There's a television show on every now and then, I'm sure you have seen it, it's called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leech. And it's a popular show because the world honors the famous and the rich, those who have really made it in life. And yet, being rich and famous is very temporary as a condition. That is, the rich and famous now in fifty years will not be rich and famous anymore, chances are. The Bible says that the righteous and those that lead many to righteousness will shine as the stars forever and ever. They are on God's walk of fame and they will never lose it. But the fame and the richness of this world is a very temporary condition. You know, we are studying the lifestyles not of the rich and famous but of those who are famous in God's book and in God's sight. And you know, I was thinking about it this week as I was considering the study that we were doing- we are doing a study on the greats of the scripture- that, this really is not a study of great men and women but a story of a great God who take yo-yos, really, and through His own greatness works His plan through them and that is what makes them so great. Is that we have a great God behind the scenes working out His plan. And behind every truly great man is the great God working out His purpose. Verse 1 says, "the Lord had said to Abram," and to me that is one of the greatest things to think about. That God spoke to a human being. It's not that God just made an impression upon His heart. Abram didn't say, "Now I really feel like God spoke to my heart." God really did speak to Abram. God spoke to Abram and said, "Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house." We do not have recorded the reaction of Abram to God speaking and I kind of wish we would've. But I will bet you that it was a total surprise to Abram as God spoke to him; that is, he did not expect God to come and intervene or interrupt his life and speak to him this message. And, the message that God spoke to Abram was both bitter and sweet. That is, he said, "Leave your country and your family. Leave everything that you know to be your security." And that was a bitter message. But then He gives Abram a list of promises that was sweet to Abram.
And I'll bet you that God, when he finally broke through into our lives, pretty much the same things occurred. It was not expected the way God broke through and ministered to you and got your attention and brought you to Him. Perhaps you came to a service one morning or one evening some place and you did not expect to feel the way you felt as the message went on. And you were probably surprised that you felt the conviction in your heart that you did feel. And as God was dealing with you it was provably like Abram- both bitter and sweet. Bitter because you were convicted of your own sins and you saw that you were deficit before God, but sweet because of the promise of salvation. And so it is, really with everyone who comes to know the Lord. When God broke through and got my attention up in the northern California area, I did not expect that I would be saved on the day that I was saved. I didn't wake up in the morning and say, "Great day to come to know Jesus Christ. I'll go for it." I was totally rebellious against Him, but He broke through. And as I was listening to Billy Graham on that afternoon in San Jose, it was a bitter and a sweet message. It was bitter because I thought, "I am a sinner." It was sweet because of the promises that God made to me. One thing is for sure when it comes to Abram and that is, God made the first move. As you look down at verses one, two and three, you see that God made the first initial m movement toward Abraham. In fact, God's name appears first: "Now the Lord had said. I want you to notice a couple things. This paragraph, verses 1 through 3, is divided into two parts, and I want you to catch the difference between those parts. Verse 1 is a command. "Get out of your country, from your kindred (that is your kin folks, your family) and from your father's house." The second part is a whole list of promises. "And I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." First part, a command. Second part, a promise. In other words, Abraham needed to cooperate with God. God had a whole bunch of things in store for Abraham, but Abraham must not cooperate with God by being obedient. It takes cooperation to get the job done. It's like the two fellas who were on a tandem bicycle and they finally came to this huge hill. And they're bicycling up the hill and sweat's pouring off of them and they finally make it to the top of the hill and the guy in the front says, "I never believed that we would make that. That was so tough." And the guy sitting on the back of the bicycle said, "Wow it sure was. And you know, if I wouldn't have kept the brakes on all the time I'm sure we would've gone backwards." I'd tell you, that's a lot of times the way we are with God. We're holding the brakes on. He'd trying to push us forward. It takes cooperation, obedience, along with the promises of God.
