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Live for a legacy

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9

It has been a strange week.

A 13-foot Burmese python in the Florida Everglades burst after trying to swallow a six-foot, live alligator whole.

Last Wednesday a Swedish news agency reported that a hunter was knocked unconscious when his son shot a flying Canadian goose which then fell on his head. “I guess it wanted revenge,” Ulf Ilback said. The goose weighed 13 pounds, and fell from 60 feet. Mr. Ilback spent the next two days in bed, probably eating roasted goose.

Meanwhile, a world conference on extra-terrestrial encounters concludes today in Lima, Peru. Among the featured speakers is Jonathan Reed, a former child-developmental psychologist who says an alien lived with him in his house and communicated through telepathy. Reed named the alien “Freddy,” and wears a bracelet he said it gave him.

In a world where pythons devour alligators and geese fall from the sky and aliens give away bracelets, I’m reminded of the maxim, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” 9-11 and the war on terror has made us all less sure of the future. Hurricane officials are running out of names for this year’s storms, and forecasters say that another major hurricane may develop before the season is out.

It’s a dangerous world out there. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew someone who saw the pythons before they try to devour you and geese before they fall on your head, who knows where the next hurricane will land before it forms? Hold that thought, and share this story with me.

Why Abram?

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1).

There is absolutely no indication that this future father to more than half of the world’s religious population did anything to earn this call on his life. He didn’t graduate from Harvard Law on his way to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or SMU Law and years of political achievement on the way to be nominated for the Supreme Court. He didn’t win two Super Bowls on the way to being the Cowboys’ head coach, or rise to become the best assistant in the league before being named the Mavericks’ head coach.

He has no resume, no list of achievements, no merit with God. Neither do we. Our lofty achievements can no more impress the omnipotent God of the universe than my singing voice will make me the next American Idol.

This man was in no sense perfect. Sometimes he lived up to his calling, as when he interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah and offered Isaac to God. Sometimes he failed miserably, as when he tried to pass off his wife as his sister and fathered children with her servant girl.

His is the pattern of Scripture. Noah saved the human race, then planted a vineyard and got drunk; Moses ran from Egyptian authorities for 40 years before returning to free his people from them; Bathsheba overshadows Goliath on David’s resume; Peter denied Christ before he preached him; Saul murdered Christians before he taught them.

I did absolutely nothing to warrant hearing the gospel when the bus ministry of College Park Baptist Church in Houston knocked at my door. I won no competitions for their attention, had no status in the community which would cause them to seek me out. I simply opened the door when they knocked on it.

What did you do to earn the right to be born in America and not Ethiopia? To have parents who loved you rather than abusing you? Were you any more moral than those who died on 9-11? I’ve flown on airplanes around the world; the fact that I’ve never been hijacked has absolutely nothing to do with me.

If God could call Abram, what’s to keep him from calling you?

How to be Abram

Why Abram? What did he bring to the table? Just this: when God said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1), “Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (v. 4). As Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” As the King James puts it, “he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

Why is such blind obedience essential to the blessing of God? Is it that this kind of unconditional faith earns God’s favor? No: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We do nothing to earn God’s call.

Why then? Because God honors the freedom he gave us, and will not lead us where we will not go.

He will not make any of us leave Haran for a Promised Land. He won’t make you trust him with your dating relationship, or marriage, or money, or time. His will for your life is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2); he has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What he said to Abram he says to you today: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (v. 2); “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (v. 3b).

A single day lived completely in the will of God bears eternal harvest.

When we give his word to our world, God’s word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). When you teach his word in a Sunday school class, or speak it to a friend, or obey it in your personal life, it cannot fail to change the world.

When we perform an act of kindness in his name, we will one day hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

These promises have no conditions. They do not depend on the money you make, or the home you own, or the status you’ve achieved.

The wealthiest man in Dallas is no more important to God than his gardener. Name the last five Nobel Peace Prize winners, or the Super Bowl champions of two years ago, or the World Series champions last year, or the monarch of Great Britain before Queen Elizabeth II.

If you think that your value on earth or in heaven is tied to the world’s assessment, you’re mistaken. No human can bless “all peoples on earth” or make a significant difference in time and eternity. Only God working through us can do that. But God working through us can do that.

Every one of us can change the world. But only if we seek his will and surrender to his voice. Only if we go out not knowing.

But he cannot lead you if you won’t follow. If you’re building towers to glorify yourself instead of altars to glorify God, he’ll tear them down. He will not share his glory, because that would be idolatry, the worst cancer of our souls. He loves us too much to let us trust and serve anyone but the one true God and Lord.

Conclusion

This text is an appropriate beginning to our annual Unified Missions Emphasis, as it calls us all to join God’s work in changing the world. Where do we begin? Where Abram began. When last did you tell God you would “go out not knowing”? I finished this message on an airplane last Wednesday, and this analogy became clear. You and I are on an airplane that’s ready for takeoff today. Who’s behind the controls? You are, unless you’ve consciously turned them over to the true Pilot of the universe. Unless you’ve decided to let him fly the airplane anywhere he wants.

How do we turn the plane over to him?

First, meet the Pilot personally. He cannot fly the plane unless he’s on board. Ask him to forgive your sins and failures, and invite him into your life as your Lord. You must know him before you can follow him.

Now, let go of the controls yourself. He won’t fight you for them. Admit the areas of your life which you’ve not surrendered to him–your time, ambitions, relationships, money, sins.

Give him the wheel at the start of every flight. Never take off at the beginning of a day without first giving that day’s flight to his control. Begin every morning by yielding that day to his Spirit. Ask him to “fill” and control you, to be in charge. When you push him out of the cockpit, admit your rebellion immediately and invite him back.

Living in the Lordship of Jesus is so simple that all of us can do it. And so important that all of us must.

Last week I had the remarkable privilege of meeting Bob Cornuke, a man who is being called the “Indiana Jones of the Christian world.” This former policeman and SWAT team leader met Jim Irwin, the eighth man to walk on the moon. Irwin became a Christian as a result of his encounter with space, and devoted the rest of his life to finding artifacts which prove the truth of Scripture. He was seeking the location of Noah’s ark, and asked Bob to come along for protection. Bob agreed, and his life was changed forever. As a result of Jim Irwin’s influence on his life, he came to the place where he put Jesus in control of his plans, career, and future. And God has led him to places no one has been in a very long time.

In the years since, Bob Cornuke has traveled to what he believes is the true location of Mt. Sinai in Arabia, enduring arrest and near death along the way. He has been to the place where the Ethiopian Church and many scholars believe the Ark of the Covenant resides, nearly dying in a shipwreck in the process. He has visited what he believes may be the site of Noah’s ark atop a mountain in Iran. And he led the expedition which almost certainly has identified the anchors from Paul’s shipwreck off the coast of Malta.

I have read his books describing these amazing experiences. It was my privilege then to meet Bob this past week. He has been interviewed by ABC News, CNN, and Fox News; major movie studios are negotiating with him for the movie rights to his story; and he may be on the way to helping a skeptical world reconsider the truthfulness of God’s word. Not bad for a disgruntled former cop who wasn’t sure what to do with his life.

What would God like to do with yours?