This week's Bible Study - April 17, 2016
Redeemed from Poor Choices
Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-5; 17:1-19
Quotes of the Week:
I did the best I could, and in some arenas, my best was not good enough. I've made some bad choices.
The next series of lessons is a series of lessons on redemption. We will discuss many areas of our lives where we have failed, and see what God may be saying to us. The particular issues are ones that apply to others and not us, so when you read, you can just see how to counsel others (insert sarcastic laugh here!). We will discuss poor choices, broken relationships, critical spirits, crippling doubts, devastating failures and an unbelieving past. Certainly, each of us, if honest with ourselves, will see how these apply very directly to our lives.
In general, redemption may be thought of as the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. When I was a kid, we used to get S&H Green Stamps every time we went to the grocery store, based on our purchase. We would have books in which we could paste the stamps, and there was a redemption store at the shopping center up the street where you could purchases things for a specified number of books. That is where, as a kid, I got my first 'new' tennis racket and I didn't realize for weeks that I had to take the plastic sleeve off the handle. Needless to say, the grip was not very good!
I have heard of a person's character being redeemed. Perhaps they had made a mistake in the past, and had overcome that by doing good things for others. If you read these lessons often, you know that Berkley and I are avid sports fans. I can think back to many different athletes in many different sports that had made really bad plays. Kickers miss easy field goals that would have sent their team into the NFL Playoffs. A first baseman lets the ball go between his legs in the 6th game of the World Series, breathing life into the 'other' team that was otherwise surely defeated. Often, when these players are able to play again in different seasons, they may make spectacular plays and the announcer might say that they have redeemed themselves. Sometimes, they never get a chance for redemption in their sport and it haunts them for the rest of their lives. (Sports fans are passionate - this can be good or bad!) Similarly, some people are never able to fully recover from their own past, largely because others want to keep them there.
In spiritual circles, we see redemption as the action of being saved from sin, specifically through Jesus Christ (for Christians). I remember hearing a hymn that we used to sing in church, "Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it". Sadly, we don't seem to sing that song at many churches anymore. We know that we have been redeemed, bought with a price, in order for us to have a relationship with God.
The other part of this lesson is poor choices. If you have to stop and consider your own life, what are some of the poor choices that you have made? We all have made them and they can span many areas of our lives, from relationships to finances to careers to almost every other area. I'm sure you can also recall some good choices, but it's our poor choices that seem to stick out and are unfortunately memorable, isn't it? I won't make this all about sports, but we watched a documentary on Sam Bowie a few months ago. He was over 7 foot tall and was an All American basketball player at the University of Kentucky. I grew up watching that UK team when I was in high school. He was selected first by Portland in the NBA Draft, right before another player you probably haven't heard of, Michael Jordan, who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Bowie ended up with severe leg issues, breaking his leg multiple times, missing much of his first few seasons. To make matters, worse, Jordan suddenly became All World, further emphasizing the poor choice that Portland made in the draft. To this day, that draft stands out to Portland basketball fans.
We make choices every day. We choose the route we drive to work or to the store, or what we will eat for dinner or what shows we watch on TV. I suppose we can make some poor choices there that end up taking us hours to get somewhere, gives us food poisoning, or we end up watching low quality shows. However, those types of choices are not the ones we focus on here, although if what you choose to watch on TV causes you to relax your moral standards; that may fall into the category of choices that you may need to redeem.
There are other choices that we make that can impact the rest of our lives. I often think about how many things we do because we want to please somebody else. Specifically, when youth are around the middle or high school age, many go through a phase where the opinions of their classmates and other friends are of utmost importance (or so it seems). Sometimes, kids will make very detrimental choices to please a group that they see for three or four years, but may never see again for the rest of their lives. It seems incredulous that some lifetime choices are made to please people that we may never see again. There are other choices that have life altering impact. Some of them turn out to be good choices, and others are bad. Unfortunately, we can never go back and re-choose, so we are sometimes stuck with the situation we have put ourselves in.
We look around and see other believers in church, that for some reason, we think have it 'all together'. We are keenly aware of our own failures. But, people in church put on their best face all the time, don't they? You would tend to think that everybody else (besides you) has it together, so what do we do? We end up wearing the mask as well. One of the most moving moments for me in a church service was a few years ago when the pastor was talking about situations and suffering in life. He was speaking to those who were struggling with something at that time, so he had my attention. He asked for those who were having some 'serious' struggle in life to raise their hands. What happened next was amazing. You could look to the front, to either side or behind you. There were tons of hands raised. All of these people that seemed to have it all together - were struggling with something at that very moment. It was like blinders were lifted from my eyes, as I realized that most people in church (including me) try to hide their own issues from everyone else. I wonder what would be different if we shared what we were going through and if we were honestly praying for one another? I know that Berkley is actually very good at this and I see God drawing people to her because she is authentic. This doesn't mean she walks around emoting everything she is dealing with, but she doesn't hide behind an 'artificial self' either. She will tell you herself, that she is pretty much an open book - what you see is what you get. Of course we know we have to balance 'putting it all out there, with keeping it all in'. But if our goal in keeping things to ourselves, is because we want others to think we always have it together, we have a problem.
