I am often asked about Bible study tools and most particularly about Bible software and what's the best to get, there are several in the market. Monday night in the Hub at seven o'clock to eight thirty, a free event, the Logus corporation representative is going to show the latest greatest libronics software, it's of all of the ones, by far the one I prefer. It used to be complex, now it's an easy package to maneuver and get through and has lots of help, so if you're interested in that at all, in Bible software, come join us Monday night at seven in the Hub and learn about it and see how it works.
All right, let's turn in our Bibles to Genesis chapter 16. And as you know we're joined by thousands of people around America right now for a live broadcast of this on CSN satellite network. So, would you welcome them. (applause, cheering) I travel a lot, I was in Singapore this last week teaching a conference on the second coming to leaders in that country and it was a great time. It's a long flight, once I got to Los Angeles and stepped on the Singapore flight I said, "How long is the leg of this journey?" She said, "Nineteen hours and twenty minutes." So that's just from LA there, plus getting here to LA. So it's like a day to get there and a day to get back. I remember taking another trip to the Middle East and I was coming back with Franklin Graham through Germany from Jordan then to America. We were supposed to fly into Germany, take the flight out early the next morning, but we stopped in Austria for some reason to let passengers out. And Franklin says to me, "You know you ought to get out right here and rent a car and drive to Germany, it's only a couple hours, you'll get there, and it's beautiful scenery. So I thought, "Okay." And I got off and I said, "You know you ought to come with me." And he said, "Noi!" That's Franklin's way of saying, "Okay." So we got off the airplane, we got in a rental car and we drove thinking it's going to be a couple hours. It took us nine hours and we were on the Audobon, I mean there's no speed limit and we took advantage of that and we're going, we're hauling through Germany and Austria, we get at our hotel at 2am and have to catch the flight out. So I'm looking at him like, "Are you nuts? This thing took much longer than we originally anticipated." Vance Habner used to say, "the detour is always worse than the main road." In chapter 16, Abraham and Sarah take the long way around, a detour you might say, taking the long way around the will of God, trying to circumvent the direct will of God. Now I know some people who actually prefer driving to flying. They think it's safer, they have a feeling of safety. I know a businessman who literally traverses America by car. He will not fly. And it's simply, not economy but fear. He actually thinks it's safer to drive, even though we have plenty of studies, one recent University of Michigan cited it's seven times safer to fly to a destination than it is to drive. So being careeened through the air in a metal tube at 35,000 feet is much safer than being pulled by eight cylinders and never leaving the ground. But it's a scary thought to some people, just like it's scary for some people to wholeheartedly trust in God, they can't see him, they don't hear his audible voice. And to trust in that, in him seems scary. "It's much safer to trust my own judgment," they might think. But the best and safest way to travel through life is to follow God's path.
I bet you have heard the saying "God helps those who help themselves." Where'd that come from? Some people think it comes from the Bible, I grew up hearing that, "You know the Bible says, 'God helps those who help themselves.'" I read my Bible in several translations, ain't in there. It might be in First Fleshalonians but it's not in our Bible. This is called a phantom verse,. Jesus never said it, the apostles never said it, none of the prophets ever said it, Benjamin Franklin said it. It's not a biblical verse at all. It's a common misconception that if I plan, strategize and move that God's somehow going to catch up and carry me along. He's going to help me if I help myself. But what if you're doing something that isn't the will of God? Chapter 16 dispels that idea, it shows us that God doesn't help those who help themselves but God helps those who seek his help. There's two verses I want you to just tuck in your mind as we work our way through the text. One is Proverbs 28:26 that says, "He who trusts in himself is a fool." And the second is Isaiah 40, you know it well, "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."
