ďOur SolutionsĒ††† Genesis 16:1-16††††††† May 24, 2009

 

SI:Weíre studying the life of Abraham.

He is called, ďThe father of all those who believe.Ē

†† His life demonstrates the nature of the Christian life and faith.

 

There were times Abraham did well, and made the right decisions,

†† and trusted God, and there were times he didnít.

The story we are about to read is about a time he didnít.

 

And itís a reminder to us that the Bible is not a book of virtues.

†† Itís not book of moral stories of men and women who earn Godís favor

†† by living upright lives.

The Bible is a book of grace.

†† Itís stories Godís grace enabling men and women to be obedient and good.

†† And Godís grace redeeming their failures and sins.

 


 

INTRO:Couple years ago we were driving back from NC on New Yearís Day.

It was late in the evening, we had gotten a late start, it was dark,

and we were on the outskirts of Knoxville when we hit a huge traffic jam.

It seems like there has been construction on the interstate in Knoxville

†† for the past 25 years, so that was part of the problem.

But there was also a game of some kindó

†† I donít know if it was a bowl game or what, but we hit that traffic as well.

 

We were at a dead standstill and I was getting very antsy, very impatientó

†† so I got out the map and I said, LookóIf we get off at the next exit,

†† can take this service road, will take us to downtown Knoxville.

We can work our way through downtown, get back on the interstate,

†† and weíll be past all this mess and on the way to Cullman.

 

So I drove up the shoulder (donít you love people who do that?) and got off exit.

†† As I was exiting, noticed four motorcycles, dead stopped on interstate.

At first my little plan worked well, service road was deserted.

†† Buzzed right into downtown Knoxville, I could occasionally glimpse the

†† interstate and it was a sea of red lights so I was feeling good.

 

But then things started to go wrong.I couldnít get on the interstate on any of the

†† entrances marked on my map.They were all closed off.There were lots of one

†† way streets.So after wandering around I stopped some men going into a bar.

They saidóYeah, to get back on you take this street and turn at the third light.

†† So I headed out, turned, suddenly realized was going over a bridge, out of town,

†† wrong direction.That pushed me out on a divided road, so I couldnít

†† make a U-turn.Took me forever to even get turned around.

 

Long and short of it is that finally, after much frustration I got back on the interstate

†† a little bit south of downtown, and as I eased into my lane,

I looked over and beside me were four very familiar-looking motorcycles.

 

Thatís a kind of parable for the way we sometimes live the Christian life.

The Lord is sanctifying you, heís interested in growing your faithó

†† so in his wisdom he starts to do something.He leads you into seasons of waiting.

Seasons of traffic jams, of dryness and barrenness, when things arenít working out.

†† Sometimes you make the most of those times,

†† and you trust his promises and your faith and your patience grows.

 

But sometimes, you push back against the Lord.

†† Heís not coming through for you.Youíre impatient.

†† You want to feel wind in your face.

So you come up with your solutionóyour easy way out of this tough place.

†† What youíre really doing is running from God.

†† Youíre running from the path he has laid out for you.

Weíll see in this story, there are lots of different ways you can do that.

 

But whenever you do, there is frustration, and backslidingó

†† and a tangled mess.

Genesis 16 is an ugly chapter.Allison asked me, Whatís Abraham up to this week?

†† And I said:You donít want to know.This is a raw and chaotic story.

 

There is a hurting and manipulative wifeóthatís Sarah.

†† There is a passive and irresponsible husbandóthatís Abraham.

†† And there is an abused but haughty other womenóthatís Hagar.

Theyíre all believers and they are all running from God in their own ways,

†† and things get very messed up.

††

But this is the awesome thingó

†† Sarah and Abraham and Hagar arenít the main characters.

The Lord is.Heís the main character.Heís the hero.

†† Heís unseen, but he sees and he appears.

†† He comes into this tangled mess, comes to these believers

†† who are running from himóand he pours out his grace, redeems things.

