The Call to Follow
“2 And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.” Acts 7:2-3
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” Hebrews 11:8
Faith Is My Commitment To Follow God:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1
1. In Spite Of My [IMPERFECTIONS]!
“Now the Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Verse 12:1
Ú Abram Began To Follow God With An Imperfect Understanding:
Joshua: ”Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor;… they served other gods.” Joshua 24:2
Ú Abram Followed God With Imperfect Obedience:
“Terah took Abram his son and Lot …, his grandson…and Terah died in Haran.” Vs31-32
Ú Abram Followed God With An Imperfect Morality:
To Sarai: “Say you are my sister…”
2. When Life’s Odds Are [STACKED] Against Me!
“Now Sarai was barren; she had no child”. 11:30 & “Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” V 12:4
“7Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is One greater with us than with him. 8 With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” 2 Chronicles 32:7-8
3. Because I [TRUST] His Promises!
“2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” Vs 12:2-3
“19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God. 21 But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; 22 he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” 2 Corinthians 1:19-22
4. Because I [EXPERIENCE] His Presence When I Worship!
“7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.” Vs 12:7-9
“1 O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 4 Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually!” Psa 105:1-4
A SIMPLE TEST OF YOUR FAITH
“5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.
Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you.” 2 Cor. 13:5
My Faith Leads Me To Follow God
Please Circle One
Despite My Imperfections? YES NOT SURE I’VE LET GO OF MY FAITH
When Life Is Stacked Against Me YES NOT SURE I’VE LET GO OF MY FAITH
By Trusting God’s Promises In The Bible YES NOT SURE I’VE LET GO OF MY FAITH
With Regular Worship In His Presence YES NOT SURE I’VE LET GO OF MY FAITH
Good morning family and welcome to two thousand and five. In the last few months of 2004 the leadership has been preparing for the coming year, and from that work the elders are asking us to make commitment our theme for 2005. This is a worthy theme and a challenge for us. So I would like to begin this first lesson of 2005 by looking at Abram. He was called to commitment through his faith to follow God. Today I want to talk to you about “The Call to Follow”.
What must precede commitment is the willingness to trust or have faith. Commitment without faith turns into sterile legalism. Commitment without faith becomes a whip to drive people and not lead them. We can literally work our selves into a stupor by being committed and actually accomplish very little for the kingdom of God. If faith without works is dead then what is works without faith? It is the worst kind of spiritual tyranny imaginable.
The book of James deals with faith without works. In chapter two James says that Abraham showed his faith by his works or his commitment. Paul in his epistles deals with works without faith, and says Abraham was justified without works of law, but by faith in God. These are not contradictory thoughts, but are really complimentary to each other. They stress that at the bottom of a biblical commitment lies faith. In Acts 7 Stephen the first Christian martyr says, “2 And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.” In Mesopotamia or what we know as Iraq began Abraham’s 110 year journey to follow God by faith. From this first tentative steps in Iraq will emerge a man tempered by the very challenging path God led him on.
When Abraham encounters God he obeys because he has faith in him. It is his trust in God that leads to commitment or obedience. In reality we won’t take one step without faith. It rarely snows in Arkansas. But when I spoke to my mother at Christmas she told me she had not left the house for the past few days because of the snow and ice. She has no faith in her ability to take one step without falling. Without faith Abraham would have died in Iraq and not one of us would know who he was. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” Abram’s path to Canaan is his obedience in response to his assurance that God called him, and his conviction that an unseen hand guided him. The most revolutionary moments in our lives are the times we act because of faith. Abram committed himself simply because he believed.
The Hebrew writer says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” My assurance that God keeps his promises and my conviction that he, though unseen, is the one who directs my path is central to my commitment to follow. My faith springs from my encounter with God, and is never the cold impersonal legalistic forms of ritual. Following God is not about keeping those forms, but is about a relationship with him based on his call, and my personal assurance and conviction of Him, of His power, and of His truth.
Abram’s life in Iraq was comfortable, civilized, and cultured. He lived in a country that provided him everything but his relationship with God. For that to happen God chose to meet and called him to follow. And Abram chose to respond to God with assurance and conviction. At this moment and in this worship hour God is choosing to meet and call you to follow him through his son Jesus. We have a choice to follow or not to follow that call. And so God gave us an example of faith in our father Abraham. Let’s see what faith means to follow God from his life. It may surprise you to know that the New Testament treats Abraham as the standard of faith. Abraham did four things to set that standard for us. First he followed God in spite of his imperfections. That’s standard number one. Secondly, he followed God when life’s odds were stacked against him. That’s standard number two. Thirdly, he followed God because he trusted God’s promises. That’s standard number three. And lastly he followed God because he experienced God in worship. That’s standard number four.
