Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal. Chart and compass came from thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me. – UMH509
Let’s begin with reading about Abram in Genesis 12.1-9. “Father Abraham” is a familiar children’s song that teaches us about the promise of God to a create a nation built on faith in God’s Word. Faith is culturally defined by New Oxford American Dictionary as “trust, belief, confidence, conviction, optimism, hopefulness, and hope” and “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Faith in itself requires consistent behavior that happens over a long period of time. Our whole lives are devoted to the cause of Christianity and that makes us faithful. True Christianity is not a moment of surrender with no follow through. True Christianity requires longevity, and we see that in the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis.
We can read about Abraham and all the patriarchs who walked by faith in what I like to call the “New Testament Faith Hall of Fame.” This “hall of fame” is recorded in the Letter called Hebrews (Heb. 11). I love how Paul writes about Christian faith in Hebrews, saying, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Heb. 10.39-11.1). And, this faith is what is required of us who are Christians today.
Let’s read Hebrews 11.
God calls Abram to abandon everything and follow God to a new life by faith. Abram’s radical obedience becomes the model of faith in the Old Testament and for Christians everywhere (Gal. 3.6).
Abram’s faith provides the answer to the problem of sin and prideful rebellion that has escalated since the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) and culminated in the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). The opening words of our passage today draw us away from the Abram’s family tree to one historical figure of our faith-heritage, Abram, who will soon be renamed Abraham.
Before we dig into Abraham’s conversion, call, and commission. I want to take a broad sweep of his lifestory, and then we will narrow our focus to our passage today. To fully grasp Abraham’s character we really have to read across the pages of Genesis from Genesis 11 through chapter 25. Jewish tradition would hold that Abraham knew Noah and grew up hearing the stories of creation and the flood. His life spanned 175 years. Which gave him many years to live into this faithfulness. What we know most about is Abraham’s life from age 75 to 100. The details that are written down in the bible help us to understand how God spoke to Abraham and guided him through this critical season until the fulfillment of God’s covenant with him.
After Abraham’s conversion, call, and commission in Genesis 12.1-9, Abraham is challenged with various crises: famines, quarreling with his Nephew Lot, cultural immorality at Sodom & Gomorrah, War between 9 kings, and the enslavement of Lot. He gave up his land to Lot, and gave his wife away twice. He attempted to fulfill God’s promise through a concubine Hagar who would bear his son Ismael. Troubles were part of the package of following God into this new land of promise. Abraham was not promised an easy life!
Through all the trials and troubles, Abraham walked the land of promise traveling from place to place and making peace treaties with the people of the land. He pitched his tent and built altars to God at Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Beer-sheba calling on the name of the Almighty and Everlasting God. He was titled a prophet by God himself, and revered among the people of the land.
Abraham heard God’s voice and followed. He beheld visions and visitations from God and his angels. He had dreams from God. To be sure Abraham had a rich life of spiritual encounters with Yahweh. But perhaps the most significant aspect of his story is the promise of a nation. Three times God promises Abraham that he would have descendants like the “dust of the earth” (Gen. 13.16), the “stars in the sky” (Gen. 15.5), and the “sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22.17). What a promise! This promise would extend all the way to Jesus the Christ. Abraham is Jesus’ great-great-great (42 times) -grandfather! And, he is our grandfather, too!
Let’s dig a little deeper into the story!
God Speaks. God first spoke to Abram in Genesis 12.1-3. The first sign of personal relationship between Abram and God begins here. Here is the new beginning for Abram, and it begins with a personal relationship with God speaking to directly to him! The Hebrew language “the Lord said” means that God is speaking directly to Abram and these are the words that God said to him. The word “said” ראָמַ amar here never appears without words of speech and generally means a direct quote. These are the words attributed to God directly and we could translate this text: “with these words God addressed Abram…”
God has spoken before. The first time we heard God speaking was at the beginning of all creation. God’s voice was the catalyst for new beginnings. The whole world created (sun, moon, stars, plants, and animals) designed for human beings to have dominion over.
Remember these words from the creation story in Genesis 1.26-31: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a]and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
God still speaks today. Henry Blackaby in his bible study entitled “Experiencing God” helps us to understand how God speaks to us today. According to Blackaby, there are seven realities in our experience of God. God is at work around us. God desires a relationship with us. God invites us to become involved with his work. God speaks to us in various ways to reveal himself and his purpose to us. When God calls us to respond to his great love for us through faith and action, it leads us to a crisis of belief. When we say yes to God, it requires us to make adjustments to our lifestyle. As we obey God, we experience God.
To be sure God is always speaking. We Wesleyans call that prevenient grace. God is always with us wooing us into an ongoing relationship. We experience God many ways before we know him personally through nature and other people. I am amazed at when people encounter God, they are able to articulate who God is.
In Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek, the king of Salem referred to God as “God Most High” or “El Elyon” (Gen. 14.17-22). When Hagar experienced God for the first time, she called his name “El Roi” or the “God who sees me” (Gen. 16.11-14). When God confirms his covenant with Abraham, God calls himself “El Shaddai” or “God of the Mountains” (Gen. 17.1-3, 35.11, 48.3, 49.25).
