Episode 1. Turning Mistakes into Miracles
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Abraham was a man of faith. But He made plenty of mistakes along the way. Yet God, God seemed to overlook, even to compensate for them. Why was that?
Why don’t you join Berni Dymet, as he looks at one of the defining moments in Abraham’s life.
Have you ever made one too many mistakes. You know, you get to a point where you think, That’s it! God must be done with me? Well, Abraham was a man of faith who made plenty of mistakes along the way. Yet God seemed to overlook, even to compensate for them. Why was that?
Life Changing Moments
As we travel through life we all kind of experience these moments and often they are seemingly insignificant events that in fact, turn out to change the whole course of our lives. It’s amazing when you think about it! We all have a plan for our lives but there are things just around the next corner or just over the next rise that can change everything – good things and bad things, happy things and sad things.
Some people think, “Well, it’s all a matter of chance.” Well, I don’t believe in chance. I remember a brochure that changed my life. I was attending a little church – I had not long become a Christian and it was a Sunday service like every other Sunday.
At the end of the service I walked to the back of the little church and I saw a brochure for a particular Bible College, Tabor College in Sydney. It wasn’t a particularly attractive brochure or a well designed brochure – I picked it up and that was a defining moment – I took it home, I read about this ministry degree, I prayed and I felt this incredibly strong tug in my heart.
Now in my mind I am thinking, “There’s no way. You know Berni, you have been a Christian for five minutes” but in my heart I knew. So I rang them, I applied, I went to see the Principal, I felt like such a fraud. “They are never going to accept me.” They did! And there I learned so much but also, by chance again, I came into contact with my predecessor in this ministry; the former CEO of Christianityworks and one thing led to another.
And today I’m doing what I am doing because I picked up that little brochure at the back of the church. Now I had no idea that morning that something would happen that would change the course of my life.
This week we are starting a new series on Christianityworks, it’s called “Defining Moments”. It’s really exciting! I want to look at this from a different perspective; from God’s perspective. See when we look back on our lives most of us can pick three or four, maybe half a dozen defining moments – those little things that seemed to change the whole course of our lives.
Now, sure we can see them from our natural human perspective – after all, we are people; we’re human, but if we do that I think we miss the point. I want to look at some defining moments in the lives of four people in the Bible – Abraham, Joseph, David and Josiah over the next four weeks and we are starting today with Abraham.
I want to see if we can discover how God reaches into our lives with miracles – great and small to define the very course of our lives because God does have a plan. Psalm 139, verse 16, says:
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In Your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them as yet existed.
And when we at least expect it, and even despite what you and I do or fail to do, His plan is worked out through His grace for His glory. God brings those defining moments.
Let’s start with Abraham – the man with whom God’s engagement of His chosen people began. He was living comfortably in a place called Ur, east of Israel – of course Israel didn’t exist back then. Ur was the land of the Chaldeans, later it was called Babylon – it’s just south of modern day Baghdad. And he travelled with his father up to Haran and then God called him to leave his comfort and follow this really crazy, absolutely incredulous promise.
Let’s pick it up – if you have got a Bible, grab it; open it up at Genesis chapter 12. We are going to look at the story of Abraham – it’s too much to look at it all in one programme but we are going to have a look at part of his story. Genesis chapter 12, beginning at verse 1:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram when as the Lord had told him and Lot when with him. Abram was seventy five years old when he departed form Haran.” Seventy five years old! “He and Sarai his wife and they were childless.”
You see, you have to remember, in the Old Testament, blessing; God’s blessing, you knew you had it when you had lots of land and lots of children. They had neither, so they didn’t have God’s blessing on their lives. Now the word “Abram” means “exalted father”. So even his name was a joke, but still he went, off into the never never, based on what – some intangible, crazy call from God?
Remember Abram had no Bible; he had no Scriptures to reveal who God was. He had no church tradition, or Jewish tradition – nothing like that. All the other nations had their gods; idols – they worshipped them, they believed all sorts of weird and wonderful things but Abram put his faith; he put his whole life and all his possessions in this God who came up with this incredulous promise.
How did God say this to Abram – through an audible voice, a dream, a vision, a whisper of the Spirit in his heart? We don’t know but he just heard the call and he trusted in the promises of God and off he went, into the blue yonder. Now God’s plan A, remember, is to bless Abram with land and children – impossible of course! Oozes fantasy, not faith – could never happen. And then begins Abram’s comedy of errors – pretty tragic actually.
