Our pastor preached an amazing sermon recently. I am incredibly blessed to be in a church with a pastor who has been there for over 25 years and not because he or our congregation doesn't like change. He's been there for that long because he has faithfully preached the Word and has shepherded and loved his congregation well...and believe me, it hasn't always been easy.
Two Sundays ago he preached on Genesis 22. This is the passage where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Pastor Jim said that in his 25 plus years of ministry he has never taught on this passage. Never. Do you know why? Because he hated it. Hated it. (Oh the impish kind of thrill it gave me to hear him say that! I felt instantly bonded to him.) To him, it seemed inconsistent with his picture of who God was and he found it hard to reconcile it in his mind. Years and years and years of trying to reconcile it. God is a loving and faithful father. How could he ever ask someone to do such a thing? But, as Jim is so good at doing, he felt unmistakably that it was time to preach on this passage and so he did. And it shined a light for me in some dark places.
He preached the sermon, in part, on obedience. We obey, Abraham obeyed, because it is God who asks. And God knows infinitely more than we do. His ways are not like ours and he sees the bigger picture in ways that we will never understand. Hebrews 11, that famous roll call of faithful believers says that "by faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice." His faith in who God was allowed him to offer all he had with no guarantee about how it might turn out. We obey when we don't understand because he is God.
Then, he went on to talk about the goodness of God and how if we are insistent on measuring his goodness by our own standards we will miss a great deal of it. He said that if we follow Christ, and we are asked to choose between God and evil, the choice seems clear. Of course, we would choose God. But, the reality is that sometimes we are asked to choose between good, and God. Something that we believe to be good, or even is actually good, and God. We are asked to give up our children, to believe that when they suffer or when they are taken from us, that God is still working, still bringing about good. Or we are asked to let go of some dream, something we once knew was given to us by Him, in order to follow God. And those decisions are a little tougher. They take some grit. They hurt and they make us wonder what kind of God we serve. And we are tempted to ignore him or to just say no. We are tempted to offer up some other less important thing in hopes it will pacify him for the time being. We are tempted to hold tighter, thinking that, in time, he will see things our way and change his mind. But, here is the kicker. Jim said something about this that has stuck with me and will continue to for a long time. He said, "The risk here is that we will not let God do a work in us that is beyond our grasp." That we would refuse to let him do a work that defies our ideology, even our unknowingly twisted theology about who he is. We don't understand his goodness when it doesn't look like ours. And so, we get angry. I get angry. I justify my break from communion with him because I feel like he's not answering my prayers. And then, not only do I miss the good he is doing, I also miss his most tender care of me. It is most tender because he is well acquainted with the sacrifice of something so precious.
Theories about suffering are just that when you aren't really suffering. They are just theories. They are what I hope to gently offer people who are in the midst of it now, and they are how I hope and pray that I will respond when I am asked to sacrifice something that I can't bear the thought of losing. But, I also know that this sermon wasn't just for those who are suffering or for my own future reference. There is truth in it for me right now. I needed to hear that I absolutely have to cast aside my preconceived notions about what is good. I needed to hear that I can never elevate a good gift above the Giver himself. And I needed to hear that my obedience to His call to sacrifice should be swift and certain because I know whom I serve.
It was a good sermon. It hit it's mark and has continued to penetrate. Hear it for yourself here. It is from 1/3/10. He does a much better job than I do.