Sometimes life slows down and refuses to move. We feel stuck on pause. There is a gap between what God has promised and the circumstances we find ourselves. God doesn’t seem to wear a watch or seem to care much about our alarm that we have set up to tell him when and how things should run for us. Others seem to have their lives on “play.” Why are we the only ones stuck in this twilight zone? How do we survive? How do we keep going?
This is the story of Abraham. His life is all about living in the reality gap between promise and fulfillment, many of which he never saw in his lifetime. For Abraham, what kept him going in the difficult times (not perfectly) was the call of God in His life. Moses writes this story as the children of Israel are on the plains of Moab about to enter the Promised Land, which was also filled with Canaanites. I believe Moses here is motivating the people of God to see that what will keep them going and thriving in the gap is obeying and embracing the call of God, which is backed up by the promises of God to bring the kingdom of God on the earth for the glory of God. The title of this mini-series is “Embrace the Call Part 2.” Today we will finish up talking about how Abraham responded to this call. First let’s review:
I. God’s call breaks into our hopelessness and impossibilities (Gen. 11:27-30)
We saw God’s amazing plan of redemption in Abraham’s life. He had all the cards stacked up against him. He came from at least nine generations of people having children around 30 years of age, but he was 75. Secondly, his wife Sarai was barren. Thirdly, he was from Ur, a city known for idol worship as they worshipped the moon gods. The seed of the woman was to come from Shem and God chooses the most unlikely of people for His purposes. The Word of God speaks life into barrenness. And when we are stuck on pause, we remember that the God who did that in creation, in Abraham’s life and in our lives through Christ, can do so in any situation that seems hopeless. Secondly,
II. Embracing God’s call means surrendering control (Gen. 11:31-12:1)
This is really the theme of Abraham’s life. He had to continually surrender his control of timing and the whats, whens, hows and whys. His faith was not about knowing where he was going, but getting to know and love the One who was leading him. We saw that it is really hard to have fellowship with God while we are holding to the sword of our wills. He had to surrender all, especially his own desire for security. Surrendering does not mean, “Show me and then I will believe you Lord,” but God says, “Believe me and I will show you.” Thirdly,
III. God’s call always pulls you in to send you out (Gen. 12:2-3)
This was key. Abraham had real dreams, but surrendered that for God’s bigger dreams. Abraham’s blessings would come so that he might be a blessing. It wasn’t about him being the center of the Universe, but allowing God to be in the center. Abraham was a “dog,” we said, as one who served His master and lived for his master. A dog says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, You must be God.” A cat says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God.” We cannot live as though God revolves around us. We revolve around Him!
In the end, we know Jesus secured for our ultimate security. Jesus took on our hopeless situation, as we were children of wrath. And God’s word spoke, “It is finished!” into that barrenness. And after Jesus rose again, He sent His disciples out. We know that ultimately we are secure and all of life is God’s because of the cross. As a result, we can surrender, let go and serve the Lord and His Kingdom!
How did Abraham respond to all of this? There is only one point we will look at as we begin this New Year 2012:
IV. We must respond to God’s call with obedient faith (Gen. 12:4-9)
What does it mean to have obedient faith? First of all, it means:
a) Rooted in God’s Word
Notice Gen. 12:4. Abraham’s decision was based on God’s Word: as the LORD had told him. Abraham only had the “naked” Word of God. Abraham did not have the Bible as we have it, just God’s spoken Word. I don’t see any evidence that God DOES NOT speak audibly any more, but most of the time He speaks to us through His Word. And when I say God’s Word, I don’t mean skimming and flipping through the pages of God’s Word looking for it land magically on some page (like flipping a coin). When we say God speaks to us through His Word, we mean that as we dig into His Word, meditate and study it, chew it and struggle through it, we start to think like God. As we start to think like God, we start to see what God’s heart is about and as we start to see what God’s heart is about, we receive His wisdom and the Holy Spirit, who brings us to His Word to help us apply and believe God’s Word.
