Sometimes you hear a statement or a phrase that is arresting, it stops you and you ponder it because it doesn't seem to make sense. Words put together though they are together seem contradictory, we call that an oxymoron when you have words in combination that are contradictory or incongruous, a self contradiction is an oxymoron. And I have a list of what are called the thirty-five top oxymorons. Some of them are true, some of them I think were placed in there for fun. For example: legally drunk. That's an oxymoron. An exact estimate. Another one: Act naturally, found missing, resident alien, genuine imitation is an oxymoron. Airline food, government organization, sanitary landfill, alone together, small crowd, plastic glasses, terribly pleased, political science, tight slacks, pretty ugly, rap music (no comment), working vacation. And the number one top oxymoron, Microsoft Works. I just love that part, it's a jab, I know it. But perhaps the top of top oxymorons is this phrase: God's friend. Now follow me here: Friends enjoy mutuality, commonality. When you're a friend with another person, you're on that same level with that person. How could we possibly be on the same level with God? What do we share in common? What do we add to the relationship. We've studied the attributes and the characteristics of God for the last several weeks. We've discovered that he's in a class all by himself, he's very unique. He's uniquely holy, he's the only one who's omniscient, knows everything; omnipresent, everywhere present; he's omnipotent, all powerful, all sovereign. What do we have in common with that? And yet in some way we are called to be God's friends. Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants but I call you friends." Now there is only one person in all of scripture that is actually given the title friend of God and that is the one we're studying this morning, Abraham. Three times in scripture that title comes up for this individual alone, he is the friend of God. The first appearance is II Chronicles chapter 20 when King Jehosophat is facing the impending invasion of Moabites and Ammonites, he calls Abraham God's friend. Another time is in the book of James, chapter 2 verse 23. And the third, to me is the most significant, it appears in Isaiah 41 when God himself uses the title about himself. In Isaiah 41 verse 8, the Lord says, "You Israel are my servant, you are descendants of Abraham my friend." God calls himself a friend of Abraham, "Abraham my friend." But something you ought to note about biblical friendships: A friend in the Bible is a whole lot more than just a buddy you just hang with. It's deeper than that, it speaks of a close and trusted companion. So though on one hand the concept of being God's friend boggles the mind, it's a oxymoron; it delights our hearts, we love that concept that Jesus said, "I call you not servants but friends." In fact if you think about it, if God is your friend, you don't really need a whole lot else in life. If you can get your heart around the concept that God is my friend and I am his friend and he invites me into this relationship, this ultimate knowledge; it'll just carry me through so much. In fact, think of it this way: Wouldn't you rather have God as your friend and everybody else as your enemy, rather than everyone else as your friend and God as your enemy? It's the ultimate possible friendship and relationship.
When Mark Twain was traveling through Europe, it was at the peak of his career, everybody knew this great author Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. And wherever he went, whatever country he was in, whatever city; dignitaries, royalty, people from the Who's Who recognized him and wanted to get close to him. It impressed his nine-year-old daughter who was traveling with him. And at the end of this European tour she just blurted out, "Daddy, you seem to know everybody but God." And what good does it do if you know everybody but God? But for us today, what does a friendship with God look like? How could we possibly become his friend? What are the characteristics of this divine friendship? I'll give your four characteristics based on the life of Abraham.
The first is spontaneity. Spontaneity. Look at chapter 18, let's just look at the first few verses. "Then the Lord appeared to him by the tarabynth trees of Mamre. As he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day, so he lifted his eyes and looked and behold three men were standing by him. And when he saw them he ran for the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the ground and said, "My Lord, if I have now found favor in your sight, do not pass on by your servant." What I'd like you to notice is verse 1, "And the Lord," what? He just appeared, he just showed up, unannounced, he was just there. In verse 2 it says, "Behold (or hey check it out) three men were standing by him" (by Abraham). The text tells us it's the heat of the day, the time when no one travels in a Middle Eastern summer, you would travel early in the morning or late in the afternoon. So Abraham was not expecting anybody to be traveling and showing up at his tent. He just suddenly was there unannounced. Sarah didn't have enough time to vacuum the tent or clean up Abraham and Ishmael's dirty socks. Just, there they are, unannounced, spontaneously appearing.
