Learning to Live by Faith By F.

Remy Diederich

 

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The call of God is a holy moment. How you handle it will define your life. This three part series looks at a critical story in the Bible when God called the man Abram to follow his call to go to the Promised Land. To follow the call of God requires faith in what is unseen. This brief series will challenge you to fully trust God to receive all that he has for you in life. • • • Part One: Will you settle or obey? Part Two: Reckless abandonment on God Part Three: Faith is not wishful thinking

Abraham: Learning to live by faith Part One: Will You Settle or Obey?

Outline: 1. Terah “went out” with good intentions but chose to settle instead. 2. Why did Terah settle? a. Haran was comfortable. It was known. b. It cost less to stay in Haran. No sacrifice is required. c. He was okay with “good enough” not longing for what’s best. d. He was unsure of God’s voice. Moon worship worked for him. e. He was unwilling to separate from his friends and family. 3. Ways we settle: a. Willing to know about God instead of seeking to know him personally. b. We select only the part of the Bible to obey that is convenient. 4. God doesn’t call us to settle. He calls us to obey. 5. Obedience often requires leaving your comfort zone with no guarantees about the future. 6. God blesses bless those who obey, not those who settle. a. a great name (reputation, character) b. a great people (attract a large number of people) c. protection from evil d. being a blessing to others. (impact others for good) 7. Abraham’s obedience made him the Father of Faith.

 

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Message Recently over 30 people dedicated or rededicated their life to following Jesus. So we have a number of people who have great intentions of following Jesus. That’s fantastic. I love to see that. But just a little warning…good intentions aren’t enough. A lot of people have set out to follow Jesus and gotten sidelined along the way. That’s what I want to talk about today: how to follow through on our commitment. Open to Genesis 12. I’m starting a four-week series on Abraham. This chapter is a turning point in the story. Up until this point in the Bible things haven’t gone so well. Adam and Eve got thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Then there was the Flood followed by the Tower of Babel incident and people being scattered. The story needed someone to step up and be the hero. And someone did. Abraham. Here in chapter 12 God calls Abraham to go to The Promised Land. If he goes, God says he will bless him. I’m going to tell you that story but…before I do, there is a back story that I want to talk about first. Turn back one chapter to chapter eleven. The writer gives us a little background information on Abraham’s family. Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:31,32 Let me show you this on a map so we get our bearings. They moved from modern day Iraq to northern Syria, never making it to Israel. Now, whenever I study the Bible I start by looking up the meaning to the names of people. Terah means “to delay”. That’s interesting. I mean, that automatically makes me wonder what that’s all about. My guess is he had another name first but he got labeled with “Delay”/“Procrastinator” because of something he did. And like nicknames often do, it became his new identity. What did he do? Well, interestingly, in just these two verses we get a clue to why he was probably called “Delay”. In chapter 12 we’ll read that God called Abram to Canaan. But what we learn here is that before Abram was called, his father set off to do the same thing. It doesn’t say that God called Terah. But it makes you wonder. Why else would Terah have an inkling to travel 1000 miles across desert to go to an unknown land? There must have been something pretty compelling. I think it may have been God. So he heads off to Canaan but something happened along the way. It says here that they “went out…in order to enter the land of Canaan.” That’s a statement of purpose. They went out …to enter. But something happened to that sense of purpose along the way. It says that he settled in Haran.

 

