Sunday Gathering – Genesis – A time for every purpose – Nick Lugg
June 9, 2024

Sunday Gathering – Genesis – A time for every purpose – Nick Lugg

Passage: Genesis 21:1-34

Summary of Nick's Sermon: A Time for Every Purpose

This sermon is based on Genesis 21, which tells the story of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah.

Key Points:

  • God is Faithful: Even though it took 25 years for the promise of a child to be fulfilled, God remained faithful to his word.
  • The Importance of Holding On: We can easily get discouraged when our prayers seem unanswered, but the story of Abraham and Sarah reminds us to hold onto faith.
  • Laughter in the Midst of Difficulty: Laughter is a gift from God that can help us see challenges in perspective.
  • God Uses Our Mess-Ups: Even when we make mistakes (like Sarah suggesting Hagar), God can still work through them for good.
  • God Blesses Our Mess: We may regret our past actions, but God is gracious and can still bless us.
  • God Works Across Divides: While there is division in the world, God seeks to bring people together and show his grace to all.

Biblical References:

  • Genesis 21:1-7 - Birth of Isaac
  • Scripture about laughter (not mentioned but referenced in sermon): unreferenced

Additional Points:

  • The sermon references the story of doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29).
  • The importance of looking for God working in the lives of people from different backgrounds is mentioned.


