All You've Ever Wanted: When Family Becomes God

Series: Counterfeit Gods

 “All You’ve Ever Wanted”

Text: Genesis 22:1-14  // Series: Counterfeit gods

Message @ JRCC – Sunday, Nov 21, 2010


[PRAYER coming out of “We Fall Down”]. Thanks, Scott and team for leading us in that time of worship in song.  That song uses the language of laying it all down.  And it suggests that the greatness and mercy and love God are so vast and so rich and so wide that no matter what He calls you or me to lay down, it would be worth it.  And so this morning we’re asking the question from the Scriptures: “what if God called you to lay down all you’ve ever wanted…  The deepest desires or achievements of your heart.  The highest priorities in your life…  We’re going to look at a text where God did just that and we’re going to consider why God might ask that that of each of us and what the result could be in your life and mine”  We’re into an Advent series early this year…  you know, just like shopping, the earlier you start the less crowded it is.  And our series leading us into Christmas is entitled “Counterfeit Gods”.  And the premise of the teaching series is that we this incredible propensity as human beings to take the good things that God gives to us and turn them into ultimate things.  Priorities that trump all else, including God himself.  The Bible would use the label idolatry to anything that captures our hearts or imaginations, our wallets, our time and our allegiance at that level.  In his excellent book on the subject, theologian and pastor Tim Keller notes that:

Every human being must live for something.  Something must capture our imaginations, our heart’s most fundamental allegiance and hope. But the Bible tells us , without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself. 

If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”    

Bob Dylan said “It may be the devil, it may be the Lord – you gota serve somebody”.  All of us have a controlling influence in our lives.  And in this series we want to ask the question: what is it?  Pastor Keith gave a great primer last week and so over the next 6 weeks, we’ll be looking at various biblical narratives and asking the question “how might this be or become an idol in our culture or in my life, and what do I do about it?” 


As we look at our text this morning, I want you to get a picture in your mind of a clock.  A pendulum clock.  Now the pendulum and its swing from extreme to extreme has become emblematic for some many aspects of modern life.  Take for example, a sports team that wins a major championship.  Then their best players get traded up or away or they hit their salary cap, they have to rebuild for the next season.  And then they come to town and still manage to beat our hockey team 7 to 1.  OK, maybe not the best example of the pendulum.  Let’s take eating habits over the month of December.  Some of us go a little crazy.  And then come January 1, all of the diet programs and books and courses are filled to capacity…  The pendulum gets pushed from one extreme, gluttony, to the other, famine – and it seldom works.  They even have a name for this: yo-yo dieting.  The pendulum principle is true in politics…  take the recent US mid-term election results or any swath of political history here in BC.  You swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, sometimes quite violently or swiftly.  The principle of the pendulum holds true in some many areas – whether it’s theology, or culture or particularly the differences in the past few generations here in North America. We swing from one extreme to the other.  Take, as an example, our definition of a successful man.  In the broadest strokes, if you are my age, your grandparents are the generation known as the builders.  In this generation, the highest pinnacle of success was if you were involved in the development of something for the greater good of society or the world.  You fought for freedom in a war.  You built a company from the ground up.  In general, these kinds of things typified the male builders.  Then the next generation comes along and redefines the cultural landscape and value system.  In the 60’s, 70 and 80’s, the highest values became things like self-fulfillment and self-actualization.  This led to personal fulfillment in my job and the almighty dollar being some of the most highly prized aspects of the male psyche.  But this did something to families.  For some of you growing up, the definition of a successful male was that he was a “good provider” which meant a dedication to work over family.  Some of you don’t remember you fathers being at a single Christmas recital or frankly very present in your lives growing up. 


So then Gen X and Gen Y come along, looking at a landscape littered with broken homes and relationships and we say “we don’t know what we want but we don’t want that.” And so begin to push the pendulum back in the opposite direction.  If my dad wasn’t at any of my games, I’ll be at every one for my kids.  If my dad never said “good job” then I’ll tell my kids they’re amazing even when they don’t really deserve that kind of praise.  And over time, without always realizing it, the principle of the pendulum has caught up with us.  But the problem is that when you’re swinging back in the opposite direction, you tend to vastly overcompensate.  And 

Overcompensation for past wrongs, excesses or absences does not ever create justice or balance or fulfillment.  Ever. 