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It’s like saying…You left the house…to go to work but you went shopping instead. You left Menomonie to drive to Chicago but you went to the Dells instead. Terah left Ur to enter Canaan. He was very purposeful. He had great intentions. But Terah got delayed in Haran. More than delayed. It says that Terah settled in Haran. In fact, he got so comfortable in Haran that he never made it to Canaan. Verse 32 tells us that he died in Haran. In your notes I speculated some reasons Terah may have stayed in Haran. See if you can relate to any of them. Maybe Haran was comfortable. It was known. Why take the risk of going to Canaan when you know you like Haran? Second, staying in Haran cost less. No sacrifice was required. Third, maybe Terah was okay with “good enough”. There was nothing in him that wanted what was best. Someone has said that “good” is the enemy of “great”. As long as you settle for good then great will never happen. Or maybe Terah was unsure of God’s voice. It’s one thing to feel called. It’s another thing to be neck deep in trouble and still trust that you heard God right. It’s easy to doubt your calling. We know that Haran was a center of moon worship. Maybe he thought his moon worship was working for him. Why move across country to obey an unknown God when your family religion is working? Or maybe Terah was unwilling to separate from his friends and family. Our family and friends always put a lot of pressure on us, don’t they? When we choose to separate they get mad at us. So maybe Terah didn’t want to rock the boat. I’m sure whatever his reason it made a lot of sense. It was reasonable. No one faulted him for his decision. But good reasons or not, he never made it to Canaan. He settled and died in Haran not having reached his goal. I think the Bible includes this back-story because we all have a Haran in our lives. We start off with good intentions but there’s a Haran out there waiting for us, calling our name, telling us to stop, and that obeying God isn’t that important. It’s feels sorry for us and tells us to sit down and relax, don’t work so hard; don’t take God so seriously. Some of you are probably in Haran right now. You’ve stopped following Jesus the way you once did. Those of you who decided to recommit your life to Jesus this past week, you just left Haran. You decided that you were unwilling to settle. But the rest of us are being tempted to settle in Haran. I know I am. Let me tell you a little bit about my Haran. In January we will celebrate our tenth year as a church. God has done more in this church in the last ten years than I ever imagined. But it’s taken its toll on me. I’m a little weary. I still have lots of ideas but I don’t have the energy to do all my ideas like I used to.

 

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And so here’s my temptation. My temptation is to coast. 65 is only eight and a half years away. I’ve got a young staff. They are full of energy and ideas. It’s really tempting to check out, do the basic pastoral work, and not worry about taking this church to another level. That’s my Haran. It speaks to me every day. But every day I say, no, I’m not going there. I’m not coasting. If God has done this much in ten years, just think what he can do in twenty. I’m not going to settle for anything less than what God has for me. I don’t want to settle in Haran. I want to go all the way to the Promised Land. I want the same for you. I don’t want you to settle either. But I see people settle who are seduced by the call of Haran all the time. Let me mention just a few ways. Some of us settle in our knowledge of God. We settle for knowing that God loves us, that Jesus died for us, and that God forgives us. But we don’t take the time or energy to know God any better. We don’t pursue a relationship with God. We are content to merely know about God. Others of us settle in our level of obedience. We treat the Bible like an ala carte menu at a restaurant. We only obey what works for us. We ask God to send the blessing part of the Bible but hold the obedience and sacrifice. That works with a restaurant menu but not with the Bible. Most of us know what the Bible says. We know what the Bible says about money. It says stay out of debt and be generous. We know what the Bible says about broken relationships. It tells us to forgive and work to reconcile with people. We know what the Bible says about sex. It says keep it within the bonds of marriage. We know what the Bible says about serving others. It says that’s our calling. Everyone has a way to contribute. But some of us unashamedly say, I know what the Bible says but that’s not for me. I’m not going there. I’m going to settle for something less. Something easier. Something that works for me. I know it’s not what God wants but I’m just hoping he’ll forgive me. That’s what Terah did when he stopped in Haran. Haran is a symbolic place of compromise. Haran is symbolic of people who only go half way in their faith. It’s the place you live when you are more interested in pleasing yourself than pleasing God. But God doesn’t call us to settle. He calls us to obey. And that’s what we see now in chapter 12. The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1 That’s like God telling you to: Leave the Wisconsin, leave your Menomonie homies, even leave your family business and move to Canada or Mexico. You will never see your friends or extended family again. That’s a big risk. And that takes faith…even in today’s world with airplanes, smart phones and Skype to stay connected. You can imagine then. But Abram obeyed God because he was more

 