I want you to notice a phrase that occurs five times in that little section, and that is the phrase I will. Verse 1, toward the end, "To a land I will show you," and then, "I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Five times that phrase occurs. Before we move on into these promises, there's a couple of things that just surfaced that I want to draw your attention to. And that is , first of all, that God comes to change our lives. And when God comes to change us, He gets personally involved. He gets personally involved. God did not or does not give us a book only and say, "Read it, follow the instructions. Here's my precepts, here's my principles. Obey them. I'm going to leave, I'll be back in a couple thousand years, but until then, keep your distance." Now that is the philosophy and the teaching of the deists. That God set the world in motion, God gave you a book, God gave you His principles and then He steps back out of the picture. But that's not the truth. God comes to change our lives but He doesn't just give us the precepts. He gives us His person. He, as a person, will take you or wants to take us by the hand and lead us through this life, not only with His book, the Bible, but with the person of the Holy Spirit living within us. He wants to be the person who changes us. And, second of all, the emphasis in verses 1 through 3, I believe, is on that single pronoun I. I do not think that it is a coincidence that God put that there five times. "Abram, I will, not you will. Now you got to cooperate Abram. But I will bless you. I will make your name great." Not, "go out and make a great name for yourself. This is what I will do. And you will be a blessing because of what I will do in your life." That is the emphasis: "I will, I will, I will." I want to show you how this fits together. Verse 1 is a command. Verses 2 and 3 is the promises. Last week, we spoke about obedience versus disobedience. How that there was a lapse of time in this guy's life where he did not obey God. God gave him this promise. God gave him the command. But he waited for how many years? Fifteen, you remember. Fifteen years he hung out in a place called Haran without fully obeying God. He was in disobedience, even after God gave him the commandment. Finally, he obeyed. So the first part is the command: Abraham must obey God.
But, I quickly want to focus our attention on the second part of the message which we did not cover last week, and that is, the promises of God- what God said He will do. Now, folks, I want to focus on that second part of the message, because most people camp on the first part of the message. And if I can dare say it, most preachers will camp on the first part of the message only. In other words, "You must obey God." Now that's the truth. We better obey God. If we want to see any kind of thing happen in our life worthwhile, it takes obedience to the commands of God; cooperation with God's divine will. However, that's just the first part. The emphasis, although he says you must obey, is what God will do. In other words, "Abraham, this is what I want you to do. Get out of your family, get out of your country, leave. That's what I want you to do. But Abram, that's not all. You see, the reason I want you to do these things is because I want to do something for you, through you and in you." That's the emphasis: "I will, I will, I will." You see, traditionally, if I am not mistaken, traditionally, Christians have been told that the emphasis of the Christian walk is what you should do for God. That's the emphasis. What you should be doing for God or what you have failed to do for God. You should be witnessing more for God. You should be reading the bible more for God, praying more for God, loving more for God, smiling more for God, running more for God, getting fatigued more for God. That's been the emphasis. That is not the emphasis as I read it in the scripture. The emphasis is what God has done and is doing for you, in you, and then through you, and then your response is obedience because of all of God's love lavished upon you. I want to show you a powerful scripture in the New Testament. I want you to turn to the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, and just peek for just a moment at a couple of principles of what God is doing and has done for us. Ephesians, chapter 2. I think Paul makes the point the clearest in this chapter, and he begins by saying, verse 1, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the others. But," who? "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, for by grace you have been saved." Now there's your condition. And there's God's action. Your condition: you are D.O.A.- Dead on Arrival. The minute you come out of the womb, you are dead on arrival. You're dead in trespasses and sins. You might have life in the flesh, but you are dead before God. Now, a dead person has no ability to help himself. You can't walk up to a casket and say, "Get out. Improve your condition. Comb your hair." Someone who is dead has no capacity to change himself. Now, you were dead in trespasses and sins. You had no capacity to change yourself. But God, who is rich, made you alive. And it goes on to say in verse 6, " And raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Not only did God help us who were helpless, He made the first move, the emphasis is upon what He can do in us and for us and then we respond. But it says, as I read verse 6 and 7, if I'm reading it correctly, it will take God all of eternity for Him to demonstrate the extent of His love for us. And God will spend and take up, use up the rest of eternity in years ahead just to prove and to show, to expound on how much He loves us. To unfold the extent so that we can figure it out, we can grasp it. Too many years there have been people who have suffered from, "You are a failure, Christian. You're not doing enough for God." And, when you grow up with that mentality, it makes you very insecure and living in fear in your relationship to God. But the true biblical perspective is not what you can do for God, but what God can do for you. I remember in the sixties when I was just a little tike, before John F. Kennedy was shot, there were some words that I remember that immortalized the life of John F. Kennedy. You remember those words? Ask not what your country can do for you or (in a Kennedy accent), "Ash not what you're country for you, but what you can do for your country." Those words made him famous. Don't ask what your country can give you but what you can give your country. You could never apply those words to God. Now you can apply them to the church and you should come to the church and ask, "What can they give me?" but, "What can I contribute to the church?" But when it comes to God, there's nothing, really, you can do for God, unless God has first done something for you and in you, and then God will take your life as you respond in obedience to Him and work His purposes through you. That's the emphasis. "I will. I will. I will." That's what God said He would do.
