Abraham – launching into the unknown

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Start of new series on Abraham

  • over the next few months we’ll go through the scenes in Abraham’s life
  • These chapters in Genesis are a biography of this remarkable ancient nomad.

You might well say “This is a 4,000 year old story of a middle-eastern tent-dweller, what possible connection is there with me today?”

What we have here is a biography, a life-story and the more I read it, the more I find it connects with life in the 21st century.

  • it connects God’s truth with real life

There are numerous big issues and tough dilemmas Abram faced that we face today just like he did .

  • spiritual issues – faith and obedience to God
  • emotional issues – how he handled family conflict, bitterness and grief
  • moral issues – At one point Abraham lied – massively. So is it ever morally acceptable to tell a lie? Abraham’s story helps us grapple with that
  • practical issues – giving and tithing

Knowing he wrestled with issues just like we do is enormously reassuring. We’re not alone in facing dilemmas and there are examples in the Bible of other people who have had the same experiences.

If there is one thing that sticks out in the life of Abram – it is that he is a man of faith

  • when the writer of the book of Hebrews looks back on the life of Abram, he notices several major life-crises Abram faced.
  • on each occasion it was “by faith”… that Abram won through.

That is why I find him such a challenging character

  • today we tend not to live by faith, we tend to rely on our skills, our qualifications our experience
  • We’re taught to be self-sufficient
  • I’m encouraged to trust in my plans use my wits – and what we can’t plan for we panic about
  • only when we’ve had a good dose of panic do we turn to prayer and begin exercising faith!

In contrast Abram started by listening to God – then he went into the planning stage.

  • Someone said “to be successful in life, pray as if it all depends of God and plan as if it all depends on you”

It wasn’t just this first act in the drama in which he leaves home that Abram lived by faith, Abram’s whole life was shot through with acts of faith. Pieces of behaviour where Abram showed he was living by faith.

  • that’s how the Lord achieved his purpose in Abram and it’s no different today
  • for the Lord to achieve his purpose in us – same quality needed – to live by faith.

His name

Before we go any further, just a word about this man’s name. Is it Abram, Abraham or both?

  • For now, it’s Abram. Later in the story God is going to inject a syllable from His own name into Abram’s to rename him Abraham (another Sunday)
  • (and I will get them muddled up!)

What is faith?

Today’s question – the most fundamental – What is faith?

Some people say that faith is, at its purest form, a leap in the dark. It’s jumping headlong into the completely unknown.

While I agree that faith sometimes feels like a leap in the unknown, the kind of faith we’re going to see in Abram is much deeper than that.

Let’s take, for example, the simple act of faith that all of us here in this room have made without even noticing it. You’ve sat down on one of our chairs.

  • That is an act of faith because you had no idea in advance whether that chair was going to hold you up or collapse.
  • Just remember – last Friday was April fool’s day, so who know what spoofs might still be lurking in the church, like comedic left-overs. Any single one might catch you out. Your chair might be that spoof!
  • BUT you’ve seen other people sit on them quite safely and, most probably, you’ve sat down here before. So you don’t feel any great difficulty in trusting yourself to the chair.
  • That’s taking a step of faith. It’s based on evidence at your disposal, but you still have to commit to it. We do it all the time and think nothing of it.

HOWEVER there is something different about Abram’s faith.

  • The evidence on which he acted was not the example of other people, it was the promises of God.
  • So to live by faith, in the sense that Abram did, is to rely on the truth of God’ promises even though his promise may be unsupported by other evidence; like seeing other people do it.
  • It’s no leaping into the unknown, it’s leaping on to God’s promises, and letting them be the evidence you rely on.

Big question – what does faith look like?

What does Abram’s life tell us about faith?

Firstly faith involves

leaving something behind

Leaving home is often a tough moment in life. You may leave home

  • to go to college or university
  • to marry
  • to escape from your parents

but it’s always a trauma

1. The LORD had said to Abram, `Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’

So what is Abram leaving behind to live by faith?

a) situations you thought were established – Leave your Country

Ur of Caldees was a well-known and prosperous area

  • well-refined political system in the city
  • established – good tradition

There is comfort in the established, but God was prompting him

  • not a sense of being fed up – a holy dissatisfaction with the way things were
  • the Lord was saying to Abram “there’s more to your life than living here – launch out with me and I will show you where to go”

God was also calling Abram to leave behind

b) things you feel are familiar – Leave your people

At this point I can imagine him arguing with God – “these are the people I love – I’ve been brought up with them!”