Number one faith is my commitment to follow God in spite of my imperfections. Abram is father to the three world religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and is therefore often idealized. Most of us never considered that this man was imperfect. His journey of faith was a process of growth. At age 65 Abram met God and until his death at 175 Abram continued to grow out of his faults. Stephen said that in Iraq Abram saw the God of glory and heard his voice. Here’s what God said, “Now the LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” God gave Abram four very specific commands. First he was to leave Iraq. Second he was to leave his relatives. Third he was to leave his father’s house which was really his way to earn a living. And fourthly to go to the land God would show him. It took Abram ten years to obey these commands. He did not come to land that God showed him until he was 75 years old. He spent ten years with his relatives and earning his living in his father house in the city of Haran. And it took another fifty years of his life to learn to obey God fully. You know why God said to him when he offered Isaac “Now I know you fear God.” Because God would not know or experience Abraham’s full respect until Abraham gave it to him.
There are three very identifiable imperfections in Abram’s life from the Scripture. I will readily confess to you that I also own these three. Maybe they belong to you too. The first one is that Abram began to follow God with an imperfect understanding. When God appeared to Abram he was an idolater. Joshua challenging Israel after receiving the Promised Land said, “Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor…they served other gods.” He probably worshipped the moon goddess strangely named Sin. Abram was not a Harvard theologian, nor would he have been qualified to teach at one of our Christian Universities. His concept of God at first may have been limited to the term Jehovah or Yahweh which means “I am who I am”. The first time the term is used in Genesis is in context of his call out of Iraq. Abram probably began to follow God struggling with the whole concept of monotheism. But one thing he did not do. He did not ignore what he knew. No matter how imperfect his understanding of God he began to follow. You don’t have to know every thing about God to follow him. In fact all of us are very ignorant when we start the journey, and when we end it we are still confessing our ignorance.
Secondly Abram followed God with imperfect obedience. He frankly started the journey following his earthly father and not his heavenly Father. Verse s 31 and 32 state, “Terah took Abram his son and Lot…, his grandson…and Terah died in Haran.” After Terah died, in chapter 12 verse 4, the Scripture says he went as the Lord told him. He started in Ur an ancient city in southern Iraq and went to Haran an ancient city in northern Iraq. Haran was on the way because it was built on one of the major trade routes. He was going but he didn’t leave his country (on the edge for sure), nor did he leave his kindred (Terah .Nahor, and Lot were still with him), nor did he leave his father’s household or business, because the family did very well in Haran. Frankly they got rich. However, Abram did not forget the call. He left Haran and followed God to Canaan even though you would have to say he could have got there a lot sooner. Most of us have to grow into obedience. And that’s one of the reasons God put us on this journey to learn how to be complete in our obedience. Abraham was 125 before he was told God knew now he feared him. Don’t give up. Keep following the call of God, and you will hear the well done good and faithful servant.
Lastly Abram followed God with an imperfect morality. After he got to Canaan he had to leave because of famine. He went to Egypt, and there told a lie about Sarai. She was a beautiful woman, and Abram feared the Egyptians would murder him for her. So he told her “Say you are my sister.” In a way this is true. She was his half sister, but she was also his wife which is what he was concealing. It really is the perfect sin. It’s a sin of omission as well as a sin of commission. Don’t tell them you my wife, but do tell them you’re my sister. And you need to also know that he repeated it later on in his life with a fellow named Abmalech. And Isaac used the same kind of lie with Abimalech’s son.
Abram did sin sometimes didn’t he? Yet he stayed on the path of God’s call. He did not quit. He didn’t give into despair. He keeps following God like we need to do. We will not be perfect, but we can repent. We can accept rebuke, and grow from it. When the Egyptian king confronted Abram he was very chasten. This is what God wants to see in our lives the willingness to be honest with our faults. If you are defensive when you sin check the path you’re following. You need to get back on God’s straight and narrow one.