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concerned about pleasing God than staying comfortable. He was more concerned about pleasing God than keeping other people happy. Abram was willing to offend his family and move 1000 miles away if that’s what it took to please God. God said, if you do that, I’ll bless 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. Genesis 12:2,3 God says, look, I know I’m asking you to sacrifice a lot…to take a big risk. But I’m going to make it up to you. I’m going to give back to you much more than you give up. I want you to look at this promise because this promise is God’s promise to us…individually and as a church. When you choose to obey God’s calling you inherit this blessing. You inherit a purpose. Your purpose in life…our purpose as a community…is to bless others. When you obey God’s call to follow you will be blessed and you will be a blessing. And even when people curse you it won’t matter because God will protect you. What I want you to see here is that the promise of blessing doesn’t go to people who settle. The promise of blessing goes to people that obey God. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventyfive years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Genesis 12:4,5 Did you catch that? Look at this… Terah & Co.… went out …in order to enter the land of Canaan; and …went as far as Haran, and settled there. Abraham & Co.… set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. These passages are mirror images of each other. The only difference is in the outcome. Terah settled. Abram arrived. That was his reputation. He wasn’t a Procrastinator like Terah. He wasn’t someone who settled. He was one who arrived. That’s what I want for you too. I want that to be your reputation. When people talk about you I went them to say that you never settle for anything less than what fully honors God. I’ve known a lot of people through the years and I’ve gotten to see the fruit of their decisions. God blesses obedient people with good fruit. Trust me, it’s worth it. Let me challenge different groups of people before I close today: If you are in school, don’t settle to just get by and party as much as you can. Give it your best shot. You’ll never get these years back.

 

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If you are married don’t settle for a boring marriage. Work at it. Make it the best you can. If you are in debt, don’t settle for being in debt. Get out of debt and start blessing others. If you are at odds with someone, don’t settle for anger and broken relationships. Learn to forgive. If you have wealth, don’t settle for a self-indulgent lifestyle. Practice generosity. Couples: don’t settle for living together. If you think God wants you together, get married. If you aren’t sure…then wait. Don’t try to have it both ways. God calls us to be people of covenant relationships not convenient relationships. Retirees, there’s more to life than traveling, playing with grandchildren, and finding the perfect condo in Del Boca Vista, Florida. You are in a perfect time of life to serve others. Finally, if you call yourself a Christian, don’t settle for being merely religious. Get to know God the best you can. Abraham’s unwillingness to settle made him the Father of Faith. He’s our example. I want to follow in his footsteps. And I want you to follow in them too. Let’s not settle for just having good intentions. Let’s fulfill them. Prayer: Father, we all want to live for you. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here this morning. We all want to live a life of significance. But we hear Haran calling. Help us to hear your voice louder and clearer than the voice of Haran. Might we not settle for anything less than obeying you fully. Amen. Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection or to discuss with family, friends or small group. (Don’t have a small group? Invite a couple friends to discuss with you.) 1. Read Genesis 11:31,32. Terah was headed to Canaan but settled and eventually died in Haran. What is the significance of these two verses? 2. Remy talked about a number of ways that people “settle” in life. What are some ways that you have settled in life through the years? 3. What are some of the reasons that you have settled? If you chose to move on, what caused you to move on from being settled? 4. Are you aware of churches that have “settled” into a comfort zone and missed their true calling? What are signs of that happening? 5. Read Genesis 12:1-6. In verse one it says that “The LORD said to Abram…” How do you think God spoke to Abram? If God were to call you to do something how might you hear his voice? Do you have enough quiet in your life to hear God’s voice? 6. Abram and his family were moon worshippers (we know this from the names of the people in the family). Nevertheless God spoke to Abram and called him to be the father of the faith. What is the implication of this for people far from God today?

 

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7. What are some factors that might have worked against Abram obeying God? What were factors that might have helped him to obey God? 8. Give examples of how God’s blessing to Abram could also apply to you and our church. What would that blessing look like? 9. The blessing went to the one who obeyed, not the one who settled. What are you willing to do to not settle for something less than God’s best in your life?

