Lectionary Readings:

  1. Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16
  2. Psalm 22:23–31
  3. Romans 4:13–25

Let’s pray:
Creator of us all: grow in us and show us your ways. Inspire us by your truth.  We each struggle as we think of the cost of discipleship, especially our own personal discipleship.  We cringe when you ask us to lose our lives, when you ask us to take up our cross and follow you.  We hang back when we look at the uncertain future, not knowing what will happen.  We struggle to believe your promises when all we see is the darkness, and yet you ask us to hang on to and believe like Abraham. Today we ask for the strength to respond to your call to faith. And we ask that You be our teacher.  Amen.

Today we are back to one of my favourite Bible characters and prophets: Abraham. Abraham who believed.
Today I ask:  How does believing in God change what I am? What are the manifestations of those changes?

1.     Leave your comfort zone:

We find the first radical change in Genesis chapter 12, where God tells Abram:

Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.[1]

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…

Now we all know that originally the family came from Ur of the Chaldeans, an important city in the ancient world.  Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a flourishing civilization there, a city that carried on extensive trade with its neighbours and had a vast library.  We can only guess that Abram had a good education.  But Terah, Abram’s father, took Abram & Lot and other members of the household, and moved them to Haran.  Was this the ultimate destination? We don’t know.
But what we do know is that Haran wasn’t where Abram was called to settle and live.  He was called to Canaan.
Why, then, does God allow Abram to spend a couple of years in Haran, under the leadership of his father Terah?  Maybe this was a transition period for Abram – a time where he could let go of his security blankets and a time when he could learn to wait, patiently.
God knows each one of our hearts; He knows exactly how much we can handle.

I’m sure that God knew exactly how much Abram was ready to handle – leaving home with his father and family was step one. Stepping out on his own, as the new leader, could only come after this time of transition.  These times of transition, where we are not yet actually on the journey to where we are supposed to be, are often times when we feel impatient and wonder whether we really understood the instructions.
If I’m supposed to move to Canaan, then WHY are we still in Haran?  Just as the time in Haran was a transition period for Abram, so God may give us transition periods and times of waiting to help us depend on Him and trust His timing.  If we patiently wait to do His will during the transition times, we will be better prepared to serve Him as we should when He calls us to move forward with His plan.

We also see here that God promised to bless Abram and make him great – but there is a condition attached.  Abram had to do what GOD wanted him to do: leave home and friends and travel to a new land (step out of your comfort zone and move to the unknown).  Abram obeyed, walking away from his home, in order to receive God’s promise of even greater blessings in the future.
When God leads us to a place of greater service and usefulness for Him, do we let our comfort and security (our present position) get in the way?  Yes God, I’d like to help you with this… but while we’re working on that I need my job, we have to fix up my house, stop at the beauty salon, and get the car washed.  Right?

2.     Then come the tests…

Abram gets to Canaan and settles in a region called Negev.  Unfortunately, just because he’s arrived there doesn’t mean that it’s all working out beautifully.  He gets there and there’s a famine in the land.

How often do we do as God instructs or as we have felt the Spirit has lead us, just to find we meet with a major obstacle?  I’m mean, really?  Look God, I just moved all the way from Ur to Haran to Negev, and now that I’ve settled here there’s a famine?

And I’m absolutely sure that there were a couple of questioning faces in Abram’s followers – “we followed him to Canaan for this?”  “Crazy Abram, he thinks God talks to him, and now look at the mess we’re in!

How often do we find, when we step out in faith, that the first thing we encounter is a TEST?  Do you really believe?  Is this new project REALLY what you are supposed to be involved with?  Do you really have the motivation and character to see this through?  Are you willing to work around the obstacles and keep the faith?

I’m going to digress here for a moment, because I want you to feel the full impact of what we read in Romans regarding Abraham:

For the promise to Abraham … that he should be heir of the world wasn’t through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. … As it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations.” This is in the presence of Him whom he believed: God, who gives life to the dead and call the things that are not, as though they were.  Who in hope believed against hope… Without being weakened in faith, he didn’t consider his own body… Yet, looking to the promise of God, he didn’t waver through unbelief, but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was also able to perform.  There it also was “reckoned to him for righteousness”. [2]

Abram – the man of whom it would later be said “didn’t waver through unbelief”.

3.     Pass the next test…

So, they arrive in Egypt, and as he is about to enter Egypt he says to his wife:

I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say: “This is his wife”. Then they will kill me but will let you live.  Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.[3]

Let’s be honest here – how many of us, when faced with “fear” don’t suddenly start depending on ourselves and our own resourcefulness?  The man that is described in Romans as “not wavering through unbelief”, comes up with a solution to his fear through a little lie… And he wasn’t totally lying – Sarai WAS his half-sister.
To start with, this little half-truth really worked in Abram’s favour:  he was treated well, and acquired sheep and cattle, donkeys, manservants and maidservants and camels.

How many times are we lead to think that that little white-lie is just for everyone’s benefit.  It really is better this way… right?

But then the harshness of the lesson comes…
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharoah and his household… So Pharaoh summoned Abram, “What have you done to me?” he asked.  “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife”… Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”  Then Pharaoh gave orders… they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.[4]
Sometimes the little white-lie doesn’t hurt the person that says it… sometimes the victim is another person or other people.

Abram needed to learn this lesson – to trust in God in ALL circumstances.  Not just when things are going well.  Even when afraid – especially when afraid!