And so in this instance, speaking specifically to younger moms and dads, as we have pushed the pendulum back in the opposite direction, many of us haven’t found balance, we’re way over on the other side.  Family has become our ultimate highest priority.  For those who are married and have kids, our culture has idolized children to the point where parents organize their entire lives around them.  Family time trumps anything else – personal encounter with God in His word.  Kid’s schedules trump or sport trump time with the gathered community of faith.  All of our surplus financial resources are directed towards our kids so that we can’t be generous to the poor even if we wanted to.  Our credit cards are maxed out and care loans eat up huge portion of our budget because we need to have a brand new minivan to transport the kids in.  Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying.  Increasing the value we place on relationships is a good thing.  But what I am saying is that our culture, and some of us in this room, have taken a good thing and turned it into an ultimate thing.    Our priorities have gotten hijacked by a new definition of family.  To the point that One of the ‘gods’ of contemporary suburban culture is the elevation of the family to the place of highest prominence.  Its ‘gotten so bad that my pastoral heart says that we need to take a Sunday and name this for what it is…  Idolatry.  Family has become the new god. 


And the problem is that it sounds so good: “we’re having family time” but it’s long term prognosis is ugly.  The question is ‘what do we do about it?’ and so this morning, I want us to look at the story of Abraham in Genesis 22 and how God asked him to give up all he ever wanted because family had become Abraham’s new god.  Turn there with me as we PRAY. 


The story of Abraham begins long before Genesis 22.  Back in Genes 12, God appears to Abraham and makes him a promise: Among other amazing things, he promises them a son.  Now the couple is 75 years old at the time and so this is no small miracle.  And we looked at this narrative from Sarah’s perspective in our summer series this year so I won’t dwell there.  I’ll simply remind us of this: it took a while for God’s promise to become reality.  A really, really long while.  25 years, in fact.  Keller puts it this way: “the years of agonizing waiting had taken their toll, as any couple struggling with infertility can attest.  The nearly endless days refined Abraham’s faith, which was crucially important.  However, the years of infertility had also had another effect.  No man had ever longed for a son more than Abraham.  He had given up everything to wait for this.” (6). 


And finally, at the age of 100, Sarah is 90, she conceives.  Picture ancient Abraham doting over Sarah during her pregnancy. Everyone and everything holds their breath for 9 months and then it happens.  The child of the promise arrives.  God was true to His word and Abraham’s heart is fulfilled.  Or is it? 


Read with me in Genesis 22:1 where the text says this: [Scripture slide]

Hold on…   what did God just ask Abraham to do?  Sacrifice his son?  Why would God ask this of Abraham?  “This is the ultimate test.  Isaac was now everything to Abraham, as God’s call makes clear.  He doesn’t refer to the boy simply as “Isaac” but your son, your only son whom you love so much”.  The problem is that Abraham has taken a good thing, a gift from God, and over time, he’s made it into an ultimate thing. 

  • Abraham’s affection has become adoration

–     Abraham is seeking God’s hand (what he can get) and not God’s face (authentic relationship)

He has not yet learned to trust God alone, to love God for himself, not just for what he could get out of God.  And over time, he has shifted this adoration onto his children.  Isaac has replaced God in Abraham’s life as the organizing principle and his chief affection.  But again, don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that loving your son whom you’ve waited for 25 years for is wrong. 

–     “God was not saying you cannot love your son but that you must not turn a loved one into a counterfeit god.”  (Keller, page 7)

Whenever you do this, you will smother them.  Your expectations and identity will be so tied to theirs that when they get in trouble at school, you will feel like a failure as a person.  When they choose a different path than you have chosen for their lives, you will feel hopelessly crushed and abandoned.  “When you put your children in the place of the true God, it creates an idolatrous love that will smother the child and strangle the relationship” (7).    And so God asks Abraham to give up that which is most precious to him.  To sacrifice all that he has ever wanted.  Let’s continue reading – the story won’t be up on the side screens, so grab your Bibles and follow along with me. [Read 22:3-8] 


There is so much rich backstory to this account, we only have time to mine a small portion of it this morning.  That’s why your momentum journaling will take you through Abraham’s whole story in Genesis this week…  Pick your free journal up if you don’t have a copy already.  But there are a few things for us to see in Abraham’s response.

One of the challenges of this story is that we look at this as contemporary reader and think “how barbaric!  That God would ask a person to sacrifice their only child – does this mean that doing cruel or violent things is fine so long as you believe it is God’s will?  Nothing could be further from truth.  We see in the text that Abraham didn’t see this as an irrational command…  We get hints in the text not only of the difficulty that this posed (the journey was a 3 day journey – imaging walking all that way, knowing what God has asked you to give up), but Abraham’s rebirth of faith in God

  • Abraham was not just exercising blind faith but vigorous and grateful faith in God

–     Abraham believes in God’s gracious provision (22:5)

He says to the servants in 22:5 – we will worship and we will come back.  Abraham wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but he anticipated that God would meet them and would provide for them in that place.     