Abraham: Learning to live by faith. Part Two: Reckless Abandonment on God

Outline: 1. Abram went forth in response to a call. 2. God’s call is… • to leave the old. • to embrace the new. We are taking a four week look at the person the Bible calls The Father of Our Faith: Abraham. Open up to Genesis 12 where we meet Abraham. Actually, at this point his name is just Abram. Abram was living with his family in northern Syria in a town called Haran. When his father died God spoke to him. The Lord had said to Abram, Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1 You know, it’s probably not coincidental that God spoke to Abram after his dad died. That’s a natural time of transition when we look for direction. There are many times of transition like this in our lives: when someone dies but also whenever there is a change. It might be you move away to college. It might be when you get married or have a child. It might be when you divorce or you have an empty nest. It’s in those moments of upheaval that God will often speak and give you direction. So if you are in transition today, be listening because God is probably speaking. He wants to show you your next step. If you look at my notes my first point says: Abraham went forth in response to a call. There’s a very basic principle here: God speaks to us. He’s not a distant force. He’s personal and he wants to give us the direction that we are looking for. He wants to help us navigate our lives so we can find success and be a blessing to others.

 

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Maybe that’s a new concept to you today. I’m sure most of us believe that God exists. Hopefully you believe that God loves you. But do you believe that he speaks to you? I think he speaks to us every day: encouraging us, correcting us, directing us. You might say, not me. That never happens to me. Sure it does. God is speaking to you right now. You just need to find the right frequency. You need to learn how to hear God’s voice. Hearing God’s voice means reflecting on what you hear each day and then learning to be sensitive to what stands out to you as true. For example, I might read ten pages of the Bible today. Somewhere in those ten pages God probably has a word just for me. So I need to reflect on those words and ask God to impress on me what specifically he wants me to know or do. Or I might talk to twenty people today. Most of it will be interesting. Some of might not be. But somewhere among all the words I hear God probably will tell me something. I need to reflect on what people say and see if anything stands out to me as a word from God. Or sometimes hearing from God just means reflecting on my own thoughts. I will probably have a thousand thoughts run through my brain today and so will you. Some of those thoughts are from God. If you work at it you’ll start to develop an ability to discern which of those thoughts are from God. It’s a discipline of filtering out certain inputs, or turning them down, and learning to identify the God thoughts. So I want to encourage you to listen for the voice of God because he’s speaking. Trust me, if he spoke to Abram, he’s speaking to you. Abram was a moon worshipper. He had no Bible, no church, no pastor, and no congregation to help him hear from God. You are way ahead of Abram. Then once you hear God’s voice it’s very important how you respond. Today I just want to look at God’s call to Abram and see what we can learn from it. The first thing to know is that when God calls you, God calls you to leave the old and embrace the new. The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” God’s call is FROM something, TO something. That implies a leaving. A separation. I think this is something people have problems with today. We don’t like leaving one thing to achieve another. We prefer to have both. We don’t want to limit our options. We like keeping our options open. We don’t like to commit. That’s why people channel surf or have picture inside a picture on their television because they don’t want to miss anything. That’s why couples live together or kids live at home well into their 20’s. That’s why some people are perpetually looking for a church. And that’s why companies offer their customers reward programs. They know we won’t commit to them unless we get something back in return.

 

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I’m not trying to pick on us. I’m just pointing out the obvious. We are commitment averse. We don’t like limiting our options. That’s why Abram’s response to God’s call is so radical to us today. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventyfive years old when he set out from Haran. 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. Genesis 12:4,5 Abram heard God’s call and he obeyed. He just packed up and left everything behind. God gave us this story as an example of what it means to live by faith. People of faith aren’t afraid to leave their past and burn their bridges because they are convinced that God has something new for them. They don’t need to keep their options open. We see this illustrated in the beginning of the Bible where God called Adam to leave his family and join his wife. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 Adam needed to bring a full separation with his family so he could start a new family. God didn’t want Adam and Eve living in either one of their parent’s basements. There needed to be an end of one relationship so a new one could take place. Many marriages struggle because one or both of the spouses never emotionally leave their family. They are continually conflicted because they feel a double allegiance. Many people fail spiritually for this same reason. They never fully break from their past to follow Jesus. Rather than leave their old life and follow God with all their heart, they just try to add Jesus in the mix of everything they are doing and it doesn’t work that way. So when God calls it involves a leaving, a forsaking of what was in order to embrace what God calls you to. That’s the picture that God wants us to have when we consider following him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put this in stark terms. He said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Or how about this quote from Oswald Chambers: If you debate for even one second when God has spoken, it is all over for you. Never start to say, “Well I wonder if He really did speak to me?” Be reckless immediately—totally unrestrained and willing to risk everything—by casting your all upon Him. You do not know when His voice will come to you, but whenever the realization of God comes, even in the faintest way imaginable, be determined to recklessly abandon yourself, surrendering everything to Him. It is only through abandonment of yourself and your circumstances that you will recognize Him. You will only recognize His voice more clearly through recklessness— being willing to risk your all.” My Utmost for His Highest, June 18