 

And in your own story, your own time of barrenness and waiting and frustration,

†† you could certainly name the people involvedóperhaps your parents,

†† your spouse, your children, your boss, a person in your past.

But none of them are the main characters in your story, and you arenít either.

†† Itís the Lord.Heís unseen but he sees you and guides you back to his path.

 

Letís look at this story in more detail, and apply it to ourselves.

 

Two points:

1.Our faithless solutions

2. Godís way back


 

MP#1Our faithless solutions

We see this in Sarah and Abraham.Letís start with Sarah.

By this time she and Abraham had spent 10 years in the Promised Land.

†† She knew God had told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation.

†† Her spirits had been lifted by that promise, but 10 years had passed

†† and she had concluded this was who she wasóa barren women.

She was struggling.Maybe Abraham knew, maybe he didnít.

 

But finally she spoke out.She said:The Lord hasnít come through for me.

†† Iím not going to ever have a baby.

That was immensely painful, because a womanís identity in that culture,

†† her worth as a human being, tied to her ability to have children, build a house.

 

So she said:Abraham, Iíve decided, Godís not going to fulfill promise through me.

†† I want you to do something.

Take Hagar, my young Egyptian slave as secondary wife, and have a child with her.

†† Iíll build a family that way.This was a common practice in ancient world.

†† But even though this was culturally acceptable, it was wrong.

 

And Sarah soon discovered something very painfuló

†† that it is absolutely futile to try to gain Godís blessings through human efforts.

†† Futile to respond to your barrenness by taking things into your own hands.

 

Every journey of faith has periods of barrennessó

†† might be in area of romance or marriage, or work and vocation,

†† or any other area of life that really matters to you.

One of the greatest temptations as a Christian is to make something happen

†† to get Godís blessing, and to step out of the path he has for you.

 

There is a Christian who wants to get married.

†† Nothing wrong with that.Desire God has put in our hearts.

This Christian waits, waits, he starts to thinkóGodís not coming through for me.

†† She starts to thinkóthis is going to be my identityóunmarried.

†† So he lowers his standards of purity, or she opens her heart to an unbeliever.

And ends up marrying the wrong person and regretting it.

 

There is a Christian becomes discontent with his standard of living.

†† He listens to the voice of our materialistic culture that says:You deserve it.

†† He wants to enjoy the finer things of life.

Maybe his wife plays a role in this.She wants a certain lifestyle.

It gives her a sense of security, or it makes her feel attractive.

†† She nags and manipulates him.So his focus becomes getting rich.

†† Not to serve God and people in his work.And the Bibleís words come true:

ďPeople who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs

 

Or maybe a Christian has been wronged and want justice.

†† Longer he waits and sees this person just flourishing, the more intolerable it is.

†† So he tries to bring about justice himself by sabotaging the personís reputation.

And he becomes a gossip and uses his or her tongue to curse.

 

We could go on and on, itís all variations of Sarahís theme.

†† Her pain got the better of her, she could not trust God in her barrenness,

†† and she became impatient and came up with her own solution.

 

But it wasnít just Sarah, letís look now at Abraham.

†† Abraham responded to Sarahís barrenness in a different but equally faithless way.

His panicked, unhappy wife came to him and said, what are you going to do?

†† Weíre not going to have the life we wanted.What are you going to do?

†† Go sleep with my slave so I can build a family.

Abraham looked up from newspaper and said, whatever you want, honey.

†† And even though he was just sitting in his tent, he was running from God.

†† He was running from the difficult path the Lord had for him.

 

He didnít build an altar, or go seek Melchizedek, high priest of God.

†† He didnít make the effort go to another man and sayóPray for me.

He didnít face his wifeís pain.

†† He didnít hold Sarah say:I donít know what it feels like as a woman to be

†† without a child year after year.And I donít know why the Lord is so long in

†† keeping his promise.And I have doubts too, but letís walk by faith together.,

 

Instead, he appeased his wife, and let her lead him into spiritual failure.

It was so much easier to sleep with Hagar, than to seek spiritual counsel,

†† and to minister to his wife in her pain.

