You need to understand that it is a journey. And you’re going to pass a test, pass a test, and you’re going to fail.
And, you know what I like about this reality of Scripture is God doesn’t say, “Gosh, this is the second time. Hey, Gabriel! Gabriel! Gabe, Gabe! Yo! Gabe! Abraham is not really doing very well. You know, he didn’t do good with the security one and he’s not doing good with this one. Let’s throw him out and start with someone new.” Does the text say that? Or is God understanding when you blow it and when he blows it?
And out of His mercy and His grace when you come back and say, “Lord, I should have waited on You, but I didn’t. I’m sorry.” You meet a God who is Most High and merciful.
And so he flunks test number five and then we go to test number six. And this is the test of obedience. And you might jot chapter 17. And chapter 17 is pretty interesting and those of you that have been around church for a while, you have heard this word a lot, and you just skim right over it.
And some of you, like me, that never opened the Bible until you’re eighteen or twenty-five or whatever, God asked him, again, He makes this covenant, and God again reaffirms Abraham, “I’m with you and I’m going to do this,” and so then God says, “Let’s seal the deal in a very special way.”
And the test here is, Are you willing to trust Him when He asks you to do something that doesn’t make any sense? And so let’s get all the biblical thinking out of the room just for a minute. And imagine being Abraham. And you’re following and you’re learning.
And He says, “Okay, Abraham, now, here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to circumcise yourself, all your servants, all the men, and your boy.” “What?” “Yeah.” “Could You give a little instruction on this one?” “Yeah!” “That would hurt!” “Yep.”
I mean, we kind of gloss over, I don’t want to get too graphic here. But think how weird that that would, like, are you kidding me? I mean, what does this have to do with worship?
I’m telling you, God, on your journey of faith, will ask you to do some things that don’t make sense and He will make it clear. That may not be His will for anyone else, but for you it is. Will you trust Him?
Chapter 18 we will kind of skip over. Abraham passes that one. He gets up early, he does it.
Chapter 20, he goes back and revisits test number one on security and he fails that one. And are you getting to see it? It’s a journey, it’s a human, it’s a God who loves.
And then, finally, we get to the final exam. And the question is, Will you trust Me with everything and everyone in your life? And, by the way, you don’t get to the final exam like this until you realize that all these things have been leading up to it.
And so God makes an outrageous, absolutely outrageous request. And from the culture of the day and the way that other deities were worshipped, this was not too bizarre because many of the Canaanites and others were practicing these kinds of things.
And so the outrageous request is, “Okay, Abraham, I want you to take your son, your only son, and I want you to sacrifice him, on a mountain that I will show you.” And then it’s very interesting, he has really grown. The boy is about thirteen now. He has seen that God keeps His promises.
We’ll learn, from the book of Hebrews a little bit later, that he believed that if God promised it’s going to come through Isaac, that if he does this, God would actually raise him from the dead. And then he takes, after his obedient response, he takes a long walk. It’ a three day journey.
He’s got a lot of time to think about, Do I really want to follow this God or not? This is way too hard. I mean, this is the pinnacle. See, what God knew is that that boy that he longed for, little by little by little, was usurping the place and the role that only God can have, for us to be healthy. And that boy, just like can happen in our marriages or with our kids or with our jobs or with our money, it becomes an idol.
And God knows that anytime you have an idol, anything or anyone that takes His rightful place as the King and Master and Lord and CEO in your life, what He knows is it will destroy the idol, it will destroy you, and destroy your relationship with Him.
So He brings a test and says, “Hey, I want the boy.” And then they built an altar, and the moment of truth, he takes the knife, and he brings it up, that’s where God comes through, when we surrender everything and everyone.
And then listen to the reason, “Then the Lord said, ‘Because you have obeyed Me, and have not withheld even your beloved son, I swear by My own self, that I will bless you richly. I will multiply your descendants into countless millions like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. They will conquer their enemies and through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed, all because you have obeyed Me.”
I have a friend that has had a tremendous impact on my life who is a writer. And he wrote about this issue of obedience and faith. And he said, “When God calls us to risk, He means risk. And it can cost us all that we have. But when we take risks with God, we gain all that He has. We can never know God in His power and love without taking risks with Him. It’s impossible.
“Risk demands trust. In fact, risk is another word for trust. A trust that calls for us to give up our control and our security to rest in His control and His security before we fully know what that means. It wouldn’t be trust if we knew what the risk means for us.” And then Bill Lawrence writes, “That’s the key to knowing God. We have to trust Him before we know what trusting Him means.”
What did Abraham know? What happened in his heart? What happened in his journey where he actually came to the point that he could believe that God is so good and so powerful and so kind and so faithful to His promises that it was safe to even sacrifice his son?