 

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Did you hear about, Felix Baumgartner, the skydiver who jumped from 24 miles up? This guy understands what it means to have reckless abandonment. He made a radical commitment. Once he left his space capsule there was no turning back. But reckless abandonment isn’t just “from” something, the capsule. Felix abandoned himself “to” something, the flight down. Dropping 24 miles through space requires serious focus and physical strength. He had to be fully engaged to successfully complete his task. This is what I want you to see here: the call of God is often hard. I think some of us are under the false impression that God’s call is easy, or at least, problem free. But just like Felix faced life and death, the call of God might be a matter of life and death too. When our life doesn’t turn out like we thought we get disillusioned. We are tempted to doubt God and turn back to our old life. But God will often call us to hard things. And we need to be willing to embrace the hard things that come our way. Abram’s story is interesting because when Abram got to Canaan, what did he find? A famine. Thanks God. I’m so glad I followed your call. But what does Abram do? Does he turn around and go back home? Not at all. Abram was all in. He came too far to turn back. He chose to trust God knew what he was doing. Everything would work out. Last year my daughter went on the World Race. That’s a worldwide mission trip where you travel to eleven countries in eleven months. She left with 50 team members but eleven months later she returned with only half her team. 24 kids went home starting with the first month; they thought God called them until the reality of what they were doing sank in. Some of them had trouble leaving: they got homesick. Others liked leaving home but they couldn’t embrace the mission: it was too hard. But when God calls you, he calls you to not only leave something old, but embrace a new life. Don’t be half-hearted about God’s call. First, make sure you’ve heard from God. Then, if you are sure, be all in. And if you land in darkness, be the light. Another good example of following God’s call is a couple right here at Cedarbrook. Five years ago Joe and Charl Draxler heard about our effort to raise money to dig wells with Living Water International. At first they wanted to give to the fundraising but then Joe felt called to help dig the wells. And Charl wanted to help the villagers about good hygiene. Since then they have helped to dig 50 wells in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti. In fact, they just got home from a trip to Haiti. They understand what it takes to follow the call of God. It hasn’t been easy, but their commitment has made them effective in helping others. So let me close by asking you: what is God calling you to do today? Maybe you’ve heard the call of God but have been afraid to follow. You are afraid you can’t do it. Or maybe you hear God calling you to a new level of obedience. Maybe you’ve been ignoring God on some moral issue and you know it’s time to obey him. Or maybe you hear him calling you to take a risk, or to rise to a new challenge, but you fear you’ll fall short.

 

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I want to encourage you to follow in Abram’s footsteps. Make a full commitment to leave your old life in the past and fully embrace what God has called you to. Prayer: You are speaking to all of us today. You are calling some to follow you for the first time. You are calling others to obey at a new level. Some are being called to try something new, to step out of their comfort zone. Help us to respond with the faith of Abram…a faith that makes a full commitment, trusting that you are a god that can create something from nothing. Amen. Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection or to discuss with family, friends and small group. 1. Reflect on a time when you had to move away from a known place in life: maybe to camp, college, or another city/state. What was hard? What was good? 2. Read Genesis 12:1-3. What did God require from Abram in his calling? 3. What did God offer to Abram in his calling? What did God get out of this deal? 4. Read Hebrews 11:1-8. What do you learn about faith from this passage? How do the people mentioned exemplify faith? What did Noah and Abraham have in common? 5. Our need to know, understand and control often fight against a life of faith. Discuss your own need to know, understand and control your life. How does that manifest? Be honest! 6. The apostle Paul said “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). How have some people misused that verse? That is, some people have used the idea of walking by faith as an excuse for what? 7. How do we find the balance between truly walking by faith, trusting in God to meet our needs and not doing our due diligence to prepare and plan? 8. What are some things you think God has called you to do but you’ve been afraid to venture out in obedience? Discuss and pray for one another. Consider stage of life ventures: marriage, singleness, parenthood, loss of loved one, divorce, etc.