And how did it work?Abrahamís solution to the problem?

†† Hagar got pregnant and things got worse.Chaos.Craziness.

 

Sarah got out her claws and went after Abraham.You are responsible for this.

†† I put servant in your arms, now sheís expecting a baby,

†† she hates me, she laughs at meóthis is intolerable.

 

And in that very painful moment, Abraham had another opportunity to do things

†† Godís way.To say, Sarah, youíre fearful and angry at God and at me.

†† We should never have gone down this path.But the Lord is good.

Forgive me and letís seek him together and claim his promises.

 

But instead, Abraham did the same thing again.Buried his head in the sand.

†† Sheís your slave.You do what you want to do to her.

†† So Sarah mistreated Hagar and she ran away into the desert.

Pregnant women didnít make it in the desert, she was passively committing suicide.

†† And our father in the faith, was sitting in his tent hoping it would all go away.

 

Sarahís solution failed, and Abrahamís failed.

†† He chose to appease his wife and keep her quiet rather than courageously

†† enter into a situation that had no easy answer and challenge her to trust God.

Abraham knew how to stand by faith.He had done it many times before.††

†† Remember how he responded after victory in battle when rescued Lot?

†† Refused the honor of the King of Sodom and glorified God with his success.

But here in his own tent, with his wife and family, chose his own solution.

 

Thatís what happens to men sometimes.

Your wife brings you something painful and difficult with no easy answers.

†† (Maybe, like Sarah, sheís nagging and pushing you.)

Or Your children bring you something painful and difficult with no easy answers,

†† and the great temptation of men, even Christian men, is to sayóIím out of here.

You donít leave the house, but you disengage from the battle.

†† And all hell breaks loose when you do that.

 

Running from God always results in painful consequencesóalways.

†† Easy solutions do not produce the blessing of God, only the heartache of your

†† impatient choices.Thatís how it works.

When you choose a shortcut for dealing with your barrenness (like Sarah did),

†† or to try to quickly and easily absolve yourself of your responsibility

†† and your failure (like Abraham)ó

When you do that, you donít get the blessing of God, but frustration and more pain.

 

Was this it for Abraham?Was God done with him?

†† Weíve looked at our faithless solutions, now letís look at . . .

MP#2Godís way back

We see it in the story of Hagar.

†† Godís dealings with her are a pattern for the way he deals with us

†† when weíve been running from him and doing things our way.

So we need to look at this pattern and get in line with it.Three things:

 

1.He sees you and comes to you and makes himself known.

Hagar ran out into the desert with the thought of going back to Egypt.

†† But she was really running out there to die.

 

Angel of the Lord found Hagar by the spring in the desert.

†† He asked her what she was doing and she said:Iím running.

†† Abraham was running from God, Sarah was running from God.

†† They wouldnít have called it thatóbut thatís what they were doing.

You have to admire Hagar.At least she had the courage to admit it.

†† She said, Iím running from my problems, from Sarah, from the whole mess.

 

The wonderful and amazing thing is that the Lord saw her,

†† cared about her and took the initiative to come to her and make himself known.

Thatís what the Lord will do for you as well.

†† Might be though a memory or a longing, or Christian friend, pastoró

†† Lord will take the initiative and come to you and make himself known.

You have to be open to him.Yes, Lord, Iím running.

†† From responsibility, from pain, from the path you have for me.

 

2.He tells you to return and submit.

The Lord told Hagar, return to your mistress and submit to her.

This is a very disturbing command.Hagar was being mistreated by Sarah.

†† Was God telling her to submit to abuse?

 

No.He was saying:Return and submit to the calling I have placed on your life.

†† Iíve called you, at this point in your life, to be Sarahís servant.

Hagar had been sinned against by Abraham and Sarahóno doubt.

†† But she had responded by sinning against them.

†† She despised Sarah, she mocked her for her barrenness.

Lord was saying, Go back to your calling, ask Sarahís forgiveness,

†† treat your mistress with respect, and serve her as you are called.Thatís hard.