And I want to suggest, as you look on your notes, that Abraham’s confidence in God’s promises and God’s character were the secret to his surrender and reward. It wasn’t that he was better. It wasn’t that he was higher. It wasn’t that he’s different than you. It wasn’t like Abraham brought up the knife and the movie script stopped and he pulled off his robe, bum ba buum! Superman! You know, he had an “S” on his chest, he’s not really like you. He can just do it. That’s not it!
Abraham had a great God. He learned the lessons, even the ones that he failed. What he believed was, God’s promises are always true. God’s character is always trustworthy, no matter what He asks. Whether it’s about protection, whether it’s about my possessions, whether it’s about waiting, whether it’s about a relationship, whether it’s about a decision. No matter what He asks, the safest, best response is to trust Him.
The New Testament picks up the theme. Speaking of Abraham, it said, “He staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief.” In other words, he didn’t stumble. “He staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but he was strong in faith, giving glory to God,” notice, “being fully persuaded that what He promised, He,” God, “was able also to perform.” That’s what I need to believe. That’s what you need to believe.
When it gets scary with your finances, when it gets scary with one of your kids, when it gets scary and you’re single and you keep getting older, when it gets scary when you feel God nudging you to relocate but you don’t want to. Listen to Him!
Notice it says, “Without faith,” Hebrews 11:6 summarizes, “Without faith, it’s impossible to please God.” We have developed this phony Christianity around America and many parts of the world where we think being a Christian is being a little bit nicer than most people, being a little bit more moral than most people, and going to religious services and patting each other on the back thinking, “Now, that’s a Christian. I’m a Christian. I’m a little bit nicer. I don’t cuss, but I used to. I even went on a mission trip once. I gave some money to Haiti, aren’t I good?”
Being a follower of Christ is believing in God’s promises and God’s character to the point of risk! First and foremost, accepting the biggest risk that you are going to turn from your sin and allow Him to forgive it and receive eternal life.
And then say, “I’m going to go on a journey of actually following Him.” Without faith it’s impossible to believe Him. It’s risk, it’s trusting. But, notice that the passage goes on to explain, “For he that comes to God must believe two things: first, that He exists.” That He really exists. And not just that He exists but who He really is, that He is faithful, that He is good, that He is powerful. But not just believing that He exists but that He is, would you circle in your notes that word, a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
I dare you to read Genesis chapter 12 through 22 and every time Abraham takes a step, in fact, even when he blows it, when he messes up, God appears to him and each time, what does He do? He expands the blessing and says, “Abraham, just trust Me.”
The number one goal of God in your life is that you would learn to trust Him. It’s progressive. But with everything and everyone. And here’s the deal, here’s how this really works: surrender, here’s what we learn from Abraham, surrender is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow. Surrender is not like, the few, the proud, the Marines, the one kid in the youth group that’s willing to really stand up for Christ and the one business guy who is willing to step out and the people that go on short-term missions and some guy that leaves the business world or some woman you go into full-time ministry.
No. Surrender is for every, single follower of Christ. And if you can imagine a kind and benevolent, loving God that has already demonstrated that by dying for you, and imagine an ocean full of blessings because He is your Father and He cares about you and knows you and where you have been and where you’re hurt and what you need.
And He has all these blessings because He is your Father and He wants a relationship and He wants to help you. And there is this huge PVC pipe, okay? Really big. And the blessings flow through it, errrrrrr, but you need to hook it into your heart so you receive them, you know what the PVC pipe is? Surrender.
Surrender is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow. The greatest compliment you will ever give to God and what He wants the most, is for you to say, “Dad, Papa, Abba, I trust You. I trust You with my money, I trust You with my singleness, I trust You in my marriage, I trust You with this troubled child, I trust You to give me wisdom, I trust You with this relocation, I trust You even though I am out of a job. I trust You.
“And so what I want to do is I’m not going to read two chapters to keep the devil away. I trust You. I want to know You and I want to talk to You and I want to read this book because I want my heart and Your heart to be connected. I want to know what Your promises are. I want to love You and get to know You. I want to share my life, I want to see what You want to do in me and through me. I want to fulfill Your purpose and my destiny in this world.” And God says, “The channel through which that happens is trust.”
The apostle Paul would really summarize it in one verse. It’s the R12 journey and probably most of you in this room, since we have more people now in small groups than even attend worship. You’re going to read chapters 1 through 5, they are short, little chapters. And it’s all based on Paul saying to you and to me, “If you want to know what it looks like to surrender in our day,” he’s going to say, “I urge you, therefore, my brothers and my sisters, in view of God’s mercy,” the eleven chapters of grace and love in Romans, “to offer your body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. This is your spiritual service of worship.”
Would you underline in your notes offer your body? We started with the question: What does God really want from me? If there is a God, what does He really want? Here’s what He wants: you! Your actual, physical body. He wants you! Your eyes, your hands, your heart.