What is wisdom? Wisdom according to the Bible is the ability to make the most God honoring decision in any situation. And foolishness is the inability to discern consequences of poor choices. And how do we get wisdom? From fearing the Lord. How do we fear the Lord? By getting to know Him through the pages of Scripture.
Let me encourage us to be in God’s Word this year. Do you know that you can read through the Bible if you just invested 10 minutes a day? Totally doable. Some of us spend more than 10 minutes a day on facebook or checking our emails and playing with our phones or listening to the radio or sitting in traffic. Going to be waiting around a doctor’s office? Read the Word. Have a plan. Have a quality plan not a quantity plan. This might mean you spend one month studying and reading the Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount. Or a whole week reading Ephesians 1. Or two weeks in Ruth. No one said you have to finish the chapter. Study a paragraph. Or since we are in Genesis for a while, you will pretty much know what passage is going to be preached next. Perhaps you can read and study the next passage the whole week and prepare your heart for the Word to be preached on Sunday. Or do it with someone. Start small. If you miss a day, you get back in it. Think quality! The goal is not to go through the Bible, but have the Bible go through us.
Why are we doing it? Not because God will be happy and bless your day if you do it. No God blesses you because Jesus took your curse and gave you His blessing. But you cannot receive His blessing if you are not around to receive it. So be in God’s Word to receive God’s blessing that is already there waiting for you, which is His best for you. So if you are stuck on pause and you are waiting in the reality gap, it is not a passive waiting. It is getting yourself in a position to hear God’s Word and believe God for your life. But let me tell you if you don’t plan ahead, other things will plant itself in its place. Proverbs says the person who does not plan is a fool and a sluggard. If we fail to plan, we will plan to fail. So Abraham’s faith was rooted in God’s Word. Obedient faith also means:
b) Perseveres through obstacles
Notice here that Abraham responds with faith and obedience. They always go together. Faith never grows in a disobedient heart. As Spurgeon says, “Faith and obedience are bound up in the same bundle; he that obeys God trusts God; and he that trusts God obeys God. He that is without faith is without works, and he that is without works is without faith.”
We are not told what he’s thinking or how he’s feeling. Other Scriptures tell us Abraham simply had faith. And it was not faith in a plan. It was faith in a person. He believed God, the Scriptures say. But the author here is again highlighting the seemingly impossible situation. First of all, Abraham is 75. The author will continue to highlight Abraham’s age throughout his story. Secondly, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is mentioned again and again. Lot is going to cause Abraham a lot of problems, so it makes you wonder if it was a good move to bring him. Why did Abraham bring him along? Did he feel like he was responsible for his welfare since Lot’s father, Haran died? Was Abraham wondering if God was going to use Lot as the one whom the promised seed will come? Since Mesopotamian law-codes allowed for the adoption of an heir in the case of childlessness, this becomes an attractive hypothesis with respect to Lot. In the end, we are not sure.
I also wonder if he thought when he heard that a nation will come through him, “Ok, but my wife is barren, so maybe I must find a new wife?” Later that will be the shortcut he will take. But here, he still brings Sarai along. Notice he brings with him “people they had acquired in Haran” (Gen. 12:5). Most scholars think these are people he brought to faith in Yahweh. Abraham’s an evangelist. He has no promises fulfilled yet, but he shares his faith and brings others along. And that is always a sign of true faith. It perseveres.
So Abraham takes the first step of faith. He didn’t see the entire staircase, but still takes a step. That is what obedient faith does. It takes a step without seeing the whole staircase. But taking a step of faith does not mean things will go our way! It wasn’t like, Abraham packed up and went and all of a sudden Sarah was pregnant and the land was right there. The trip to Canaan from Haran was probably 400 miles and with all the stuff and people they had to bring along dangerous pathways, it took a long time. Moses rushes us to show us what happened as Abraham and gang did once they arrived.