Number 2 faith is my commitment to follow God when life’s odds are stacked against me. This past week a terrible undersea earthquake created a tsunami which has divested the lives of millions. To the giant waves of sea water it didn’t matter about your religion, or your color, or your bank account because these floods drowned thousands indiscriminately. Sometimes life throws you a curve and you strike out and die. Sometimes you get another chance to swing at life, but the point is that life is stacked against you. Things which you cannot help will sometimes add up against you so that the odds of your success are limited or even impossible. It always reminds us that we are not in charge, nor are we ever really in control.
This was true with Abram’s deepest desire for an heir. He needed a son of his own flesh and blood who would be the means of God keeping his promises to him. The Bible says in 11:30 “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” and in 12:4 “Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” Life was stacked against Abram. His whole life was wrapped up in the quest for Isaac. And humanely there was not one thing he could do about it. Sarai was unable to have a child. Sarai became too old to have a child. Sarai did not have modern medical technology to fall back on. Life was stacked against them. But Abram followed God with zero odds for success. You know the Bible is full of examples of life odds being so great that it guarantees failure.
The Assyrians were a military tsunami of the ancient world. In Isaiah they are compared to a flood that swept over Galilee, Samaria, and Judah. There was one man who looked at the odds of success and realized the truth behind great odds. He was good king Hezekiah. Listen to him for a moment. You know what odds are stacked against you. The odds that Judah would survive the Assyrian flood weren’t slim they didn’t exist. So pay attention to him. He is on to something here. He says, “7Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. 8 With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”
What Hezekiah saw is what you need to see. Don’t be afraid of life when you follow God, because God is greater than life’s tsunamis’. He is greater than death. He is greater than your illness or a bad marriage. He is greater than your bills or a child who disappoints you. He is greater than all your problems that life gives you. Let’s face the truth that we live in a broken world that is stacked against us. But the one with us is greater than the one with the world. Satan has only the arm of flesh, but we have the Lord our God to help and fight for us. God loves longs odds because it shows his power and glory when he overcomes them. You follow God in faith, and no matter what happens you will stay committed to him. Life cannot separate you from his love or care. And at the end of the path you will be so grateful that you follow God with the assurance of his love and deep conviction of his unseen hand in faith.
Number 3 faith is my commitment to follow God because I trust his promises. When we make commitments to anything we naturally ask ourselves if our efforts are worth the benefits. For 10 years I was a professional salesman. I earned my living selling insurance, then cars, and finally as a business manager for a Dodge Dealership selling bank loans and insurance. And since I was eighteen I’ve been involved in preaching and personal evangelism with several thousand people. In every kind of transaction I’ve been involved in the success or failure of them hinged on a few key things. For example the benefits I offered must meet the needs of the person. Another key is the person must be able to afford the commitment. But the key that open all the other keys was that the person must trust me. He must believe that what I said was true and that my life insurance company or my car dealership or the Christ I preached would make good on all the benefits I had promised. He or she had to have the assurance that I was honorable and the conviction that an unseen life insurance company would take care of their family if they died. No one makes a commitment until they are sure the benefits are real and worth it.
Abram is told to leave everything he knows and loves to receive benefits from God whom he’s just met. God said, “2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” By its very definition faith cannot be a means of instant gratification. If the Bible is right and faith is the assurance of things hope for then a hope is something in your future. And if faith is the conviction of things not seen then you cannot experience it with your physical senses until they come into view. Abram’s nation did not come into view for another 400 years. His blessing and great name did not appear until he dwelt in Canaan for awhile. He became a blessing and curse to Pharaoh after 10 years and to Abimelech after 35 years. And the last one which is the promise of Jesus did not come into view till 1500 years had passed. Following God is never a matter of instant and immediate gratification. The truth is when something is seen according to Paul hope not hope. And hope and faith are really two sides of one coin. We follow the call of God because of our assurance in his promises that gives us hope, and our conviction that the unseen will come into view because He never fudges on a promise.
No dream or vision will ever be seen without faith. When the dream or vision is from God’s call then they will be realized. Do you know why? It is because of Jesus. Paul expresses an incredible thing in 2 Corinthians when he writes, “19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God. 21 But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; 22 he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” Preaching Jesus is not about telling you what you can’t do. The gospel is not rule book of yes’s and no’s. In Jesus God always says yes to every promised he’s ever made to mankind. Note Paul says that in Jesus it is always yes.
