January 13/14 - Abraham
Have you ever been called out by God? Called to leave your comfortable life and step into something bigger than yourself?
How did it happen? What did it feel like? Most importantly, how did you respond?
We talk about calling here at Grace quite a bit. We believe that consistently responding to the call of God is one of the most important aspects of being a Christ-follower. It’s how you discover your destiny.
That said, I know a lot of you feel like you haven’t heard the call of God yet. Or you don’t know how to recognize it. Or you haven’t yet had the courage to respond.
So today, we’re going to look at the story of one of the very first people to be called out by God: Abraham, and see what we can learn about why God calls us, how calling works, and maybe, what God is calling you into today.
Abraham’s story is in the book of Genesis.
Just like with our last Genesis series in the fall, it’s important to remember that the book was first written for the ancient Israelites by Moses while the Israelites were in the wilderness fleeing slavery in Egypt and making their way to the Promised Land.
It was a chaotic, confusing time. They needed to understand why the world was the way it was, who they were as a people, and just who exactly this God was they were following. Genesis helped them answer those questions.
The story we are looking at today is a perfect example of this.
So why don’t we dive in and take a look? [House Bibles]
Just a few verses before, we meet Abraham. We don’t know much about him, though. He’s the son of a guy named Terah, he’s married to a woman named Sarai, and they don’t have any children. That’s about it.
Now, just so we’re on the same page, Abraham starts out with the name Abram. God changes his name to Abraham later in the story. But we’re not going that far today, so here’s what I’m going to do:
Even though in today’s verses he is called “Abram,” I’m going to refer to him as Abraham throughout the rest of the sermon. I hope that’s not too confusing. Just know: Abram & Abraham… it’s the same guy.
We first hear in Chapter 11 about Abraham’s father, Terah, moving his family away from a place called Ur (which is in the vicinity of Babylon - modern day Iraq) to a place called Haran (which is today in southern Turkey).
And in a moment, he’ll continue down to the land of Canaan (modern day Israel & Palestine). It’s basically a whirlwind tour of the Fertile Crescent.
So that’s a bit of background. Let’s read why Abraham (a.k.a. Abram) was moving around so much.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan.
Alright. Let’s stop there. Now, these verses may not seem all that remarkable. Even if you heard my father’s sermon last week, you may still be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
And I get that. For many years when I read these verses I saw them as nothing more than an introduction to the story’s next main character, Abraham.
But over the last 15 years, as I’ve studied the Bible and researched and read, I’ve come to realize that this small moment in Genesis is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. Maybe even of all time. It’s a massive hinge-point in the story of humanity.
So let’s dive in and I’ll explain why I think that.
There are two big reasons this story is so significant. The first is this:
The call of Abraham tells us how God’s mission of redemption began.
By choosing Abraham and his children for a specific mission, God was stepping in to human history to bring healing to the world.
It all rides on God’s promise in verse 3: Abraham, your descendants will be blessed, they’ll become famous, and then - and this is key - “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
This statement is a bit vague - and broad.
It doesn’t help that the concept of “blessing” doesn’t mean a whole lot to us today beyond eye-roll-inducing Instagram selfies (#blessed). What does it mean for all the families on earth to be blessed through Abraham?
Well, being blessed in the ancient world was pretty much the goal of everyone’s life. It meant prosperity in health, in life, in fertility, and in power - not just in the physical world, but in the spiritual world as well. It was more than just wealth. It was like comprehensive well-being.
I read somewhere that blessing is “God turning full-face to the recipient.” Isn’t that beautiful?
And so here in the context of Genesis 12, after 8 chapters of sin, murder, starvation, chaos, and death, the idea of God blessing everyone on earth is incredible. It means he plans to heal the brokenness of our world!
And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
Abraham’s descendants became known as the Israelites - the people of God. Under Moses, God gave them the law - a way of living that would set them apart from every other nation. That would make them a light in the darkness - a nation of peace, justice, rest, and healing - a nation of blessing.
But this was only the start. Many years later, God did something completely unexpected. He became one of these Israelites. He entered our world as Jesus Christ.