Finally, they get to the Promised Land. What does he find there? Does he hear some song starting to play, with a beautiful tour guide saying, “Welcome Abraham, we are glad you are here to the Promised Land. There is so much waiting for you. Lie down on this hammock as my servants will feed you grapes while my other servants will fan you.” Nope. The text says, “At that time, Canaanites were in the land” (Gen. 12:6). He shows up in the land which he finds out is the land God promised to show him, but what does he find there? Canaanites already living there! What? Somebody has already taken over this land? How is this going to work God? And God says, “Believe me. Persevere.” Again, the Canaanites we found in Genesis 9 are the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman now, in Abraham, again meets the seed of the serpent.
Isn’t that what always seems to happen? We take this one step of faith and then we feel like we have taken two steps back. Things don’t get better, but worse, and even more impossible than we thought. Abraham will see over and over that everything will not come his way. Faith is not simply an instant glance on God. It is a constant gaze. G.A. Studdert Kennedy said, “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; it is obeying in spite of consequence.” How do we persevere through the obstacles? Worship.
Notice that God meets him in the land. God reassures him again by reminding him of the promise in Gen. 12:7. Notice the word “give.” The trophies that the people of Babel attempted to take for themselves---fame, security, and a heritage for the future—are God’s free gift to Abraham. As one commentator says, “How beautiful—the only architecture that remained from Abram’s life were altars.” When we take that first step and trust, we find that God comes alongside to strengthen us and give us more of Himself. We need to believe before following and while we are following Him. Notice Abraham is still not told how or when. He just had the “I will” promise of God. God’s presence helps us persevere. If He is for me and with me, what else do I really need? And He meets us not merely to provide us relief of our circumstances, but to keep Abraham trusting, believing and growing in our faith. Do we want more relief than a changed heart? Peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ. And His presence comes to us not to coddle us, but to change us.
And that prompts worship. Abraham builds an altar where? First he comes to Shechem, the heart of the Canaanite land. The oak of Moreh was a shrine where the Canaanites worshipped their pagan gods. In the center of the land of Canaan, in view of the Caananite shrine, Abram builds the first altar of the LORD. While the seed of the serpent builds towers and cities to themselves, the seed of the women are known to build altars to Yahweh (Gen. 4:26, 8:20). This is an activity in which the patriarchs often engaged (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:7).
Abraham then moves 20 miles further south to Bethel and builds an altar. After that he goes even further toward the Negeb, all the way to the southern border of Canaan. Later in Gen. 13:18, Abraham comes to Hebron and builds an altar again next to a Canaanite shrine. Remember that Abraham’s entourage was quite large (cf. Gen. 14:14). So this was a very public event. The locals knew what was happening. Proclaiming Yahweh’s name would include extolling his great attributes and mighty works…The Lord had promised to make Abram’s name great, and Abram responded by proclaiming the name of the Lord!”
Notice what we are seeing here. Abraham is journeying through the Promised Land by stages, building altars to he Lord right next to Canaanite shrines. Why? Abraham is reclaiming this land for Yahweh. In this land, the Lord will be worshipped and obeyed. In this land, not the Canaanite gods but the LORD will be King.
How would Israel have understood this? They are about to enter the Promised Land under Joshua. They would hear that the Lord promised to give this land of the Canaanites to Abram’s seed and that Abram responded to God’s promise by building altars to the Lord, thus reclaiming the land for the Kingdom of God. And now Abraham’s seed, Israel, is called to reclaim the Promised Land for the Kingdom of God and worship Yahweh, the one true God there. But they would also remember that it was through them that all the nations of the world were going to be blessed. Canaan is the first step in liberating the entire world by reclaiming all nations for the Kingdom of God.
Israel would have thought, “We are part of God’s universal design!” Like in Ps. 72: “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth…May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun, May all nations be blessed in him…Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel…May His glory fill the whole earth.”
