Sunday, April 25, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: Abraham – Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19 and Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16

Today we are continuing our preaching series entitled, Heroes of the Faith where each week we will focus on one significant person from our faith history and explore not only why they are now considered a hero of our faith, but what we can learn from them. Last week we looked at Noah and his incredible, and thought of at the time, outlandish faith he had in God and how his actions can be a model for us today. Today we are going to focus on Abraham to see how he navigated several crossroads in his life and how he did did not let fear or uncertainty deter him.

My Crossroad
Life is full of crossroads. We all have decisions to make about how we are going to spend our money, where we are going to make our home, where to attend church, how to save for the future. These crossroads permeate all aspects of our lives. I faced one of my crossroads in October of 1994.

I was 20 years old and had just returned from the United Methodist Men's retreat in Leesburg with my dad. My pastor had scheduled a revival at our church for the following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I had just been filled by wonderful speakers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and by the time Wednesday rolled around I was riding such a spiritual high I could barely contain myself.

Wednesday night arrived and I went. At that time Debbie and I were just starting to date each other. She arrived late and walked in at the beginning of the sermon. Little did I know that God was getting ready to work in a very powerful way.

I listened to the speaker and was moved greatly by his message, “Heeding the Call of God” He spoke about listening for God's call on your life and then obeying that call. After worship the altar rail was opened up for us to pray. I stayed in my pew at first, praying on my own. But then I felt the urge to go up front, so I did. My pastor and the guest pastor both prayed for me to heed God's call on my life, whatever that may be. The instant they left I felt this impression, almost like a voice that said “I need you”. I was speechless! Was that God talking to me? Was that my mind going overboard? Immediately I chalked it up to high running emotions. I began to convince myself that I just made it up. There was no way that God needed me. Confused and scared I went home.

I woke up the next morning and I was getting ready for work, I had this urge to find this daily devotion book my Sunday School teacher had given me. Now he had given me one every quarter for the last two years and every quarter I threw it away without ever reading a word. But today I wanted to see what it had to say. I looked all over the place and could not find it. Finally I remembered I had a stack of papers in my closet that I had been setting aside to sort, and about 2/3 of the way down in that stack I found it. I opened up to that day and the title of the devotion was “Heeding God's Call”. Extremely spooked I shut the book and went to work. I began to try and rationalize this sign by convincing myself that the theme of God's call must be the common thread that ran throughout that entire book. Once I got home I ran back to the book, opened it up, and expected to confirm my idea of the common theme. However, I was wrong. That day's theme was completely independent of all the others.

God was calling me, I had felt it, now what was I going to do? I was making very good money, six figures, at my current job. I was happy with the way things were. I was at a crossroads; start a new path full of uncertainty or stay with what I know and what I was comfortable with. Just as I had to navigate that crossroads in my life, fulfill my call into the ministry or stay with a very financially lucrative job, Abraham found himself in just such a situation.

Abraham who?
In the book of Genesis this morning we read about Abraham, then known as Abram, a simple man, an old man, a man that most had probably discounted. But not God. God appears to Abram when he is 99 years old and begins to speak to him about a covenant; a covenant that will make him the father of many nations. Scripture tells us that as soon as God appears to Abram and makes this decree told Abram falls face down, out of respect. God then changes Abram's name to Abraham, which means the father of many nations. God goes on to tell Abraham that He will make him very fruitful, He will make nations out of Abraham, and kings will come from Abraham. Abraham is told that this covenant will be everlasting and that all of this will take place in the land of Canaan.

Woah...wait a minute. I imagine all of this was a little over the top for a 99 year old man to believe, possible, but a bit over the top. But when God tells him that all of this will take place in Canaan, Abraham finds himself at a crossroads. You see Abraham was living in Haran, had been for quite a while. Haran was comfortable. Haran did not posses too many unknowns. Haran was home. Abraham had a decision to make. Stay with what he knew, where he was comfortable. Or he could accept this covenant from God and go to a land where he would be considered an alien, where he had no home. All on faith that God would not only produce descendants from Abraham as numerous as the stars in the sky (Hebrews 11:12), but eventually give him this land as his inheritance (Hebrews 11:8). Talk about a decision! Talk about a crossroads!

Is Abraham Heroic?
Remember last week that the beginning of Hebrews chapter 11 speaks a great deal about what constitutes heroic faith. It tells us that faith, heroic faith, has three main components: First you have to be FOCUSED, grounded in God alone. Next you have to be CONFIDENT, certain of what we do not see. Finally, you have to be OBEDIENT, as demonstrated in our actions.

So what does Abraham do at this crossroads? Was he focused on God, confident in what he could not see, and obedient as demonstrated by his actions?

Let's look at the criteria of whether or not he was he focused on God. If we go back to Genesis 17 where Abraham's encounter with God is recorded we are told that after God appeared to Abraham when he was 99 years old, that Abraham's first response was to fall facedown. This was considered a sign of respect, a gesture showing that you were humbling yourself before another. Abraham understood who was speaking to him. And the fact that he understood and responded with humility shows us that he was aware of God in his life, focused on God and recognized God's appearance. Criteria one, check.

Next we need to determine if Abraham was confident in that which he could not see. But before we do that I want to jump ahead to whether or not he was obedient as demonstrated by his actions. He was told great things during the time God appeared to him, he would have many descendants and he would be given, as an inheritance, the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. All he had to do was obey and he could have these things. Our Scripture lesson from Hebrews tells us that he did obey. In fact if we look at the Greek for “when called“, it has the idea of a prompt obedience. One scholar even goes as far as to say, “He obeyed the call while it was still sounding in his ears.” He not only obeyed, he obeyed promptly. Criteria two, check.

So with a yes in two of three criteria for heroic faith let us now turn to whether or not Abraham was confident in that which he could not see. As part of his obedience Abraham was setting off with his family, his nephew Lot, and all his possessions to Canaan. He was doing this by faith, he was doing this confident that the promise of descendants and land would follow. Abraham uprooted everyone he loved, left all that he knew, and set out for land he could not see, to populate it with a family he did not yet have. And all of this while he was 100 years old. Brothers and sisters, that is true confidence in that which he could not see. Criteria three, check.

Folks, this life has tried to teach us many things, like do not count your eggs before their hatched, do not trust the words of other people, and do not put all of yourself into any one thing. But Abraham showed us otherwise. Abraham displayed true heroic faith by being focused on God, obeying this command to go to a foreign land, so he could be the father of descendants he did not yet have.

Abraham was by no means a perfect man. In fact he made several very serious mistakes in his life that are recorded in Scripture. But God redeemed him, used him in a very significant way, and He can do the same thing with you.

We are not perfect, but we are important. God is calling you to do something big! It is my hope and my prayer that when God appears to you, when God calls on you, that you will not be afraid to show heroic faith. That you will be focused, confident, and obedient. You were created for a purpose, do not be afraid to fulfill it!

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