We don’t have time to look at them all today but we are going to look at some of them. It’s a journey where Abram and Sarai his wife, made plenty of mistakes along the way. Take Lot for instance, his nephew – if you look at Genesis chapter 12 again, did God tell Abram to take Lot with him? Not at all – it was Abram’s idea. No doubt, this was plan B for Abram. “Well, if God doesn’t come through on this promise of a son, at least I’ll have a relative to be my heir” and Lot…..Lot causes him all sorts of grief. Let’s have a look – Genesis chapter 13, verse 5:
Now Lot who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents so that the land couldn’t support both of them living together, for their possessions were so great that they could not live together. And there was strife between the herders of Abram’s stock and the herders of Lot’s stock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me – between your herders and my herders for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I’ll go to the right; of you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Lot looked about him and saw the plain of the Jordan that was well watered everywhere like this garden of the Lord; like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar – this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan and Lot eastward thus he separated from Abram.
Gee, plan B worked really well for Abram didn’t it? Obviously God didn’t know what He was promising Abram and needed a back up! And look how it turned out! Strife, separation and then Abram gave away the best half of the Promised Land. And if you read on in chapter 14, Abram risks his life and God’s plan because he has to fight a battle to save Lot’s life.
Lot was not part of plan A and in chapter 19 of Genesis (we won’t go there for now for time reasons) but he ends up sleeping with his own daughters and fathers the Moabites and the Ammonites; both nations that became enemies of Israel. Huh – well done Abram! God obviously needed your help!!
Who Can Blame Him?
Well, who can blame Abram? He is in his late seventies now on a journey to nowhere and Sarai is no spring chicken either, I have to tell you. And God gives him this utterly incongruous, impossible promise and Abram is aching inside. “God, what are You doing?” Can you relate to that? I can!
Let’s have a look at the defining moment in Abram’s journey. It begins in Genesis chapter 15, verse 1:
After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Abram, I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me for I continue childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer, son of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
But the Word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir. No one but a son coming from your very own body shall be your heir.” God brought him outside and said, “Look toward the heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then the Lord said to him, “So shall your descendants be!” And Abram believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
I reckon this is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Is Abram a man of faith? Absolutely! But he is struggling – he has tried everything he can do in his own strength and he can’t make this promise from God happen and time is marching on. So through his doubt, he ends up with plan C or D or whatever he is up to. How does God respond – with rebuke, with punishment, with discipline?
God brought him outside and said, “Look toward the heaven and count the start, if you are able to count them.” Then God said “So will your descendants be!
Isn’t it beautiful? You know, the Milky Way when you get away from the smog and the lights of the city is just the most awesome thing – there are so many stars out there – it almost looks like clouds. Trillions of stars – this is the love of God!
And he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abram’s faith meant that God’s righteousness became part of who he was.
It’s a theme the Apostle Paul picks up in Romans chapter 4 and in Galatians chapter 3 in the New Testament, much later. See I struggle with the rose coloured glasses that Paul and others in the New Testament use to look back on Abraham. They paint him as this paragon of virtue; this great man of faith. Hebrews chapter 11, beginning at verse 8:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he didn’t know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country, for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age and Sarah herself was barren, was enabled to become a father.
That’s great but what about all of Abraham blunders? What about his lack of faith? He goes to God and says to God, “What will You give me? What will You show me? I can’t see it – I’m losing hope.” See, Abraham was human – Abraham had human failures and he made mistakes just like you and me – but the answer is in what we just read in Genesis.
How is it that despite all of Abraham’s blunders and doubts, God’s plan still came to fruition? Because Abraham: “believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed – he didn’t do it perfectly – but he believed and this was counted by God as righteousness. The righteousness of God when we believe, He forgives our sins – He forgets them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.”
You see, that’s why in the New Testament it doesn’t talk about Abraham’s mistakes because God has forgiven them and they are not relevant. That’s how God deals with Abraham’s human failings. This is the defining moment in Abraham’s journey: he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. This night that was like any other; he was in his tent; he was struggling; he was praying; he was saying, ‘God, what are you doing?’ And God just touches him and brings him outside and says, “Look up at the stars; as many as are there so numerous will be your descendants.”