When Abraham made a treaty with Abimelek, Abraham called on the name of Lord, “the Eternal God” or “El Olam” (Gen. 21.33). And, when Abraham took Isaac to the mountaintop for the sacrifice, Abraham called on the name of the Lord God “Jehovah-Jirah” or “The Lord will Provide” (Gen. 22.13). We see over and over in the Scriptures that when God speaks… when God shows up… people respond with more knowledge about who God is! God invests in personally revealing himself to his people.
God Invites. God invited Abram to “go” and “walk” the length and breathe of the land. The command to Abram from God is for him to “go” הָלַךְ halak to leave country, people, and household. God called Abram to let go of all the familiarity of his homeland, his people, and his father’s home in order to enter into the promises of God. I love how John Wesley measured Abram’s call. In Wesley’s words Abram had to “trust God farther than he saw him” (Notes, 18.104.22.168). Abram was called to walk the land רָאָה ra’ah that God would show him. Perhaps a better translation would be “walk this land that I want you to become acquainted with…”
God Blesses. When God invited Abram into this ongoing relationship, God extended a promise to Abram. These promises are actuated upon his obedience to “go” and “walk.” The promise revealed God’s plan to bless בָּרַךְ barak the whole world through one man named Abram. You will become a great nation, a great name, a great blessing to those who bless you, and all people of earth will be blessed by you. The word blessing in the Hebrew means to be endued with power for success, prosperity, and fertility. There is a consequence to this great blessing: those who curse Abram will find themselves cursed. Not only is God blessing Abram, he is also defending his honor. If you talk bad about Abram, you will find yourself in a sticky situation with God turning his back on you!
Abram Believed. What is Abram’s response to God’s invitation? Check out Genesis 12.4, So Abram went… Abram simply obeyed. He didn’t procrastinate or dream up some other reason for delaying his departure. He obeyed. Abram left the Mesopotamia Region to follow God into unknown territory. Abram
So Abram went as God instructed him… Abram and Sarai left the Tigris and Euphrates River basin which is consider the very cradle of civilization to discover a new rugged terrain populated with challenging people groups they had never before encountered. A new land with lots of new people would prove perplexing for Abram with famines and wars, questionable immorality and puzzling family dynamics.
So Abram went into this new land when he was 75 years old… Just went you think God has a great plan, then we discover that he has chosen not a youngling but someone who has some age and life experience. God chose someone who wasn’t a “spring chicken” as my grandmother would say. In God’s economy age is not a factor in your calling to be a blessing to the land and its people. So Abram went… he went as God instructed… and he went when faithfully in spite of his age.
Walk by Faith. Faith comes by way of crisis, adjustment, and obedience to God’s direction for our lives. God’s promises aren’t fulfilled overnight!! Abram is faced with many obstacles along the journey of his faithful obedience. The stories in Abram’s journey teach us so much about God’s call and blessing. We can witness the significant problems that Abram faces, and yet, God continues to assist Abram. Abram remains faithful to God in spite of the difficulties he faced.
Oswald Chambers writes, “Every man is made to reach out beyond his grasp.” The real heresy we face today is whether we live by faith in God for our own interest or for God’s interests. Modernity has left us with gigantic egos of self-importance rather than God-importance.
We fail to understand God’s economy when we place one person’s vision above the whole Body of Christ. The whole Body of Christ by consensus must move forward together, but that does not mean we won’t have disagreements about it. Consensus does not mean everyone will be onboard with the God’s direction for our lives.
Sometimes God’s people can be confused about God’s plan just like Abram. Abram was given his word from God to help ground him on the journey. Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans and followed God into the unknown land of promise. He had no idea where he was going! Calling was the key for Abram’s faithfulness in the journey.
The Lord appeared to Abram and promised him an offspring and land. Abram built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. Abram revisited the altar and called on the name of the Lord. God promises offspring, land, and descendants. God spoke and Abram listened. God visited and Abram welcomed. God gave visions and Abram believed. Abram walked the land, built altars for sacrificial giving at Bethel (12.8, 13.3-4) and Hebron (13.18), and called on the Name of the Lord (12.8, 13.4).
Then God speaks to us in a deeper, more profound way which Wesley would call the means of grace. Wesley understood that God could speak to us through communion, prayer, the reading of Scripture, fasting, and holy conferencing (meetings). The first place that we witness communion in the Scripture is here in Abram story with the King of Salem Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. Here in Abram’s story bread and wine are offered and Abram provides the first tithe to Melchizedek (Gen. 14.18-20). Communion has always been considered a means of grace in the Body of Christ, although various denominations understand communion differently. Jesus Christ instituted communion at the Last Supper and the church has practiced this remembrance since inception.
Tithing became an essential part of worship for God’s covenant people. The prophet Malachi invites God’s people to return to their faithful giving, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Mal. 3.10).
