|16||When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom,
and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.
|17||Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?|
|18||Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all
nations on earth will be blessed through him.
|19||For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household
after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that
the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson plays this irritating, obnoxious, very negative, obsessive-compulsive man who develops a relationship with Helen Hunt, a waitress. As their relationship develops in very strange ways, at one point they are sitting down at dinner and he has been more irritating and obnoxious than normal; and she tells him that unless he gives her a compliment, she is leaving. So he thinks about it for a minute and then tells her, “You make me want to be a better man.” Helen Hunt is taken aback, thinking that she was going to hear “nice hair” or something, and she comments that that was the nicest compliment that she had ever received.
Well, when we love someone, that is the way we feel. I remember when I was getting ready to marry Ingrid, one of the things that I thought through was, “Am I really the man that I want Ingrid to marry? Am I good enough?” And the answer was, “No, I really want her to have somebody even better.” And it challenged me to improve my own life for her sake.
Now that my daughter Joy has come along, a whole new set of questions has arisen. Am I the kind of father that I want my daughter to have? Am I the kind of man that Joy deserves to have as a father? Once again, it is a challenge to me because I have to answer, “No, I am not quite the man I want her to have as a father.” She makes me want to be a better man.
In the words of wisdom of Charles Barkley, the basketball star, who at one time infuriated many people by saying, “I don’t think I have any responsibility to be a role model for the youth of this country.” I don’t think that was true. But he went on to say, “You know children and youth, the most significant role model they have is their parents, not me.” There was truth.
Our children have the most significant role models they can ever have in you and me. The question is, “What kind of role models are we?” Helpful, or not? Please turn with me to the Old Testament lesson, Genesis 18, verses 16-19. Before I read this, let me just set the context: These are the words of God’s deliberation as he is thinking about Abraham, right before he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He is deliberating whether or not to tell Abraham what he is going to do. Hear then the word of the Lord as it comes to us from Genesis 18:
When the men who had been visiting Abraham got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Please join me as we pray: Lord we do thank you for these words from your word. And we pray now that your Holy Spirit will take these words, Lord, that you would engrave them upon our hearts. That they would not be merely words or thoughts, but Lord, that you would change us by them that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. For it is in his name that we pray, Amen.
In these words of deliberation of our Lord, there are several key issues that come out for us this morning. One of the first that we see as God talks about whether to reveal to Abraham his plans, is that Abraham has a very special relationship with God. God has chosen Abraham and blessed him. The first thing we see here is that God has chosen Abraham and blessed him. In fact, the blessing here is really a reiteration of the blessing that we find in Genesis 12, verses 2 and 3 where God says to Abraham, ‘I will bless you. I will make a great nation out of you. In fact, I will bless those who bless you, and will curse those who curse you.’ God chose Abraham to bless him.
The second thing that we see here is equally important and gives the reason for the first. Part of the blessing in verse 18 says Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation. But it goes on to say, “…and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” Not only was Abraham chosen and blessed, there was a purpose for that blessing. The purpose for the blessing of Abraham was not for Abraham’s own sake. It was that all the nations; another translation says, all the families on earth will be blessed through him. God blessed Abraham, but the blessing was for a larger purpose. It was in order to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
The third key element here is that this promise is not only to Abraham. It was also to his children, and all who would come after him. Which is why in verse 19 God says, ‘For I have chosen Abraham, so that he will direct his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord in order that my promise to him, in order that the Lord’s promise to Abraham might be fulfilled.’
In other words, what we have going on here is God blessing Abraham, specifically with the purpose of Abraham being a blessing to others. And Abraham is also given the responsibility of teaching and training his children and his household – all who come after him – that they also are the heirs of this promise, that they might also understand that their blessing was intended for the purpose of being a blessing to all of the nations of the earth.
In fact, it is interesting because immediately after this deliberation God decides that “Yes, I do need to let Abraham know that I am going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.” And what do we find Abraham doing almost immediately? Pleading with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Lord, what if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom, surely you would save the town for the sake of those fifty?” And the Lord says, “Yes, I will.”
And Abraham works him down to, ‘If there are only 10 righteous people, will you save the town?’ And God agrees, ‘Yes, I will save it even for ten righteous.’ Unfortunately, ten righteous people were not to be found in Sodom and the towns were destroyed. But the key is that Abraham understood even at that point that he had been chosen by God, was in very special place, and that he could use that special relationship as a blessing to the nations, as a blessing to those who had no prior claim on his life.
Sodom and Gomorrah meant nothing to him, other than that his nephew Lot lived there. But he could easily have gotten Lot out of there in time, as he did. But even from the beginning Abraham realized that his special position, his blessing was intended to be used as a blessing to the nations, to those who had no prior claim on his life at all.
