Names and Expectations

Father’s Day message 2022

Intro

Happy Father’s Day. A day on the calendar devoted to celebrating dad. Many dads find themselves receiving thoughtful gifts, finger painted master pieces, and neck ties that they might actually wear some day. People might go on a picnic, grilling out or just taking it easy. A day to reflect on Fathers sounds like a good idea. The dictionary defines father as a “male parent,” in case you were not aware that simple words still have concrete, absolute definitions.

Much like mother’s day, father’s day can bring up all kinds of memories and feelings. Perhaps your father is no longer living and thinking back makes you sad. Perhaps you’d like to be a dad, but you aren’t. Perhaps you do not have the best relationship with your father and this day is a confusing and frustrating time.

Frustrated and confused. As I hope to share in this blog post, those are the feelings of a very well known person from the bible, Abraham. There’s a lot in Abraham’s story. (And I’m not just talking about his nephew). Upon rereading his full story, birth to death, I noticed that embedded in Abraham’s very name was an expectation. And as anyone who has ever failed to live up to a parent’s expectation can tell you, it causes great confusion and frustration. After we look back on this story and unpack these expectations, we will discover the expectations we can really live with.


Receives a name…from parents – Abram

To answer these questions, we have to travel back to Genesis 11. There we find the first account of Abraham. Well, not really. His name at that time, the name his parents bestowed him with, was Abram.

“After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.”

(Gen 11:26 NIV)

The verses that follow talk about Abram’s brother’s death, Abram and his surviving brother Nahor each getting married, and a little foreshadowing of Abram’s story as it’s noted that his wife “…Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” (Gen 11:30)

Standard family tree history, right? People were born, lived, moved, died. When we read the full story, we get a little understanding as to the expectation Terah and his wife had for Abram. In Genesis 17:5, perhaps you have the footnotes I do but it tells us that “Abram means exalted father.”

Photo by Hannah Nelson on Pexels.com

The dictionary defines exalted as being: “raised or elevated, as in rank or character; of high station”

And like I said just moments ago, it defines a father as a “male parent.”

The message, the expectation for Abram in the context of his name “You are going to be a father that is elevated, high rank.” Big dad on campus. The Grand PooBah. 

The meaning of a person’s name can be an encouraging thing, or it can put a lot of pressure upon that person. As we see next, Abram was concerned that he was not living up to his namesake, for he had no heir.

(Biological) Clock is ticking

Even way back then, the pressure to have kids before your “biological clock” wound down was a thing. Now apparently they had a different understanding of the concept. We don’t hear that Abram is concerned about not yet having an heir until Genesis 15:1-2

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

    I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Genesis 15:1-2 NIV

Abram hears this blessing from God and responds with, “What’s the point of a great reward?” 

Verse 3 continues, 

“And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Genesis 15:3 NIV

The only plan Abram can come up with to become the exalted father he was named to be is that his possessions will go to his servant when he dies. He had no one to continue his legacy.

And who’s fault is it? God’s. “I remain childless. You’ve given me no children.”

In the next two verses, Abram has an encounter with God that reassures him, but doesn’t give him clarity. 

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:4-6 NIV

Abram believed God. He put his trust in him, even though he didn’t know how it would all work out. Sometimes in life we get the “big picture” and can just rely that God will “work everything out in the end.” That there is nothing we need to do to make our own future happen. But impatient people usually try to do God’s work instead of work for God.

Impatient Couple

Abram and Sarai were impatient, trying to do God’s job for Him. 

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

Gen 16:1-4 NIV

Whenever we try to work out things for God instead of letting him work out things in us, there will be conflict. There was conflict between Sarai and Hagar. Hagar didn’t like how she was being treated, so pregnant Hagar ran away. God meets her and gives directions to her through an angel. Go home. ““I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” By the way, I’ve heard your cry for mercy. You son will alway be in conflict with his brothers.