 

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Abraham: Learning to Live by Faith Part Three: Faith is not wishful thinking

Notes: 1. God called Abram to obey before he gave him all the details. 2. Abram went forth with no Plan B in place. 3. Faith is not wishful thinking. Faith is having confidence in something even though you don’t presently see it. 4. The Bible refers to Abraham as a faith hero even though he doubted. 5. The essence of a faith that pleases God is trusting in what God can do not what you can do. Message: We are looking at how to live by faith. How do you hear the call of God and then how do you follow the call of God? You know, the call of God is often vague. For example, you might feel like God calls you to marry someone. But you have no idea what your life will be like on the other side of marriage. Or you might feel called to pursue a certain career. But you have no guarantees of what that career will bring you. Sometimes our calling isn’t something we choose but something that is thrust upon us. Maybe you lost your marriage through divorce. Or you lost your health through some kind of disease. Or you lost a loved one through death. Managing your hardship is now part of your calling…something you face every day. You might face these hardships and say, “I don’t think I can do this.” So my question today is: how do we follow God’s call when we know so little about it? Or how do we follow God’s call when we don’t think we can do it? I’m going to take us right back to the same verses we’ve been looking at for the last two weeks. Let me remind you of the story. Abram is in a town called Haran, in modern day Syria, and God calls him to move to modern day Israel: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1 Look at the last part of God’s call. It says that God called him to a land that he would show him. He called Abram to obey without giving him all of the details. That means…God didn’t give a full color brochure on Canaan to help him decide. In our culture today we might imagine God inviting Abram to fly down to Canaan for the weekend to see what he thought.

 

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Hey…check it out. See if you like it. See if it works for you. Make sure your kids are happy and the schools are good. Check out the housing market and the shopping centers. I want to make sure you feel good about this move. But God didn’t show Abram any brochures. God offered Abram a one way ticket to an unknown place. Abram didn’t get to commute back to Haran on the weekends. When he left Haran he was totally committed. There was no going back. The book of Hebrews comments on Abram’s life… By faith Abraham, …obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 That means there were no guarantees. There were no details. Faith means not knowing all the details. It reminds me of when Lisa and I first moved to Wisconsin twenty years ago with two other families to live on a farm. We didn’t have a ten-year plan. We had never farmed. We had never lived in community. All we knew is that we believed this was something God wanted us to do. We came to the farm not knowing exactly what we were doing. And it’s the same with marriage or parenting, right? You do your best to prepare but you don’t really know what you are getting into. Or it’s like starting this church. We knew we felt called by God but we had no idea what to expect. None of us had been part of a new church before. You know, if God showed us the details of what’s involved in things like Marriage or parenting or starting churches or businesses; we’d probably never do anything, right? God knows that about us. That’s why he didn’t give Abram the details in advance. He waited until Abram got there. So this is what I want you to see about Abram. He didn’t follow God’s call because he had all the details. He followed God because he trusted that God had all the details. Faith follows God ot knowing where it’s going. Faith trusts that God knows exactly where you are going. The book of Hebrews has a chapter entirely devoted to the meaning of faith And it uses Abraham as its example. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 Now, this is an important distinction. Faith isn’t wishful thinking. Did you notice the words: “sure” and “certain”. We use the word hope today differently than the Bible does. When I say, I hope Lisa buys me a new car for my birthday, I’m basically saying, I know it won’t happen but it would sure be nice. Or I might say, I hope it snows soon. I hope the Vikings win the Super Bowl. It’s all wishful thinking. The word “hope” is a very weak word to us.