Next, there's a list of promises and I'd like to have you look at them with me. Beginning in verse 1. Look at the end of verse 1 in Genesis 12. He says that he should get out of his house, "to a land that I will show you." "Abram, I have a place for you. You fit somewhere. You don't belong in Ur of the Chaldeans anymore. You don't belong in Haran. You belong in Canaan. And I have you set apart for this special place and that is where you fit. I have a place for you." Um, traditionally, we tend to look at this whole scene as, if we spiritualize it, as leaving the old life, getting saved- leaving Canaan behind, leaving the old behind and coming into the promised land of salvation. And while that does fit allegorically, there's something more here. Canaan was more than just salvation, if you will, for Abram, because God did not just want Abram to leave the past behind, he was taking him to a place of Canaan, which was the place of service for Abram. It was the place where Abram would finally serve God. And that's the truth for all of us. That is, God has saved us but He has a place, you see, where we fit. A sphere of influence. A land. A Canaan. Where we can spread our wings and we can serve God. We fit somewhere. And in this great big world that God created and in this great big church all over the world with all of its little churches like us scattered around, someplace you, as an individual and I as an individual fit. We have a purpose. And we need to find that purpose. "Lord, exactly where do I fit? What exactly do you want me to do in your church in contributing to the life of others now that You have done so much through me? What is the land that You want to show me?"
In the new testament, Paul the Apostle speaks about our relationship to each other in the church and our relationship to Jesus in a wonderful phrase called "the Body of Christ." That phrase has caught my attention over the years and I could do study after study and meditation after meditation just on what it means to be the body of Christ. But in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, the chapter that you probably know very well, Paul uses an analogy, speaking of the body. That this is, we are the church, the body of Christ. And he says something that is humorous. We usually don't laugh at it. For some reason, we're not supposed to do that when we read the scripture but it is funny. He says if the hand should say, or if the foot, excuse me, should say, "I'm not a hand, therefore I don't belong to the body." Paul says, "Is it therefore not part of the body?" Just because the foot says, "Well, I'm not, I'm not seen, I'm not a hand. Therefore I'm really not important." Paul said, "Does that mean it's not part of the body? Certainly not." And he says, "What if the ear, if it could speak would say, 'Well, because I'm not an eyeball, therefore I don't belong to the body." Paul says, "Is it therefore not of the body? Certainly not!" Paul uses two analogies, two comparisons, uh, of things that are important and seen versus a couple parts of our body that we usually don’t pay much attention to that are not seen. First of all the hand and the foot. Now the foots covered up, right? It should be, anyway, in this time of the year. The hand is something we all see. When we shake, we shake hands, not feet. Now the foot is hidden. Now, if the foot had a real complex about being hidden and it said, "You know what? Nobody ever pays attention to me. I'm not an important part. Nobody shakes me. I'm not of the body." Paul's whole point is that, yet the foot is important. Because you can't walk