In this lesson, we will see how God intended to bless Abram, and even let Abram know what was going to happen. However, Abram, like many of us, decided that he was responsible for 'helping God along" and his choices impact us to this day.
The character in this lesson is Abram, who would later become known as the Father of the Israelites. Abram was a man who followed God and God told him that he would be blessed. In that time, the typical way that God's people believed they were blessed was in having many children. However, as Abram got older and older, he had no children. He understood and believed that God was going to bless him, but there was no child to carry his line.
Abram had his own ideas about what God was going to do, but God wanted to show him that He would provide, as opposed to expecting Abram to handle that situation on his own. As he looked around, he even began thinking that since he didn't have children of his own, perhaps God was going to bless his servant.
Have you ever felt that God had asked you to do something? We don't often get to hear God audibly speak, or recognize Him in a vision, as Abram did, but God speaks in many ways today. Without going into the ways you might recognize God speaking, have you ever felt that you were being asked to do something which you had no idea how to do? I believe that God wants us to rely upon Him and keep relying upon Him. It can be relatively easy to get a word from God (or to feel that He is leading you in a specific way) and then step back and figure out how to implement it. This is the start of many poor choices, as it was for Abram in this passage.
The Lord told Abram that the servant would not be his heir, but Abram would have a son of his own flesh and blood. I am sure that Abram didn't quite comprehend what God was saying, but God continued to tell Abram to look up in the sky and see the stars. Have you ever been outside on a cloudless night, away from the city? The sight of stars is utterly amazing and the expanse of the sky is beyond our ability to conceive. Abram looked up and saw the magnitude of the number of stars and God told him that his offspring would be as innumerable. We read that Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abram didn't understand how, but He clearly understood that God would be blessing him.
Abram, this man of God, knew that his offspring would be great. It had been 10 years since God gave this word to Abram. Do you get that? 10 years? Abram was old to begin with, but wouldn't you think that year after year, he started wondering? What would you do? It is hard to wait, and often when we start something that doesn't pan out pretty quickly, we can begin to question if what we 'heard' from God was real. Abram believed God, but over time, he decided that he needed to intervene. Isn't this like many of us today? We may believe what God intends, but rather than waiting for God to act or to give us more insight into what we need to do, we act in our own power to 'help him out'. At times, we give God 'some time' to act, but when it doesn't' come in the time frame that we would expect, we may assume that we need to take matters into our own hands. For Abram, it was 10 years. How long would you wait?
Sarai was his wife, and both of them being old, figured that they were past childbearing age. At least she hadn't been able to bear children up to this point. I'm sure that Abram told her that God was going to bless him (but it perhaps wasn't clear that it would be 'them'). I would imagine that they talked a lot about this and who knows how many possibilities they thought of.
Sarai had an Egyptian slave named Hagar. She had an idea that Abram should go sleep with her, and perhaps the family line could be through her. Maybe she didn't want Abram to really do that, but, not having a better idea, Abram assumed that this must be the plan. Abram slept with Hagar and she conceived. This led to a lot of issues between Hagar and Sarai. Hagar was the one who could carry Abram's child, because Sarai couldn't. You can understand the issues and animosity that this may cause. Similarly, when we take matters into our own hands, apart from the power of God, it can cause a lot of problems. Looking back, Abram would probably say that he should have waited on God, but by the time these events had transpired, it was too late.
Hagar delivered a son named Ishmael. Things between Sarai and Hagar did not get any better. This was indeed a poor choice, but had Abram's poor choice nullified God's promise? Even at the age of 99, God again spoke to Abram. Abram had to be keenly aware of his own failure in not trusting completely in God, but God was still speaking to him. Isn't it amazing that God still desires to work in our lives, despite our mistakes and failures? Abram was in awe of God and he fell facedown as God spoke to him.
Abram's name was changed to Abraham, as God would make him a father of many nations.
When things went as God intended, the result would be astounding. In our efforts, we can, like Abram, make some things happen. But, in God's hands, there is no limit to the things that can be done and the impact of our 'good choices', following Him.
God continued to speak to Abraham. He was no longer to call his wife Sarai, but her name was to be changed to Sarah. There is only a subtle difference between the meaning of Sarai and Sarah. Sarai means lady or princess, but it implied one family. However, Sarah implies no restriction, as lady or princess of a multitude. God was also going to bless her and would give Abraham a son by her. This was God's intent all along and what would have happened, if Abraham would have waited. Would it have happened in 10 years, if the Hagar incident never happened? Would it have required 15 years? We don't know when God would have made it clear, but we know Abraham should have waited.
