A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on August 19, 2012.

Genesis 12:1-5

Morning Prayer:

We confess, our Father, that much of our lives are still unsettled.  By this day, this age, and this place in life, we thought the paths we had chosen would be more clear, that issues in our lives would be settled, and we had always thought that by now we would have grown to a greater Christian character.  Today, O God, we once again put ourselves in your hands.  We ask that you would guide us.  If the path we find before us is different than the one we wanted or anticipated, then let us learn from this unexpected journey.  Guide our feet that we might meet the people that you want us to meet.  Guide our feet that we might do the things that you want us to do, and grant us circumstances that will shape us into the people that you have longed for us to become.  Teach us to long for, and to pray for, only the life that would make us more like Jesus.  Help us lay aside any ambition or any dream that hinders us from growing into what you desire for us, and may your plan for us always be your highest joy.  We pray that in our relationships you would make us the kind of people who love others past their imperfections or their inconsistencies.  Make us the kind of people who do not react to another’s display of weakness but only see the inner need.  May we have the character of Christ in our own hearts.  May we be strong enough to love our enemies, and strong enough to love our neighbors as ourselves.  May we be strong enough to turn the other cheek and to bless all who would wish us harm.  We ask it in the spirit and in the name of Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Meditation Text:

If we all lived as strictly free-floating, unfettered, self-enhancing individuals, we would all be left hanging in the vacuum of each other’s undependability.  We need something firmer….Commitments give it to us.  They create small islands of security for us in our oceans of insecurity.  They make jungles of steadfastness in the jungles of change. 

                —Lewis Smedes in Caring and Commitment

Living is risky business.  We know it in a variety of different ways.  If that message has not been implanted in your life recently, I would invite you to leave Rome tomorrow morning at 6:30, head to I-75, and go south to Atlanta.  About the time you hit the Chastain Road exit on I-75, you will have all the risk you care to have. 

Living is risky business.  If you are trying to build up a nest egg to save for a house, to save for a child’s college or to save for your own retirement and you go to a financial advisor, one of the first things a worthy financial advisor will do will be to ask you about your risk tolerance.  My experience is most people have one risk tolerance for an up market and a decidedly different one for a down market.  In the small print in almost every investment, there will be some word that says, “Your investment may lose value.”  There is risk involved. 

As in driving, as in investing, and in thousands of other things that we engage in, living is risky business and loving is more so.  I don’t mean love just between a man and a woman but love in good relationship (in family, among friends, people that we care about deeply) loving is more risky than simply living.

I heard the story of a nurse who worked in ICU.  As she went in to check on a teenage boy who was lying there comatose after an accident, his teenage girlfriend was holding his hand and just stroking the hand.  The nurse felt like she was invading on a holy moment, but she felt compelled to say something.  She walked up and touched the teenage girl on the shoulder and said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” 

The girl never looked up and never broke the rhythm of stroking the boy’s hand, but she just said, “Yes, remind me never to love anybody else this much.” 

A young man went to a jewelry store and was standing before the case of diamonds and solitaires.  A woman came up and said, “May I help you?” 

The young man said, “How do I know?”

The saleswoman said, “Sir, all of our diamonds come with a by-back guarantee.  If you want to exchange the diamond for a more expensive diamond, all you have to do is bring it back and we will buy it back at the price you paid.”

The man said, “I am not talking about the diamond.  How do I know?”

Already in his young life, he had seen friends who had married and were already divorced, and he knew that loving is exceptionally risky business. 

This happened to us when our children were small.  I know that it continues to happen to people, and it probably happened to my parents when I was born.  You have a newborn baby and somebody comes up and says, “Aren’t you worried about bringing a baby into this world?”  Parenting is risky.  Buying a business and thinking about putting your life savings out there is risky.  Sharing a secret is risky.  Trying to decide, Can I trust you with this information? always bears a risk. 

Have you tried to calculate how many ads on television deal with security?  Get a bracelet for grandpa, a security system for your home, a Smith & Wesson with a carry permit for almost everything else.  We all think that we will be secure.  If we could just be like a turtle and somehow pull back into the shell.  If we could live reclusive lives and live up a long driveway with a big gate and electric fence so that nobody could ever get to us, we think that somehow our lives would be secure.  Wouldn’t it be great if life or love came with a guarantee for security?