What I love most about Blackaby’s understanding about experiencing God is what he describes as a crisis of belief and adjustment. The crisis of belief always requires faith and action, and that means adjustments to our lifestyle. To describe this crisis in a more modern context I want to share a story with you about a 15 year old young man named Charles.
A New Beginning. I first met Charles in the Emergency Room as he and the flight team came barreling through the hospital facility. Charles had been flown in from an outlying community where he had been riding an all-terrain vehicle with his buddy. The driver had over corrected on gravel and turned the vehicle over on its side catching Charles’ leg underneath. Charles was overwhelmed with pain as the staff worked to save his leg.
Charles went into surgery that night uncertain as to whether his leg would be amputated. The doctor made every effort to restore his leg, and the recovery process was grueling. In the early days of his recovery Charles had several reconstructive surgeries and with each one his life was held in balance between life and death. Infection had set in and the medications were failing to do their job. In a desperate plea for God’s intervention Charles called for the chaplain. As I walked into the hospital room that day, my mind went back over all the moments I had been present with Charles.
I knew that Charles had been raised in church and his family members were faithful people. When I first met Charles in the Emergency Room, all he could do was to call out for his mom to forgive him. She had instructed him not to go ATV riding that day.
He repeated over and over, If I die, make sure mom knows that I am sorry for not listening to her and doing what she said. He said, Tell her I got right with God and I’m going to be okay. I have never in my life seen such an openly repentant heart that desired nothing but goodness. Charles realized he had to make peace with God and his mother. Charles was secure in his peace of mind that God was with him.
But his final cry was what caught my attention, Oh, God! Will I be able to play baseball this year? You see he loved baseball; it had been his whole life. He truly understood that his life was forever changed by this decision he had made. And, my calling as a chaplain was to help Charles imagine the possibilities of his uncertain future.
On that day as I walked into the room the smell of the infection was overwhelming, and I knew Charles was close to the veil between life and death. The presence of God was strong and I could just imagine the holy angels of God around his bed ministering to him, his family, and his teammates who had come to visit.
As I entered the room Charles called to me, Chaplain, I’m glad you are here. I know when you pray God hears you. I have felt your prayers before. I feel like I am dying, and I want you to pray for me. I apologized to my mom, and she has forgiven me. If God takes my life, pray that my family and teammates will be okay. But I want to live, and play baseball again. The doctor says I don’t have much of a chance. Will you pray? And, so we prayed. In our prayer time with family and friends around his bed, God touched his heart with the fire of the Holy Spirit and Charles saw Jesus in a vision. Charles cried out, I feel God healing me! I sensed the power of God healing him, too. Charles had been suffering from a blood infection, and from that moment forward Charles began to heal.
It took weeks of recovery, but Charles would eventually leave the hospital to go to a rehabilitation facility. At the rehabilitation facility his courage was astounding. No one expected him to walk again – except Charles.
The very first day that he walked on his very own two feet actually happened while I was visiting. He told me, God has given me the strength to walk. Thank you for believing in me! He was such a humble soul. He just needed someone to be his encourager from God’s perspective. When his doctors were telling him he would never walk, Charles needed someone to believe he could be “whole” in a new way. When the doctors were taking away his old life, Charles needed someone to give him hope for a new life.
After many weeks of rehabilitation, Charles returned to the hospital for another procedure. He called and asked me to stop by his room. I shared with Charles my own injury story of how I had played softball and sprained both my legs breaking out of the batters box to run for first. The loose sand had given way under my feet, and the injury had put me up for 6-weeks. After that incident, I gave up on my love for sports because I was afraid of reinjuring myself. I explained that living with regret is an awful feeling. If I had to do it over again, I would have kept up my love for sports but in a new way. And, I gave him my old softball glove. On my glove I wrote all the heroes of the Bible that inspired me with their Scripture references. I told him to never live with regret but to become all that he could be in this newly healed body, and I said good-bye.
A year passed by before I saw Charles again. He came in for his check up with the doctors, and then he came to see me. He couldn’t wait to show me that he was walking on crutches and by spring the doctors said he could play baseball again. He had been training with his teammates and keeping his arm warmed up during the off season. As he finished reliving the last several months that we had been apart, he arrived at the real reason for his visit.
Charles told me how he and his grandmother sat down together and read the stories of the bible that I had shared with him on my old softball glove. Then he asked me if it was okay for him to use my glove when he took the field in the spring. He had came to ask me if it was okay for him to keep the glove and use it.
From time to time I still carry a baseball around in my car or my purse to remember Charles’ amazing courage, his love for his family, and his awareness of God. When I look back over his story what lays hold of my heart the most is his understanding of his need for forgiveness, his repentant heart, and his desire to honor his mother. His heart attitude gave God room to move for the healing that needed to take place in his body.
Charles has an extraordinary story, but his story is not unlike any one of our own extraordinary stories. We have hurts in our lives that begin in our hearts that need to be healed with the deep reconciliation that we can only find in and through Christ’s example to us on the cross. May the peace that passes all understanding free your heart today to forgive and to be forgiven just as Charles did! Go in peace.