Once again, Abraham fell facedown and laughed. Why do you think Abraham had this reaction? Was he laughing because he didn't believe it could happen or was it faith that God could do it? Abraham looked at the problem from a totally human standpoint (knowing the age of both he and Sarah), but he believed that God could act in the situation. Still not having a child with Sarah, Abraham suggested that perhaps it would be easier for God if He just used Ishmael. Perhaps he was trying to 'help God out". Abraham had already made one poor choice, and his 'advice' to God was leaning towards another. It probably would have been better to just keep quiet at this point. This is a problem that many people get in today, even after one poor choice. In trying to take the reins and control others and the situation (to make God's will happen), in essence, they further exacerbate the problem. We need to allow God to work in His time.
God told Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed, but this was not God's intention. The covenant would be established with the son of Sarah, to be named Isaac, and that covenant would be an everlasting covenant for the true descendants of Abraham, by God's design.
Several things seem to jump out of this lesson. One key one is that we all are capable of making poor choices. If Abraham, the Father of the Israelites, could make such a bad decision in his family (and even be prone to make another one on the heels of the first), why would be surprised when poor decisions are made today? All around us, we have seen leaders fall and we wonder how it could happen. Our leaders are human, as are you and I. I just think of my favorite Christian artist, Rich Mullins (now deceased), and his song that said "We are not as strong as we think we are" -
Click here to listen to that song. Often, when we think we are above making a bad decision, watch out.
Timing is everything. At least God's timing is His, and certainly not ours. If we had some idea of when God would act and what His plan was, that might help. But, we are impatient. In many jobs and situations in life, we need to be able to plan what is going to happen and when. We get so used to having access to whatever we want, whenever we want it. We don't like to sit in traffic, and we don't like to sit and wait for God to do what He's going to do. It's not as if we want God to act in an instant, but doesn't God know that I have a schedule?
James 4:13-16 says "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."
Perhaps we need to learn to become good 'waiters'. We don't need to wait tables, but we need to learn to wait patiently. It is difficult to wait. For many of us, we feel like we are in a holding pattern, not able to really do anything while we wait. Waiting often destroys our schedules and impacts our plans. If we take a step back, we need to ask ourselves what is more important, "Sticking to our schedules, or waiting for God's guidance"? What might happen if we used our waiting productively? Rather than hurry and make what is likely to be bad decisions and making poor choices, perhaps we need to see what God is doing in the meantime. On the flip side, there are those who spend their whole lives waiting. They may say they are waiting on God, but in reality, they have no intention of moving. Some may be lazy. Others may be very analytical and unless something seems clear cut, they suffer from analysis paralysis. There is no cut and dry answer here. It is all about your relationship with God, and seeking Him. If you are truly waiting on Him, continue to wait. However, if you have no clear direction from God, perhaps you need to move on and continue to look for God's guidance, as you move.
When I was growing up, we had the Magic 8 Ball, which gave you an answer when you shook it. Unfortunately, God doesn't provide that trick anymore. In the Old Testament (specifically Exodus 28), there was the Urim and the Thummin that God allowed the priests to use to determine God's will in a specific situation. Perhaps they were like God's magic dice. We tend to think that is what we need so that we can determine God's will. We want to do it, so why doesn't He just show us? Can you imagine how far away from God we would be if we depended on Magic Dice to make our decisions. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us. We could have many more lessons on this alone, as some people require a charismatic exercise for the role of the Spirit. But to me, the Spirit guides and directs personally, as I seek God. Unfortunately, I've not always followed. But, as you read Scripture, study the Bible, listen to sermons, hear words to a song and discuss things with other believers, you will start to hear the Spirit speaking to you. The key is to listen for what you hear, as opposed to trying to fit what you want into what you read. If we approach God without a preconception of what we will hear, we often hear more clearly.
As we think back to people who we have tried to please in our choices, one more thought occurred to me. Throughout life, we seem to have good friends that are somewhat seasonal. It could be that we end up with one set of friends in high school, another set in college, another set in our workplace, another set of friends who may be parents of other kids on our kid's sports teams or dance teams, neighborhood friends, church friends or 'name your own type of friend'. If we have to move, or change jobs, or our life alters in some way, the set of friends change. If you are a people pleaser and you make choices based on your friends, those choices could change widely based on where you are in life. We need to take a step back and consider that. Wouldn't it make sense to make choices based on consistency?
Proverbs 18:24 reads "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother". While you may not classify any or all of your friends as unreliable, you would have to agree that groups of friends are not consistent. Friends, we serve a God who is eternal. We have a Redeemer who has given His life for our forgiveness. Shouldn't we consider that, if we are going to be a people pleaser, that we should choose the friend who is closer than a brother?
Poor choices and bad decisions can have consequences. In this story, we saw that eventually God was going to give an heir to Abraham and Sarah, but their choices to take that task in their own hands led to the birth of a nation that would be a thorn in the side of the Israelites, even to this day. In our lives, it can be possible to end up making decisions that seem to have no redeeming value. Certainly, God can take anything and use it in our lives, but through our choices, we can end up far from where we may have been. However, even when we face consequences, we can get back up and get back in the game once again. You don't often get to play a mulligan (or replay a bad choice), but as long as God allows each of us to go forward in life, we can focus on seeking God anew in our lives.