Thank you, good morning. Am I on? I think I am. Can you hear me yet? Great.
We are still in Genesis, you may be surprised to hear.
Genesis 21 already, and just been fascinated reading these passages, hearing what people have
said through different aspects of God's Word in Genesis, and it is God's Word. Let's remember that
when God gives us something on a Sunday morning it's because we need to hear it, and I need to
hear it. There are challenges for me in the preparation of this Word. We need to hear what
God is saying. It's quite a long passage, Genesis 21, it's quite involved, there's different elements
to it, and we're just going to take a wander, a wander through it, deeper than our feet could ever
wander. And we're going to, yeah, just have a table. The title on the screen is A Time for
Every Purpose. It's not there, it doesn't matter, but it seems like we've been following, we've
arrived, the subtitle in my Bible of Genesis 21 is The Birth of Isaac, and we've been following this
story of Isaac, it seems like, for as long as Sarah was. It's just been going on and on and on.
You know, God said, I'm going to give you a son, and then there's the whole Ishmael story,
and there's all of that, and then years pass into years, and I think we've said, wasn't it 25 years
from the time of the promise up to the time of the fulfillment, and yet we've arrived. Genesis 21,
the birth of Isaac. So much drama has been generated since God made that simple promise.
Like we've been on the edge of the fulfillment, week on week on week. It's around every corner,
it could even be today, but today, finally, the time has come, and there is a beautiful
rhythm to the first few verses of Genesis 21. I don't know what version I'm using here,
English standard version. It's quite good in places and quite old-fashioned in others,
but we're going to read it from here. The Lord visited Sarah as He had said,
and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised, and Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old
age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born
to him, whom Sarah bore him, that's true, in case we've missed it, Isaac, and Abraham circumcised
his son Isaac when he was eight days old as God had commanded him. Makes the life of faith look
very simple, doesn't it? The Lord visited Sarah as He had said and did to Sarah as He had promised,
obviously, but it's not that obvious, is it? Because we're 25 years into the story,
and there's been a whole load of stuff that has happened, and yet we come to this culmination,
simply the Lord visited Sarah as He had said. All the years of waiting, hoping, doubting,
trying to manipulate the promise, laughing at the prospect, it all came down to this,
the Lord visited Sarah as He had promised. Johnny reminded us last week that God is committed
to His promises, and here we see it, 25 years on, with every passing year their faith looked more
and more ridiculous. Sarah got older and older, I mean these are these are crackpot people,
you know there's a 99 year old lady or whatever she's saying, oh you know God's told me I'm going
to have a child, oh well okay, good luck with that. God visited Sarah as He had said. One of
the burdens of modern life, as you may well know, is being on hold to telephone call centers,
listening to a recorded voice saying, thank you for holding, your call is important to us,
and you know with every fiber of your being that your call is not important to them,
otherwise they would have answered it.
If you have any involvement with the Edge Center on a Thursday morning, you know that it's not true,
their call is not important, and so we can spend the best part of two hours waiting to talk to
somebody at Sheffield Council or whoever it is, no offense to Sheffield Council, didn't mean to
mention you on the recording, just scrub that bit off, artificial intelligence.
But even in the life of faith we can feel like we're in the waiting room can't we, all can feel
like we're on hold. How many know what it's like to believe God for something, how hard it is as
day runs into day to keep focused on what He has said, and not to be distracted, not to be
discouraged, and not to let doubt overcome us, and not to make us think, well did we really dream it
all up, did we have too much cheese one night, and we we really haven't heard God speak to us.
We don't know what is happening, how do we keep motivated, how do we keep believing,
you know your prayer is important to us, please hold on.
And Abraham and Sarah were no different, they were overcome with distractions and doubt,
but in the end the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, as He had said, that it's like it's almost
like well obviously that was going to happen, but clearly it wasn't obvious, Sarah, but
as He had said, God did it. And yet the church, the life of faith is littered with stories of people
that have given up, people give up on those on those holding, on those telephone things,
listening to the music over and over and over again, oh I've had enough. And the temptation
is to say I've had enough. It seemed so exciting when we started, it seemed so fresh,
it seemed so full of promise, it seemed like like it was going to, it was all going to make sense,
it seemed like it wasn't going to be this painful, it wasn't going to be this confusing,
it wasn't going to be this draining.
Remember the rhythm of those verses, the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, hold on,
despite the drama. Jonathan spoke to us yesterday morning about building a community church,
and one of the things that he threw in was a poster that he's seen at Hollybush where with
a little boy who with his head in his hands and the phrase was, it's always too soon to quit.
And I think the story of Abraham and Sarah tell us it's always too soon to quit,
because God does as He has said He will do, despite everything that goes on in the middle