Now really quickly and let me just cover this and move on, some see in this text a picture of the Trinity because you have three persons but they're addressed as one. And that's why the church of England, the Anglican denomination, every year on Trinity Sunday reads Genesis chapter 18 because they see this as a shadow, a prefigurement of the Trinity in the Old Testament even. It's best to see this as God and two angels, a theophany, some sort of human apparition, God in the flesh; one is addressed as "the Lord," and the other two seem to be angels. If you'll notice in verse 1, the word LORD is all capitals, capital L-capital O-capital R-capital D. Whenever you find that in the Old Testament, it's the covenant name of God. It's not just "Sir," "Lord," it's not a term of respect like it is down in verse 3; this is the covenant name Yahweh, one of them is the LORD. And let's just follow this, go down to verse 22, "Then the men (plural) turned away from there and went toward Sodom but Abraham still stood before the Lord (Yahweh)." So, those two men turned away leaving Abraham and the LORD conversing. These two men must have been angels because chapter 19 verse 1, "Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening." When I read this passage, I can't help but think of that tremendous encouragement in Hebrews 13 where we read, "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers because some have entertained angels without recognizing it." Maybe they were referring to this very story in Genesis 18. But Abraham was not just entertaining angels, but God. By the way, how do you, what do you feed an angel? I know, you're going to say, "Angel food cake." The point is God just showed up unannounced. And friends can do that, friends can be spontaneous, they can just show up without announcing themselves. And a good friendship can withstand that kind of spontaneity.
I had a friend years ago, actually I had a few friends like this but one in particular who would just show up at my door anytime he felt like it. There'd be a knock at the door, sometimes he'd even go all the way around back and find wherever I was, he just showed up. But he was a good friend, he could do that. The friendship allowed for that kind of spontaneous behavior. When my son was growing up here in this church year after year, he was my little buddy, he was my friend. And I told him, "Nathan, because we have a special friendship, that means you can come to me anytime, no matter what I'm doing, you can barge right in and we'll hang out." And he took me up on it. Sometimes he's barge right into a counseling session, Nathan and his dinosaur. And the person could be crying and carrying on and all he knew was that he had access, he could spontaneously enter at any time. And even Jesus gave a great analogy of spontaneous friendship: in one of his parables he said, "Suppose one of you has a friend and he goes to him at midnight and he says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread.'" Talk about spontaneity: knock at the door, it's midnight, you're in bed and your buddy's going, "Hey you got any bread, I'm hungry, I want some sandwiches." A friendship can withstand that. Well, if you're God's friend, get used to this: what you cannot always predict is visitations, his appearing, his testings, his changes. He doesn't always warn us first, "I'm going to come next week, get ready." He just shows up, spontaneously acts.
We've all heard of Isaac Newton, a great scientist in his era, great mind. And Isaac Newton besides being a great scientist was a great Christian man, a great believer. And one of the things he added to the body of knowledge were the laws of motion. Listen to the first law of motion, I'm going to apply this to the friendship in just a minute. But here's the first law of motion according to Isaac Newton: Everything continues in a state of rest unless it's compelled to change by forces impressed upon it. The first law of motion. That could easily be the first law of friendship with God. Everything just sort of continues at a state of rest unless it's compelled to change by forces impressed upon it. We like that in science, we just don't like that in our personal lives. But how many times have we made our plans, had our feet up, we're at rest, we're relaxing, we've got it all wired. And God goes, "No, I don't think so," and shows up and provides a testing. A good beatitude to remember though it's not in the scripture, I think it's wise: Blessed are the flexible, they shall not be broken." I think that's good, to be God's friend is to be open and willing to change and to avoid ruts.