Now as we go through this journey of Abraham and Sarah, there is four stages to it, four you might say mile markers. The first one is vulnerability. Vulnerability, look at verse 1 and 2, "Now Sarai (this is Sarah before her name is changed), Abram (that's Abraham before his name was changed) Sarai, Abram's wife had born him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, "See now the Lord has restrained me from bearing children, please go into my maid, perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. This is vulnerability, waiting on God. Now imagine what it was like for this couple. It had been eleven years since God first said, "You're going to have kids, descendants, I'm going to make you a great nation." Since that promise, I suppose that every time Sarah had a twinge of a pain or walked a little funny, Abram perked up, took note and said, "What could this mean? Are you pregnant?" Now that got old after eleven years, especially when you're a woman of seventy-five years of age. It's getting a little embarrassing, in fact she might be thinking, "Either this is faith, waiting for this pregnancy, or senility, I don't know which." But she comes up with a whole new plan. We may not want to admit it because it doesn't sound spiritual but waiting on God and God's timing is one of the hardest things you will ever do. No one likes to wait, do we. I hate lines, whether they're on the freeway or at Disneyland or on a ski slope or in a doctor's office. Nobody likes to wait. By the way, I knew a doctor who played a cruel joke many years ago in the hospital in San Bernardino where I worked. He was a very tired resident and he walked to the emergency waiting room, seventy-five people about, waiting there. And he said, "Anybody here waiting to see a doctor?" Well they all raised their hand. He said, "Well you've seen one," he turned right around and walked off. It was very very cruel. I suppose a lot of people think God is like that doctor. "Oh he's there, he's just not doing anything. He's not moving when I want him to be moving." Don't you hate it when you make a phone call and you get the recording that says, "Your call is very important to us, please hold." And you're going, "Yeah right." Nobody likes to be put on hold. And some of us sometimes feel, like what it says in Isaiah 45, the prophet said, "Truly you are a god who hides himself." Where is God? Where has God been? And these are vulnerable times and at such times of waiting on God, we get impatient, we want to push a little harder, we want to speed things up. Because you know Proverbs 13, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." And so we think, "Well then I'll make things happen. I have a free will, I have two good arms, two good legs, and a good mind I hope. I'm going to make things happen." But again Isaiah 40, "they that wait on the Lord will renew their strength." Now we know theologically that God has a perfect timetable. But the question is, "Why did God wait so long with Abraham and Sarah to have a child? Why so many years? Well we get some insight into that question in the book of Hebrews. Let me just read it to you, a little verse in chapter 11, verse 12, "And so from this one man and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky." Isn't that an interesting verse? Isn't that a great way to describe an old guy? And he, "as good as dead." You know why God waited so long? Here's the answer: God wanted him as good as dead physically. You know why? To make the fulfillment more obvious that it was God. To make it so obvious that we would say, "That is miraculous. Old guys and gals like that don't have kids, that must be God." Why? So God would get all the glory, that's why.
Someone wrote, "You can make the clock strike before the hour by putting your hand on it but it will strike wrong. You can tear the rosebud open before its time but you will mar its beauty. You may spoil many gifts of blessing that God is preparing for you because of your own eager haste." So that's the first milemarker in this long way around. Vulnerability, waiting on God.
