1- Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
2- Psalms 78:1-7
3- Matthew 25: 1-14
I often wonder what our relationship with God would be like if we had no Bible. Think about it for a minute – other than your relationship with God, what friendship or relationship comes with a guide-book?
So, how on earth did Abraham discover God and become God’s friend? He had no Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaiah or Jeremiah, no gospels or epistles from Paul to help him along his way.
We read this morning in Joshua:
‘…Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan…
How did Abraham, living in a family that worshipped other gods, discover God for himself? Why do we have Jews, Muslims and Christians believing in this infinite all-powerful God, building faith and rituals and traditions on the God described in the Westminster Confession?
One & only,(a) living, and true God:(b) who is infinite in being and perfection,(c) a most pure spirit,(d) invisible,(e) without body parts,(f) or passions,(g) immutable,(h) immense,(i) eternal,(k) incomprehensible,(l) almighty,(m) most wise,(n) most holy,(o) most free,(p) most absolute,(q) working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will…”
Even if we read the Koran we find:
“Your God is but one God. There is no god other than Him, Compassionate and Merciful. In the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day, in the ships that ply the seas to the benefit of man, in the water sent down from the heavens to revive the earth after its death, in the different species of animals scattered across the earth, in the rotation of the winds, in the clouds that are subordinate to God’s command between heaven and earth, in all of this, there are signs for men who use their intellects.”
“Tell men to reflect with care and see what things the heavens and the earth contain.”
The Bible says that if I seek God, I’ll find Him. How long is building my relationship with God supposed to take? There are supposed to be signs for those who use their intellects to see God – but where am I supposed to look? When will God’s work in my life be done?
In answer to my question, how did Abraham discover God for himself, I found some light shed in a couple of legends that are sometimes recounted to Muslim children. I told one of those legends this morning to the children, and now I want to tell the 2nd one to you. Then I’m going to relate these to our Bible readings this morning.
In the days of mighty King Nimrod, there lived in Mesopotamia a young man named Abraham. Now, Abraham’s father was an idol maker named Terah Azar, who carved the wooden gods worshipped by his people. But Abraham was a believer in the one God, and not in the gods made by hand.
Azar would send Abraham and his other sons to sell his idols in the marketplace. But Abraham would call to the passersby, “Who’ll buy my idols? They won’t help you and they can’t hurt you! Who’ll buy my idols?”
He’d also mock the gods of wood: take them to the river, push their faces into the water, and command them, “Drink! Drink!”
Abraham would ask his father, “How can you worship what doesn’t see or hear or do you any good?”
Azar replied, “Dare you deny the gods of our people? Get out of my sight!”
“May God forgive you,” said Abraham. “No more will I live with you and your idols.” And he left the house of his father.
Now, the time came for one of the festivals of that town. The people gathered in their temple and placed offerings of food before their gods.
Abraham walked among them, saying, “What are you worshipping? Do these idols hear when you call them? Can they help you or hurt you?”
But their only reply was, “It is the way of our forefathers.”
“I am sick of your gods!” declared Abraham. “Truly I am their enemy.”
When the people had gone out, Abraham took some of the food and held it up to the idols. “Why don’t you eat?” he mocked them. “Aren’t you hungry? Speak to me!” And he slapped their faces.
Then Abraham took an axe and chopped the idols to pieces—all except for the largest idol, of course, the chief god of the people. And he tied the axe to the hand of that idol.
When the people returned, they were shocked to find their gods broken up and scattered about the temple. Then they remembered how Abraham had spoken, and they sent for him.
“Abraham,” said the head man, “was it you who did this?”
“Surely it was someone!” he replied. “Their chief stands there with an ax in his hand. Perhaps he grew jealous and destroyed the rest. But why don’t you just ask him?”
The head man said, “You know they neither strike nor speak.”
“Then why worship gods that you make?” demanded Abraham. “Worship instead the Maker of all!”
But few of the people would listen. Abraham was seized and brought to King Nimrod for punishment.
When Nimrod had heard the accusers, he turned to Abraham. “Who is this mighty God you spoke of?”
“He it is Who gives life and death,” answered Abraham.
“But I too give life and death,” said Nimrod. “I pardon a guilty man sentenced to die—then I execute one who is innocent!”
“That is not the way of my Lord,” said Abraham. “But listen to this: Each morning, my Lord brings the sun up in the east. Can you make it rise in the west?”
Then Nimrod grew angry. He had a great fire built, and he ordered Abraham to be tied up and thrown into it. But the fire only burnt away the ropes, and they saw Abraham sitting peacefully among the flames. Beside him was an angel in Abraham’s likeness, comforting and protecting him.
After that, Nimrod did not dare try to harm Abraham again. Abraham returned to his town, where he gathered those who believed in the one God. Then he set out west, placing all faith in the Lord.
And so… As in Genesis, we find Abraham setting out to the west from beyond the Euphrates.
The timelessness of God came up one morning in our discussions in adult Sunday school – our clocks are set by the earth’s rotation around the sun, and our tides and seasons by our orbit around the sun and the moon’s orbit around the earth. So, if God created the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars, then it goes without saying that God created time: the hours, minutes, and seconds of our day– and therefore God is timeless – above and beyond our restraints of time.
In Matthew 25 we read about the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – to light the way for the bridal party. The 5 wise virgins had enough oil and the 5 foolish virgins burnt out their lamps and had to run off to get more. While they were gone, the bridegroom arrived and by the time they got back, it was too late – they were no longer needed. The 5 foolish virgins made one small mistake – they acted on their expectations, rather than acting with forethought. They expected the bridegroom to show up at a certain time. Not in his time – when they expected him to. They were ready now… he should be here now… “oh, what could possibly be taking them so long?” “They should have been here hours ago.”