There was a man down in Nashville who bought a radio, took it home, took it out of the box, plugged it on, put it on his refrigerator, tuned it to WSM, if you're from the Nashville area you know what that is, that's Grand Ole Opry radio. So he tuned it to WSM, Grand Ole Opry, then he pulled all the knobs off the radio and threw them away. You know what he was doing, right? "There's only one frequency we need in this house and that's the Grand Ole Opry." That's great in your kitchen but you cannot do that in life with God, you cannot tune into a frequency, i.e., your plans, your direction; because as we said last week God has editing rights. He has the right to barge in and to change our plans. As one wisely said, "God speaks to us through the regularity with which he disappoints our plans." I've had that, I've had God disappoint my plans, change my course. Anybody else have that? That's friendship, spontaneity, the Lord appears suddenly.
The second, in verse 2, is humility. Now watch Abraham, "So he lifted up his eyes and looked and behold three men were standing by him. When he saw them he ran from the tent door to meet them and he bowed himself to the ground." Focus on the word bow right now. Schacha in Hebrew, shacha, to incline the body, to pay homage, to get face down prostrate before. Why did Abraham do that? Well, it was a typical Middle East greeting but especially reserved for royalty, somebody's higher than you are and you recognize that, the proper response is humility, you bow. There was even a protocol: you get on your knees, you gradually incline the body til the forehead touches the ground, hands on the ground. And that was humility. Notice in verse 3, he refers to him as "My Lord," capital L, small o-r-d, adonai, you are my Lord, I am your servant. And also in verse 3 and 5 he calls himself a servant. Here's something you should know about Abraham to make an impact here. Abraham was a wealthy powerful statesman. He had on his payroll three hundred and eighteen paid trained servants. He was the CEO of Abraham, Inc. with a payroll of 318 people. He would be known today in the Middle East as a sheik, the ruler of a tribe, the ruler of a clan, somebody really important. And yet this really important guy realizes, "I'm in the presence of somebody really really important." So the response is humility, he bows.
I've always loved the story about the preacher who survived the Johnstown flood of 1889; Johnstown, Pennsylvania. If you know anything about that it was a horrible event that took out the whole region, destroyed it. I've seen old photographs of that from that era. Well he survived the Johnstown flood and he loved to tell the story of how he survived the Johnstown flood. And when people would get together and they would tell their stories he would always pull out this one. It's sort of a, "You can't top this," kind of a story, "Have you heard how I survived the Johnstown flood." Well this old guy died, went to heaven, and in heaven after hew as there a few days, Peter announced that everybody was going to get together and share their life experiences. He runs up to Peter, "Peter I've got the coolest story, how I survived the Johnstown flood, it's like the greatest story you've ever heard. Can I share that today?" Peter hesitated, he said, "Yes but just remember you will have Noah in the audience today." You can't top Noah's story. I don't care how good a survivor of whatever flood you have.
Here's Abraham, he's great but he recognizes, "God's in the audience." The proper response? Bow, worship, worship is the proper response to a divine friendship because worship is a selfless act. If I'm truly worshipping, my focus is not on me, how do I look, how do I sound? It's on him, I'm worshipping him. But how many times have we caught ourselves, even in a worship service when we're supposed to be thinking about him and all of our attention is on him, we're very distracted by personal thoughts that steal away our minds. Or we just mouth the words and our mind's in neutral.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, "I believe a very large majority of churchgoers are merely unthinking slumbering worshippers of an unknown God."
But when I remember when God's in the audience, in fact when I remember God is the audience, I bow. The natural response is humility. Humility comes from two things: recognizing who God is and recognizing who I am. And I might think, "I'm pretty great." And then God steps in the room, He shows up and it's a change. Right? Isaiah the prophet, he was a prophet, he was Isaiah, until he saw a vision of the Lord high and lifted up and what did he say? "Woe is me." That's the proper response: humility and worship. Since we're on the topic of worship and since worship is a key ingredient in the friendship that we have with God, I'd like to give you what I consider a biblical definition of worship. It's just one sentence, it's one long sentence. I'm going to give it to you in four stages and we'll put it all together. This is what worship is according to the scripture. Number one, worship is a response to God. It's nothing you have to drum up, it's you responding to God. I John chapter 4 verse 9, "We love him because he first loved us." So he initiated it, our response to him is worship, love. We love him, worship him. So number one worship is a response to God. Number two, worship is the proper response to God. Not just a response, it's the right response. Romans chapter 12 verse 1, the apostle tells us, "I beseech you brethren by the mercies of god that you present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your reasonable service. It's the proper thing to do. So worship is a response to God. Second, worship is the proper response to God. Here's the third component of the definition: worship is a proper response to God from the heart. See it has to be real, it has to be authentic, it has to come from in here. It's not outward, it's not just mechanical, it's not going through the motions, it has to be from the heart. That's what Jesus said, in John chapter 4, he spoke to the woman at the well of Samaria and he said, "The Father is looking for those who will worship him in spirit and in truth." Authentic, from the heart, worship.