on your hands unless you work for a circus. But if you're a normal person you walk with your feet, even though they are hidden and you don't pay too much attention to them, they're important. And same with the ears. You don't really pay attention to people's ears, but they're important. The first thing that struck me when I met my wife, Lenya the first night, were her eyes. They were big, saucer-like, this bluish-green, nice, firm dark eyebrows. And I thought, "Those are beautiful eyes." It didn't verbalize it at that point. I just noticed them, because eyes are something that you notice right off the bat when you meet someone. Their smile or their eyes. You don't notice their ears. I didn't go home to my roommates and say, "She's got beautiful earlobes. I'm just taken in by her ears." In fact, for the most part, ears are pretty ugly. If you just look at one, the way it's shaped it's, well it's ugly. But it's important because of the way it is shaped it draws sound in so that the bones can vibrate and produce our hearing. Paul's point is, those parts of the body that we tend to think are insignificant and unseen serve a purpose and everyone in the church fits somewhere. We have a place. We have a sphere of influence. And we need to get busy using those gifts. Think, just for a moment, of this concept that, those things that are unseen are important. When was the last time you went up to someone and said, "Hey how are you doing? How's your, uh, pituitary gland? I've been praying for your pancreas lately." You don't think of the pituitary or the pancreas until that thing refuses to cooperate and become a part of the body. Then you have problems, then you worry about it. But it's unseen yet oh, so important. And so, you fit. You have a place.
I heard a story of a man who was in Argentina. He was drafted into the military service when it was compulsory, I don't know that it still is but, at this point, he went into the induction center because he's drafted, and he goes up to him and goes, "You know what? I'm of no use to you guys." And he had no arms. He says, "I have no arms. What good am I? There's no purpose that I can serve." Well, it was compulsory. When you're drafted man, you're drafted. So he had to be in the service. As his C.O. was passing out work orders for all of the men in that platoon, he went to the man who was inducted and he said, "You're on water detail. You're in charge of making sure that the men have water." And he said again, "What good am I? I don't have any arms." And the C.O. wisely pointed up the hill and he says, "You see the guy up on top of the hill there, pumping water? I want you to go up and tell him when his bucket is full because he is blind. You fit, because you'll be his eyes. He has arms, he'll pump the water. Somebody else will carry it down." One of the reasons why the church of Jesus Christ malfunctions is because the people within it often times do not see themselves as being important or fitting; having a land that God will show them, a Canaan, to serve within and to function in. Now one of the reasons for that is the pedestal syndrome. We look to certain people in the church, certain people on the radio or on TV whom God has really blessed and we think, "Now that person is important. He has a vital role to fulfill. But who am I in comparison to that?" And because of that, and looking at those people that we elevate are pushing certain ministries above all the rest, we tend to think, "I'm not important. I don't fit." But even if you are a foot or a big toe, we need you for balance. You have a sphere of influence.