By sacrificing his life on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all the commands of the law of Moses and opened the door for everyone on earth to become a part of Israel.
Now we can all become the spiritual children of Abraham. And like our forefather, we can then become a blessing to our world - healing the broken places and bringing light into the darkness.
Through our lives being lived out in Christ, God turns full-face toward our broken world. And all families on earth are blessed.
So that’s the first reason this story in Genesis is so significant. It marks the beginning of God’s mission to save the entire world.
The second reason this story is so important is because it sheds light on the pretty astounding way God has chosen to save the world. Put simply,
The call of Abraham shows us God does not play by the rules.
Let me explain what I mean.
We’ll start with this: Why did God pick Abraham? Why him, specifically, instead of anyone else?
Well, the story doesn’t say. It doesn’t tell us a single thing about Abraham’s character or values or morality or personal history. As far as the narrative is concerned, he’s kind of just a guy.
Now, we see a lot after God calls him that Abraham is obedient, that he has faith in God, that he trusts. And so, sure. God knew that this was the kind of person he was before calling him.
But the story doesn’t say that. And this is huge. Sometimes what the story leaves out is just as important as what the story leaves in.
Remember why this story was first written down. Moses was capturing this story to help the Israelites - who had just left slavery in Egypt - to understand who they were. What made them unique. The call of Abraham is the moment that began their identity as a nation set apart.
But in the story, Abraham has done nothing to deserve special treatment.
I believe God wanted the Israelites to understand that he didn’t pick them because they were special. They were special because he picked them.
This is the first example of God not playing by the rules. Everyone back then knew that the gods favored kings and princes and powerful warriors. That’s just how it worked.
And all of a sudden Yahweh steps in and starts picking unremarkable people like Abraham and his unremarkable children, the Israelites.
You see it all throughout scripture. God continuously picks outcasts and sinners and last-born children to be his agents in the world. The Israelites were slaves. The disciples of Jesus were nobodies.
Here’s how the Apostle Paul described it in the early Church:
1 Corinthians 1:26-27
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.
That’s just how God operates. He loves to call out nobodies.
More on that in a minute.
So, God doesn’t play by the rules in who he picks. But he also doesn’t play by the rules in how he saves.
In the chapter right before Abraham’s call, we read the story of the Tower of Babel, where humanity was trying to build a giant tower to reach heaven.
They said, in 11:4, “This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
But what does God say to Abraham in chapter 12? “I will make you famous.” “I will bless you.”
This juxtaposition isn’t just a coincidence. Moses puts these two stories back to back on purpose. Unlike at the Tower of Babel, where humanity tries to take blessing into their own hands, God is saying here “I will do the blessing. Your job is simply to trust and obey.”
Now, that’s not to say that obedience is easy. Look at what God tells Abraham to do in verse 1.
“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”
This is a BIG ask for a man living in the ancient world. When God asks Abraham to give up his country, his place, his family… he’s asking him to give up everything that makes him who he is. His identity.
And let’s not forget the fact that Abraham didn’t have any children yet. And yet he was supposed to have a great nation of descendants?!?
All of that required a tremendous amount of trust. It meant Abraham was being asked to put his entire life - his identity, his future - in God’s hands.
But here’s the thing. Abraham was not earning God’s blessing. God wasn’t saying, “If you do all things, I’ll bless you.” He was saying, “I’m going to bless you, so go. You just have to trust me.”
It may seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but there’s a huge difference.
Every other religion on earth follows the same basic formula: Do the right stuff and God will bless you. But Yahweh breaks the rules. For him, the formula is:
I will bless you. Your job is simply to trust.
That’s how salvation works with Jesus. He has died. He has conquered death. He has rescued us from sin’s power. That salvation is ours for the taking. We don’t have to earn it. All we have to do is trust and live like it’s true.
So. God picks nobodies. They don’t earn his favor, they simply trust in it. And here’s the kicker:
God uses these undeserving nobodies to be his
hands and feet in the world!
For some reason - and I don’t pretend to understand the mind of God - he has chosen to enact his healing work through Abraham’s family.