So worship is a response to God, it's the proper response to God, it's the proper response to God from the heart. Here's the fourth component and we'll put it all together. Worship is the proper response to God from the heart whereby I place God above every thing and every one else. That's a biblical definition of worship. It's not just singing songs once a week. It's the proper response to God from the heart whereby I place God above every one and every thing else. What did Jesus say is the greatest commandment and the first commandment? "That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength." What does that mean? It means if we worship God we have to place God above all our hobbies. If we worship God, we have to place God first above our occupation. If we worship God, we have to put God above every other friendship. We have to put God above television and sports and even our own families take second and God takes first. In fact, what did Jesus say, he spoke about this, he said that even the greatest human family or the greatest example of human love, he said, "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." So true worship in humility and that is demanded in a friendship with God, is humble worship: the proper response to God with a humble heart whereby I place him above every thing and every one else.
Here's the third characteristic of being God's friend: ministry. Ministry. Service. Service, ministry or activity. Verse 3, "And he (Abraham) said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in your sight, do not pass on by your servant (listen to this invitation) Please let a little water be brought, wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree and I will bring a morsel of bread that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by inasmuch as you have come to your servant.' And they said, ‘Do as you have said.' So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quickly, make three measures of fine meal and knead it and make cakes.' And Abraham ran to the herd and took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man and he hastened to prepare it. So he took the butter and the milk of the calf which he had prepared and set it before them and he stood by them under the tree as they ate." There's something here that you might not know. And just reading this story, if you'll place it all together you'll understand. But, in chapter 18, you know how old Abraham is? He's ninety-nine years old. Now just keep that in your mind for a moment. Here's a ninety-nine-year-old man with three visitors in the heat of the day and Abraham invites them in his tent and he commences to serve them, to minister to them. What I'd like you to notice about his ministry to them, to the Lord, is it was personal. It was personal, he served personally. Now he's ninety-nine. He has how many trained paid servants? Three hundred and eighteen, that's on his payroll, that's on his staff. Couldn't he go like this (claps) and have any one of them come and say, "Look you guys, go out and do this for these visitors." He does not do that, he serves personally. He gets personally engaged, he doesn't pass the buck to somebody else. What an example for us, what an example. Every Christian has a ministry. In fact, I'd say a Christian without a ministry is a contradiction because the idea of a Christian is that I'm a servant of Christ, not just a follower of Christ, a disciple, a servant, and I serve personally. And I know that we are in uncertain and tough economic times and maybe you're unable to financially do what you would like to do for the Lord. But you can always serve, you can always give time and talent. So he served personally.
The other thing I want you to notice about his ministry is that he served immediately. Look at verse 2, "He ran from the tent door to meet them." Verse 6, "He hurried and told Sarah, "quickly." Verse 7, "Abraham ran to the herd, got a calf, gave it to the young man, who hastened to prepare it." Okay, how old is he? Ninety-nine and he ran? Now that to me that's striking. He must have been in great shape because it doesn't say he used a walker, he ran, he hurried. There was an immediacy about his service. In fact, as I go through this story, I watch this quick movement, until verse 8, he doesn't stop until they are served. And the says, "He stood by them under a tree." Question: What if Abraham would have based his service to the Lord and these two angelic buddies, if he would have based that upon how he felt. I mean he could have said, "It's hot outside. There is no AC in the tent here. It's hot and I'm ninety-nine, I just don't feel like it." He probably wouldn't have done it. But he did it, personally. He did it immediately.