 

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But that’s not true in the Bible. In the Bible, the word “hope” is a very strong word. It’s a word of certainty. You only hope in something you know will happen. I’m full of hope because I know the sun will rise in the morning. Even though I don’t see it at night I’m confident it will be there at 6am. When I plant a seed in the ground I’m hopeful of what will grow, even though I don’t see anything for a number of days until the seed germinates. So faith isn’t wishful thinking. Faith is having confidence in the reality of something even when you don’t presently see it. Hebrews goes on to help us here. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3 Hebrews tells us that what is visible today came from what was once invisible. Unseen. Nothing existed before the world began but that didn’t prevent God from creating something from nothing. So faith isn’t just having confidence that something will happen. Faith is having confidence in the God… who can make something happen. To Abram, this meant that it didn’t matter if Canaan was a beautiful paradise when he got there or Siberia. Abram knew that God could make something good out of nothing. God could transform Canaan into something great overnight if he wanted to. The same is true for us. Don’t look at what you don’t have and grow discouraged. You might be a new graduate from college and say, how will I ever get a job? My resume is so thin. The economy is so bad. But God doesn’t need a good resume or economy to find you a job. Those are circumstances. Faith doesn’t trust in what is seen but what is unseen. Or you might be newly divorced and say, how can I ever hope to be married again? I don’t even know how to date. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life alone. But don’t judge your future by your circumstances. God makes things out of nothing. Or don’t look at your failing marriage and say: it will never be good. We fight all the time. No. You’re putting your eyes on the wrong thing. You are putting your eyes on your weaknesses. Faith puts its eyes on God. Our circumstances can’t make something from nothing. But God can. And so Abram went forth not knowing where he was going but confident in the God who called him. Do you see that? You can face any obstacle in life if you are confident that God is with you and will help you face your problems. God says, Come on, let’s go. You’ve got a financial problem? You can do this. I’ll help you. You’ve got a marital problem? Don’t give up. Come on. You can do this. I’m going to help you make this happen. Or maybe you just lost a loved one and you don’t think you can deal with the grief. But God says, take my hand. It won’t be easy but I’ll walk you through this one. You see, God is always calling us to step out in faith to tackle something. Too often people pray these wimpy prayers, like, Oh, God, come please solve all my problems for me. Then we sit back and do nothing. And God is like, I will help you solve this problem. But I want you to step up

 

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and take responsibility. Take action. Do something. I want to work as a team on this. So come…walk with me. Let’s go on a journey together and conquer this beast. Now, this might encourage you. Abram didn’t always have faith. Abram doubted too. When he got to Canaan there was a famine in the land. Then he got involved in a small war. So life was not easy. And to make things worse his wife was unable to have children. Abram probably thought that would change when he got to Canaan. So one day Abram isn’t feeling so good. He’s feeling sorry for himself. To be honest, he’s scared to death. He’s lost his faith and the Bible says that Abram has a vision where he talks to God: … the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." 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?" And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." Do you see what he was doing? He was looking at what was “seen”, his circumstances. He was looking at his barren wife and his servant. He was so discouraged he even questioned God saying, “What can you give me.” He asks the God of the Universe what he can possibly do. Abram decided he needed to help God. He goes, God, I know this is hard for you. So look, just bless my servant with a child and we’ll call it good. If I was God, I’d be insulted. But God calmly says… 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." 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." Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 God says, Abram, thanks for offering to help me but I don’t need any help. I’m going to do something in you that you can’t believe right now. Not only will you have a child but the descendants from that one child will be like the stars in the sky. And Abram believed God. Faith doesn’t trust what is seen. Faith trusts what is unseen. Faith is trusting in God’s ability to make something happen, not your circumstances. You know, my guess is that some of us are in a barren place right now. Nothing is working for you. It’s been that way for a long time. You don’t see anything happening. And you might be on the verge of giving up. But if you only knew how good God is and what he can do in your life. You see, I can say that because I’ve been in that barren place and I’ve seen God bless me. I thought God called me to pastor a church. I thought God would have me start a church. But I ended up milking cows on a farm and I wasn’t even attending church at the time. The likelihood of me ever pastoring a church was about as possible as Sarah having a baby. One night I walked the cows out to the field and the stars were out. I was feeling bad about my situation. I felt like all my dreams for ministry were dead. And I looked up and these words to

 