–     But Abraham also believes in the justice of God’s request (that the first born be sacrificed for sins)

 The Bible repeatedly states that because of sin, the lives of the firstborn are automatically forfeit, though the can be redeemed through sacrifice (see Exodus 22:29 and 34:20).  Because the firstborn held all of the hopes and dreams of the entire family in ancient cultures, God was saying “in the most vivid way possible in those cultures that every family on earth owed a debt to eternal justice – the debt of sin…


And so Abraham is faced with the ultimate question: God is holy.  Our sin means that Isaac’s life is forfeit.  Yet God is also a God of grace.  He has said he wants to bless the world through Isaac.  How can God be both holy and just and still graciously fulfill His promise of salvation?” (10).  Abraham doesn’t know but he goes, in simple obedience. 


Our narrative continues in 22:9 [Read –NOTE: PPT starts at 22:11b]   

What an amazing conclusion!  But what is this narrative all about?  Well for every idol our hearts can latch on to, the Bible has a narrative that explains how this can work itself out in our lives.  So what are the implications and application for our lives?

One thing that Abraham’s story clearly shows us is that

  • The best things in the world can be the most dangerous things for us because they can so easily and quickly become idols

Sometimes when we actually get all we’ve ever wanted, it can be the worst thing in the world for us.  Was Abraham’s desire to be a father wrong?  No.  But over time, he had turned this desire, and subsequently his family, particularly his son, into an idol. He got all he ever wanted and it could have ruined his life.  So the sobering question for us is how would you and I know if we were making a similar mistake?  How would we know if we were taking a good thing and making it into an ultimate thing, which is the very definition of idolatry?  I’d like to propose a two part test…       

–     Idol test #1: Attachment - Can you live without it and be happy? 

It doesn’t’ matter what “it” is in your life – could be a house instead of a basement suite, could be a child or grandchildren, could be a fulfilling job in the field of your education, could be what you want to be when you grow up, could be a certain level of increased income each month, could be as small as a particular item you want someone to give you this Christmas…  We can become attached in unhealthy ways to these things and the unintended consequence is that when we don’t get them, for whatever reason, we are crushed.  That’s a clue that something is becoming a counterfeit god and it is taking over our lives, like Isaac did for Abraham.


Some of us would say “ah, yes, Brad but that’s extreme, isn’t it?” I could still live without it and be happy.  Fair enough.  Let’s move to Idol test #2…

–      Idol test #2: Allocation – Does your prioritization of it interfere with your connection with God?

Sometimes things become idols not because we can’t live without them, but because we allocate ever increasing real estate to them in our hearts and lives.  We spend more time, money and thought on them than on any other reality.  We continually choose to prioritize it over other elements so that it interferes with our connection with God and with other people.  This can be any number of things.  It can be our jobs.  It can be in the area of sexual sin – choosing to cheat with our eyes and our internet connections.  It can be working on your degree or scholastic success at the expense of all else.  It can be body image where we become obsessive and unhealthy.  It can be the image or desire for the ‘perfect’ family…  Any good thing in your life as the capacity to be morphed into a counterfeit god. And so it’s important to ask the question of priorities.  This is why community is so valuable because they can speak into these areas in your life and say “I think your priorities are out of whack here, friend”


The other thing we learn from Abraham’s story in Genesis 22 is that

  • The only way to deal with a counterfeit god is to walk up the mountain & put it on the altar

Sometimes we are good in evangelical sub-culture of giving lip service to something but not actually following through.  We ‘say’ in our songs or in our prayers “I would be willing to give it all to Jesus.”  But if Abraham would simply have said to God ‘yes, I am wiling to sacrifice Isaac’, that misses the point completely.  Our intentions are shown in our actions.  So God wants Abraham    

–     Not just express a willingness to do so but actually walk through an experience of dethroning it

Some of you have been here…  God has taken things from you or you have had an experience where you have given God your dreams or your family.  The only way you can safely keep some of these things in your life is if you have been though and experience of putting them 2nd.  

–     Then you experience the “fear of the Lord” (Ps. 130:4) which simply means putting God first

Response in Song (We Fall Down)      

What happens when you get everything you've ever wanted and God asks you to give it up? The narrative of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 shows us how the best things in the world can be the most dangerous things for us because they can so easily and quickly become idols.

Speaker: Brad Sumner

November 21, 2010
Genesis 22:1-14

Brad Sumner

Lead Pastor

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