Sermon Study Guides

Faith and Laughter

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Read through GENESIS 18:1-2,9-15, 21:1-7.

Introduction:
Cynicism is en vogue today. In some ways, its become a hallmark of society. While questions and doubts and concerns ought to be encouraged, the cynical edge brings with it a negative and critical mistrust of institutions, traditions, systems, and even people. Cynicism is an attitude, a disposition of the heart and mind that colors and impacts our understanding of the world and events around us. In Genesis 18 we’re witness to a fascinating encounter between Abraham and three visitors. At first their identity is unclear. But as the conversation unfolds, we quickly find out that one of the three men is the Lord himself, and the other two appear to be servants of the Lord, likely angels. They’ve come with special news for Abraham and Sarah: their long awaited baby will soon arrive. The decades long wait for a son and a family will soon be over. In Genesis 18:10 the Lord says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Sarah, however, doesn’t receive the news with immediate joy and gladness. As Ian Duguid writes, “Such a specific date was also a test of faith. It is one thing to believe that at some time in the future God will give you a child. It is quite another to fix your hopes on a specific date and risk a cruel and bitter disappointment if the event does not come to pass. Perhaps that is why Sarah found it so hard to believe. She laughed to herself, not daring to hope that what was promised might be true.

Sarah is cynical. She’s mistrusts God’s promise of a son. After all, it’s been nearly 25 years of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. She’s old. Abraham’s old. And now, in their old age, God’s going to give them a son? It’s all too much for Sarah at the moment. But the story continues and God’s word comes to pass. In Genesis 21, Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac, who’s very name means laughter. And laugh Sarah did! But this time it wasn’t with a cynical edge. This time Sarah laughed because of grace. Her heart leapt because God provided despite her doubt, suspicion, and lack of faith. God had done the impossible – He’d made good on his promise; He’d brought life from death. And Sarah’s mistrust melted as she held her promised son. Laughter and joy replaced cynicism and doubt. Jesus, the promised Son, is the only thing that can ultimately re-program our cynicism and replace it with joy, trust, and gratitude. The path to transformation in your life may not be an easy one. You may have good reasons to mistrust God or other people. But the Lord is sympathetic to your pain and disappointment. He’s not immune from it himself. So lean in to the promises of the gospel, not away, and see what the Lord might do in your life when you take that step of faith. Laughter and joy will be on their way to your heart!

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts / questions as a way to prepare for group discussions – or – for personal times of prayer.

  1. Is trust easy for you to give away? Why or why not?
  2. Where do you see cynicism at work in your own life? Can you discern its cause or root?

 Discuss:

  1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
  2. The inability to have children in the Ancient Near East was an especially heavy burden for any hopeful mother. This colors the intensity of the narrative – as well as the burden of time that’s passed since God promised Sarah that she would have a son. How do you handle delays? Is your first reaction trust or skepticism when God doesn’t react the way, or when, you expect?
  3. Take a look at your own life. Which laugh is more natural for you – a cynical laugh or a joyful one?
  4. Focus on Isaac’s name for a moment. His name means “laughter” and would have served as a daily reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s original cynicism as well as the newfound joy. The name of Jesus is a similar reminder. It means “the Lord saves.” However, the name won’t mean much unless we recognize how much we need saving! Discuss Isaac’s name and the role it might play in this family’s life.

Apply:

Take a “laugh inventory” this week:

First – is laughter a part of your rhythm? What makes you laugh?

Second – is your laughter driven more by cynicism or joy? Do you laugh with a cutting edge or with a soft heart?

Third – do you laugh with others or at others?

What do you observe? Maybe even ask someone you trust these questions about yourself. How can you take the story of the gospel and apply it to your heart so that joy and laughter becomes a bigger part of your life?

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Stories, Longings, and Lasting Satisfaction

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Read through Genesis 20

Introduction:
This chapter plays a significant role in preparing for the long awaited birth of Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. It’s been 25 years of waiting for Sarah to conceive. Abraham’s been wandering as an itinerant in the desert, moving from place to place for two-and-a-half decades. They’re hot, sweaty, tired, and wondering if God is going to make good on his promise of land, family, and a nation. Here in chapter 20, Abraham moves his flocks and family from the nearby city of Hebron, where he’s spent the past few chapters, to the Philistine region of Gerar. If you’ve been tracking with Abraham’s story through Genesis, you’ll immediately recognize that this chapter is eerily reminiscent of the mess made back in Genesis 12 when Abraham traveled down to Egypt and away from the promised land. In that chapter Abraham compromised his own integrity, his wife Sarah, as well as Pharaoh’s entire family, all in an effort to save his own skin. It appears Abraham is using the same old “she’s my sister, not my wife” ruse here in chapter 20! The question is why. Why the same excuse? Why the misdirection? And why hasn’t Abraham learned his lesson over the past 2+ decades?

The answer revolves around the theme of trust. Abraham doesn’t trust God’s promises – which means he doesn’t fully trust the Promise Maker. We can tell this is the case because God has repeated, again and again, the guarantee that Abraham would be the father of a great nation (chs. 12 and 15). God promised that Sarah would be the mother of a baby (chs 12 and 18). But when Abraham entered the unknown land of Gerar, he feared his life would be taken and the promises of God compromised – so Abraham took things into his own hands and attempted to provide for himself. And like in chapter 12, the result is disastrous, with Sarah being taken into King Abimelech’s harem, thereby jeopardizing the promise that Abraham would be the father of Sarah’s future son. Providentially God steps in and warns Abimelech that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and thereby protects the promise despite Abraham’s fear and mistrust.

A significant part of exposing Abraham’s mistrust of God is verse 13. Pay attention to the story he tells – the picture he paints (or doesn’t paint) of God’s providential love, care, and forgiveness. Abraham’s story points to random wandering and self-control rather than providential care and deep compassion. Abraham’s telling a certain story about God’s character – and that story is driving him toward compromise, mistrust, and repeated cycles of sin. The stories we tell matter. This is why a rich understanding of the gospel will help us tell and retell the most accurate versions of God’s story possible.

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts / questions as a way to prepare for group discussions – or – for personal times of prayer.

  1. Fill in the blank. Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut. Your answer may help you better understand the story you believe and are telling about God. “God is                    
  2. After thinking deeply about question #1 and the honest answer you provided, is there an answer you’d rather have in the blank? What needs to happen to get your heart to believe the new / revised answer?

Discuss:

  1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
  2. Chew on Abraham’s response to King Abimelech in verse 13. A helpful translation is: “When the gods caused me to wander…” What does this verse reveal about the story Abraham is telling and believing about God? How do Abraham’s beliefs shape his actions?
  3. CS Lewis writes: “The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, our first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips and so on; I am speaking of the best possible ones.” Discuss how the theme of longing fits into this passage – and how Abraham has allowed his longings to replace his trust in God.
  4. Christianity is both harder and easier than we might imagine it. The easy part is grace – we’re loved despite our imperfections and sin. The hard part is sin – God’s son lay down his life because of our imperfections and sin. Which part of Christianity resonates more with you, the hard or the easy? How can you strike the appropriate balance in your faith?

Apply:

Make a list of your top 5 longings and desires. Keep things simple. What comes to mind when you ask yourself: “What do I really want in this life? I deeply desire _________.” Then ask the hard question of if / how these longings might be hindering your relationship with God. Pay attention to the stories you’re telling and believing as they relate to your top 5 longings and God’s role (or lack thereof) in them. Share your list with a trusted member of your CG and ask for their feedback as well as support in making necessary changes in your life and heart.

Download this material as a study guide.

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