This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 1. The audio of this message is also available
How many of you are familiar with Dr. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense? He has spent many years involved in government roles, primarily at the CIA where he served as Director under the first President Bush. When President George W. Bush appointed him as Secretary of Defense in 2006, he left his position as President of Texas A&M University. Listen as he discusses his decision to return to government service.
Robert Gates loved what he did at A&M and didn’t want to leave. But as he said, he had to respond when the President called and the need was so great!
We, too, have been called into service, but he who called us is far more important and wields far greater power than the President of the United States. If Robert Gates felt that he couldn’t say no when his President needed him, we certainly should not refuse the one who called us, the God who created us and redeemed us!
Abraham didn’t refuse God’s call! I wish we had more details of what happened. Joshua gave the people of Israel a summary of the story in Joshua 24:2-3:
“Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods, but I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates and brought him into the entire land of Canaan.’”
At some point Abraham encountered the true God, the Creator of all things, and he responded to God’s call. Stephen added to the story in Acts 7:
“The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.’ Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live.”
God invaded Abraham’s life and called him to leave the past behind. In order to do that, he had to abandon three things: his idols, his country, and his family.
We don’t have a record as to how God appeared to Abraham and convinced him to leave the idolatry of his family. That is a given in the story, but imagine what a change it was for him and how threatening it may have been to his family!
God has called us to follow him, just as he did Abraham. The first part of that call is to a relationship with him. We are to trust in Jesus as the only way to the Father. We are to know that he is the Son of God who has bought us with his own blood so that our sins can be forgiven by his death and resurrection. That involves leaving behind the idols in which we trust to bring us to God. We may trust in our church attendance or baptism instead of in Jesus; we may trust in our own goodness instead of in Jesus; or we may trust in a false idea of who God is instead of in Jesus, who is the reality.
Abraham left his idols and followed God. We have no details as to how he convinced his family to leave Ur and move to Haran, but we saw in Gen. 11 that they did. Although Abraham left idols and country as God had told him to do, he had a much more difficult time leaving family. And we all understand that! It was only after his dad died in Haran that Abraham finally embarked upon the last leg of the journey into the land, but even then he took his nephew Lot.
Why would God ask Abraham to leave his family behind? Sometimes our families are not healthy for us as believers. When they do not believe in the same God, they can be hindrances to our faith. Sometimes, they create obstacles for us even when they do share our faith.
My mother, who is a believer, questioned my decision to join a church staff. Her background and experience told her that I needed a good retirement and that teaching was the ideal way to get there. Security was more important in her mind than God’s call on my life. Every time I have gone on a mission trip, she has suggested that it’s a bad decision because of safety issues. Thankfully, I was way past letting my mother dissuade me! But I do know firsthand that even Christian family members may be attached to idols like security that cloud their judgment and impair their counsel to us. Or our family members may be the idols we place before God.
God called Abraham to leave his idols, his country, and his family. Does God expect us to do the same? Is that call for everyone or merely for a few great people like Abraham?
To answer that, look in Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.
Jesus teaches that our priorities must change when God calls us. We must put him before everyone and everything, including family. (But do note that husbands are not included in this passage. We are one with them and don’t leave them behind although Jesus is our priority over them!) We are to die to self; that’s the meaning of taking up a cross. It’s not an illness or a difficult boss but it’s our own deaths. We are to put Jesus first, before our own desires and before family.
I believe that God took Gary and me from proximity to our families years ago so that we would be forced to find family in church. Gary was a new believer and we had a toddler when God took us from the suburbs of Houston near both of our families and put us in West Texas totally alone. For the first time in my life, I had to look for my entire support system outside of the family and friends with whom I had grown up! God put some wonderful Christian women in my life at that time, and I began to find my community within the family of faith. I am not sure any other single circumstance in my life did more to move me toward God than that lonely situation. I was never the same. When we moved here 2 ½ years later, I automatically reached out to others in the church, now not merely to find friends but also for spiritual support.
If God is to use us, we have to listen to his voice and leave behind anything that would distract us from total obedience to him. For some of us, it may involve a place, maybe a job, because it involves negative influences or idols in our lives. For a many of us it’s people who pull us down spiritually. For all of us, it’s our idols, whether they include success, pleasing people, our children, marriage, material things, our looks, a beautiful home—or whatever. What is keeping you from totally following God? For Abraham it was his family. When he failed to leave them behind, God got rid of them in his time and in his way. Abraham’s dad died in Haran and eventually, Lot and Abraham had to separate so the land could support their numbers because of how richly God had blessed them.
But God didn’t just call Abraham to leave the past behind, he also called him to walk forward in faith. He told him to follow him into a new land.
God always calls us to follow him in faith; the Christian life is a walk of faith with God. The essential of that walk is our relationship with the one who leads us.
We see Abraham moving forward in faith in Hebrews 11:8-12:
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going.
11:9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise.
11:10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11:11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy.
11:12 So in fact children were fathered by one man – and this one as good as dead – like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore.