If you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you live by faith in Jesus Christ, then you are a child a Abraham. That is what Jesus tells us. It is what Paul tells us. We are children of Abraham, not of natural seed, but spiritually. Spiritually we are just as much children of Abraham as anyone who has Abraham’s blood running in their veins. Therefore you and I are also heirs of the promise to Abraham, as well as heirs not just to the blessing, but of the responsibility.
Just as God blessed Abraham, so also he has blessed you and me. And just as he blessed Abraham for a purpose, to be a blessing to the nations, so also the reason God has blessed you and me is for a purpose, that we might bless the nations. But not just you and me, but our children as well. Just as Abraham was given the charge to train, and to teach, and to model to his children, and his household, that they might learn the reason for their blessing, that they might learn who they are, who God made them to be, so also we have the same responsibility to our children. To help them understand who God has created them to be. The promise God has given them. The blessings God has given them, and the responsibility God has given them.
It is not just to the parents that this is addressed. We are all part of a family. You may not have children, but you still have responsibility for children. Last week if you were here, you made a promise to God on behalf of my daughter. You promised that you would help with her Christian nurture. You would help her to grow to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ, and I am going to hold you to that promise.
At the 8:30 service, they had a baptism last week, too. They made the same promise. We have been blessed. We have a responsibility to the world, but also to our children. In this year’s Missions Celebration our theme is “Children and Missions.” But children and missions begins with our children. It begins with our helping our children understand the call of God upon their lives. Are we training our children to know and to serve Jesus Christ?
Obviously we need to begin with evangelizing our children. Helping them to understand that Jesus Christ died for them. He died for their sins to give them new life. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” But we have got to go beyond just, ‘ Jesus loves me, and Jesus died for me, and Jesus wants to bless me.’ We need to share with our children the whole gospel, which is that, ‘Jesus loves me. Jesus has blessed me. Jesus has called me to share that blessing to the ends of the earth.’
As I have been doing a lot of thinking in the last couple of weeks about children and children around the world, one of the things that is really heartbreaking as we think about children around the world is how much children suffer. We hear of, and we see pictures of children who are malnourished, suffering, starving to death. Children who don’t have the nutrients so that their bodies can grow. In fact, there are hundreds of millions of children whose growth is stunted. Even if they survive, their growth is stunted because of the lack of the right nutrition.
Physical malnutrition is easy to see, but I wonder how many of our children are stunted spiritually because they have not gotten all of the vitamins and nutrients they need spiritually. They have been fed, ‘Jesus loves me.’ They have been fed, ‘Jesus loves you. He has blessed you. Isn’t that wonderful? Shouldn’t you love Jesus too?’ That is true, but too often I believe that we have left out the part of God’s call upon their lives. God’s call upon their lives that all the blessings that God has given them are meant to be used as a blessing to others, both near and far.
One of the problems now is that, to be honest, many of us adults even don’t get it yet. Many of us sitting here are still stuck on, ‘God blessing me.’ We haven’t quite gotten to the point yet where we really understand. Even though if somebody asked us we might give the right answer, we still haven’t really understood and begun to live out the reality that God has blessed us as adults in order to be a blessing to all the nations, all the families of the world. And if we have not realized this simple truth, how easy is it to teach our children?
Probably most of us here are stunted in our own growth spiritually. Until we are able to open our eyes and see the fullness of what God really intends for us, it will difficult for us to share that same truth with our children. This is why the question comes up, “Are we the parents our children deserve?” Does our love for our children make us desire to be better Christians for their sake, even if not for our own?
Jill Harris’ seminars over the last couple of days were wonderful. Many parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers got some wonderful stuff from her. I wish many more of you could have done the same. One of the things that she shared with us was that when children come to know Jesus Christ, do they get the same Holy Spirit that we do, or do they get a ‘junior’ Holy Spirit? You probably know the right answer, don’t you? Our children get the same Holy Spirit that we do. Which means that our children when they come to know Jesus Christ, have the same power at their disposal for prayer and ministry. They have the same ability to hear the Lord speaking to them through the Holy Spirit as we do. They have the same Holy Spirt; therefore, the same Holy Spirit is going to call them into ministry.
In fact, it you look at what Jesus says about children, you might even think that not only do they have the same Holy Spirit, but they might even be able to use him better than we do as adults.
If we look at Matthew 18, it is interesting to see what happens there. It begins by the disciples coming to Jesus and asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” What were the disciples focusing on? They were focusing on status. Another word for status is blessing. They wanted to know who was the most blessed in the kingdom.
Jesus realized that their focus was in the wrong place – in a place that far too many of Jesus’ disciples keep their focus their whole life. But while the disciples had their focus on the blessing and on blessedness, Jesus wanted to turn their attention to think about why they were blessed – the purpose for their blessing, to be a blessing to others.