James Montgomery Boice:

ďWhen we have run away from something, we never want to go back to it.Who wants to admit failure?Who wants to go back to spouse and say, Iím sorry I hurt you?Who wants to go back to parents and say, Iím sorry I rebelled?Who want to go back to friend and say, Iím sorry I never forgave you?Who wants to go back to somebody that youíve stolen something from and say, Iím sorry I stole it?

 

If you are running from God, chances are, you are running from one or more

†† of the callings he has put on your lifeócalling as a husband or wife, parent,

†† child, brother or sister, employee or boss.Thatís where I have you now.Return.

 

3.He promises to bless you,

even though there might be consequences in this life for your faithless solution.

The Lord said, Hagar, I want to bless you.

†† I will increase descendants more numerous to count.Incredible blessing.

 

But there is a sad prophetic word about her son.

†† God says:He will be a wild donkey of a man.Live in hostility toward brothers.

Ishmael was the father of the Arab people, and to this day, living in hostility

†† toward the descendants of Isaac, the Jews.

This was the consequence of Abrahamís sin.

God doesnít always remove consequences in this life.

We can ask him to.He often softens them.

†† But even in those consequences, he promises eternal blessing.

 

Hereís what God is asking this morning.

Husbands, have you been running from God?

†† You havenít left home, but havenít faced the difficulty your wife going through.Havenít been with her and held her and pointed her to the promises of God,

†† even if she doesnít want to hear them, even if she doesnít like you.

 

God wants you to return, re-engage with wife.

†† Take her out to lunch, talk to her, pray with her and tell heró

†† I donít have answers, but Iím not going to check out emotionally and spiritually.

Weíre doing to trust God and move ahead.

 

Young people, are you running from God?

†† Are you like Hagar, despising the authority God has placed over you?

†† Are you running from parents authority, buying into worldís values?

He wants you to return to your callingóto obey your parents in the Lord.

†† Lord wants to bless you.And his blessing comes when return and submit to him.

 

But how can you know, how can you really know that if you return,

†† and wait for God and do things his way, and give up your precious

†† and comforting solutions, that you will be blessed?

You may be thinking:

†† God gave Abraham and Sarah a promise.He gave Hagar a promise.

†† He never promised me a child.Never promised me Iíd get married or get well.

†† But thatís what Iím looking for.How can I know God will come through for me?

 

Hereís how you can know.Who met Hagar by that spring in the desert?

The Angel of the Lord.Who was the angel of the Lord?

†† Was he just an angel?A messenger of God.

 

No, because later Hagar called him Lord and God.

So who was the Angel of the Lord?

†† Earliest days of New Testament church, Christians explained it this way.

Jesus said:No man has seen the Father, except the Son who has made him known.

 

So the Angel of the Lord could not have been God the Fatheró

†† it must have been God the Son.His work is to make the Father known.

The Angel of the Lord was an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ,

†† even before he was Jesus.

 

It was Jesus who came to Hagar.

†† It is Jesus who comes to you when you are running and calls you back.

†† And thatís how you can be sure of Godís blessing.

The one who died for you is the one who comes to you.

†† Jesus died to make you righteous.Died to make you who you were created to be.

†† To give you life and a destiny that will be filled with inexpressible glory,

†† irrepressible joy for all eternity.His purposes and plans worked out in your life.

And if you call on the name of Jesus, that blessing is yours.

 

C.S. Lewis said weíre like children who get mad at parents who take us away from

†† making mudpies so we can go to the beach.

So often, things that make us not trust God,

†† things we worry he isnít going to give us are our mudpies.

I can never get happy, never feel complete unless I get this.

But God in Christ offers and promises so much more.

All things in history woven together for Godís best in your lifeó

†† and in the cross of Christ, thatís whatís offered to you..

 

Husbands be courageous, wives surrender your hearts,

†† young people, discover word of God and submit to it.

We serve a God who sees us and hears us and comes to us and says:

†† Leave your faithless ways and plans.

†† Return to me and I will bless you.