Let's look at the next promise. He says, verse 2, "I will make you a great nation." "I will make you, Abram, a great nation." Now I want you to consider that for just a moment before we get to the next phrase: "I'm going to make you a great nation." That was literally fulfilled by this nation of Israel. God blessed them, they became a nation, a formidable nation. The scriptures came from that nation, the patriarchs came from that nation, the Messiah came from that nation. In Ray Stedman's book on Abram, I found something really interesting and I wanted to share with you with this morning concerning this concept of a nation. Stedman says that, "A nation is simply the life of a man expanded and enlarged to great proportions." A nation is simply the life of a man expanded and enlarged to great proportions. If you think about it, he's right on the button. Today, in our society, we think of a nation as being, uh, thousands of different groups of different families, strains of different family groups tied together in one society. But in the bible, a nation begins always with one person. God calls a person. Read sometime Genesis 10- the table of Nations. It tells you about the man and then the family and then how the nation developed. A nation begins with one person. That man eventually expands into a family. That family eventually expands into a nation. And so that a nation is simply the enlargement or the continuation, the expansion of one person. So if I could paraphrase that for our application this morning it would be, "Abraham, I have plans for you. I want you to leave all of your ties, all that you know as your security, all that you're familiar with, and I want you to leave it behind, because I want to show you where you fit in, your place of service. And when you're being involved and cooperating in that service, I am going to expand your life to infinite proportions. That's exactly what I want to do for you." Before we really capitalize on that, look at the next phrase: "I will bless you and I will make your name great." And that happened. Trace Abraham throughout the scriptures, throughout history. He is important to three world religions, two others besides Christianity, Judaism and Islam. His name is indeed great. God did bless him. Look at the next part, "And you shall be a blessing." I think that is my favorite part in all of those three verses. Get that. "Abram, not only am I going to bless, but I'm going to make you a blessing. Your life will be used by me to bless others. I'm going to make you so fruitful that you become, in a sense, a source of blessing. I'm the source, but you're going to be a mini-source. I'm going to plug you in and your life is going to enrich others and I'm going to use you. You're going to be a blessing." Folks, I can think of nothing greater, no greater experience, than to know that we have been used by God. There's no greater joy. That God used your words to speak to that person. God used your actions to change that couple's life and reconcile them back to each other. That God spoke through you and used your life. "I'll make you fruitful. I will expand your life and you're going to be a blessing." Joseph was given a prophesy- a comment by his dad. His dad said, "Joseph is a fruitful bough planted by a well whose branches go over the wall." In other words, he's not just a fruit-bearing tree who hangs out bearing fruit. His branches run over the wall so the other can get to them and pick them. His fruit will be available to other people. It is to me so staggering, yet it's the truth, that God wants to take my life, empty it, fill it, find a place where I can cooperate with Him, a place of service, and then in that place just blow my mind. Expand my life. And on a few occasions, God has been able to use me to bless the lives of other people and that still just blows me away. That God let me be in the way of His blessing other people. That's exactly what He said I would do for you.
Because that is the truth, I want to deviate for just a second before closing this off. Because it is important, because God wants to show us the place where we fit- the land of service- and because God wants, in that land, to expand us and enlarge us and use us, it is of momentous importance that every single person in the body of Christ: A, knows his or her gift and callings and number two, gets involved in doing it. And I want you to turn again to the New Testament, this time to the book of Romans, Chapter 12. I want you to peek over some familiar ground that we've covered before, but I want you to meditate on a few principles along this vein. Romans Chapter 12. I believe that in this chapter we have exactly what we've been talking about, but we have the how-to-do-its. Okay, I want to find a place where I fit in. and, I want God to take my life and expand it. I want to be a blessing to others. How do you do it? First of all, consecration, verse 1: “I beseech you,” or I am begging you, “therefore brethren, by the mercies of God that you present,” which means place at God's disposal, “I am begging that once and for all you will place yourself, at God's disposal, your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your reasonable service.” In other words, ask God. “Lord, where do I fit?” it's the first step. “Lord, I consecrate myself to you. Here's my body, it's before you. Show me where I fit. Show me my land of service and in that land, bless it.” Consecration.
Next, transformation. Verse 2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed.” Be totally changed, “by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In other words, let God change you. First of all say, “Where do I fit?” Second of all, let God change your thinking, change your perspectives and folks, that takes time. It takes time. You don't just get saved and the next day say, “I'm called to pastor a church.” It takes a time of transformation once you've presented yourself to God. I believe that every Christian needs some bench time with the coach before effective service. Do you get what I mean? Bench time. You're hanging out in the dugout listening to the coach talk and so that you can get a clear direction. You've gotten the information-God has changed you- and now you're ready to get plugged in. A.W. Tozer wrote this quote, listen carefully: aimless activity is beneath the worth and dignity of a human being. Activity that does not result in progress toward a goal is wasted, yet most Christians have no clear end toward which they are striving.” So cease from aimless activity. Consecrate yourself. Get changed. Get direction. Take some time with the coach.