of it. And I don't know what's vexing you this morning, what is troubling you, what is eating
away at your heart, what is discouraging you, what doubts are coming in, but let this word stand that
God is faithful, He's faithful to His word, He's faithful to you. Johnny said God is committed to
His promises and He's committed to His people, He's committed to you, it is worth holding on,
hold on, come what may. And as we go through and we get to verse 6,
it says that Sarah said God has made laughter for me, for everyone who hears will laugh over me.
Good laughter I'm sure. God has made laughter for me. At the end of it all there must have
been tears, there must have been pain, there must have been arguments in the Abraham and
Sarah household. There were a few big issues weren't there over the years.
But at the end of it all she could say God has made laughter for me.
Laughter is a gift of grace. Don't despise laughter, it shakes our hearts free.
Andy was talking earlier, it was about the pneumatic drill. Laughter is a pneumatic drill
that breaks up the hardness of our hearts and the unbelief that grips us. If we can laugh when we
get a grant for 20,000 and we lose one for 75,000, we can laugh because we've got the background of
faith, the background of the goodness and the faithfulness of God that we know. This story of
146 is bigger than our application to Veolia or what their trustees decide or any of that,
that God has showed us from the beginning that he has given us this and he's given us this land
and he's given us the future and he's given us the opportunity to be part of the extension of
his kingdom on this precinct, you know, subject to the decision of Veolia trustees. It's not is it?
We're thankful for them and we're thankful that we can go back to them in future and we can ask
them again, so think again. But we, you know, we can laugh. George MacDonald, I don't know who he is.
I think he had a farm.
He said, yeah, that was his dad, old MacDonald. His son George and his brother Ronald.
Yeah, he said E-I-E-I-O, yeah.
I thought we'd throw that in. I told you laughter was good.
He said, one day, it is the heart that is unsure of its God that is afraid to laugh.
It's the heart that is unsure of its God that is afraid to laugh.
And we are people who live against the background of the promises of God
and we shouldn't really be those who have our heads in our hands all the time.
And I'm speaking as somebody who people always say to me, what's wrong? What's wrong with you?
Why the frown? Why are you rubbing your head? I used to do that in Zambia, you know, it's like
I'd come out of the office and everybody was sitting laughing and chatting and I'd be going like this.
Rub our heads. I'm not really somebody who's always associated with laughter. Let's be honest,
there's full transparency. Kizak and Sammy call me jolly old Nick and it's an exercise in sarcasm.
But we shouldn't be those who have our heads in our hands and I have to learn this and we
have to learn to laugh freely and unreservedly. I never really understood being not one of nature's
laughers. I like making people laugh, but I don't always find it easy myself, but Toronto blessing.
People were laughing all the time. 30 years ago we had this outpouring of God's Spirit on the church
and there was one of them, there were lots of manifestations, some funnier than others,
but there was one, the hallmark of it was laughter. People were laughing uncontrollably
from nowhere and I was leading the church at the time and it was hitting our church
and there were things going on and we embraced it. We wanted it. We had the meetings. We went
to the prayer meetings, but I didn't get it myself in the sense of I don't know why people laughing.
Think maybe I was, yeah, I'm spiritual. Oh, there we are.
It started again. Yeah, so the...
I don't know what I was saying, but yeah, anyway, yeah. So, but recently, this is what happened
recently. About 30 years on from Toronto blessing, I was in a particular stressful situation. I used
to sleep all right. Whatever happens, however stressful things get, I annoy Erica because I
could just go to sleep. But one day I woke up early and started to chew over these things.
I was thinking about it. And I went downstairs and started to think and I didn't particularly
pray or have any particular encounter or whatever, but suddenly something like my perspective changed
and I just started to laugh about the whole situation and I couldn't stop laughing
about it and I just found what a liberation that was because what it was telling me was that
you don't know what to do. You don't know the answer. I haven't even given you the answer,
but God is in control and the people and one of the blessings of being involved in life in Africa
is the way people are so ready to laugh against the background of intense suffering because,
you know, because it's not flippant. It's not flippant laughter or just think of laughing,
bury a head in the sand and just laugh anyway. It's actually facing, fully facing the facts
that life is dreadful and there are so many challenges and there are so many unanswered
questions. There are so many, so many things that people will point and say where is your God now
and all of that is reality for people and yet the laughter is so near the surface. People will laugh
and celebrate. I mean Alex, our friend in Kenya, when we went to see him last year just before
I got sick and we were with him and he was just relaying some of the stories about the children
that they were trying to support in Kenya and some of the challenges they had and some of the
challenges he felt that he said I just pass them on to you because I don't have, you know, any
answers and he said, he said we just look at it and we don't know what to do and we just say well
Jesus is Lord and then just started laughing and laughing and laughing. Jesus is Lord, so he said,