And the third thing I want you to notice about his ministry is he served generously. Notice that Abraham gave to God the very best that he had. You'll notice in verse 6 Sarah baked bread from fine meal. Verse 7, the meat came from a tender and good calf. Man, that's filet mignon. That's the best. He didn't say, "Yeah we got that, that beat up old cow out back." God's here. Give it to him. And that leftover food, bring it out, give it to God. They didn't give God leftovers, gave him the best. Serving God should cost something. Remember when David wanted to build a temple? First thing he had to do was secure a plot of real estate. So he went to the guy who owned a threshing floor in Jerusalem named Arana, it is now the Temple Mount. He offered to buy it and Arana said, "Buy it? I'll give it to you. You're King David and you want to do this for God. It's yours." David goes, "Oh no no no, I'll buy it, give me a fair price and I'll give you fair market value." "Oh no," he said, "I'll just donate it." David said, "You will not donate it." And here's what David declared, "I cannot present burnt offerings to the Lord that have cost me nothing." David believed that if he's going to give to the Lord he has to give generously and it's got to cost him something. John Henry Jowit said, "Service that cost nothing accomplishes nothing." Did you hear about the farmer that had two cows? And he'd always say, "You know my cow has birthed two calves, one of them is mine, I'll keep it; the other one I have dedicated it to the Lord." He'd always say that, that was his spiel, ‘I'll keep one, one belongs to God. One's mine, one's God's.' But he never said which was which. Til one night, both of them were in a sickened state and he quickly went out to the barn to watch over them. Later on after midnight he came in, one died. And he hung his head and he said, "Honey, I have bad news. God's calf just died." See he never said which was which until that happened then all of a sudden he designated which belonged to God. The dead one, the live one I'll keep.
I just want to encourage you to be generous in your giving. Not because I say so but because scripture tells us, you can't outgive God. In fact the only time we're called to test the Lord in the scripture is in the area of tithes and offerings. And if you remember a few months back I said that God has been so good to us and we're going to be paying off the debt to the church in fifty months, we're going to make double payments, and we started doing that but that was of course before the economic hard times, now we're also down thirty percent. I just want to encourage you, not to ever beg, I never will do that because God is fully in charge. But just to tell you, "Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, running over, good measure." I don't know how it works, I just know that it works. I just know that it works. So Abraham served: personally, immediately, and generously.
Here's the fourth component of friendship: conformity. Conformity. Do you know what I mean by that? Conformity includes trust, trust in him; loyalty, I'm loyal to him; and obedience, I'll obey him. It's part of being God's friend is conformity.
Okay, Abraham was God's friend, because he believed God, he believed his promises, he trusted him, he conformed to that. God said, "Abraham, I know you're an old guy but you're going to have a child, a natural child." "Okay, I believe that." And that's why James referred to being God's friend as believing god. Here it is, James 2, I forget exactly, I think it's verse 23, and the scripture was fulfilled that said, "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness and he was called the friend of God." Because he believed and conformed to his promises. Sarah, on the other hand, does not believe and does not obey, does not conform. Let's look at it. Verse 9, "Then they said to him, ‘where is Sarah, your wife?' And so he said, ‘Here in the tent.' And he said, ‘I will certainly return to you according to the time of life and behold Sarah your wife will have a son.' (Look at the parenthetical statement) Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old (the Bible is just very honest) well advanced in age, Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself saying, ‘Shall I have, after I have grown old, my lord being old also.' And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child since I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you according to the time of life and Sarah shall have a son.' But Sarah denied it saying, ‘I didn't laugh,' for she was afraid. And he (the Lord) said, ‘No but you did laugh.'" There's different kinds of laughter, right? There can be the light-hearted laughter of joy, hahaha. There can be kind of an arrogant sneering scornful hah! Laughter. A laughter of unbelief, hah hah hah. I think that was her laughter because the Lord rebuked her for it. Now remember Sarah was the one who two chapters before came up with the brilliant scheme of not obeying God, not believing God's promise but she