After transformation comes what I call contemplation. Look at verse 3: “For I say, through the grace given to me to everyone who is among you,” that's all of us, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think,” that's what I'm emphasizing, “soberly as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” It takes contemplation. In other words, uh, praise your giftedness. I think the message in that verse is first of all, you are important and you do fit, but you're not the most important one in the world. Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. You're important but you're not the only ministry in the church. So, in humility, appraise yourself. Appraise your gifts and callings before God. What are some of the things you would like to get involved in? Do you have a natural desire or propensity towards certain things? Start at that point. “Boy I'd really like to get involved in the nursery. Boy I'd really like to get involved in counseling. Boy I'd really like to learn more how to teach and expound the word of God. You see God gives those gifts and clusters of gifts to different people and they just fit. There are some people who love to walk up to a front door of a house and go (knock, knock, knock, knock) “I'd like to share with you about Jesus Christ.” there's other people who are scared to death of that. They're just not called to that. They'll knock on the door and say, “Oh please, Lord, let no one be home. In Jesus name, Amen.” But put 'em one out of one in a natural work situation- they flourish. Some people don't mind addressing crowds of people. They don't get stiff and tight, they just flow. Other people, it's tough. Contemplation. Appraise your giftedness.
And fourth, experimentation. Look at verse 4: “For we have many members in one body, but all the members to not have the same function,” thank God. “So we being many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another, having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them. If prophesy, let us prophecy in proportion to our faith. Or in ministry let us use it in our ministering and he who teaches in teaching.” in other words, try it out. Use it. Experiment. Try it. How did you learn to ride a bike? Did you read a book? How to Ride a Bike. No. You got on the bike. You wanted to see if it fit you. And if it fit you and it was about your size, then you'd try it out. Try out the gift that you feel a calling toward or others have counseled you to get involved in. experiment with it. Use them. See if God calls you to that.
Now, let's get back to Genesis. It's the last part. Verse 3, “I will bless those that bless you. I will curse him who curses you. And in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I love that. “Abram, I've got a place for you, a sphere of influence, a place of service. In that place as you cooperate, I'm going to expand and enlarge your life to infinite proportions and you're going to be a blessing. And finally Abram, I identify myself with you. I, your Father, identify myself with you as a child.” You who are parents can relate to this. “Whoever blesses you is going to bless me. Whoever curses you, curses me.” You know that if someone attacks your child, that person becomes your adversary. Whether it's a person or a fever. And how many times, parents, have you watched your little kid with a sickness or a fever, thinking, “I would take his place any moment. I wish I had it, and I could cope with it. I don't like seeing him crying like that.” You identify yourself with your kids. You are wrapped up, in a sense, with your children. And whoever touches that child touches the apple of your eye, right? There's an identification. God says, “Abram, I'll bless you and I identify myself with you. I'm your protection. I'm your shield. These are the promises that I'm going to do for you.”
God has plans for all of us. Big plans. Bigger than probably most of us can imagine. I'm not saying that God will make you Billy Graham's assistant tomorrow, you know better than that. But God has plans as you and I give ourselves unto the Lord and we find where we fit to take our lives and, like those loaves and fishes, and multiply them and multiply them and multiply them. And we come before the Lord and we say, “What are we among so many?” and in the end, the multitude is fed with just that little, that little bit that we give to Him. One person wisely put, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man wholly devoted to Him.” It's always exciting for me to watch God take the lives of people and unfold His plan in their lives. God gets personally involved when a person comes to Jesus Christ. You who are Christians, God wants to get personally involved and say, “I will. I will. I will. I will. Just cooperate, but I will.” And, as God is doing that, follow His heartbeat, not anybody else's. Don't do what other people are doing. Find out what God has for you. I love this quote: “Do not follow the path wherever it leaves, but instead follow God where there is no path and leave a trail.” Pray with me.
Heavenly Father, it is really great, it's neat, that we have such a One as You. As the disciples said, “You alone have the words of eternal life.” you've given us a Book. But it's not just precepts, Lord. You've given us Your person. To lead us. To become acquainted. Oh, we're just anxious to see what plans You have for us as we follow You in Jesus name, Amen.