And then notice, what does it say? “This,” underline the word, “this is your spiritual service of worship.” And when He has all of you, the dominos will fall. He will show you what to do with your future, your time, your relationships, your money. But why? For your good! And so that you fulfill His purposes.
Jesus put it this way. He said, “Surrender is the key to true spirituality.” And He gave an agricultural example in John chapter 12. He says, “Unless a grain of wheat fall unto the earth and die, it remains by itself alone.” In other words, if you take a grain of wheat, keep it out here. But if you bury it, let it die, then it brings forth much fruit.
And He says that is a picture of the spiritual life. And then He goes on in verse 25 to say, “There are some people that even though they say, ‘God, I love You and I want to follow You,’ they say, ‘God, here’s my fists and they are clenched. I want to follow You my way, my time, my conditions, my agenda. I’m not going to move out from my girlfriend, I’m not going to let You mess with my money, and I’ve got my future pretty well laid out. But I’d really like to get into heaven and if I get into ICU, I could really use some help. But it’s on my terms, of course.’”
And you know what happens to the PVC pipe? Errrrrrrng. The valve just got shut off. See, you can either allow Him to be God or you can be God. And if you’re God, you get to rely on all the resources you have and what I would say is, “Good luck.” Or you let Him be God. And He is all-powerful.
I have a stack of emails about like that. We taught this particular series on the radio the last four weeks. And I just got, I mean, email, email, email, “I’m all in, I’m all in.” And almost all of them said, in fact, I’ve got one up here. It says, “Chip, I want you to know, I’m all in. But I’m scared to death.” You know what? I think that’s being honest.
If you’re single and you’re living with someone or you know the relationship isn’t right and you know going all in means you’re going to break off that relationship, it’s scary. Isn’t it? If you’re all in and when you’re honest, your kids have captured your heart and you live for your kids and they are the little idol in your life, what if you give them to God and what if He doesn’t take good care of them? I mean, that doesn’t make sense, logically, but emotionally it does, doesn’t it?
And what if you say, “God, you could have my future,” but you’ve already thought, “Man, I never want to leave California.” Or you’re trying to get out of California and He says, “I want you to stay.” You know?
See, I think what I see in Abraham is a man who chose to believe and he did it very imperfectly. He had good days and bad days. He passed some tests, he failed in others. But the intent of his heart was, “I want to know You, I want to trust You,” and he risked, and God honored it.
What is it that God wants from me? Number one, all I am and all I have. That’s kind of a summary, you got that one already, didn’t you? Number two, for those who love Texas Hold’em, you can probably complete this one for me. God says He wants my faith, He wants me to say, “Lord, I’m all in.”
I want you to imagine the chips of your life, every area, and push them to the center of the table. “God, I’m all in.”
I was thinking about what that really means and I came across something from Chuck Swindoll that was really encouraging. It was something that he read and passed on. And it’s the story of a man, best I can figure, he’s middle-aged. And his wife has died. Let me just read it to you.
It is told through the lens of his brother. He said, “My brother once opened the bottom drawer of his wife, Janet’s, bureau, and he lifted out a tissue wrapped package. It was an exquisite, silk, handmade piece of lingerie, with a trim of lace around the top. The price tag carried an astronomical figure and was still attached to it.
“You see, Janet had bought it on the first trip they ever went to to New York City eight or nine years ago, but she had never worn it. She was saving it for a really special occasion. Well, my brother thought to himself, I guess this is the occasion. He took the lingerie, put it on the bed along with the other clothes that he was taking to the mortician.
“His hands lingered on the soft material and then he slammed the door of the drawer shut and screamed, ‘Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion!’”
My fear is the great majority of all the Christians are saving yourselves for a special occasion and the subtle lie that, Someday, someway, when finances are better, when the market is different, when our kids are a little older, when I finally get married I’m really going to step out. I’m going to have a radical faith. I’m going to really follow Jesus like never before. And someday, someway.
And you’re just like this wrapped in tissue paper with the price tag still on it. And we will bury you and you will have never had the courage or the faith to unwrap the package that God placed in your heart to become the man or the woman or the parent that God wanted you to be, because He wanted to change your world through you.
And I think that would break God’s heart. Surrender is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow.
And so you have in your worship folder a little action step and it’s a blank check. And for some, your eyes and your body language have told me, I’ve already done this but I need to commemorate it.
And for others, today is going to be one of those defining days that you will say, “I can still remember where I was, I can remember where I was sitting at Venture Christian Church and I told God, and I was scared to death, I’m all in. And at the very end of that message, that guy got that funny looking check and I actually signed my name on it and then I turned it over and I printed my address, because he told me I would need to remember this in about two months, because we are all prone to wander. And when I started to drift and thought about, Boy, you know, I’m doing well, I actually got that in the mail about two months after that R12 deal. And I remember, I told God, I think you could take better care of my life than me. I surrender. I signed the check. I’m all in.”