you know, it's, who was it yesterday saying oh it's God's problem. It's not flippant humor,
it's laughing because we're confident in our God and as we learn and come to know the God who is
faithful and certain and never lets us down then the result will be the freedom to laugh.
It's a gift, you know, in the West we have so much even though we, you know, we look at our thing,
oh broken Britain and it's all falling apart and NHS and blah blah blah and all of that stuff,
we think, you know, we think we're hard done by but we have more than 99% of the entire world
and yet we laugh the least. We have, you know, if there's nothing you can add to our life,
if we don't have joy in the midst of our life, there's nothing you can add physically that will
give us joy because we've got it. We've got opportunity, we've got power, we've got choice,
there's money, people might feel like, oh I haven't got much money. No, you may not have
much money but in terms of the context of the whole world, we've got loads of stuff. Even when
people come on a Thursday and we try and help with, you know, with benefits advice, at least
there are benefits to get. You know, there's a whole load of stuff that we have and we have
the freedom and yet if we can't find peace in all of that, in the middle of it all, then we
have a problem. So we have to discover the God who gives us laughter. Sarah said, God has made
laughter for me. God has made laughter for us, not when our problems are solved. He's made laughter
for us today. What problems are you carrying today? What grief are you carrying today? What
sadness? What confusion are you carrying today? Because today God has made laughter for you
because he's in control. He's in control. And so we move on.
She said, who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I was born in
a son in his old age. And then in the middle of it all, you see Abraham threw a feast to celebrate
because finally they say, oh yeah, oh it actually worked out. You've been in that position before
where you sort of celebrate like we're great people of faith. Abraham gets all the plaudits,
doesn't he? He was a great man of faith. The Bible says he never weakened in his faith. Really?
When you read through, God is so gracious. If he can say, it gives me hope for my judgment.
When he looks at me, oh he never weakened in his faith. No, that was me. Man of faith and power
for the hour. So he threw a feast and they celebrated because God had done what he said
he would do. And in the middle of it all, Sarah looked up and she saw Hagar's son, Ishmael,
laughing. Now it didn't say he was laughing at her, just that he was laughing because everybody
else was laughing. Sarah was laughing, but there was something in it that pricked her. She didn't
like what she saw. She didn't like the fact that he was there because he was a reminder
of other things. There was this celebration that God had done what he said, and yet Sarah
had actually been part of a big mess-up where they'd arranged for Abraham to have a child with
Hagar, Ishmael, because they thought, well maybe this is the way that we can do it. And in the
middle of it all, there is this reminder, probably I'm trying to get all confusing numbers, I think
14-year-old reminder of what she had done and what she'd been part of, and she didn't like it.
And she said, send him away and send her away, banish them. Even in our blessing, even when
we learn to love, there can be bitterness that controls our hearts. And she was bitter in the
middle of her blessing, and she said to Abraham, take her away, send her away. Abraham, it was her
who came up with the plan of course, but she didn't want him around, and Abraham was sad
because it was his son. Now I read these words that come strongly, what came strongly to mind
is like the link between these cross-references that come up in my mind, the link between doubting
Thomas and Sarah, that Thomas, when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he said, actually I'm
not sure I believe it, but I want to put my hand in his side and my fingers in the holes in his
hands, and then I will believe. And so Jesus graciously offered himself to him and said,
here, put your fingers in here, put your hand in my side. And Thomas said, no, now I believe,
now I've seen. And he said, blessed are you because you have seen and believed, but more
blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. And Sarah was one of those who, yes,
she saw the goodness of God. God is faithful even when we are faithless. He carries us through,
but she marred her experience of the goodness of God because she messed it up in the middle,
and she had a constant reminder of what she had done. I mean, I've been in so many situations,
and we try and encourage one another with it, or when you think, when you see God is faithful
all the way through, and somehow you know that at the end of it all, we're going to be laughing,
we're going to be saying, well, God is great, God does all things well. And yet there's still
that angst in the middle, and there's still that question, you know, what's going to happen?
And there's a constant challenge that I bring to myself, so I don't really want to feel
foolish at the end of it all. God will always be faithful, but I don't want to feel foolish when
he is, when he shows himself good, and when he shows himself strong, and when he does what we
know that he always does. I don't want to say, yeah, but I let the side down in the process.
I got discouraged, I got fed up, I got impatient, and Sarah's joy was clouded by the memory and the
reminder of what she did. More blessed it would have been to hold on to the promises of God
relentlessly, and to see what he was able to do. The Lord visited Sarah as he had said he would do,
and yet she received it. God is good, but she messed it up in the process, and there was pain,
and there was bitterness as a result. God grants her request, and he said, you can read through