The second is impetuosity, plotting for God. Look back at verse 2 and let's go down a bit. Sarah said to Abram, "See now the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please go into my maid, perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram's wife took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian and gave her to her husband Abram, to be his wife after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went into Hagar and she conceived." Stop right there, before we trash this couple and I've heard a lot of sermons and read a lot of books on this and they always get trashed right off the bat for doing this. Let me begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt and suppose that their intentions were the highest. I suppose that one night over a candlelight dinner in their tent, they had a little conversation. They were talking about this and Sarah may have said, "You know Abe, I know you really want me to have this kid. But come on, look at me, I'm seventy-five and I've always been infertile. Abe, exactly what did God tell you all those times he appeared?" "Well he said we're going to have kids. In fact, God said a son, a child would come from my own body." "Ah exactly Abe. He said he'd come from your body, he said nothing about it coming from my body. So take Hagar, she's young, she's my servant girl, you have children and God would be able to fulfill his promise in having the child come from your body." Also, understand that this practice of surrogate mothering was common practice. The Canaanites did it all the time, thousands of years ago. Just a side note, where did Harar come from? Ah, Egypt, that means she must have tagged along when Abram first disobeyed God and went down to Egypt, you know that little foray of disobedience? That's where she came from. You know our past has a way of catching up with us, doesn't it? It's costing him something. And I think that they made three mistakes. Number one, they took matters in their own hands. Paul asked the Galatians in Galatians chapter 3, "having begun in the Spirit, are you now trying to be made perfect in the flesh?" There was a time when Abram and Sarah believed God and were willing to wait. That time has come to an end. They're now willing to turn to the flesh for help. Honestly, have you ever waited so long that you start wondering about God maybe being on vacation or perhaps that his plan isn't a good plan. And you resort not only to being impetuous and angry but you've found yourself even counseling God. "God, come into my office, let's talk. Now I've been to college, God. We've waited on you long enough, I've got a plan and if you follow my plan, it'll work." This is called trying to help God out, taking the matter into your own hands. You know Proverbs 3:5 and 6 well, I'll read it to you. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path. There's an old Jewish proverb that says, "It's better to ask the way ten times than to take the wrong road once." You know there's nothing about them stopping and saying, "Okay well, you've got a point there Sarah. But let's, let's build another altar. We've done that in the past, it's always worked. Let's pray about it, let's talk to God about it and then we'll wait for a while. Let's do that." No word of that, no word of that at all.
I read about a guide form Arabia who used to traverse the deserts, he never got lost. Here was his secret, he always carried a homing pigeon, so no matter where he was, if he didn't know which direction to go, he'd throw up the homing pigeon. To one of its legs was attached a fine cord and of course the homing pigeon would fly in the direction of home. So that man always knew where he was. I suggest while you're waiting, getting impetuous, frustrated and angry; throw up the pigeon once in a while. Get your bearings, get your directions, wait on the Lord a bit in prayer, because every time you and I try to do the work of the Lord in the energy of the flesh you will birth an Ishmael. And that's what you're about to see happen. Now don't misunderstand, I'm not saying we're to be passive, lazy, uninvolved. Just while we move, instead of being independent, be dependent on him. Be dependent on him. Don't take the matter in your own hands.
A second mistake they made is they were after a personal goal instead of the glory of God. Look back at verse 2, there's a hint of disappointment and even blame in these words, "The Lord has restrained me from bearing." Have you ever heard Satan whisper something like that to your ears? "Well, the Lord's holding out on you. If he loved you, certainly God wants you to have pleasure, why would God withhold that from you?" Or, "Why would God want you to stay in this marriage, you're not happy." You've heard that voice before. Also, same verse, she states her goal, "That I might obtain children by her." Ah, that's the bottom line. That's the bottom line. "We're going to do this because I have a goal, Abe. My goal is to have a child." God didn't want her just to have a child. God wanted her to have a certain child, in a certain way, coming from both Abram and Sarai together. Why? So God would get the glory. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Do you ever filter your prayer requests through the glory of God? This is what I mean by that, you're going to pray for something but you pause and you ask, "If God were to answer that my way, would he get greater honor, would his name be more magnified, would his kingdom be built up? I say that because God is not a divine bellhop, you just ring up and say, "Room service, now. I need something. I'm uncomfortable."
