Sermons

Summary: Abraham, Pt. 5

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ROOM TO GROW (GENESIS 17:1-19)

Twice Michelle Kwan failed to land the big prize at Winter Olympics Figure Skating Championship. In 1998 she was placed second and in 2002 she dropped to third. Each time she bravely congratulated the winner, evaluated her situation and announced her participation in the next Olympics. Since then, apart from the commercial endorsements, it has not been plain sailing and not what the UCLA student had bargained for. Critics and reporters said she was too old, too cautious, and too mechanical. They harped that her jumps were the same, her routine had no edge and her rivals were more exciting.

The twenty-year old Michelle had won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship nine times and the International Championship five times, but a year before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah confessed, “It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder and harder. You have to stay on top of your game.” (San Gabriel Valley Tribune 1/22/01)

Here are some quotes on personal growth and development:

“Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” (James Bryant Conant, former president of Harvard)

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” (Charles Kettering)

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” (Epictetus)

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” (William Shakespeare)

In Genesis 17, Abram had settled comfortably in Canaan, Sarai and Hagar had suspended their rivalry, and even Ishmael, who Abram fathered when he was eighty-six, was a teenage 13 (Gen 16:16, 17:1). Abram did not have much before, but now had plentiful of silver and gold (Gen 13:2) on top of livestock and servants (Gen 12:16). Two chapters ago, God promised the land and an offspring to Abraham, but now the subject had finally shifted to the identity and the mother of Abraham’s offspring, Sarai.

Is your faith going forward, moving ahead, or making progress? Genesis 17 is about a continual desire to grow in faith, to live a stirring Christian life and to make a difference in the world. How do we make an impact after weeks and months and years of the same thing? What is missing? What are the first steps to rekindle the flame?

Improve Your Relationship with God

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. (Gen 17:1-2)

In 1997 I made a bold decision to leave my comfort zone. After serving seven years in the same church after seminary graduation, I was ready to face new challenges, obtain further training and learn new skills. Little did I know, God was preparing me for a teaching, writing and online ministry on top of pastoral ministry. My wife pokes fun at me, constantly reminding me that I did not have an email until I left Los Angeles in 1997.

A year later, after I had returned from Chicago, a friend asked me if I was still interested to meet with a few pastors on a regular basis to talk about what we were doing, share our needs and spend time in prayer. I never felt the need for it previously in ministry when I was in my twenties and early thirties; before, I considered it a waste of time, an invasion of privacy and a restriction on freedom, but now it was God-sent.

Continuing education also helped to recharge my batteries, revitalize my ministry and renew my perspective on ministry. A new ministry in a smaller church in the countryside an hour’s drive from the city allowed me to spend more time on teaching and writing, eventually posting all the sermons I’ve written on the internet (epreaching.blogspot.com). It’s been said, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I believe a trick or two is within reach!

Michael Eisner once said that a man must renew himself once every seven years.

Ironically, God gave Abraham a big surprise, a big present and a big lesson when two seven-year cycles since Ishmael’s birth was a year short of expiring.

To renew oneself is to make fresh and alive one’s relationship to God, to be richer, deeper and stronger in faith. It is to reverse, to turn around from an extended period of stagnated growth, declining expectations and established routines. It is the answer to the SOS crisis - same old stuff. To remain focused after years of decline is a need, a challenge and a task.

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