the passage later, he said, okay, he told Abraham to do it, tell her to go away, give her some water,
give her what she needs, and send her away into the wilderness. But he came to Abraham privately,
and said, don't worry, I'm still going to bless him because he's your son.
The grace and the kindness of God, even in our mess, God is able to bless our mess.
God didn't join in the battle and say, yeah, I don't like them either, get rid of them.
He said, I'm going to make him a great nation because he comes from you. Isaac is the child
of the promise, but Ishmael is your child, and I will bless him. And so Hagar goes into
the wilderness, and she gets to the point of giving up hope, and she even said, well,
I'm going to put my child under this bush, and I'm going to turn away because I'm not going to
look on the death of my child. She was expecting him to die there in the desert, and then God
heard them and spoke to them and said, up, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand,
for I will make him into a great nation. Sarah saw Hagar and Ishmael as a sharp reminder of what
had gone wrong. God used the opportunity to show grace in the middle of the mess. God is gracious.
Who has a track record that is perfect? No arms are going up. I presume that's because you're shy.
I know you're all very, very spiritual. God blesses our mess. We can all look back with
regret. We can all look back with uncertainty. We can all look back and think, I wish it hadn't
been that way. I wish I had maintained a faith. I wish I'd been stronger in my belief and in my
declaration of the praise of God. The songs that we sing say, I'll praise God in the goodness and
in the dark days. I'll praise God when things are going well, and I'll praise Him when they're not.
I'll praise Him when I'm healthy. I'll praise Him when I'm sick. It doesn't always work out that way,
does it? We like to have the results in front of us, and yet we can look back and we can see,
actually, there are times in our lives that we regret. We regret our response to God. We
regret the words that we've spoken. We regret the prayers we haven't prayed. We regret the
unbelief we've expressed. We regret it, but God blesses our mess as well as our success.
Historically, you know, Ishmael is the father of the Arabic nations, and there is a story right
up to the present day. You only have to turn on the news. See, there is enmity, there is division,
there is hatred between races and cultures, going all the way back to these roots.
In our election and all of that that's going on, there are people that will want to stoke
culture wars and divisions between any number of groups in society, whether it's between
Christian and Muslim, whether it's between black and white, whether it's between
rich and poor, wherever the division falls, people want to stoke that. And what we find
is that God is a gracious God, and we don't find Him taking one side or another of a culture war.
We find Him in the middle of it all, that God is able to say, I will bless Ishmael and make
Him a great nation. And it reminds us that in a world that is built on hatred and division and
separation, that Ishmael's descendants are our brothers. And so we must pray for them,
and we must pray for people. We must look for the grace of God that links across. We must find out
where He is. You know, I was brought up in a sort of a reformed tradition. I said, well,
not brought up, but the church that I joined was very much reformed in its theology. What that
means is that there was a very heavy emphasis on the Reformation, the Protestant tradition,
and all of that. And so there was a sense that there was nothing particularly good about
Catholic theology or Catholic doctrine or Catholic tradition. And we were brought up with the history
of the wars and things that had gone wrong. And so you sort of brought up that suspicion and that
uncertainty about things. And then I got into a meeting that I didn't intend to get into,
where there was a man from our local Catholic church, and he was talking about how he visited
a shrine where the Virgin Mary had appeared to different people, and they got healed of
different things. And it all just sounded really weird. I thought, I don't need to listen to this.
But as he got to speak and as he got to explain, and he talked about how he encountered God,
how he encountered Jesus in that place, and he said, and all the stories about Mary and everything
went to one side, and it ended up just glorifying Jesus about what he'd encountered there. And it
really challenged my mind and challenged my thinking to say, actually, in the middle of
where I think I've got God on my side, we find him crossing barriers and crossing boundaries.
And so in all the culture wars that we've got going on, whether it's to do with,
there can be anything. It could be, like I say, it could be where we come from, our background.
It could be the sexuality and gender issues. It can be abortion. It can be all of those things.
Yet what we need to do is look for God in the middle of all those things. If you read the
stories of the 24-7 prayer movement and the way that they've been able to connect with people
from every different background and every different lifestyle and every different thing,
they said they already find God already there in the middle of it all. And God is able to make
himself known. He doesn't wait for people to become like us in order to meet them or to speak
them or to deal with their lives or to show them grace or to show them mercy. I have one friend
who's a Muslim lady, and she's very outspoken, very gregarious, very funny. She lives in Zambia,
and she said to me that she, because the expatriate community in Zambia has a lot of
missionaries in it, and so she would come up again. She said to us actually, I think it was
a compliment, she said, you're the first Christians that I've met that don't want to argue with me.