4.     Now let’s try again…

So we find Abram back in Negev, with his wife and household:

Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.[5]

5.     Stop relying on your friends and family – do it alone:

But this wealth brought its own problems:

But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great… And quarrelling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot.[6]

And so they parted ways.
Just because you are following God’s instructions, doesn’t mean that there won’t be human conflicts.  Sometimes the worst conflicts will arise in these situations; they may test our faith and resolve to follow through to the end.

So, how are we supposed to handle these conflicts?

  1. Take the initiative, like Abram did.  Recognise that there’s a problem, and go to the other person, and work it out.
  2. Let others have the first choice, even if that means not getting the “choicest” pastures.  Abram had the right (by seniority) to choose first – but he let Lot have the first choice.
  3. Put family peace above personal desires.  Your relationship with that person is much more important that your material goods.

We all know that life is a series of choices – we can choose the best while ignoring the needs and feelings of others.  But where will these choices lead us?  Will they lead us to perhaps less green pastures, but in which there aren’t the risks and dangers of being dragged off as slaves by foreign kings?

Again, God says:

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.  [7]

And Abram responds:

O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… ?  You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.[8]

And God answers:

This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir. … Look up at the heavens and count the stars… So shall your offspring be.[9]

And Abram believed the Lord, and God credited it to him as righteousness.

6.     Wait on the Lord:

So let’s talk about HOW God fulfils his promises.  And how sometimes we get impatient and decide to help God along… like Abram and Sarai did, when they decided that the way to fulfil this promise was that Abram would have a son with Hagar, since Sarai was obviously too old to have children.
Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a substitute wife, a common practice of the time.  If a married woman could not have children, she was shamed by her peers and was often required to give a female servant to her husband to produce heirs.  The children born to the servant woman were considered the children of the wife. So, it’s not like what they did was morally reprehensible.  It was completely acceptable and understandable.
But what happened to the Abraham that “didn’t waver through unbelief” that we read about in Romans?

As a lawyer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided that rather than letting God take care of a problem, I’ll fix it myself.  God’s taking too long… or God must have meant for me to handle this…  and the solution that I have is completely legal and morally “correct” – but there’s just that little voice inside my head asking why I’m doing this…
As I child I remember hearing that we should pray as if we were completely hopeless and could do absolutely nothing, and then we should work and act as if God did not exist and it depended entirely upon myself.
But prayer isn’t simply talking to God.  We were given one mouth and TWO ears for a purpose: listen.  How often, in our haste, to we say a prayer and then run off to do… rather than staying to listen?

Out of this little lack of faith by Sarai and Abram came a series of problems… this happens when we try to take over for God, trying to make His promises come true through our own efforts that aren’t exactly in line with His specific directions.  What if God’s instructions are “wait”?  “Be still and know that I am God”.
How often do we ask God for something, and when He says “Yes, later”, do we take matters into our own hands and interfere with God’s plans?

When Abram starts out from Haran he is 75 years old.  Twenty five years later, he is living in Canaan and has as a son Ishmael, but no son with Sarai.

And so God, with a 99-year-old Abram, appears to him again and says:

I am God Almighty, walk before me & be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between you and me and will greatly increase your numbers.[10]

How do you think Abram’s feeling by this stage?

I know my natural tendency: “I’ve been living on your promises for the last 25 years, and while it may be true that as a result I have LOADS of riches and livestock, the crux of your promise, that I will have an heir is STILL unsettled.  And now you want to renew and confirm the covenant?  “Show me the money”. “Rebellious – what are you talking about? I’m not being rebellious, I’m just saying… ”.”

Twenty-five years waiting for God to fulfil a promise.

Twenty-five years of learning to trust God.  Leaving everything you know behind, to follow this promise.  Losing your nephew along the way… walking through the valley of the shadow of death (alone).

And so along comes God and suggests a change of name:  no longer will you be called Abram (exalted father), your name will be Abraham (father of many).  Because the Creator God is God Almighty – “I am a God of miracles”.  And it only took Abram 25 years to understand God’s message.

Most of us would like a transformation like that of Paul: today I’m walking along, and BAM!  The light shines on me, I’m completely blinded and in awe, and from then on I’m a firm believer!

The reality is that most of us are a lot more like Abraham.  The change that God is making in our lives is day by day, step by step.  And every time we believe we’ve changed, we face a new test, to see if we really have or not.

At the end of the day, we look back on Abraham and we say:

Who in hope believed against hope… looking to the promise of God, he didn’t waver through unbelief, but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was also able to perform.[11]

So, when God promises us that Balboa Union Church is going to grow, and that we will see His Spirit fill this place – don’t question “when” is it going to take place?  Know that it IS taking place!

When you are given a project to work on, and it’s time to say goodbye to Lot and ask him to go his own way… with the heartbreak that came with that, believe that this is for your good! It doesn’t stop it from hurting any less, but knowing that there is a promise.

All of us are called by God to build our lives on a dream and a promise. We are called to face all that life may throw at us, and to do all that God may ask of us, no matter what the cost, in the raw hope and faith that God makes us more than conquerors through faith.

Abraham is the father of faith – he believed, and most of the time waited patiently – all the while walking the walk and not simply talking the talk – acting as if God would do as He said He would do.  And we are asked to do the same.  It’s not enough to say that I believe it, our actions speak louder than words.

[1] Genesis 12: 1-3
[2] Romans 4: 13-22
[3] Genesis 12: 11-13
[4] Genesis 12: 17-20
[5] Genesis 13: 2
[6] Genesis 13: 6-7
[7] Genesis 15: 1
[8] Genesis 15:2-3
[9] Genesis 15: 4-5
[10] Genesis 17: 1-2
[11] Romans 4: 13-22

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