We naturally cling to the familiar – at work, in the home – but there are some times when the Lord asks us to leave those familiar things and adventure into the unknown

God was also calling Abram to leave behind

c) places where you’re comfortable – leave your father’s house

Why so significant? – because his father had just died, leaving Abram in charge! (11:32)

  • there was a huge gap in his life! When someone is bereaved, it’s a hugely disorientating time of life and we would advise him”Don’t make big life decisions yet!”
  • Indian(?) proverb “A man never grows up until his father dies”

At that point our faith can no longer be depend on your parents (if it was) – we have to depend on God for ourselves, in a new way.

This moment is almost as if God was saying to Abram “Your father had brought you into the world, trained you, educated you but now it’s just going to be the two of us.”

What else does faith look like?

Faith often means leaving something behind

It also means

trusting in God

And therefore not on myself. What did God say (v2)

Gen 12:2-3

2 “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.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

The only way Abram could see this promise become a reality was if he obeyed and left.

People often said to me “If only I had your faith”

  • I reply “you have”
  • they’re usually surprised
  • Faith is simply the act of trusting – taking someone at their word

And that’s all God is asking of Abram here! Nothing more.

a) Trust is basic to life

At the turn of the 19th century at the London Stock Exchange, it is told that there was a common phrase used to enact business. Deals were struck under the motto of “my word is my bond” because those deals were without documents or written pledges.

deals struck by word of mouth are struck

the two parties trust each other

b) Trust is universal

Even the smallest child can trust

I remember going to see a family who had a 4 year old boy – and he was really exited to see me when I arrived. In fact he came bounding down the stairs and when he got to about the 6th stair from the bottom he launched himself in my direction, leaving me to drop my case and just grab him!

What amazed me was his trust in me! He had a hunch I’d catch him in mid flight so he just took off!

Trust is universal and we can al do it, although some of the most dastardly of Satan’s work in families is where he destroys trust. >>>

c) Trust is objective

We don’t just trust in a vacuum, we trust in someone or in something

The non-christian finds this hard to understand >>>

2 “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.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

It was this covenant that Abram put his trust in.

Covenants

A word about covenants.

There are two types of covenant in the OT: conditional and unconditional.

Conditional covenants => God says “If you do this, I will do that”

Unconditional covenants => God says “I will do this anyway”

This covenant with Abraham is unconditional and that’s what makes it so remarkable.

Another characteristic of faith is

taking a step at a time

4. So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.

God’s call had come – and Abram was on his way in obedience

This was a continuous attitude in Abram!

6. Abram travelled through the land as far as … Shechem.

8 From there he went on towards the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent

The Lord didn’t re-call him every time

in obedience to that original call, Abram went on each leg of his journey.

Another characteristic of faith is

taking others with you

Faith – trusting God need never be a lonely experience

5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

You can’t grow spiritually alone!

  • e.g. blocks of coal in fire – need other people
  • hence home groups and other organisations in the Church >>>

Abram had Sarah at his side throughout this walk of faith

  • like any married couple, they had their difficulties, (and we’re going to bump into some of them) but underlying it all was a common walk with God.

BUT

When they left Ur they moved in the general direction of Canaan, but only got as far as Haran. (where this story starts)

So why didn’t he carry on? Archaeological evidence shows us that Haran was the place where trade routes converged, and it was therefore wealthy. Maybe he was lured by money?

There is, most likely, an obstacle that stood in the way of Abraham and complete obedience – his family’s religion. The two towns where they settled were linked by one thing: Ur and Haran were both centres of worship of the moon god, Sin. For sin-worshippers, Haran was known as the ‘house of rejoicing’

This is likely to be why the Lord asked Abram to leave his family behind. Their devotion to another god was always going to compromise Abram’s journey of faith.

Look at God’s command in v2

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘leave your country, your people and your father’s household

But the member of his father’s household whom Abram kept was going to turn out to be a perpetual distraction to him

Lot would turn out to be the person who started a family feud, and Abram would end up risking his life trying to rescue Lot from Sodom!

Abram’s obedience, even at the outset, was only partial

Beware partial obedience >>>

What does faith look like? Finally it means

receiving God’s promises

7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

There are times when we are called to take risks of faith

but when we do it we discover that Lord was in it all the time

Had Abram not travelled to the land, the Lord could never have appeared to him and said this.

It could be that personally the Lord is calling you to launch into the unknown with Him >>>

Look at what happened!

Abram worshipped!

  • he had begun to taste what walking by faith was like
  • beginning to discover the thrill of following God’s leading – whatever the cost
  • that’s the result of obedience to the Lord – deep heartfelt worship “Lord – you did it!”

Is God making a call on you?

to obey him in something?

to allow him access to your life?

Then be like Abram

Pray >>>