I read an interesting article in a magazine in a doctor’s office several years ago.  It was talking about how you can extend your life.  I thought, O good.  It is going to be some secret supplement that I can go to the health food store and buy that will extend my life.  It was:  Wear your seatbelt, quit smoking, eat a balanced diet, and wash your hands often.  Those are the simple things we do for security, but in love how do we know that someone is not going to lie to us?  How do we know that someone is not going to hurt us, leave us, or die too early?  What do we do in a world of relationships where relationships have the most potential to hurt us and the most potential to give us the greatest joys in life?  What is the solution for risk in those situations?

The scripture from Genesis 12:1-5 is really just the opening of one of the great sagas of scripture.  It is the story of Abraham.  Those five verses open up into 13 chapters of Abraham being in this far off place, which coincidentally is probably Iraq, when he hears the voice of God and he feels compelled to follow God to the Promised Land.  In these chapters are incident after incident where Abraham follows, where Abraham obeys, where Abraham is committed to the God who has called him and does everything that is asked.  That is the solution for risk in our lives—commitment. 

In our culture, commitment has become a bad word.  Have you planned a wedding or shower in the last couple of years and sent out invitations and tried to get people to make a commitment?  The core folks—the people who know the people being celebrated the most—will usually respond quickly, but there is always a group of people who are waiting to see if something else will come along and they are very reluctant to make a commitment.

On the cell phone ads, penalties for breaching your contract early are always in the smallest print.  A two-year commitment may be required.  Two years!!  Do you know how many different versions of the iPhone are going to come out in two years?  I don’t want to commit to two years!

Commitment is just one of the words that has come to be so bad in our culture.  We all know people who are considering getting married and somebody says, “Well, you know, his problem is that he just does not want to make a commitment.”  We think it is a bad word, but the truth is it is a gift from God to give us joy in the relationships that really matter.  Commitment reduces risk in loving in a way that helps us provide security for one another.

Abraham’s life was a long commitment in one direction.  It was a long commitment to do what God asked, to stay faithful to the task that God had commanded, and to follow God wherever he went.  Where did Abraham learn this?  Where did Abraham learn that this is the way you are supposed to relate to God as he loves God?  He learned it from the kind of God he was following.  Isn’t one of the things that we praise God for the most, one of the things that we first learn about God, and one of the things that captures our imagination is how changeless God is?  Think of all the ways in scripture that we hear this expressed.             

He is a rock that is higher than I. [1]

Whither shall I go to flee thou presence, because if I go anywhere, God is already there waiting for me.[2]

When Moses was preaching to the children of Israel when they were about to enter the Promised Land, he said, “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”  There is the great expression in the New Testament, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”  How could we follow, how could we worship, how could we serve a God that is anything other than faithful, changeless, constant, and always there to be counted on?  What would God want for his children other than to be people exactly like that?

The meditation text for today comes from a man named Lewis Smedes who, before his death, used to teach at Fuller Seminary.  He said that commitment is a gift that God gives us so that we can make support for each other, so we can love one another, so we can take the risk out of loving.  Commitment is not a burden, it is a gift.  We are committed because we follow a God who is committed to us.  Isn’t that the way it begins?  God’s commitment to us is to always be there, to always forgive, to always seek, and to always welcome. 

It is the story of the Prodigal Son.  He has been everywhere and has done everything, but when he walks up that road, there is the father waiting, never changing, always constant, and always loving.  Smedes said we are never more like God than when we make, and keep, commitments to one another.  We are never nearer the heart of Christ than when we commit and keep it.

This is not about what you need to do in church or how much money you should give.  We are just talking about relationships, the people we are closest to, and the risks that come from just living in this world close to people that we care about the most, people who could make life the best for us or people who could hurt us just by the look they might give us one morning or one evening.  The way that life is solid and secure, the way we reduce the risk is by making and keeping commitments.  I will be there for you.  I will do what I say.

Living is risky business and there are no guarantees.  As long as there are illnesses and diseases, as long as there are terrorists, as long as accidents can happen, there are no risk-free days in life.  In loving and in relationships, there is nothing we can do to totally take it away, but we certainly can make life more secure for one another. 

What if our lives were secure in the promises of the people who are closest to us?  What if we knew the people around us reflected the character of God in that they could be trusted to be the same?  Abraham, when he knew what God was like, was able to leave, follow, and go to Canaan, never having a map or directions, just trusting.  What could our lives be like if we walked a path together where we kept our commitments?  It certainly would be joy, would it not?  Do we expect anything else?  Would we love, would we follow, and would we worship a God who was not constant?  And what should people expect from God’s people except the same?  The most amazing thing is that it is only a decision away.  We could take the risk out of much of our lives, and each other’s lives, with a choice—to make and keep commitments.

[1] Psalm 61:2

[2] Psalm 139:7-8

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