Sunday, March 02, 2008

I heart Ronnie Stevens

I absolutely wish every believer out there could hear Ronnie Stevens preach. I also wish you could Google him and know who I'm talking about for yourself. He was the senior pastor at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, and I was a regular attender there while in college. He's brilliant... just brilliant, probably the best modern expositor of the Word. OK, accolades done.... He left First Evan in 2004 to return to the mission field, this time in Hungary (if you are ever in Budapest, please go visit Danube International Church. Go.). However, he was at First Evan this morning due to their annual missions conference. He preached on Genesis 22:1-18, the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I walked away with quite a few gems, but please note that I cannot do him complete justice in my paraphrasing!

*First, the English word "love" is found in the Bible for the first time in this passage, in the statement (v 2) "Take your son, your only son, whom you love." Love is not referenced in the man to woman relationship first, but rather the father to son relationship, which Ronnie points out is the heart of the Gospel: Our Father loves His sons (daughters).
*Finding God's will for our lives is not a biblical preoccupation... rather, His will finds us. (I love this... the idea to let go my responsibility to constantly question what I'm doing or about is quite a relief, actually... it was never mine in the first place, though.)
~ a sub-point is that the point of our lives is not to do what we want, but to do what He wills us to do. We often forget this little bit.. I know I'm beyond guilty of wanting what I want.
*The word "worship" is also used for the first time in this passage, and this is something that again gets at the heart of the Bible, that being sacrifice. Abraham is told to sacrifice his son Isaac, and he is thus worshipping God. ("Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." [v 5]). Note the "we"... Isaac is worshipping as well. He, as Ronnie points out, is big enough (15?) to take over his father (at least in his hundred's), but he does not. Instead, he asks where the lamb for offering is. Worship, Ronnie suggests, is giving God what he wills (requires/wants) of us. In our obedience to him, we show him He is worthy of that worship. We have the chance to erroneously think that if God is as Wise and as Good, then He could not possibly ask "XYZ" of us. We think, this request is not moral or right or .. just. I cannot possibly begin to explain how this hits home with me. I am first in line to complain about my "lot in life" sometimes... failed answers to prayer, or a crummy day, or an impatience with the here and now. But the truth is, I've seen some miracles performed, most notably the birth of my two sons, and some HUGE answers to prayers that my sister B has experienced in her life. I'm so quick to forget what He has done for me and my family (even when I have not faithfully served Him), and I dare think if I were God, then I'd do my life differently somehow. Ronnie asserts that if we could blasphemously propose being wise and good like God, that we would arrive at the same actions He has arranged in our lives. It reminds me of "where were you when the world was formed," eh?
~ sub-point again: This whole talk of sacrifice made me wonder at the actual, historical practice of sacrifice. Usually, a sheep or goat or cow.. some piece of livestock. Most of you know I am a knitter, and I would love to be a spinner and dye-er of yarn as well... I even fancy a small dream of owning my own goats/sheep to shear myself. I'm not a great dog-owner, tho, so this may have to wait, but I digress. Anyway, back then, livestock was everything: wool for clothing, hides for warming, meat for eating, bones for defense/building. To routinely sacrifice an animal.. and the best of the best of the animals, wow. They were giving up more than I probably ever have in comparison. I mean, what have I been willing to give up, and what have I actually given up? At one time in my life, I might have told you I'd sacrificed a relationship, but truth be told, that was more a prying my fingers off than an actual release. And there is still not much in my life I'd be willing to give up, let alone my husband who provides for us through his job or his love and support of me as his companionship keeps me from being lonely or afraid. I'm not willing to give up my two precious boys. I'm not willing to give up many of my "things" that as someone used to always tell me, will just burn one day. It's just stuff and I have a very hard time letting go. I think there is a lot more to unpack, but I'm now preaching to myself!
~sub-sub-point: Isaac asks, "where is the lamb?" and Abraham responds, [v8] "God himself will provide the lamb," which comes in the New Testament (Ronnie said 1 John, but I didn't catch a verse), "There He is," referring, of course, to Jesus, God's sacrificed Son.
*Ronnie then postulates the questions, "Can God be trusted?" and "What do we withhold from Him?" and "Where did we get those things in the first place?". The truth is, we get everything from Him, and it is all His to take as He pleases. We don't like it in the Bible (it does not sit well with many, anyway), and we like it even less when it's in our own lives. Ronnie then said that while it is not for the here and now to ask "Why?" to God (we will get those answers in Heaven; now is for the questions "what" and "whom"), he was going to attempt to ask Why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice the son that took so long to receive and whom he dearly loved. He suggests that God is, in a way, asking Abraham to be like God. What God ends up not allowing Abraham to do, He Himself has done by allowing Jesus to die on the cross. This inspires worship. Can any of us be like God? Can we give up our dearest thing in the world? Can we willingly die to self so everyone else could live? I said in another post that there is a reason that I am not God, and this is more true than ever.
I am humbled and amazed that even when I question and doubt, and even when I hate God, He is still there. He is still Lord. He is still giving up his Son's life that I may live. Just since January, I've railed and complained and been bitter about certain things in my life, and now I'm ashamed at my own heart's moaning. I am no better than the Israelites complaining in the wilderness for "better days" when they had the presence of God leading them away from slavery and feeding them from the heavens. I, too, have the presence of God through His Holy Spirit, and I am being fed from His Word He left behind. I am no longer a slave, but rather his daughter by adoption. It is time to remind myself of what I literally have tattooed on my wrist: a promise that I am His beloved... "Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love [beloved] may be delivered." Psalm 108:6


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you were able to hear what God wanted to tell you this morning. I am also sorely upset with my own laziness. We didn't go to any church today, and for no other reason than not wanted to take the trouble. We were planning to come to hear Ronnie this morning, or at least tonight, and neither happened. Thank you for sharing what he taught!

Laura said...

First time here, and I was delighted to receive your comment today! Thanks for reading AND commenting.

Anyone who loves Til We Have Faces is a soul-mate. I'm eager to explore your site more.

Jack's Mommy said...

"We don't find God's will - His will finds us"

God has been teaching me this exact thing over the past 2 weeks during my Bible readings! I went to a Christian school my entire life - but I'm just now starting to fully realize what it means to surrender our "works" to God and let his indwelling perform instead. In the past I would get so miserable and feel guilty because I didn't "live up" to everything I thought I was supposed to do... Basically, I was caught in legalism - living under "the law" instead of giving everything to God and trusting him to change me. It's such a simple doctrine, yet it can be hidden so easily from our minds if we get caught in focusing on "works" and "doing it ourselves"! Thanks for the great post! :-D (and thanks for stopping by my blog party!!)

p.s. i have the book Till We have Faces.. and have always loved CS Lewis (have the whole Narnia set and "mere christianity" too). And The Screwtape Letters book is probably the deepest, most thought provoking book I've ever read!

Lisa Jo Greer said...

I am a minister and a lawyer, and I will be going to Budapest soon. I wondered if you had an e-mail address and/or contact info for either Pastor Stevens or the church in Budapest. Their website has no contact us page. Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciated. I also enjoyed your blog. Blessings!