Think about it like this:
15 years ago we didn’t have cell phones to coordinate with each other. Let’s say us girls were getting together to go shopping for Christmas tree ornaments, and we organised to meet at Albrook Mall at 10.00 a.m. Saturday morning, at the entrance by the supermarket. Everyone would be there at 10.00 a.m., because if you weren’t there on time, you would know if we were still at the mall or whether we’d moved on from there over to El Dorado, or if we’d decided to go to Caledonia to see if we could find better bargains. Then we would organise a time, and whoever failed to be there was out – unless, of course, the one that’s missing is the one that has the car!
So, imagine this wedding… you’re waiting for the bridegroom – an essential part of the wedding! Without him, nothing gets started. And while you’re waiting, you run out of oil… Now, he’s an essential part of the wedding – but are the lamp-bearing virgins “essential”? No… they’re part of the wedding, but one more or one less – the show can go on without them. The bridegroom has arrived, the procession leaves… and whoever went out for oil gets left behind.
So… How about you and God?
Are you expecting God to act “on your timetable” or have you come to understand your minor role in Act 2011?
Is your attitude: “I prayed about it, and I need the answer by next week, OK God?” Or are you working on God’s time?
Psalms relates: that for God 1000 years is like a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. I found on the internet where someone actually worked out what that meant – if 1000 years is one day, then one minute in heaven-time equals 8.33 months on earth. So, when God’s response to your prayer is “I’ll be with you in just a minute” you know how long you’re supposed to wait?
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3 explains it:
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, … 5 … a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
… 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
15 Whatever is… has already been, and what will be… has been before; and God will call the past to account.
Solomon, the philosopher and wise man, the King – looked on the world and on creation, and saw God in it; got a glimpse of eternity.
When I read the Hebrew Scriptures, I get a feeling of how quickly generations pass.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.
In our Psalm this morning, we read about what our ancestors have told us, and how we are to pass these experiences on to the next generation. Our job on this earth is to learn from the past and build for the future, while understanding the eternity which is set in our hearts.
In business, we talk about leaving a legacy – what legacy are we leaving? What have we learnt about God and our relationship with Him that we are leaving to those who will come after us? If each new generation were to write another book of the Bible, what would it say? How could we describe what we have learned about God to others, to make it easier for someone else to understand?
I want to finish this morning revisiting our reading from Joshua 25 – that I’ve taken a little of literary license with:
Respect God and serve Him faithfully. Throw away your gods – stop chasing after more money, fame and fortune, keeping up with the Joneses, fitness and health, making a fashion statement – and focus on the truly important and eternal things in life. If this change of lifestyle (focusing on the eternal and leaving a true legacy) seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves today who you will serve: Money? Intelligence & Knowledge? Fame & fortune? The Joneses? Fashion? Fitness? Pleasure? The big “I” – me, myself, and I?
But as for me and my family – we’ve decided we’re going to focus on our relationship with God and how to translate that into everything we say and do.
All the people answered – “No, we won’t get caught up in the present and material world and forsake God and chase after meaningless pursuits! We’ll remember what we were before and what God has done for us, the miracles we’ve experienced; His protection and guidance in all our travels. We’re going to make this commitment too, because He is our God.”
Joshua warned them: “You won’t be able to serve God – He’s holy and perfect and without any faults or weaknesses. And he expects the same from you! God won’t just overlook and forgive your intentional rebellion and sins – when you decide to forsake the eternal and run after money or fame & fortune, or get so caught up with running your business that you forget that there’s more to life than the bottom line. If you start looking to the material world for your happiness and satisfaction, you’ll be headed for disaster: it will be the end of you, and you’ll lose everything that you’ve built and learned in your relationship with God. Remember the eternal.
But the people were adamant: “No, we’ve decided. We’re going to serve God.”
And so Joshua responded to everyone present: You are witnesses against yourselves – YOU’VE chosen God for yourselves (I didn’t choose Him for you. I didn’t force Him on you. It’s your free-will choice). Worship Him.
And they responded – “We are witnesses…. We’ll worship God. What He says, we’ll do.”
We have each been given the gift of God’s Spirit – and the right to be called Children of God. Do we accept the gift?
Having accepted this, it’s our responsibility daily to tend to this Spirit – the continual flow of the relationship we have – keeping it constant and flowing. Eternity has already started for each of us – it’s not some unknown moment of the future.
Our relationship with the Creator, with the Eternal –This is what really matter.
Even in the mundane, we need to find that pearl of growth and change that lights our way, so that we can light the way for those that will come after us.
Each day of our lives should be lived as if it were our last: THIS is the day that will decide my future. I’m ready and prepared to live this day filled with the Spirit! Seeking and finding God. Not just reading my Bible – but actually building on my relationship with a living God. Building on yesterday’s foundations, and making room for tomorrow’s dreams.
Being the lamp that is shining in our community and lighting the way for others to follow. Believing that God makes everything (even me) beautiful in His time… and working toward that final finished product.
It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
(a) Deut. 6:4; I Cor. 8:4, 6; (b) I Thess. 1:9; Jer. 10:10; (c) Job 11:7, 8, 9; Job 26:14; (d) John 4:24; (e) I Tim. 1:17; (f) Deut. 4:15, 16; John 4:24, with Luke 24:39; (g) Acts 14:11, 15; (h) James 1:17; Mal. 3:6; (i) I Kings 8:27; Jer. 23:23, 24; (k) Ps. 90:2; I Tim. 1:17; (l) Ps. 145:3; (m) Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8; (n) Rom. 16:27; (o) Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8; (p) Ps. 115:3; (q) Exod. 3:14.
 Elisabeeth Kubler-Ross