Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sermon for June 26, 2005

Faith Moves: Abram, the Ancestor of our Faith
Genesis 12:1‑8

In his book Waiting, author Ben Patterson tells the following story:
In 1988, three friends and I climbed Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Our base camp was less than 200 ft. from the peak. But our climb to the top and back was to take the better part of a day, due in large part to the difficulty of the glacier we had to cross to get to the top ... As the hours passed, the two more experienced mountaineers opened up a wide gap between me and my less‑experienced companion. Being competitive by nature, I began to look for shortcuts to beat them to the top. I thought I saw one to the right of an outcropping of rock ‑ so I went, deaf to the protests, of my companion.

Perhaps it was the effect of the high altitude, but the significance of the two experienced climbers not choosing this path did not register in my consciousness. It should have, for thirty minutes later I was trapped in a cul­-de‑sac of rock atop Lyell Glacier looking down several hundred feet of a sheer slope of ice, pitched at about a 45 degree angle. I was only about ten feet from the safety of a rock, but one little slip and I wouldn’t stop sliding until I landed in the valley floor some 50 miles away! I was stuck and I was scared.

It took an hour for my experienced climbing friends to find me. Standing on the rock I wanted to reach, one of the men leaned out and used an ice ax to chip two little footsteps in the glacier. Then he gave me the following instructions: “You must step out from where you are and put your foot where the first foothold is. When your foot touches it, without a moment's hesitation, swing your other foot across and land it on the next step. When you do that, reach out and I will take your hand and pull you to safety."

That sounded real good to me. It was the next thing he said that made me more frightened than ever: “Listen carefully. As you step across, do not lean into the mountain! If anything, lean out a bit. Otherwise, your feet may fly out from under you and you will start sliding down.” I don't like precipices. When I’m on the edge of a cliff, my instincts are to lie down and hug the mountain, to become one with it, not to lean away from it! But that was what my good friend was telling me to do. For a moment, based solely on what I believed to be the good will and good sense of my friend, I decided to say no to what I felt, to stifle my impulse to cling to the security of the mountain, to lean out, step out, and traverse the ice to safety. It took less than two seconds to find out if my faith was well founded.
God often calls people to do things that are the opposite of our natural leanings. God calls people out onto the precipice ‑ the edge of life ‑ the place where we must lean out, take a step, and move away from the places where we feel safe and secure. Over the summer, we are going to explore men and women of faith who stepped out in obedience to God's call. Today we begin a sermon series calling Faith Moves. We begin by looking at Abram, the ancestor of our faith.

Chapters 1-11 of the book of Genesis are depressing. In spite of culture, learning, and human advancement, the early inhabitants of the earth, starting with Adam and Eve, discovered that sin closes the door to Paradise, and that no amount of human effort or learning could re‑open it. The happiness that human beings lost in rebellion against God, and the state of isolation that resulted, was not one that humans could change by their own efforts. The account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is yet another unfolding account of humanity’s inability to reach God. The people of the earth decidedto build a tower that reached to the heavens to make name for themselves. But despite all the planning, preparing, and building that went into the tower, the result was confusion and rabble. Genesis 12 points us in the direction of a solution. Finally, God intervenes to do what his creation could not ‑ to bring people back into a right relationship with God. We are introduced to a man named Abram, and we begin to see God’s determination to save his people.

The details aren’t that clear, but God’s voice is unmistakable. God says, “Abram, get up and go, and I’ll lead you somewhere better. Get out of your safe and familiar surroundings, leave your loved ones, abandon your security and go where I will show you.” What would you do if you heard the instantly recognizable voice of God telling you to do that? I know myself well enough to know that I would make excuses: God, I can’t go right now. I have too much important work to do. God, My roots are here. I can’t live anywhere else. God, I'm too scared to go.”

Quite often, when God wants to use someone to accomplish something important, God stirs, and unsettles, and sometimes even uproots that person. What God is looking for in every generation is that man or woman who will listen, that teenager whom he can use; that individual who will follow God's directions to the letter ‑ that person who will strike out into the unknown in total, abandoned obedience to God. We, like Abram and Sarai, face daily challenges that may disturb our plans and cause us to rely on God.

Maybe God is calling you to do something risky with your faith, but you ask “What’s going to happen to my future? Will this lead to grief, disappointment, or disaster? Will somebody bring violence or harm to me or my family? Will I suffer some disaster?”

Maybe you are being called to reconcile a bad relationship. We face the demands of relationships every day; loving those who are hard to love, forgiving the offender; making up with those whom we’ve wronged, living up to our marriage vows, keeping our self‑promises, trying to be effective parents.

Maybe you are being called out of our comfort zone, to stretch yourself, to travel new pathways and gain new experiences.