said, "Take Hagar my handmaiden, Abraham buddy honey, you take her and have a child through her." So she wasn't inclined to obey. Chapter 17, God says to Abraham, "You're going to have a son, he laughs, God doesn't rebuke him. Chapter 18, Sarah laughs, God rebukes her. Two different kinds of laughter. One was out of joy, that was Abraham, like, "Wow. Cool." But not Sarah, not yet. Now she will come around but at this point, this was not conformity. She's not trusting, she's not conforming and she certainly did not obey. When you're God's friend, you've got to trust him. You've got to obey him. I know we love the text, I quoted it at the beginning, we love it, Jesus said, "I'm not going to call you servants any more, I'm calling you friends." We love that but we just don't finish the whole thought. Here's the rest of the story, John 15:14, "You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." Well that puts it in a whole different light, doesn't it? Here, you can tell, you can tell if you're my friends: You do what I say. And by the way, in Greek it's the present tense. A better translation: "If you keep on loving me, you'll keep on obeying me." So here's the thought: Friendship with God includes the long obedience, the continued obedience and conformity over the long haul, in all areas. You can't say, "Well I'll obey God in my business just not in my marriage." You can't say, "I'll obey God in my marriage and my business but when income tax disclosure time comes I might not fit in there." Or, "I won't obey God in my leisure." The key is keep falling in love with Jesus and you'll keep on obeying him and you'll prove that you're his friend.
I want to close with this question, let's consider the question God asks and let's answer for ourselves: Is there anything too hard for the Lord? Is there? So whatever you're dealing with, family trouble, marriage issue, teenage stuff, economic hard times; plug this verse into your heart: "Is there anything too hard for the Lord?" No, there isn't.
I want to close with a letter, a supposed letter. "I had to write to tell you how much I love you and care for you. Yesterday I saw you walking and laughing with your friends and I hoped that soon you'd want me to walk along with you too. So I painted a sunset to close your day and whispered a cool breeze to refresh you. I waited, you never called. So I just kept on loving you. As I watched you fall asleep last night I wanted to touch you. I spilled moonlight onto your face, trickling down your cheeks as so many tears have, I wanted so much to comfort you and the next day I exploded a brilliant sunrise into a glorious morning for you. But you woke up late and rushed off to work and you didn't even notice. My sky became cloudy and my tears were the rain. I really love you, I try to say it in the quiet of the green meadow and in the blue sky. The wind whispers my love through the treetops and spills it into the vibrant colors of all the flowers. I shout it to you in the thunder of the great waterfalls and I compose love songs for birds to sing for you. I warm you with my sunshine and perfume the air with nature's sweet scent. My love for you is deeper than any ocean and greater than any need in your heart. If you'd only realize how I care. My dad sends his love, I want you to meet him, he cares too. Fathers are just that way. So please call on me soon, no matter how long it takes, I'll wait, because I love you. Your Friend, Jesus." It's just a beautiful way of saying Jesus loves you, no matter what you're going through. And he reminds us of his love, it'z crowded in around us in nature and in circumstances, every day. But here's the deal, here's the deal: those three people, God and the two angels, did not come into the tent until they were invited. That's how God works, he only works by invitation. Right? He'll never barge in, force himself in on you. But he will show up and you invite him, you invite him in. Jesus said, "Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone will open the door I'll come in and fellowship with him." That's how he works. If you haven't done that, if you haven't allowed him into your life as Lord, please do that today. Please do that today, give your life to Christ today. And if, as a Christian, you haven't invited him into your circumstance; invite him in.
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, friend and Master. We give you worship and we give you our praise. It focuses on you Lord right now. You occupy our thoughts, you are completely unique, no one else is in your category. You are in a league of your own. And yet this phrase, God's friend, and the invitation of Jesus, ‘I call you my friends,' what a wonderful thing. I pray that we would cultivate that friendship and walk with you Lord intimately, understanding that this kind of friendship is different and requires our worship of you, our humility to you. It requires conformity to your will. And I pray lord that would mark us. People would see our lives and go, "You must be God's friend." In Jesus' name.