Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Withstanding God's Tests For The Sake Of The Name

This post and its title is the result of an amalgamation of two different sermons delivered seven years apart by two different pastors at Willingdon, my home church. In early 2004, Dr. John Neufeld gave a brilliant sermon titled "Withstanding God's Tests", during a series in Genesis on the life of Abraham. That sermon is so compelling that I've played and replayed it more than 15 times now since listening to it earlier this year. Late last month, Dr. Daryl Kroeker titled his sermon "For The Sake of The Name", based on verses 7 and 8 of the third letter of John. For some reason, events worked out in such a manner that dots I couldn't (and didn't) connect before fell into alignment and led me to one of those moments where I wished I'd learned this earlier.

Covering the twenty-second chapter of the book of Genesis, "Withstanding God's Tests" took a hard look at God's test of Abraham in asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Using passages like James 1:2-4, 12, Hebrews 12:7-11, 11:17-19, Proverbs 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 19:23 and Exodus 20:20 in a way I'd never heard it exposited before. I doubt if John Neufeld could have used a better attention-grabbing line than his apocalyptic opening statement, which he repeated for added emphasis - "God is determined to test you!" I also doubt if he needed anything to keep me riveted for the remaining half-hour than the follow-up question a little while later - "So, here's the question - how do you pass God's tests?". The important points that he proceeded to lay out for the rest of the sermon attempted to answer three main questions:

- How do we identify the testing of God?
- How do we respond when God tests us?
- What is God hoping to accomplish by putting people to the test?

Answering the first question, Pastor John pointed out three main things that God is looking for from someone He puts to the test - obedience, meditation and faith. Similarly, he also explained that God puts someone through tests for specific outcomes - that they might fear Him, count on His provision and rest in His promise. Rather than explaining the sermon, I thought I'd put down some of the interesting quotes I liked during the talk:

"See, Abraham is always the Great Negotiator with God, always carrying on with these things, but this time the Great Negotiator is silent; not one word is spoken...no delay, no argument, no anger, just simple obedience...the great story of Abraham is that this man passed the test because he was not negotiating, he was not complaining that God was unjust. He was obedient."

"...and there the old man walks for three days and he remembers what God has said, and the question he must have asked himself is this - 'Is it possible that this promise could fail?' Because if God would fail, then what would be left?"

"...you see, the world that Abraham lived in, the imagination that Abraham had of his world, was the imagination of a God-bathed world; a world in which things don't happen by accident, and they are never out of the design of God. A world in which God can always be counted upon and trusted. It was in the walking, it was in those three days of silence, that Abraham made up his mind - it was not possible to come down that hill without his son...Abraham has come to the conclusion that if Isaac dies on the altar, then the universe as now exists would cease to be, because He who holds it together is Himself cursed"

"God wants from you three things. He wants first of all a man or woman who says 'yes' to Him at every point in time; to obey God regardless of the cost, knowing that obedience always comes with a great personal price."

"God wants you to be a meditator; God wants you to think about a world that is bathed with Him. Some of us still allow these words like 'accidental' or 'lucky' or such things to slip out of our mouths, when in fact this is a world controlled by the sovreign hand and plan of God. Nothing is out of order."

"One of the reasons why in North America we lack often wisdom in life is because for the North American Church so many of us have become comfortable with a buddy-buddy relationship with God."

"You know what happens when you sign a contract? You're swearing by yourself. But as you know that, it's only as good as your own reputation and character...but there is nothing greater for God to swear by than Himself; places His own character behind it. 'I swear by myself, that I will keep every promise that I have every made to you."

"Which life do you want? Do you want the ordinary life, or do you want the life of God? And if you want the life of God He will lead you on a wild adventure of faith, and God will test you like the Harley engineers tested their bike and in the end God will make you complete and lacking in nothing."

And to top it all off, Pastor John read quoted the same poem that I found inspiring and posted more than a year ago, titled "When God Wants To Drill A Man", which you can see here. I love this poem!