But this prayer was fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Abraham prefigured his Seed, Jesus (Matt. 1:1). One greater than Abraham is here. Jesus, the Ultimate Seed of the woman, came to reclaim the whole world, which was under the seed of the serpent for the kingdom of God. God so loved what? THE WORLD. He persevered and was obedient in every way. He lived and breathed by God’s Word (Matt. 4:4). He pitched His tent and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Then at the right time, God built an altar not for His Son to bring an offering, but to BE THE OFFERING. Christ laid Himself on the altar. Jesus Christ became the seed of the serpent so we could be part of the seed of the woman!
And when He rose again, He rose to spread His Kingdom from sea to sea. He gathered His disciples and told them to reclaim all nations for the Kingdom of God (Matt. 12:19). Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). The new heavens and the new earth will be our inheritance. It will be our land promised to the ultimate seed of the woman. Christ now calls us to partner with Him in reclaiming the whole earth for the kingdom of God. What a privilege! Now the call comes to us today. Look around you. God’s promise has come true. The nations of the earth have been blessed. Why are Indians and Asians and other nations here? Because someone in each of our lives embraced the call of God and came to us and in a sense by sharing the Gospel with us, “reclaimed” us for God’s purposes.
Loved ones, there are a lot of people in our lives and in this community, right now bowing down to shrines to false gods. For some of us that is a literal reality. For others, many are out there in darkness, in blindness, living for comfort, for worldly wealth, for fame, for status, for money, for sex, for pleasure, for everything but God. The name of Jesus have never been there in their lives, just like the name of Yahweh has never come to the mouths of the Canaanites in Abraham’s land.
God is calling us to partner with Him to bring the name of Christ where it is not known before. That is why God has saved us. God is not done with us yet, Living Hope. We have been planted right here for a purpose. This past week, I was reminded of a sermon I preached in March 2009. It was during the “Encounters” series. I was preaching about the encounter between Jesus and Peter, where Peter had caught nothing all night and then Jesus tells him to cast again and there was huge boatload of fish. Right when I got to the part about God filling up the net with fish, the fire alarm went off (seems to happen once a year here). Some of you may remember that.
And I don’t know why, but I felt the Lord was saying, “Keep going.” Then the fire fighters showed up and were walking around the sanctuary! And I felt the Lord kept telling me to keep going. It was a great lesson in perseverance in ministry. Loved ones, the fruit is always in the perseverance. But I don’t think that event was random. I think it was the Lord’s fire alarm for my own life to go back to that message. I want to share how I ended that message: Here we have a call from Jesus today for EFC. The call is for deeper surrender. The Lord wants to take us to the end of ourselves and our own strength and bring us into the depths of his dominion and net-breaking power! Let’s stop hugging the shore and doing what is easy and comfortable. Let’s be quick to serve and obey Him knowing He is laboring with us on the boat!
EFC, did you know our Master’s dominion reaches even the depths of the sea? He knows where the fish are. Let’s have our nets ready! Like Peter, let us hear when He speaks, labor when He commands, believe what He promises and follow where He calls. He is looking for those who will be available in the little, obedient in the impossible and when the miraculous comes, those who will fall on their faces in humility and unworthiness before a Savior who will then take them into places they never even dreamed of! May the Lord be pleased to do that for this little flock for the sake of Jesus Christ.
As I look out today at Living Hope, I see that our God is faithful. But I don’t just want fish from other markets. I want fish from the ocean of the lost. I want, through us, for the person of Jesus worshipped in homes and lives of people who never ever has done before. I want to see Canaanite shrines toppled in the name of Jesus in people’s lives. I can’t promise you that this will be the year you will get that job, find that spouse or get that child. What I can promise you is that God is committed to His glory and He is on the move here, ready to use us to spread His name far and wide through us! Let’s embrace the Call, look to the One who has died for us, rose for us, lives in us and empowers us to be all that He has commanded us to be, for His sake.
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Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (187). Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway Books.