberating words in my life are the words, “I don’t know!” I am quite comfortable confessing my ignorance. I know nothing plumbing, auto repair, foreign policy, sewing, crafts, and the finer details of physics. I cannot speak a word of Portuguese. I cannot read music or play a musical instrument. Except for my awarding winning chili, I do not cook, but I will eat anything. I do not know anyone interviewed on the late-night talk shows. Saying, “I don’t know,” does not mean you do not know anything. It means only means “I don’t know” about certain things. I do not know anything about cardiology, but I know something about God, preaching, the Bible, church growth and group dynamics. I know I love my wife and my wife loves me. This is the truth. I like being sixty-three years old because I have had sixty-three years to learn about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I have grown secure. Abraham had ninety-nine years to learn about himself. Does anyone here know everything? When was the last time you uttered those three little words, “I don’t know?” Abraham knew who he was, and so did Jesus. Let me ask you the first question again, do you know who you are? Self-confident people know themselves.Do you know yourself?

This is the second question. Do you know whose you are? That is Abraham’s story. We can relate to him because he was so much like us. Genesis 12-16 is filled with one story after another about his mistakes. If God was looking for perfection, then He would have passed over Abraham. However, this is the good news. God was not looking for perfection and accepted the imperfect Abraham to be the father of a great nation. It is still true today. If God was looking for perfection, then God would have passed over us. God hungers to be with us not because we are perfect. God hungers to be with us because he loves us.

One of the great preachers of yesteryear was Philip Brooks (1835-1893). He was extremely confident and optimistic. A close friend asked him what the source of his attitude about life was. He replied, “It is really quite simple. I am a Christian.” Once you discover God’s love for you, everything changes. Just think about it for a second. God claims you as a child. In the end, God will be victorious, and He wants to share the spoils of that victory with you! It really does not matter what the world says about you. The only thing that really matters is that God loves you! Jesus was self-confident because he knew whose he was. Abraham was self-confident because he knew whose he was. You should be self-confident because God loves you too. Let me ask you the second question again, do you know whose you are? Self-confident people know they are loved by God. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are?

This is the third and final question. Do you know where you are going? Abraham had hope. He knew he had a bright future. He was going to be the father of a great nation. In the Christian faith, Jesus had hope. He knew he was going to heaven when his suffering in this world was over. May we never forget that Jesus suffered. The Apostle’s Creed says: He (Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Jesus knew he was going to heaven when it was all over. All he had to do was hold on, but it is not just Jesus’s story. It is our story too.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt completely defeated? There did not seem to be any escape and every day was a challenge. It was a challenging situation, but you have hope because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You know the main event is not this world. The main event is heaven. Someday the challenges of this world are going to be over and you get to go heaven! I have said it a million times. The only things that really matter are the things that will matter in one hundred years. The only thing that will matter in one hundred years is Jesus. Someday we are going to heaven! Let me ask you the third question again, do you know where you are going? Self-confident people are hopeful. When you find yourself defeated by self-doubt ask yourself these three questions. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are? Do you know where you are going? Let me end with this story.

History tells us Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States. His life is well documented, so it should come as no surprise he was shot at Washington DC’s Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. He died at the Petersen House across the street from the theater a day later. Due to his height, they laid him sideways on the bed. He is considered the last casualty of the American Civil War. The political climate of America on that day was ugly. The country was in turmoil and was ripped to shreds by hatred and a cruel, costly war. In the past, I told you about the items found inside of Lincoln’s pockets on that horrible evening. Do you remember them? In President Lincoln’s pockets were found:

          1. A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln”
          2. A country boy’s pen knife
          3. A spectacles case repaired with string
          4. A purse containing a $5 Confederate bill
          5. Some newspaper clippings

One of the newspaper clippings was an article written by British statesman John Bright (1811-1889). He called Lincoln, “one of the greatest minds of all times.” Today, that is common knowledge, but that was not the case in Lincoln’s time. Lincoln’s critics were fierce. Lincoln kept Bright’s words for one reason. He could not believe anyone would say he had a great mind. All these years later, we can confess the truth. Lincoln suffered from depression and self-doubt.

I do not have an article which says you are one of the great minds of all time, but I do have a divine truth that cannot be debated. You are a child of God! There is no reason to be filled with self-doubt. You are so valuable to God. You are so valuable to God He sent Jesus into the world so you can spend eternity with him. I hope you do. Canadian author Marty Rubin (born 1964) once said, “Self-doubt inflicts the deepest wounds.”

What Dads Deserve

Today, we are in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. This story does not stand in isolation. It is just one in a series of stories about Abraham. Do you remember what has happened to Abraham to this point? When we are first introduced to him, his name is Abram. That name means “the father of many.” Of all the people on the face of the earth, Abram caught God’s eye. Not because of his sinless nature or his good looks. Instead, he caught God’s eye because of his character. In other words, he was a man who simply wanted to please God. In one of the great stories in the Bible, God promised Abram that he would someday be a father of a great nation. In time, his name is changed from Abram, the father of many, to Abraham, the father of the multitude. Everything sounds great except for one glaring fact.  It is as true today as it was then; God does things in God’s time. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, welcome their first-born into the world at the age of ninety-nine and ninety-eight. That birth not only ruined their retirement plans, but it demonstrated the power of God. They named their long-awaited son Isaac. All of this is necessary to understand this morning’s scripture lesson.

When Isaac was twelve years old, God decided to test Abraham. God must be number one in your life. The father-son team head off to make a sacrifice. Isaac does not know until the last second that he is the sacrifice. In the end, the life of a goat was taken, and the boy is spared. It is a cruel story in many ways. However, what I love about the story is it illustrates for us Abraham was a good father. It has been said, it is must easier to become a father, then to be a father. Let us look at three things dads deserve. Each one is illustrated in our story for today.