A third mistake they made is they were swayed I believe by their former lifestyle. Yeah, I know, it was acceptable to do the surrogate mothering thing with a handmaid. They did it all the time in Canaan. But you're not of this culture. Abram, I'm calling you to be something different, something special. Our past, our former lifestyle has a way, our culture has a way of influencing our lives. And we do something because, "Everybody does it, it's accepted." I found a, digging through some of the Jewish commentaries, just so you understand that this was a Canaanite practice. They've discovered some cuneiform, dod you know what that is, that ancient kind of writing in the clay tablets of ancient Mesopotamia, and they found an engraving that said, "If Gallemnu bears children, Shanema shall not take another wife. But Gallemnu fails to bear children, she shall get for him a slave girl as a concubine. In that case, Gallemnu herself shall have authority over her offspring." Now Abram and Sarah knew that, everybody is doing this, this isn't a big deal for us to just take this gal, have a kid, Abram's second wife, and we'll call it a promise fulfilled." What is socially acceptable is not necessarily divinely acceptable. Just because something is legal doesn't make it right. Abortion is legal, fornication is legal between consenting adults, homosexuality is legal; but none of those are right spiritually, none of them are right. In fact, look down at verse 8, I'm skipping ahead, "But he (that is the angel of the Lord) said, "Hagar, Sarah's maid, where have you come from, where are you going?" Now that indicates by calling her not his wife but his maid that God doesn't recognize this marriage. "You're the maid. This isn't right what you have done." In I Samuel Israel wanted to be like other nations, remember? I Samuel chapter 8, "We want a king that we might be like other nations." That was God's whole point from the beginning, "You're not like other nations, you're my people." Romans 12, "Be not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your thinking, your mind." Or as the Phillips translation puts it, "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold." So from vulnerability, the second stage impetuousity, now they're plotting, planning, scheming for God. There's a third stage, I call it legacy, this is reaping from God. Look at verse 4, "So he went into Hagar and she conceived. When she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. And Sarai said to Abram, 'My wrong be upon you.'" (sigh) I'll skip that for now, I'll get back to that though, trust me. "I gave my maid into your embrace and when she saw that she had conceived I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me." So Abram said to Sarai, 'Indeed your maid is in your hand, do to her as you please.' And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence. Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. (Interesting, she's going back down to Egypt) And he said, 'Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, where are you going?' She said, 'I'm fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.' And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'Return.' (that's the last thing she wanted to hear) Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand.' (That's good marriage counsel by the way, 'I'm leaving this marriage.' 'Go back. Go back.') "And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'I will multiply your descendants exceedingly so that they shall not be counted for multitude.' And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'Behold you are with child. You shall bear a son, you shall call his name Ishmael because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man, his hand shall be against every man and every man's hand against him. And he will dwell in the presence of all his brethren.'"
Scottish novelist by the name of George MacDonald said, "In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserable4 or succeed more miserably." Abram and Sara succeeded in their plot more miserably. You say, "Well this is such a small infraction in the scheme of life, in the scheme of sin, this is a small deal, I mean this isn't going to set them back much. The grace of God covers it all." Oh yeah, they're going to be forgiven, no question, but the results of this are going to be so huge that we will still feel them in 2003. First thing is there's an interpersonal stress. You know Sarah vents, doesn't she, she blames her husband and she mistreats her maid til she lives. She's mad. Victor Hugo was right, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." And this woman is scorned and her jealousy turns into a rage. And do you know what happens? Whenever you stop trusting God, you start blaming people. When you stop trusting God, you will put blame on everything and everyone around you and make life miserable for everybody.
Something to note here, I don't know if you picked up on this but Abram is awfully passive in this story. He's just kind of like a little wet noodle. I mean he lets his wife talk him into marrying and Egyptian servant and then says, "Well do whatever you need to do, she's in your hand, you handle it, you deal with it." Men, be men. Men, be loving servantlike but genuine leaders in your home. That's the role God called you to. Women, let them. Jim Dobson wrote these words many years ago, "It's my guess that ninety percent of the divorces that occur every year involve an extremely busy husband who's in love with his work and tends to be somewhat insensitive unromantic and non-communicative married to a lonely, vulnerable, romantic woman who has severe doubts about her worth as a human being. They become a matched team. He works like a horse and she nags." I thought about that when I thought about Abram and Sarai. He's out there doing his thing and she's not happy with it and tries to push her agenda and it backfired.