It’s not about what Abraham did or didn’t do. The defining moment is about God’s grace! And come and look with me exactly how imperfectly Abraham believed. Come and see with me how human and frail his faith actually is. He is credited with righteousness – God speaks to him and right on the back of that, just two verses later, in Genesis chapter 15, verse 8, begins this:
But he said “O Lord, God, how am I to know I shall possess it?” And God said to him, “Bring Me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle dove and a young pigeon.” He brought God all those things and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abraham drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Know this for certain that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs and they shall be slaves there and they shall be oppressed there for four hundred years but I will bring judgement on the nation that they serve and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you yourself, you shall go with your ancestors in peace and you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, and a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day (listen to this) On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, “To your descendants I give this land – from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates and the land of the Kenites and the Kenizzites and the Kadmonites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Raphaim and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
See, in the face of further doubt from Abraham, God gives him this vision and he makes an unbreakable promise; a covenant; a promise from God Himself to Abraham.
The Last Laugh
Just as well, this covenant from God was an unbreakable promise because what happens next, after the stars thing and the vision and the promise, would have been the final straw for me if I had been God. Have a look at the next
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave girl whose name was Hagar and Sarai said to Abram, “You see the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go into my slave girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Abram listened to the voice of his wife Sarai, so after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian; her slave girl and gave her to her husband Abraham as a wife.
He went into Hagar and she conceived and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you. I gave my slave girl to you to embrace and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
Ok, men had more than one wife in those days but people haven’t changed that much. Wives, how happy would you be with this outcome? Your husband sleeping with a slave girl and then all of a sudden the slave girl is pregnant. Can you see how perverted this is? And the son that Hagar bore was Ishmail and he became the father of the Arab world! Gee, that worked out brilliantly, didn’t it?
And so Abram, left to his own devices would have lurched from one blunder to the next but now the bit that really gets me about this story, is the ending. Both Abram and Sarai get to the point – I mean this has been going on for years now; decades where they just end up laughing at God’s promises. I mean they are so ridiculous; they are so impossible – have a look – Abram first in Genesis chapter 17, verse 15:
God said to Abram, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai anymore but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her and she will give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah who is ninety years old bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmail might live in Your sight.” And God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”
And then Sarah’s turn next! God appears to Abraham in the form of three men and those men said to him,
“Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance, behind them. Now Abraham and Sarah, they were old and advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, “After I have grown old and my husband is old, shall I have the pleasure?”
See, can you blame Abraham and Sarah for laughing at God? I mean if you don’t laugh you will cry. It has been twenty five years – they headed away on this fool’s errand into the blue yonder. Abraham is over a hundred – Sarah is over ninety – come on God, what do You think You are doing? But let’s see how it ends! Genesis chapter 21:
The Lord dealt with Sarah just as He had said and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah had borne.
Do you know what the word “Isaac” means? It means “he laughs” – you see God had the last laugh! They both laughed at God’s promises and God gives them a son called Isaac and God has the last laugh! It’s the laughter of God’s grace.
And when you look back on this journey, what was the defining moment? See, what you and I want to look at is say: “What do I have to do….what do I have to do? What do I have to do to get God’s favour?” Isn’t that what we are always thinking? And you look at all of Abraham’s blunders and you see all the mistakes he made but in his heart he believed and it was reckoned unto him by God as righteousness. His faith trumped his failures! Let me say that again … Abraham’s faith trumped his failures!
People came to Jesus years later and they said, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the One whom He has sent.”
Do you get it? The defining moment for Abraham was God’s gracious, loving, powerful, impossible, unbreakable, ridiculous, only God could ever do it, take it forever….promise. And in his heart Abraham believed.
That’s the bit that God saw and took and used and blessed Abraham through. That’s why the New Testament writers can completely ignore the failures of Abraham because God….God had forgotten them a long time ago. God had decided to overlook them a long time ago.
Abraham was not a perfect man – Abraham was human just like you and me. You make blunders in your life; I make blunders in my life. What does God look at? He looks at whether we put our trust in Him through Jesus Christ.
God not only forgave Abraham and Sarah but He cleaned up their mess along the way so that His plan would be fulfilled and realised for His glory. Look again at the defining moment in Abraham’s life…Genesis chapter 15, verses 5 and 6:
God brought Abraham outside and said, “Look up toward the heaven. Count the stars if you are able to count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your descendants be. And Abraham believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
What do I have to do to do the works of God? To believe in the One whom He sent; His Son, Jesus Christ!