Look again at verse 2 and 3. “You will be a blessing to others.” “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Starting with the call of Abraham, God has kept every one of his promises, and he has been working faithfully to heal this broken world - to “turn full-face” on those crushed by isolation and injustice and pain.
But he does this… through us. His people. We are God’s instruments for healing this world. We are his instruments for blessing.
The children of Abraham have a destiny to heal this world.
And this is what I don’t want you to miss. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you are not just some passive recipient of God’s salvation. You’re not just on the receiving end of God’s blessing. You also have the job of spreading it.
You have a destiny to be used by God to heal this world and it starts by saying ‘yes’ when he calls.
With all that said, though, I realize that many - possibly most - of you are not yet living into your God-given destiny. You’re facing some kind of obstacle that’s keeping you from responding to the call of God and becoming who you are meant to be.
So I want to spend the rest of our time digging into why that might be. To do that I have three questions I want you to reflect on.
First, I said earlier God does not pick his people because they are special. They become special because God picks them. The same thing is true for us. While we were still sinners, God loved us.
Do you believe that? Do you believe God loves you? Do you believe God has chosen you?
I know the answer some of you would give to that question: a loud and firm “no.”
When we’ve talked you’ve told me flat out that
· You don’t feel like God can love you because of your past.
· Or that you’re unworthy of salvation.
· Or that maybe God will only want to use you someday when you’ve got it all together, but not yet.
· A few of you have even told me you think God is angry with you.
Well, friends, that’s a load of garbage. God’s love for you has nothing to do with how “good” you are. Or how holy. God loves you. Period. And he has already sent his son, Jesus, to die for your sins. It is finished.
Your job is not to earn it, but to trust in it!
How long are you going to buy the lie that your brokenness is too much for the God of the universe to overcome? He loves you. He wants you to come back to him. The question is not whether you deserve it. None of us do! The question is whether you believe it.
So that’s the first question. Do you believe God has chosen you? Abraham did. The Apostle Paul put it this way:
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.
You can choose to accept the love of God and be reconciled to him - whoever you are and whatever you’ve done. Do you believe that?
Alright. Question #2.
When God called Abraham to go to Canaan, he was asking him to give up his family, his nation, his identity. Remember? It was a huge act of trust.
Following God is not just a matter of intellectual assent. “Sure, I believe it. Neat!” It’s a matter of complete surrender.
So that’s the second question. What is God calling you to leave behind? What is God calling you to surrender?
Specifically! Is it a relationship? An addiction? Your resources? Your reputation? Your career?
There is no such thing as a surrendered follower of Christ who still holds on to all the things which used to define them. Your life is going to look different.
Jesus himself said it this way:
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
What is God calling you to surrender?
The third question has to do with the promise God gives to Abraham that “all the families on earth will be blessed” through him.
As I’ve said, the people of God are his instrument to heal this broken world. And there are no exceptions. Every follower of Jesus has a destiny to be used by God for this healing work.
So this is the third question: What part of this broken world is God calling you to heal?
· Is he calling you to end people’s separation with God by introducing them to Jesus?
· Is he calling you to end pain by healing broken bodies, minds, or spirits?
· Is he calling you to end isolation by loving those who are alone or lacking love?
· Is he calling you to end hatred by healing discrimination, racism, and violence?
· Is he calling you to end decay by fighting the abuse and neglect of animals and the environment?
· Is he calling you to end injustice by combatting poverty, hunger, disease, and slavery?
Now, to be clear, we all have a role to play in healing all six of those broken places. You can’t say, “I care about the environment, so I don’t have to love isolated people.” And most likely, your calling will include some combination of them.
But here at Grace, we believe God has a special destiny in mind just for you. Something ONLY you can accomplish. And when you discover it, you’ll find life, passion, and clarity like you’ve never experienced before.
And when we - members of the global church, the spiritual children of Abraham - each step up and live out the specific calling on our lives, supporting one another along the way - will we begin to see God’s promise to Abraham coming true. “All the families on earth will be blessed.”
God is calling you to join him in this mission of redemption.
Are you ready to be free? To leave your broken past behind? To have a purpose bigger than just being comfortable and safe all the time?
God is calling you to trust him and take a step of faith. What will your answer be?