You read the stories this week and here is the Bible’s commentary on them. Abraham acted in faith in every one of these situations.
Hebrews 11:1 (NET) gives us a definition of faith:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”
It sounds so easy but it’s quite hard to be sure or convinced when God isn’t doing anything! Even Abraham, the great man of faith doubted God. Remember that God promised to make Abraham a great nation if he would follow him into the land, but after ten years, he had no children. Look at Genesis 15:1-6 (NIV):
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.”
15:2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD , what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”
15:3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
15:4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”
15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them!” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
What do we learn here about dealing with doubt and trusting God when he hasn’t fulfilled his promises? How do we walk with him by faith when we encounter such situations?
Notice that Abraham accused God of not giving him a child, which means that he recognized that God had that kind of power. In v. 2, he called God Sovereign Lord. Literally he called him Master. Abraham trusted God’s power and recognized that he was the Master with the power to give him a child.
Walking forward by faith means that we must know God’s character and power. Sometimes we can’t see him at work and in those times we must lean on the truths of God’s word as to his character and abilities.
We see Abraham do this even more clearly in what I would call the climactic story of Abraham’s journey of faith. We didn’t read the story this week but most of you are familiar with it. It is the account in Genesis 22 when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At that point of the story, Abraham’s son Ishmael, whose mother was Sarah’s servant Hagar, had moved away. Isaac alone was Abraham’s heir. God specified in Gen. 21:12 that it would be through Isaac that Abraham’s true descendants, his heirs, would come.
We won’t read the entire story but suffice it to say that Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son, but at the last second God spared him. What I want us to see is the commentary on the passage in Heb. 11:17-19:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there.
The key to Abraham’s obedience was his faith in God’s power and his character. He believed that God would be faithful to his word to give him descendants through Isaac; therefore, he reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill his promises. He trusted in God’s faithfulness and his mighty power over life and death.
So what do we learn from Abraham about walking forward by faith? We learn that we must hang onto God’s character and promises if we are to trust him in times of testing. If we aren’t spending time in God’s word and believing what it tells us about God, we won’t have anything to hang onto when we encounter tough times.
I have been praying for years for a family member who is somewhat of a prodigal. This person believes in Jesus and trusts in his death and resurrection but isn’t walking with God by faith on a daily basis because God doesn’t seem to be at work answering prayer. And frankly, sometimes I have those same kinds of doubts myself. I have days when I wonder if God will ever answer my prayers when I don’t see anything happening for a long, extended time.
So how do I continue in faith believing God will act in this person’s life? How do I trust that God is at work when I begin to doubt it? I hang on to God’s character and his promises, just as Abraham did. I claim verses like Phil. 1:6: “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God will continue his work in this one’s life. Also, I believe that God’s heart is reflected in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I believe that he is seeking this stray sheep to return to him.
As we walk forward in faith with God, we can know that we will encounter problems and difficulties, just as Abraham did, and we must trust God in the midst of them by relying upon the truths about him.
God wants to use us for his kingdom and his glory, just as he did Abraham, but often we are in the way. We are hanging on to idols, sins, or other things that keep us from prioritizing God. We have doubts about God’s work because we don’t know his character and his promises. We are afraid of walking into the unknown land, not realizing that God has gone before us and will be there holding our hands as we move forward step by step. Are you ready for God to do great things through you in the lives of others?
There have been a handful of significant times in my life when I recognized that God was pulling me away from all I was holding onto and sending me out into the unknown. Those situations were scary because I knew that I had to trust God step by step along the way. But they were also the greatest times I have ever experienced with God. I had to rely on him; I couldn’t depend on myself; I had to accept my inability to find the way alone and totally seek him as I moved forward. But those times didn’t even come until I had let go of other things in my life that pulled me away from God. They occurred after I had separated from family and after I had determined that my only desire was to please God. At that point, God took me into the unknown and began to use me. And he has done that again and again in my life. When my life has become too comfortable, he seems to grab hold of me once again and push me into the unknown land to walk with him alone.
God is calling each of us to leave everything behind and move forward in faith as he leads us into the unknown.
Before we head out, I want us all to spend a few moments of silence before God. Ask him what you need to leave behind today so that you can truly follow him in faith and so that he can use you for his kingdom and his glory. It may be an idol, something that you love more than God; it may be a sin like unforgiveness or disobedience; it may be a place like a job or a house; or it may be family which pulls you away from God. Or it may be all of these things. Quiet your heart and listen to God’s answer.
Now if there is a situation in your life right now in which you find yourself doubting God and his care, take it before God and ask him to show you in which aspects of his character you are failing to believe, what promises he has given that you don’t trust. Repent of the unbelief they reveal and ask God to give you the faith that you need in the darkness. Commit to go to his word and draw near to him so that you see him clearly when you encounter darkness.
Finally, tell God that you are ready to move forward in faith with him, letting him use you for his kingdom and his glory, as he did Abraham when he moved forward in faith. Tell him that you won’t refuse his call.