And she said she had a problem. One lady came to her and said her opening gambit in conversation
was, you're going to burn in hell. And she said, oh, well, at least I won't be alone because you'll
be there with me. And that's the sort of humor that she's got. But as you get to know her and
as you get to talk to her, you find out there is a great pain and great suffering and great grief
that has gone on in her life, and yet she's able to articulate how she met Jesus in Bethlehem,
near Bethlehem, where she went. She's from Lebanon, and she went there with a Christian friend,
and she encountered the power and the presence of Jesus in that place. And she said her life has
never been the same again. She would not identify as a Christian. She would not say that she's a
Christian. She's a Muslim lady, but when you talk to her and you understand, you know that God
met her personally. God is able to cross barriers that we struggle to cross.
There are always treasures of grace to be found. Let's move on quickly.
The passage at the end of verse 22 through to 24 is about the treaty with Abimelech. I think,
again, read it. There won't be a tremendous benefit in us reading the details of it,
but Abimelech was a man who recognized the grace of God in Abraham, and the two men agreed to
conduct their relationship based on their reverence for God. It's a story of men being
fashioned and shaped by the presence of God in their lives and by their reverence for God and
their fear of God and manifesting righteousness and integrity in their dealings with one another.
And quickly, as we come to a close, what I'm getting from that is that God is not just
doing firework events. He's not just doing miracles in our lives, but He is slowly
revealing and manifesting His character through relationships and through society. And this is
the hope of revival that we have, that God would manifest Himself in our lives and our
hearts to such an extent that it affects all of our relationships, all of our connections,
all of our conversations, everything that happens. That's our prayer on a Thursday
morning when people come in that they will, yes, they will hear the words of the Gospel,
but they will also encounter the reality of changed lives and transformed lives,
and we're seeing people's lives now as they come in also being transformed
by the reality and the presence of God.
And that's what you see in this, in the outworking of this relationship and this encounter between
Abimelech and Abraham, two men that could have gone to war with each other, that could have fought
each other, that could have argued with one another, that could have that could have torn
each other to pieces, and yet they decided to deal with each other based on their relationship
and the reverence for God. And Abraham decided to commemorate the grace and the goodness of God
by planting a tree, a tamarisk tree, in verse 33.
And as we draw to a close, what I want to say about this is that the message was so strong
about the attitude we need when dealing with God's work in our life. He didn't throw a party or have
a feast. He planted a tree. Trees are for the long term. Trees are generational. Trees span decades.
When we first went to Zambia, and we bought the place that we still have there now,
there was a big expanse of land at the back, very nice open space, and it was roasting hot.
If you sat out there, it was like sitting in a wok, and there was just no shade anywhere.
And Erica's dad was with us at the time, and we were saying to him, the problem with the garden
is it's lovely, but it's just so hot. There's no shade. There's no whatever. He said, well, you could
plant a tree. He said, oh, don't be ridiculous. We need some shade now. I want to wait for a tree to grow.
But we did plant some trees, and now I will take you there. I just should have done it on here.
I'll take you to Google Earth. You can see those trees from Google Earth. They're huge and shady
and lovely, and he was a man of vision, and I wasn't.
But trees are powerful. Trees tell us of, you know, trees span generations. Trees span lifetimes.
They just, you know, whatever. And Abraham's moment to commemorate the goodness and the
grace of God was to plant a tree, and that tells us something. He didn't just put up a
banner or maybe it's not about him. There's that phrase, there's that quote that says we should
plant trees the shade of which we will never sit under, and that I believe is at the heart of this
church and the things that we talked about yesterday and the things that we're talking
about when we look at 146 and the projects that God has given us. We are actually planting trees
the shade of which we will not sit under. We're building for generations. We want to, there will
be stories that we will only hear in eternity about what will happen in this place, that it will go on
beyond any of us being here, and it's having that long view of the goodness and the grace of God,
planting a tree to say this is how I'll remember. We are planting trees. Plant trees in your life.
Don't just look for what is God going to do for me today. I think it's great when we do respond
and we do pray for one another and we have an encounter with God here in the moment, but it's
not about a here in the moment encounter that is going to change your life. It's going to be a tree
that is planted. If God plants anything in you today, let it be a tree that changes you in 5, 10,
15, 20 years time. Don't be a Christian partygoer. Be a tree planter.
And so God will do what he has promised to do. He gives us freedom to laugh. Always be grateful.
Give no space to ingratitude or bitterness. God is able to bless our mess. Look for God's grace
everywhere, even when you don't expect to find it. And don't throw parties,
plant trees. Those are the lessons today. God bless you.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *