When you hear the word ¡§challenge¡¨, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of the words ¡§Immunity challenge.¡¨ Anyone here ever hear those words before?
Immunity Challenge comes from the ever-popular TV reality series Survivor. You know, the one where contestants eat worms, kill their own dinner in the wild, take on absurd challenges, and if they fail to do so with the right amount of social competence, they are voted off the island and forever banished.
In the midst of this game comes the immunity challenge. If you are the winner of the challenge, which is some form of test or competition such as holding your breath underwater, shooting a slingshot, or standing on a post in the middle of a lake like the Karate Kid, you receive immunity. In other words, no one can vote you off. You are safe, protected, guarded. . .at least temporarily.
I suppose that would be one form of a challenge, an immunity challenge. But there are others. Take this one for instance. . .
(Scene with Ralphy from A Christmas Story and tongue on pole)
What you have just witnessed was a challenge, no doubt about it. The challenge was issued. The ante was raised. The testing of that young boy¡¦s manhood was laid on the table. But there is something inherently different between that type of a challenge, and a God sized challenge.
I believe there is a difference between a worldly challenge or dare and a Godly test or challenge.
A God sized challenge is not simply some made for TV, Survivor battle of endurance, immunity challenge. It is not some insane Ironman challenge. Anyone ever seen the Iroman triathlon? They merely swim a couple of miles in the ocean; ride a bike a hundred miles across barren lava wastelands. . .and then, oh by the way, run a marathon. But that still can¡¦t match a God sized challenge.
It is definitely not a double-dog-dare to stick your tongue on a frozen pole. A God sized challenge is much larger, much more significant, much more eternal in its implications in your life.
In the book of Genesis, we find Abraham confronted with just such a God sized challenge. It is a very familiar story to people raised in the church involving Abraham¡¦s son Isaac. His long awaited son. We are talking, his century long dreamed of son.
In fact, in some ways we are also talking about his only remaining son. For just one chapter ago Abraham had sent the son of his servant Hagar out into the Wilderness. He had sent Ishmael away in an act that is described as ¡§displeasing¡¨ to him. So just as he is working through that grief, getting used to being without his son Ishmael, and settling into this relationship with Isaac, he is given a God sized challenge.
Let¡¦s read together what happens in Genesis 22 beginning in verse 1 (through verse 10).
Now I don¡¦t know if you can relate to what Abraham is facing here. I feel that to some degree I can as a father, dearly in love with my only son. And I am sure to some degree, no matter what our walk of life, we can read through this situation and understand the angst and difficulty being faced by this father at the prospect of this God sized challenge.
As we look at this situation, there are a number of things that stand out to me. Things that as I look through the Bible, look through the lives of Godly people around me, and look at my own 34 years of existence I can identify as characteristics of a God sized challenge. A testing so large, so immense, so eternal that it must be from God. A test, or challenge from God. Lets look at some of these characteristics.
One characteristic we see right off the bat in this God sized challenge is that . . .
I. IT INVOLVES SOMETHING WE OWN
God has entrusted us with things, with people, with opportunities over which we are stewards. And while God is ultimately the owner of everything, often we look at those things as something we own.
Maybe it is a home, a car, or a favorite electronic. But look beyond those things to something more significant. Maybe a parent, a spouse, or as in Abraham¡¦s case, a child.
God says, ¡§Take now ¡¥YOUR¡¦ son, ¡¥YOUR¡¦ only son Isaac.¡¨ Often a God sized challenge will involve something you own.
Turn over to Matthew 19:16. Remember the Rich Young Ruler? He comes to Jesus wanting to take on a God sized challenge. So he says (read v. 16). How¡¦s that for a God sized challenge? I don¡¦t want to win the SUV. I don¡¦t want to win the million-dollar prize. No, I want eternal life. That is a God sized challenge. And it begins this interaction between Jesus and this rich young ruler.
But notice how things end down in verse 21 (read v. 21-22). Why was he sorrowful? Because he had great possessions. And to accomplish this God sized challenge it was going to involve something he owned.
What is another characteristic of a God sized challenge?
¡§Then He said, ¡¥Take now your son, your only son Isaac.¡¦¡¨
Another characteristic of a God sized challenge is that often. . .
II. IT INVOLVES SOMETHING THAT CANNOT BE REPLACED
God refers to Isaac as Abraham¡¦s ¡¥only son¡¦. Irreplaceable. God uses a phrase that refers to a unique miracle child. It is the same phrase used to refer to Jesus in John 3:16, ¡§His only begotten Son.¡¨
Have you ever noticed how much harder the last one is to give up. Think about a pizza. When the pizza arrives for dinner, everyone dives in. There isn¡¦t a great deal of fear, or hesitation. It is just time to eat. But what evolves over the next few minutes is an incredible sociological dynamic.
As the remaining pieces of pizza begin to dwindle, the distance from the pizza box begins to shrink. People begin to just ¡§hang out¡¨ closer to the remaining pieces. And when it gets down to that final piece. Things have greatly intensified.
Have you ever had someone look at you and ask, ¡§Did you want that last piece?¡¨ Asked with that tone, that longing, that almost begging, ¡§Please, please tell me I can have the last piece!¡¨
I will warn you. I am a very direct, and honest person. If there is one piece of pizza remaining, and you think there is any chance at all that I may want it. Do not ask me that question. I will quickly respond, ¡§Yes, I think I will have that last piece.¡¨
When God starts to challenge our final things. . .our last dollars, our last block of free time, our last day of vacation. . .or just imagine, our ¡¥only¡¦ irreplaceable son. When God starts to challenge you in the area of something that cannot be replaced, you will know that you are up against a God sized challenge.
But it can go much deeper than that. ¡§Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.¡¨
Often a God sized challenge. . .
III. INVOLVES SOMETHING WE LOVE
Just imagine if the call would have been different. ¡§Abraham, take your lamb. Your only remaining lamb, and offer him as a burnt offering.¡¨
Maybe there would have been some pizza envy. ¡§Man, this is my last lamb. I own this lamb. I raised this lamb. I¡¦ll have to find a replacement for this lamb.¡¨ But it isn¡¦t the end of the world. You can always find another lamb. You can always order another pizza.
But now God is messing with something we love. Something we hold dear to our hearts. Something that we have an attachment to that is much greater than simply a hunger pain.
We often read the Bible in way too comfortable a fashion. So when you read a story such as this, personalize it. This story isn¡¦t all that difficult to read until I read, ¡§Chip, take now your son, your only son Jamie, whom you love.¡¨ ¡§Chip, take now your daughter, your only daughter Allie, whom you love.¡¨
What is it for you? What do you need to insert in there? Who is that person, what is that item, that part of your life that you love so dearly that when the thought of God asking for it comes to you, you draw in and say, ¡§Oh God, wait a minute. . .are you sure? Why him? Why her? Why that?¡¨
I recognize as we begin our time together, that there are those of you in this room that love Stonewall Wesleyan Church. You have given years of your life in service through this church. You have poured hours of emotion, sweat and tears, elbow grease and effort into this church. You love certain aspects of this church. . .maybe the style of worship, maybe the appearance of the sanctuary, maybe the structure of the Sunday School, maybe the flow of the fellowship, maybe that certain pew that you sit in from week to week. . .you love Stonewall Wesleyan Church.
As we move forward, as we face the God sized challenge of bringing lost souls throughout Lexington, and central Kentucky into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you may be challenged by God to let go of something here that you love. What might it be?
A God sized challenge. Let¡¦s say together what we have so far. It Involves Something We Own, it Involves Something That Cannot Be Replaced, it Involves Something We Love.
Verse 3. (read through 6)
Three days they traveled to face this God sized challenge, and as if often the case, a God sized challenge. . .
IV. INVOLVES A JOURNEY
For Abraham it was a three-day journey with donkeys and helpers, but it was really much longer than that. It had really been a hundred year journey. Waiting for that beloved son. Raising him through his infant, toddler, young childhood years. There was a significant journey involved in this God sized challenge.
For our family it was a two-day journey with moving truck and trailer, but it has really been much longer than that. It has really been a multi-decade journey. Joining together in marriage, attending seminary, leaving the ministry, rebuilding our lives, seeking God¡¦s direction, pursuing a call. There is a significant journey involved in this God sized challenge.
For our church reaching this point was a multi-month journey with resumes, sermons on CD or video, and emails, but it has really been much longer than that. It has been 40+ years, laying a foundation, establishing a facility, building relationships, enduring trials and hardships, persevering through difficult times, celebrating life moments together, mourning losses together. There is a significant journey involved in this God sized challenge.
A characteristic of a God sized challenge is that it often involves a journey. Elijah was sent back the way he had come to experience God¡¦s presence in the journey. What would the story of Jonah be without the story of the journey? Your Bible like mine may document in vivid color the ministry of Paul by laying out the map of the journey. The very life of Jesus begins with a journey to Bethlehem, and continues with a journey to Egypt.
In our efforts to reach our goals, let¡¦s not miss the challenge, the strength, the lessons and the experience that is the journey. My excitement today is not for some end product of Stonewall Wesleyan Church in 10 years. It is an excitement for the journey we are embarking on.
What else can we learn about God sized challenges from Abraham and Isaac? Verse 7 (read).
I do not know if you experienced this in your neighborhood or not, but I often do during the holiday season. It often starts around October, since Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays in our country. As I drive by these houses I have seen so many times, I begin having double takes.
¡§What are they putting up there? What in the world are they doing?¡¨ You know what I¡¦m talking about. Slowly, but surely, as fall turns to winter and the year winds down you find yourself living among dozens of Clark Grizwalds. These decorative monstrosities are being created in their yards, on their roofs, around their mailboxes, and you have no idea what they are hoping this will look like some day when the switch is thrown.
Imagine Noah¡¦s neighbors. First it was just some wood. . .but this thing was getting out of hand. Maybe he had just picked up a new fishing hobby and wanted something to sail in, but this was turning in to some form of Cincinnati Zoo 5 day, 4 night Carnival Cruise Fun Ship.
What about Joshua? Why in the world are these nuts marching around this city?
What about David? Surely he does not think he is going to survive that monster with a slingshot?
What about Jesus? Why in the world is He putting mud on that guys eyes?
What about Paul and Silas? Why are they singing in the midst of this dark, smelly prison?
Cover to cover you will find again and again that when you pursue a God sized challenge. . .
V. IT INVOLVES FACING CONFUSION
Things will not always make sense.
It is a terribly frustrating truth for a man like myself. A type ¡¥A¡¦ perfectionist who understands there is a right way, and a wrong way to do things. Someone for whom there is a passionate pursuit of the logical. Things are supposed to make sense. Point A is supposed to go through Point B to get to Point C. And it drives me crazy that God does not always operate that way.
Often when God presents a challenge in our lives, it will involve facing confusion. In fact, often we are the ones who are confused. Do you not think Abraham was confused?
Don¡¦t get me wrong, I believe he trusted God and was willing to act in obedience and faith to God¡¦s command. . .but if he was a man like me, a father, a husband, someone who was passionately pursuing God. . .somewhere inside I can just imagine him saying, ¡§God, this isn¡¦t making sense. I trust you. . .but I¡¦m confused.¡¨
I am confident. I have no doubt. The thought does not escape me for even a moment that as we move forward together here at Stonewall Wesleyan, there will be times when we take action in the face of our God sized challenge that will confuse people.
¡§Why didn¡¦t we do this?¡¨ ¡§Why did they change that?¡¨ ¡§Why are we starting these?¡¨
Don¡¦t be afraid to ask the Isaac questions. Don¡¦t be afraid to seek clarification, direction and wisdom. Don¡¦t be afraid to say. . .I¡¦m confused, this isn¡¦t making sense.¡¨
However, don¡¦t let that confusion be a roadblock, because the next thing we see is that a God sized challenge. . .
VI. INVOLVES ACTION
(read verse 9)
Trust me, there is no one on the face of the earth who would have more preferred to have had an answer to the questions of this challenge than Abraham before it came to the point of having to tie up his own precious child, and place him on the altar. I cannot even imagine the agony. The experiences I could relate do not even come close to the fortitude a man of God would have to find inside him to tie up his own child, and lay him on an altar, on a bed of wood, prepared to sacrifice him.
But God sized challenges involve action. For it is in our action that God is able to see our resolve, our willingness to obey, our commitment to His call.
If we take ownership in our church, if we recognize how irreplaceable our impact within this community can be, if we love the church as Christ loved us, if we endure the journey, face confusion and yet fail to act. . .we will miss out on the opportunity that awaits those who accept the God sized challenge.
The God sized challenge for Stonewall Wesleyan was not enduring time without a pastor. The God sized challenge for Stonewall Wesleyan was not answering the confusion of where to go in a pastoral search process. The God sized challenge for Stonewall Wesleyan Church is to impact this community for eternity. . .and we are marking a new beginning in the actions we will take to answer the call of that challenge.
One more characteristic of a God Sized Challenge.
It was not enough to build the altar. To lay the wood on the altar. To tie up his only son whom he loved deeply. To place him on the altar. You see, a God sized challenge. . .
VII. INVOLVES 100% COMMITMENT
Point of no return. Loading the moving truck, pulling the kids out of school, saying good-bye to family, and diving in with 100% commitment.
Forgetting past disagreements, reconciling relationships, eliminating disclaimers to your participation, and diving in with 100% commitment.
Prayerfully taking action, willfully letting go of ownership strings, binding up the sacred cows and throwing them on the altar, and diving in with 100% commitment.
I do not believe that the God sized challenge before us today will be easy. Nor are many things of eternal value and significance. There is at least some truth to the idea of ¡§No pain, No gain.¡¨ But the question today is, are we ready to move towards the point of being able to raise the sword, and dive in with 100% commitment?
Now, the really cool thing about the Word of God is that so often our call to action is followed by promise.
(read v. 11-18)
Three quick things. If we will accept this God sized challenge before us, I believe God will. . .
ƒá PROVIDE ¡V JEHOVAH JIREH
And these things will occur, as they did with Abraham, as we walk in obedience to Him.
So how do we start? How do we lay hold of this God sized challenge before us, and seize the day?
Well. . .to find that out, you will have to come back next week. And that is what will look at together.