The second thing in this legacy, this reaping from God is an international crisis. Verse 12, you caught it I believe, "He shall be a wild man." (Ishmael was a wild man and Ishmael's descendants have in turn become very similar, Bedouin travelers in the Middle East by and large until very recently. "And his hand shall be against every man and every man's hand against him." Ishmael is the fatheer of the Arabic nations around the world and of course Isaac, the son they're going to have after this, will be the father of the Jewish race.) "And he will dwell in the presence of all his brethren." Folks, right here begins what journalists call the Arab-Israeli conflict. It's been four thousand years. You'd think that would pass. You know four thousand years of arguing and dissension would certainly, it wouldn't happen, it's not going to last that long. It has and it's getting worse. Think of the news you've seen recently, from Yassir Arafat, Hodulpan Romala, and a nation surrounding it (Israel) saying, "We're going to expel you or get rid of you permanently," to suicide bombers from Gaza and the West Bank into Israel and other parts of the world; to the attacks in America two years ago because they said, "America's interest in Israel and Israeli policy in the Middle East." There's a connection there. Four thousand years later the descendants of Ishmael are still fighting the descendants of Jacob. Talk about longevity of disobedience. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. We think of that wrong, you know what that means? You sow a little bit, you might sow a handful of seed and get an acre of crop. You can sow a little bit and you sow to the wind, the prophets said, you'll reap the whirlwind. They had no idea the kind of legacy that would come out of this.
But I don't want to end the story there and I'm glad it doesn't end there, there's a final phase to this journey. And I call it epiphany. Epiphany. This is the mercy of God now. Go back to verse 7. "Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur and he said, 'Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" You've left protection, support and you're going you don't know where, maybe back to Egypt. "She said, 'I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.' The angel of the Lord said to her, 'Return to your mistress, submit yourself under her hand.' Then the angel of the Lord said to her, 'I will multiply your descendants exceedingly.'" Look down at verse 13, "Then she called on the name of the Lord who spoke to her, 'You are the God who sees.' For she said, 'Have I also here seen him who sees me?' Therefore the well was called Beerlehairoi (observe it is between Kadesh and Barad, I guess if you're ever over there, read that verse and you'll find out exactly where to go) so Hagar bore Abram a son and Abram named his son whom Hagar bore Ishmael (just like this angel of the Lord said). Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
Chapter 16 is the story of a blundering, sinning and suffering mankind but an intervening God who is gracious and merciful. If you're interested this is the first mention in the scripture of the angel of the Lord. Not an angel, the angel of the Lord, the messenger above messengers. Some think it's Gabriel, others think it can't be because he identifies himself as God and people who see him call him that here and other places. We'll study it more fu lly in chapter 18. But I want you to see the upside of this, the epiphany, the mercy of God. God pursues in spite of abandonment. Oh, she left, Hagar was fed up, "I'm not taking this, I'm out of here and she leaves. But God pursues her, God pursues her. Did you notice verse 7, the angel of the Lord found her. She wasn't looking for God, God was looking for her. And do you know what I've discovered? God's more interested in us than we are in him, even though we think, "Oh no, I'm really here to seek God with all my heart." You might be but in a comparative sense the Bible says, "there's none that seeks God, no not one."
But God is seeking you, looking for you, is taking the initiative. And do you know what? You might be here tonight because you're invited or you happen to be in town, or your relatives begged you and said, "I'll buy you free dinner if you come." And so you're here but you're not here by accident. God is seeking you, God is calling you, pursuing you.
He pursued in spite of abandonment and he blessed in spite of disobedience. Did you notice that the promise God gives to Hagar is very similar to the promise God gives to Abram? He says, "I'm going to make you, your descendants multiply. You're going to have so many of them." Just like with Abram.
Now the child was to be called Ishmael, which means God hears or God shall hear. What that means to me is every time Mama calls her son to come in, wash up, go to bed, she's going to be reminded of the mercy of God in her life, the intervening gracious mercy of God. God shall hear. And she called upon the name of the Lord in this place called Beerlehairoi.