Lovely little blessing. Maybe that would have made a good Mother’s Day Message. But today is father’s day. Abram and his wife try to fulfill God’s Promise and the expectation found in Abram’s name: You are an exalted father. What they get is interpersonal conflict and eventually a son prone to hostility.


Further Clarification

In Genesis 17, God clarifies something to Abram.

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Gen 17:1-2 NIV

So, no longer just reassurances that God will do what he said, but a solid promise…a contractual agreement if you will. Abram’s Part: walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then the covenant can come. Then his numbers will increase. Let’s continue reading at verse 3.

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Gen 17:3-8 NIV

God was saying: I’m going to make this happen. I’ll even change your name to make my point clear.

No longer the “exalted father” that potentially was foisted on him by his parents.

Now he is christened the “Father of many,” Abraham, as an affirmation of God’s plans for him. 

Conclusion

What would it take for you to let God work? 

If you were not aware, a lot of guys get their self worth from not only their name, but their ability. Specifically their ability to fix problems.  Does that describe any guys you know? I can give you a hundred and one examples, but I’m sure you have one or two of your own. We want the pat on the back, we want to be depended on by others for this kind of help. If our name is Mr. Fixit we want to live up to that name. 

Abram was not Mr. Fixit. God did not need Abram to do anything except walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Abram and Sarai tried to fix the situation, “help God out.” Descendants as numerous as the star in the sky? Must mean to have kids by a different wife…what else could God have meant? And we discover that God plan was Abram and Sarai being the parents of the Lord’s promised child. 

Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

So to clear things up, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. He divinely does so, leaving no room for interpretation. Sarah will bear you a son. This son will be the son I promised you. 

Reflecting back, we think of the children’s son “Father Abraham” it says “father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham.” But we can count. He had two sons, and only one son of promise- with his wife Sarah. So is that song fake news? Does it deserve to be canceled? Nope. The next lines are “I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord!”

Father of many. This wasn’t an expectation placed on someone, it was a reassurance of the promise, the Covenant with the Holy God who always makes good on his promises. 

So I’ll ask again, what would it take for you to let God work in your life? To stop trying to live up to others’ unrealistic expectations of you, you’re own unrealistic expectations. What’s it going to take to let God be in charge of your life?

I want to close with a little demonstration. When we talk about God being in charge of our life, you might be tempted to think of the song or phrase “Jesus take the wheel.” 

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

It’s this idea that in our life, I’m the driver. I’m driving along, hitting some bumps, didn’t see that racoons (sorry Mr. Racoon!) My tank is low and I’ve just gone round the block because I’m not sure exactly where I’m going and how best to get there. I’m driving the car, but I’m not great at it.

Some people think when you ask Jesus into your life, to be lord of your life, you hop out of the driver’s seat and hop in the passenger’s seat or maybe even take a nap in the back seat. Jesus has got the wheel after all! Cruise control all the way! You don’t have to do anything, and in fact even if you were in the passenger’s seat and Jesus drove you somewhere scary, uncomfortable or made a really fast corner…all you can do is reach up to the handle and hold on for dear life!

I’m not sure any vehicle metaphor is appropriate, but if I could I would modify this one.

When Jesus becomes Lord of your life, he gets into your car. Passenger seat again is a bad analogy as it looks like Jesus isn’t in charge, but this is the miracle. Jesus is the navigator. He’s better than GPS. He also owns the title to your car. (He owned it all along, but gave it to you. You then can willingly give it back to him.)

Jesus. Lord of our life, control of our “car.” Yet, we still have a part to play. We could turn left when God says turn right. We have free will. But keeping in relationship, with Jesus we turn right when he says turn right.   

Abraham discovered he still had a part to play when his name was changed. A solemn promise was made between Abraham and God. 

“I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

No matter the name, the expectations place on you or your place on yourself. The ones that matter the most are the once that God has for us. Be Faithful. Live Blameless. Big expectations, for sure, impossible…if he wasn’t guiding us. Turn left up ahead – be faithful. Keep straight on this road – Live Blameless.

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