Dads deserve to be respected!

First, dads deserve to be respected. In the Genesis story, Isaac respected his father. He even let him tie him up and lay him on the altar. Let me say this clearly. Respect should never be given blindly. Respect must be earned. Fatherhood is not simply a biological act. Fatherhood is a relationship. What are you doing with your life to earn your children’s respect? Dads deserve to be respected. Do you, did you, respect your father?

Dads deserve to be trusted!

Second, dads deserve to be trusted. It really is quite a scene. Abraham and Isaac travel to a remote location. When the time comes for the sacrifice the father bounds the son. Abraham draws his knife to slay his son. At the last second God stops the killing. All these years later it is still shocking. Yet, there is no sign in the story Isaac stops trusting his father. Dads deserve to be trusted. Do you, did you, trust your father?

Dads deserve grace!

Third, dads deserve grace. Isaac must have needed some serious counseling after that day. He must have had a million questions and he must have had some sleepless nights. Yet, the relationship between Abraham and Isaac moved on. He forgave his father. I have never known a perfect father. However, I have known countless fathers who made mistakes and who needed to be forgiven. I have known fathers who have experienced grace. Maybe it is time you forgave your father? Dads deserve grace. Have you shown you father grace?If not, it is not too late.

My father, Ronald Adams, was born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1920. His father, my grandfather, Roger Adams, had a variety of jobs during the Great Depression. Growing up I never heard the word poverty, but money was tight. My father was just a child during the depression, but the poverty of those years never left him. I have worked with many who lived through the Great Depression. They reacted to the Depression in one of two ways. Either, they rejected the poverty and became very generous. Or, they feared poverty and became very frugal. My sister, Susan, is a much kinder person than me. She says our father was frugal. I say our father was cheap. He would not even buy new socks. He held the old ones up with rubber bands. He never handled money easily. Saving money was one of his great preoccupations. Through my eyes he was cheap.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Empire. My father was twenty-one years old. He and his brother, my Uncle Carlisle, volunteered for military service. My father joined the Army. My uncle joined the Navy. My uncle went to the Pacific. My father was in the medical corps and started off in North Africa. In time, he moved up to the boot of Italy as the war progressed. He must have experienced some horrible things. He died with those tales. He never spoke of those experiences. When the war ended in Europe, he prepared to move to Manila. The day before they were to leave, the orders were canceled because the first of the atomic bombs was dropped. When the war itself ended, my father arranged to stay in Europe. He wanted to do some sightseeing. It seemed to be a wise choice. He was in his mid-twenties, single with a high school education, and unemployed. He saw many things that most only see in pictures. Those may have been the happiest days of his life.

When he returned home, he used his G.I. Bill to get an education. He was an interior decorator by trade. He first went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then he went to the New York School of Interior Design. It was while he was in New York that he met my mother. They met at a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. They were married at a Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn and had their wedding reception at my grandparent’s home around the corner. They spent their wedding night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Staying in New York was never an option. He wanted always wanted to return to Ohio, his home.

In time, they would move to a magical place called Warren, Ohio. They bought their first home when my twin sisters, Susan, and Janet, were born. I was born seven years later. My mother was a dietitian who worked at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. My father was a buyer for Carlisle-Allen Department Store. As a child, I thought our home was boring. It was not until I became an adult, that I discovered it was exceptional. Our home was always stable, and my parents rarely fought. My parents went to church every Sunday and to work every day. In those days’ loyalty was a big deal. My father stayed with the store for over thirty years. On the day he retired, no one noticed, because no one cared. He gave his life to “the store,” and he deserved better. Yet, several years later when “the store” closed, he grieved.

On this Father’s Day, can I be honest with you? I never felt close to my father. I really do not know why. I like to think we were both good people. Everybody seemed to like him. He intimidated me. I do not want to sound critical. However, I want to be honest.

My father showed very little tolerance with me. I cannot remember a single time standing next to my father not feeling nervous. He never hit me, but I was always ready for his backhand. I was often the brunt of his jokes for his stand-up routine. I think, it is better to be yelled at and taken seriously, then laughed at and be dismissed. I yearned to have a relationship with my father, but it never came. My father died in 1996. I grieved when he died. However, I did not grieve for the relationship we had, because we had no relationship. I grieved for the relationship we never had and never will.

Several years ago, my sister’s mother-in-law died. Mrs. Naylor was 92 years old and she was part of my family’s life for decades. I attended the service and drove to the cemetery for the committal. It was not my first trip to that mausoleum. It is the same mausoleum that holds the remains of my parents. Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Naylor are directly across from my parents.

As I stood by my parents’ names on the wall, three things struck me. First, time goes fast. My father died almost twenty-five years ago. How could it be almost twenty-five years? How fast will the next twenty-five years go? I wonder where I will be twenty-five years from now. I wonder if I will still be alive. Second, I have a good life. I can trace all the best things in my life back to my parents. My mother made sure our home was filled with love. There was always enough to eat and drink. Our clothes were clean. Our home was warm. My parents gave me what every child really wants and needs – stability. Third, the time has come for me to stop being critical of my father and start remembering him with grace. Time has taught me the best you can do is the best best you can do. Perfection is impossible. I like to think my father did his best with me. It is not easy being a father. It is not easy being a parent. I am doing the best I can with my children. I hope they do not look for perfection. They did not receive it in me. I hope they look at me with grace. I have heard it said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.”   Happy Father’s Day!