For each of these conditions, I think we need to hear God's voice as never before. We need to hear that command of separation that says, “Come out and follow me.” It means putting our backs to the past and walking in a new direction of total devotion to God. Abram faced a mission that tested the limits of his faith up to that point. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew that his greatest blessing was to live in obedience to the call of God.

God also gave Abram and Sarai a promise. God promised to make them into a great nation, to bless them, and to make them a bless­ing to all the nations on earth. Before he left, Abram knew the consequences. His obedience would lead to great blessing.

There are always consequences to our decisions and actions, too. When we choose to rebel and sin against God, the consequences are severe: lives are broken, relationships are ruined, and there is ultimate condemnation from God. But when we are obedient, when we go God’s way, we reap God’s promised consequences, too. What God promises in his word, God does. Our own decisions, our own actions, determine how God’s word is fulfilled in our lives. If you wonder if your actions are in obedient to God’s expectations, ask yourself these questions:
- Are my actions consistent with loving God and loving others?
- Is this action true, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy?
- How will this action or decision influence my friendships, my marriage, and my relationship with my children?
- Do my actions line up with what I know about biblical teaching?
- How will this impact on my character and integrity?
- Will this action lead to sin, sorrow, and regret?

And who knows how the consequences of your actions will affect others later on? If the story of Abram teaches us anything, it shows us that what we see with our eyes is not all there is to see. If you are obedient, God will work his plan out through you so that others will know the promise of salvation.

A famous preacher named Tony Evans often tells about his family. His father and mother hated one another. Tony tells of growing up listening to his parents arguing, beating one another, even taking out knives to threaten each other at times. One day Tony’s father went to work and a co‑worker, demonstrating unbridled obedience to God, shared his faith. During a break he took Tony's father through the Bible and showed him how Christ had come to save sinners and restore relationships. It was just the hope that the father needed in his life. That day Tony’s father knew what it meant to have a relationship with God through Christ. And from that time on, every night around 2 AM, Tony’s father would sneak downstairs, read his Bible, and pray for his family. He prayed for peace between him and his wife. One night, while Tony’s dad was reading and praying, the mother come downstairs to pick a fight. The wife said, “I want to know what’s going on around here. Every time I try to be mean to you, you’re nice. Every time I try to get mad at you, you forgive me. I don’t know what happened to you, but whatever you have, I want it.” That night, the forgiving grace of God was revealed to Tony’s mother, and his family’s life was changed. The parents led all their children to know and follow Jesus Christ. Tony went on to become the first African American to get a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. He started a store‑front church with 10 or 15 members that new has an attendance of 2000 people. Tony Evans has a radio program heard all across the world. He is a voice for transformation of the inner cities and racial reconciliation. Because of the father’s obedience in hearing and following God’s voice, a chain reaction was set off, which enabled thousands of people to hear and respond to the gospel.

After telling us about God's call and God’s promises, the Bible tells us that Abram and his family set off. Abram obeyed God. He did not know how God would do what he said, but he knew that God would do what he said. Here is Abram, a man who took his aging wife and left home at the age of 75 years old to become a nomad who had faith as his only map.

When God speaks, he always expects his people to listen. Yes, God gives us the freedom to make our own decision, but God’s blessing in our lives rests upon our decision to obey.
Obedience means doing what we really don’t like to do or want to do, but doing it just because it’s the right thing to do.
- Obedience means going beyond profession to performance, beyond lip service to life service.
- Obedience means stepping out of our comfort zones, seeking new experiences, and finding new ways to demonstrate God’s love and power.
- Obedience means allowing God’s word to determine our values, our morals and life principles.

An account is told of a TV news crew that was assigned to southern Florida in the wake of hurricane Andrew. In the middle of the devastation stood one lone house still on its foundation. The owner was cleaning up the yard when a reporter asked, “Sir, why is your house the only one still standing? How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?” The man replied, “I built this house myself. I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2 X 6 roof trusses, I used 2 X 6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to the code could withstand a hurricane. I did, and it did. I suppose no one else around here followed the code.”

When the sun is shining and the skies are blue, building our lives and making our life decisions based on anything other than God’s instructions can be tempting. But, will it hold up when the devastating moments come? There is one way to be sure we can withstand the storms of life. We need to make sure we are not only listening for God’s plan, but also putting the plan into action.

In the confused and muddy paths of our lives God still shows us the way. God acts by calling people like Abram and Sarai, and you and me to do things that don’t always come naturally. Are you hearing God’s voice? Are you able to see the next path God wants you to take? Are you too scared to hear what God has to say? All I can offer is this ... trust that God’s promises are true, trust your instincts, and take the risk. As you are obedient, you will see how God responds when his people follow him.

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