When you ask for forgiveness God always says yes. Why because he promised it. When you need comfort God always says yes because of his word. When you are in need, God always says “Yes I will act”, because Jesus is the object of all his promises. Will you go to heaven? God says yes if you have faith. Can you overcome that troubling sin in your life through Jesus? God says yes because he’s provided the Holy Spirit to help you in your weaknesses. Can Vaughn Hill fill our part of the world with the gospel? God always says yes because he’s promised it in Jesus. Every time you say “In Jesus name Amen” you are acknowledging your faith in God keeping every last iota of promise found in the Bible. When you go home today or to the restaurant for lunch you will say grace over your food. Doesn’t it amaze you that we say , “in Jesus Name. Amen.”, at the end of that small prayer of gratitude to recognize that God kept his promise to feed and clothe us.
How can you be committed or follow without faith in God’s promises? You can’t can you. You see there really are great benefits to being a Christian. They aren’t often instant or immediate. They accrue as you follow God day by day. They are constantly coming into view until one day you step over into Eternity a brand new kind of person. Every eternal benefit is yours by right of birth. But not one of them will be seen until you place your assurance and conviction in following God with faith.
Number four faith is my commitment to follow God because I experience Him in worship. The other day in my office Joe Hawkins and I were visiting. We were talking about this lesson and his Sunday morning Bible class, because we are both dealing with Abraham. As we began the discussion Joe did an interesting thing. He sniffed the air and said “wherever Abraham went you could smell the smoke.” He’s very correct because Abram sacrificed and worshiped God wherever he pitched his tent. The Bible says, “7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.” Abram worships because he is experiencing God. He is being reminded of God’s words and promises. When he worships, God is telling him, you are here in the land I’m going to give you. When Abram worships he tours God’s promises with God. If you stop and think about worship in the context of faith it becomes God’s way of encouraging you to keep on following. We get to tour heaven every Sunday and Wednesday. We are allowed to experience God’s presence with every prayer and Bible study in this building or in our bed room.
David sings, “1 O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 4 Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually!” David says pray by giving thanks and calling on his name. He tells us to preach about his deeds and to sing telling of his wonderful works. He says to celebrate or glory in his holy name. We are to be excited in worship. Reverence is not sad. Reverence is rejoicing in God and his promises. It’s the assurance that God is present and the conviction that he will strengthen us to follow Him. That’s why verse four says to seek the Lord, to seek his strength, and to seek his presence continually. The greatest gift you can receive is the presence of God in your life. If you are truly following God then you will experience His presence in worship and become committed to walk every step to eternity with God.
Paul say’s “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you.” As a congregation let’s take Paul’s commandment seriously and do what he says. Everyone please pick up your News and Notes. In it is a simple test of your faith. It will help you to see if you are holding to your faith or if you’ve let go of it. Please circle yes, or not sure, or I’ve let go of my faith.” First can you say to Jesus who is in you “My faith leads me to follow God despite my imperfections (Yes—Not Sure—I’ve Let Go Of My Faith). Secondly to Jesus who lives in your heart can you say, “My faith leads me to follow God when life is stacked against me (Yes—Not Sure—I’ve Let Go Of My Faith). Third again to the Lord Jesus who is to rule your life can you say, “My faith leads me to follow God by trusting his promises in the Bible (Yes—Not Sure—I’ve Let Go Of My Faith). And lastly, can you say to Jesus who loves through the bloody cross, “My faith leads me to follow God with regular worship in His presence (Yes—Not Sure—I’ve Let Go Of My Faith).
If you’re not sure or you’ve circled I’ve Let Go Of My Faith on any of them please ask yourself then on what path am I traveling. God has called you to follow his son, and you need to put all your faith in Him. He’s not asking for perfection. He’s promising to help you beat the odds of life. He will always say yes to God’s word, and you can experience him every day. The benefits are worth the commitment.
Pray with me. Father, thank you, for the example of Abram. I know I’m not perfect. I know that life is bigger than me, but you are greater than life. Thank you for all your promises, and I want to claim the one about eternal life today. I pledge my self to follow you and experience you every day in worship. Father my faith is weak and so is my commitment, but I believe that you are the one I must follow. I believe you will strength me to make the journey. I know that your unseen hand will guide me. So today I give you me. In Jesus name amen.
If you’ve never pledged your life by being immersed into Jesus then do that today. If you are baptized God promises to forgive you of all your sins. He promises to give you his Holy Spirit and to add you to his church. In short you will begin to have eternal life. These benefits are worth your whole life. If you’ve been baptize and you’ve let go then repent. Change your heart today. Get back on the path, and follow God with a renewed commitment.