Jesus goes on and places a child in front of the disciples, saying, “Unless you change and become like little children, you can not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He goes on to say, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child, will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is like a child.
Now you have heard of all sorts of different things about what it means to be childlike, and therefore enter the kingdom. But most of those are sort of exaggerated allegorizing. They are often coming up with reasons that simply sound good or interesting. But in the context, what Jesus is talking about here is humility. He is talking about getting our eyes off of status and blessedness, and realize that as children we are dependent. And children in that society were people who had very little significance. They were valued as children who would grow up and carry your family name; but as far as the actual child, children had little or no significance. Jesus was telling them, “That is the kind of disciple you are going to be, like a child.” Not caring about significance or blessing, but rather caring about blessing others.
Jesus goes on in verses 5 and 6 and says, “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” In other words, he is telling them to get their minds off of status and off of blessing. Your job is to bless the most insignificant people around you like these children. Because if you welcome them, you welcome me. How we treat the most insignificant people, to whom we owe nothing, that reflects how we really care about Jesus.
He goes on to give one of his most dire warnings in the bible by saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were tied around their neck and they were thrown into the depths of the sea.” A millstone weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pounds, and had to be pulled by a donkey. If one of those was tied to your neck, you would not be coming up for air.
Children are often the invisible part of the mission field. Often we think of missions as adults going out to reach adults. But children are a significant part of the mission field, both locally and around the world.
To make children more visible for us, I want to ask you to do something right now. Please take the crayon that you were given when you came into worship, and find the blank sheet of paper you have in your bulletin. Hopefully you haven’t already scribbled all over it! And I would like you to draw a picture of a child. You can make it as simple as a stick figure or as fancy as you want. And as you draw that right now, I will share with you some statistics.
First, to help you get an idea of just how many children there are in our world today, let us take a look at our near neighbor. Did you know that half of all the people in Mexico are under twenty years of age? One of every two people in Mexico is under the age of twenty.
You might have heard that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. But it is not because of conversions. It is because they are having so many children.
On a more upsetting note: did you realize that thirty-five thousand children a day under the age of five die in this world every single day? Which, if you do a little bit of calculating, means that so far in October the number of children under the age of five who have died would more than fill up Baltimore City. And most of them, the vast majority, are dying without ever having heard anything about Jesus Christ. They come from families who have never heard the gospel. Children are often an invisible part of the mission field.
One more statistic: Four million people have died so far in the 1990’s from warfare. Over fifty percent of those are children. In other words, over two million children have been killed because of war in the 1990’s.
What is our part in all of this? What does it mean for us? It means the same thing that it did for Abraham. It means that like Abraham, we need to hear the word of the Lord telling us clearly, ‘I have chosen you. I have chosen you in order to bless you. In order that all the nations on earth might be blessed through you.’ It is not just a promise for you, but for your children as well. Do we get it? And are we helping our children to get it?
I want to ask you to do two more things with that picture you just drew. First, I would ask you to write the name of one child. A Christian child that God has placed in your life that you can influence, that you can help to understand that they have been blessed in order to be a blessing to every nation on the earth. Write the name of one child. You can write more, but start with at least one child the Lord has placed in your life, whom you can help to come to understand both the blessing and the responsibility that God has called them to. And that the Holy Spirit that is within them, is leading them to.
Secondly, I would like you to write the name of one child who does not yet know Jesus Christ. It might be a child in your family. It might be a child in your neighborhood. It might be a child that you teach in your school if you are a teacher. I would like you to write the name of one child who does not yet know Jesus that you can bless by sharing the gospel with them, and helping that child both to come to know Jesus Christ, as well as to come to know his call upon their lives.
The final question this morning is, “Are we the kind of people that we need to be in order to carry out this call of God?” The answer for all of us obviously is, “Not quite.” But are we willing? Do we love God, and do we love the world and the children of the world, enough to say, “You make me want to be a better Christian in order to be a blessing.” May God give us the grace, the strength, and the courage, and the desire to live as true Christians. To be better disciples of Jesus Christ for his sake, and for the sake of the world, and the children of the world from every nation on the face of the earth.
Please join me as we pray:
Lord, we do thank you that you have blessed us so tremendously. Lord, I pray for each one of us, that you would help us to open our eyes to see your blessing. So many of your blessings we have simply taken for granted and assumed that we deserved them, when we really deserved none. And Lord, as our eyes begin to see our blessings, as our hearts begin to realize the privileges, the gifts that you have given us, change us that we might also understand that each of these blessings, each of these gifts, had a purpose that we might be a blessing to others. Even more specifically, that we might be a blessing to the ends of the earth, to every nation under heaven. Change us Lord, that we might truly live as the disciples that you desire us to be. For we ask it through Jesus Christ.