There is a verse in the New Testament that dovetails with this story, in Romans chapter 5 verse 20, "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Now that doesn't mean God winks at sin or that the key to getting abundant grace is abundant sinning, it simply means God can accomplish his best even if man does his worst. There's an old saying, "When God cannot rule, God will overrule, but will always accomplish his purpose." When God cannot rule, God will overrule. And he wasn't ruling in this decision, this was outside his spectrum of will. But God is overruling it and intervening. \
But I guess the question in closing is why take the long way around? Why live life so poorly that you go, "Yeah I messed up but I'm glad God's there to pick up the pieces. And then I'm going to mess up tomorrow and say the same thing and mess up next week." We all mess up but why keep taking the long way around? Why allow circumstances to slow us down?
What do you think the number one driving distraction is? Now this is a survey by an insurance company and they surveyed tons of drivers around the country. What's the number one distraction? Well there are several. High on the list is eating while you're driving, trying to eat a meal while you're going somewhere. In fact, fifty-seven percent of the drivers surveyed said they eat while they drive. That is frightening to me, even more than cell phones. Another group, tuning the radio is a distraction, that's sixty-two percent. Another group is turning around to talk with passengers. Now come on, who does that? Who's driving and...? No, that's suicide. Only twenty-nine by the way, only twenty-nine percent listed using your cell phone as a distraction. The number one offender, I hate to say it, it's coffee, drinking coffee. Do you know why? Because it's fluid and it can move and tends to spill and most passengers, most drivers, most people who took this survey said the biggest problem is early in the morning on the way to work, full cup of coffee, spilling over your set of work clothes, having to pull over or go home and change clothes and get to work late. Coffee. That's a case of somebody trying to cram breakfast, stop at Starbucks, a trip to work and maybe even putting your make-up on (I've seen that happen) all in one fell swoop. You think, "If I do it all at one time and cram it in and push, push, push, I'll get it all done quickly." Oh, it can actually take you much longer, take you the long way around.
It is that way, it is that way in following our God's will. The plan of our Lord. Let me just end by summing it up and say this, listen carefully to God's promises. Wait patiently for them to happen. And seek diligently for him to be glorified.
Heavenly Father, your path is the best path. The detour is always far worse than the main road. Abram and Sarai had lot of scenery but it wasn't the good kind. They reaped a whirlwind. And so Lord I pray that we'd think carefully as we navigate through life letting you drive, letting you control, letting you set the pace. And even if you're not moving at our timetable, that's fine. That's fine. Because by experience, in hindsight we've discovered your timing is always the best. You're never late, you're never early, you're right on time. And so give us Lord a level of patience. Lord I pray that we would wholeheartedly trust in the promises you give to us, that we would wait patiently for them to happen. And that our goal, our uppermost goal in this life would be the glory of God, the glory of God. Lord, we can't help but think as we close that maybe, maybe you're pursuing some tonight who are fleeing, they're running from you. And you're calling them home, you're calling them to a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They've run from God, they've run from church, they've run from their past. But for whatever reason they happen to be here tonight or listening via the media that's presented. As we're praying, as our eyes are closed, as you're thinking about your life, if you're with us tonight and one of those describes you but you don't want to stay there, you want to move ahead in the will of God, you want to surrender your life to Jesus Christ and come to him as Savior and Lord and lay your life down and be forgiven. I want you to raise your hand up as we close this service. Raising it up, you're saying, "Well pray for me Skip because that's me, that's what I want to do, I'm ready to give my life to Christ, to surrender, to lay it down. God bless you, on the side and right there on the edge toward the back, a couple of you right there in the middle on my left and in the corner. Anyone else, raise that hand up, be honest right here, a couple of you right over here to the left. And in the back. Lord, it's our delight to pray for these and ask that you transform these lives, that they not leave the same that they came in. In Jesus' name. Amen.