Similarly, Dr. Daryl asked the question, "For the sake of what name?" in his own sermon outline, seven years later. He pointed out that The Name of God that Christians recognize and worship is exclusive (John 14:6; Romans 1:18; Acts 4:12), powerful (Acts 10:43; John 20:31), global (Philippians 2:8-11) and inclusive (Romans 10:13) in nature.

You can listen to both these brilliant talks at the Willingdon Sermon Archive [1].

So how do these independent sermons line up for me?

I had never fully comprehended what the painful, difficult and disappointing moments in my life were about, finding myself struggling to gain and adopt the right perspective; trying to stay afloat while splashing about in various moments of heartbreaking reality that seemed to have crept up on me like a perfect storm. I remember in earlier years desperately running from parent, to pastor, to priest, to well-meaning believer, pillar to post looking for answers to painful questions Time and again, I seemed to be met with answers that ran along the lines of "Don't worry. Remember Romans 8:28? God is working all things for your good! Smile!" That these meant well and were well-intentioned I have no doubt; however, I am in no less doubt that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the famous saying goes.

I don't know if it is conclusive at this point, but I have come to believe that understanding the importance of The Name and why everything is designed "For The Sake of The Name", helps me adopt the right posture of my heart during those times when it seems that I am in that painful space between God's mighty hammer and anvil. Why is The Name important to me?

The Name of El is important; seeing The Powerful God,
I know my fragility
The Name of El Echad is important; in The One God
I find unity in diversity
The Name of El Hanne'eman is important; The Faithful God
shows me my own faithlessness
The Name of El Emet is important; The Truthful God
shows me the liar that I am
The Name of El Tsaddik is important; The Righteous God
shows me my own deceitful heart
The Name of El Olam is important; in the Eternal God
I see my own transience
The Name of El Shaddai is important; God is All-Sufficient,
and I am undependable
The Name of El Elyon is important; in front of The Majestic God
I see my own lowliness
The Name of El Roi is important; The All-Seeing God
shows me that I cannot hide
The Name of El Yeshurun is important; without Him
I have no redemption
The Name of El Gibbor is important; without The Warrior God
I have no victory
The Name of El De'ot is important; The God of Knowledge
shows me I am a fool without Him
The Name of El Haggadol is important; The Great God
reminds me I am nothing in front of Him
The Name of El Haggavod is important; The God of Glory
shows me that my own glory is meaningless
The Name of El Haggadosh is important; The Holy God
shows me that He is forever separate
The Name of El Hashamayim is important; The God of the Heavens
rules over everything, including me
The Name of El Chaiyai is important; without The God of my Life
I have no life at all
The Name of El Channun is important; The God of Grace
shows me my own ungraciousness
The Name of El Sali is important; without The God of my Strength
I falter so easily
The Name of El Rachum is important; The Compassionate God
shows me that I'm such an indifferent man
The Name of El malei Rachamim is important;
I have been unmerciful without The Merciful God
The Name of El Yeshuati is important;
without The God of my Salvation I have no escape
The Name of El-Kanno is important; The Jealous God
is the only one who watches over me
The Name of Immanuel is important;
without The God Who Is With Us, I'm lonely
The Name of El Hannora is important;
I have nothing to show-off in front of The Awesome God

In his groundbreaking book "Desiring God" [2], John Piper makes the point that at God does everything for the assurance of His own praise and glory from all His creatures, because He is the centerpiece of everything and it is all about Him. Knowing all this, my perspective on the events of my life where things don't make sense has undergone a tremendous shift. They become times when I go to a place in my mind that no one knows of and none have been, where the gates are shut and the doors of the Great Hall are closed, and I bow in silent worship at the throne of The Name That Is Above Every Name, the Kyrios, and Adonai.

In his sermon series on the book of Habbakuk earlier this year, Pastor John pointed out that there is a time when all conversation must cease, where there are no questions to be asked of God, and the only appropriate response is worship. The alabaster jar of the heart is broken, and everything within poured out on the feet of El for the sake of The Name. For the sake of The Name. That is what matters. For the sake of my Father's Name. For the sake of His glory.

It is worth withstanding God's tests for the sake of The Name.

- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] http://willingdon.org/services/sermonlist.asp
[2] Piper, J., “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist,” Oregon: Multnomah, 1986