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Abram came to mind. I felt like God said…you have no idea what I’m going to do through you. And for a minute I was filled with faith and actually thought that I might pastor a church some day. In fact, within a year I was working at Our Saviors Lutheran Church. The next year I was an associate pastor at the Alliance Church. The next year I started seminary. And a few years later we started Cedarbrook. God called a church into existence from nothing. So, if you are in a barren place, I want you to remember what I’ve already said: Faith isn’t trusting in what’s seen. It’s trusting in what’s unseen. God told Abram: 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. Genesis 12:2,3 God’s call is empowered by God. He gives you what you need to obey his call. So even if you don’t know the details of what God wants you to do or don’t believe you have the wisdom or the strength to do it, it doesn’t matter. God will give you what you need when you need it. Prayer: Father, we admit it: we want a crystal ball so we can see the future. We want to know in advance that everything will be okay. But that’s not the life of faith. We understand now that Faith isn’t trusting in what’s seen but what’s unseen. Help us to relax right now, take a deep breath, and put our trust in you. You aren’t asking us to do more. You are asking us to trust you to give us all that we need.

Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection or to discuss with family, friends and small group. 1. Mention some thing you hope will happen. Mention some things you know will happen. 2. Read Hebrews 11:1. What is the difference between how we define “hope” today and in the Bible? How does our definition of hope play into our definition of faith? 3. Is your faith more about wishful thinking or certainty? Why? How does that impact your daily life/spiritual life? 4. Read Hebrews 11:2-8. How do these people embody faith? What do they share in common? 5. Read Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 16:1-6. In both cases, Abram’s faith fell short of having confidence in God. How did his lack of faith cause him problems? 6. Read Hebrews 11:8-12. How do you account for this favorable rendering of Abraham when we know he doubted? What does that tell you about how God looks at you? 7. Faith has to do with being confident in God without seeing the evidence in advance. What was it in Hebrews 11:10,13-16 that Abraham was looking for that enabled him to keep following God with confidence? What does that mean in practical terms for you today? 8. What things have you sensed God calling you to do but have hesitated because you didn’t “see” anything that made it look possible? Does this study give you any more confidence to go forward even though you can’t point to any visible proof of God’s calling?

 

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9. Pray for God to fill you with faith and for the courage to follow God’s call on your life.

Bonus Material: In speaking about God’s call I had two more points that I never mentioned. God’s call is not always reasonable either. It doesn’t always make sense. I’m sure Abram’s family thought he was crazy. Why on earth would he leave the safety of his community to follow the calling of a god no one had heard of before? Abram’s family worshipped the moon. At least you could see the moon. It seemed to have an effect on people. But this god of Abram…what was that all about? Most families are fine with you being religious. They don’t mind you going to church on Sunday or getting married in a church or getting your kids baptized or dedicated. But when your religion impacts your lifestyle, now that’s going a little far. They don’t always appreciate your choices. They don’t always like you cutting back on the partying or devoting time to serving others. They might even get mad at you, like, who do you think you are, Mr. Holier Than Thous. Are you trying to make us look bad? You see, when you follow the call of God you have to learn how deal with that kind of criticism otherwise you’ll compromise your faith. You’ll please your friends and family rather than God. The next point here is God’s call is unconditional and sovereign. Some of you might wonder why God would bother to call you. You look at your life and say, who am I that God would call me? Not only am I ordinary I’ve done some bad things. But that’s what I love about Abram’s story. Abram drops into the Bible story from nowhere. It’s not like we learn about how great a man he was, how spiritual he was, and then God calls him. That would make sense. But no, God just calls him for no reason other than he wants to. That’s why my next point says that God’s call is unconditional and sovereign. Unconditional means that Abram didn’t do anything to deserve the call. He wasn’t the top of his class or the most spiritual guy on the planet. There were no requirements. And sovereign means that God called him simply because he wanted to and no one can argue with God. I have to remind myself of this all the time. I shake my head all the time and say, God, why me? Why did you call me to pastor this church? There’s many people more qualified. Many people more educated. Many people more gifted to lead. And the answer is…it’s not about you. It’s about me. I chose you because I felt like it…not because you deserved it. You need to understand this because I think a lot of people push away doing great things because they don’t think they are worthy of great things. They don’t think they deserve it. But God is

 

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more interested in your willingness to do something great than your ability to do something great.

 

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