Please grab a bible and turn to Genesis 15:1 page ___________ in our house bibles. Or open the Grace app to today’s sermon notes.
1 Some time later, the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” 2 But Abram replied, “OSovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3 You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” 4 Then the LORD said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” 5 Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” 6 And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. 7 Then the LORD told him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” 8 But Abram replied, “OSovereign LORD, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” 9 The LORD told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. 11 Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. 12 As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” 17 After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. 18 So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River— 19 the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
Do you struggle with belief…i.e. believing God or believing in God?
· Could it be that your pain and circumstances have unnerved you so that you can’t trust?
· Perhaps the religion of your earlier years doesn’t hold water anymore?
· Or maybe you never have been able to get with the whole idea of God.
If belief is a stretch for you. If trust in God is wavering. Stay with me and I’ll do my best to, at least, bring some clarity so you can make an informed decision.
The beautiful thing about the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is that they are so relatable.
· They’re spiritual novices.
· Their whole relationship with God is being learned before our very eyes.
· This is virgin spiritual territory
In these stories, we get a ring side seat to watch human beings learn to believe. And this story, in particular, is ground zero. Here is the cradle of faith.
The context/story line:
· Abraham, along with his family, with precious little knowledge of God responds to a call to become a nomad and travel many hundreds of miles to relocate his family to somehow be the spark that ignites God’s mission to bless the whole world.
· Over the next few years and chapters he takes a side trip to Egypt, enters into a local war, and has an encounter with a mysterious man named Melchizedek.
· All of this contributing to his faith development.
· Apparently Abraham found himself at a point of fear because God appears and says – 15:1 – Do not be afraid.
o Why was he afraid? Based on what happens next my guess is:
§ He is without an heir and he is insecure about having a place to call home which was leading him to an identity crisis. These 2 desires topped the bronze age wish list.
o God: I will protect you and reward you.
· This prompts Abraham’s first recorded conversation with God.
o A: What good are you blessings if I do not have a son?
o G: Come here…let me show you something…
§ Repeats with a different analogy his promise…And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Genesis 13:16
§ But this time takes him outsideThen the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Genesis 15:5
The next verse is the heart of the conversation and one of the most important 16 words in the entire Bible. Perhaps the most life changing sentence of all time.
The conversation then shifts from family and heir to land and home.
· This was a huge issue to Abraham for good reason – hop down to the last 3 verses of chapter 15. 19 the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” Genesis 15:19-21
· The land was packed with people who did not look kindly upon a dude muscling his way in and claiming God had given this land to him.
Once again a human being struggling to understand confronts God with his feelings:
7 Then the LORD told him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” 8 But Abram replied, “OSovereign LORD, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” Genesis 15:7-8
This leads to one of the most bizarre ceremonies of all time.
· No one is sure where this came from but likely was a standard process in its day. In short it was the enactment of a contract.
o A Cow, a goat, a sheep and two birds are killed and cut in half – each half side by side with a path between the sides.
o A stifling terrifying darkness comes over Abraham – it’s hard to say whether he is in a trance, a deep sleep or is just paralyzed with fear because God show up
o It’s unsure whether Abraham walks between the animal halves but God does…in smoke and fire … to “sign the contract”
· As God moves between the animal halves he prophecies the future:
o Your people will end up in slavery for 400 years – Egypt
o But…they will be liberated and return to this land which I will give you.
o And…you will live a long life and die in peace.
The story ends. A story that begins with fear ends with this:
And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6
That phrase and this story is repeated over and over and over again throughout the story of the people of God.
Abraham believed God.
That belief led God to assess Abraham (counted means to calculate and evaluate) and declare him “righteous”.
· Righteous – to be in right standing. It only partially implies moral rightness or moral integrity.
o It was more of a word to describe the sincerity of and commitment to a covenant…
o To use today’s vernacular…when Abraham “believed” God looked at him and said “we’re good”
Belief was and is the key that unlocks the door to a relationship with the divine.
Faith opens rapport and intimacy with God.
Trust gives access to the resources of heaven.
You get how important this is – right?
· …. for those of us who struggle with belief
· …for those whose pain and circumstances have unnerved you so that you can’t trust?
· ….for we whose religion of our earlier years doesn’t hold water anymore?
· …for those who never have been able to get with the whole idea of God.
If belief is the thing by which God will assess us and His own willingness to engage us…we better understand it.
· Literally the Hebrew word means to stand firm in something
o Which makes it more an act of the will and not the head or even the heart: I believe means I affirm this!
o What you have told me about my future I affirm…this covenant we have entered into – I’m in.
o There is no back door…I won’t slink away.
· What belief is is not intellectual acceptance – like I believe the earth is round.
· Belief is also not emotional reaction or euphoria like when you have a really good day and all feels fine!
· Belief is an act of the will – I affirm this…and trust what you say God about me, my life and my future.
· What it does not mean is lack of doubt. I say because his story will show further moments of wondering , hesitation and even some frustration with God.
o Belief always includes (maybe demands) wrestling with God – we’ll see this in his grandson in a few weeks.
o Yes you can believe and doubt at the same time…as long as you engage God with it! If you do not take it to God your doubt will degenerate to disbelief.
· What belief does not require is moral rightness.
o Belief will provoke morality it does not require it.
o Belief will lead to repentance and contrition (and must by the way)
o You do not have to get your act together to believe.
o You are not hopeless.
o Belief first – lifestyle change will follow.
o Trust first and then let him deal with your shame and guilt.
· Belief includes the willingness to wait and in an act of trust in the providence of God … Affirm your faith even when the promises are not yet fulfilled.
o Let’s be clear…Abraham never saw his descendants like the star in the sky…nor did he see a full take over of the promised land.
Abraham and Sarah died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. Hebrews 11:13
o Can you see what you long for from afar…and wait…in faith?
Can you believe? How can we nurture and develop this kind of belief? There are clues in this story.
1. To build your faith you must interact with God directly.
As Abraham did.
· You must learn how to practice solitude, silence and prayer.
· If your faith is weak your prayer must increase.
· You have to go as face to face with God as you can.
2. To build your faith you must use your memory.
· Every time Abraham walked outside at night he saw stars and remembered the promise…and I can imagine him saying again…I believe.
· He also built altars everywhere to remind himself!
· How will you harness your memory to remind you of the trustworthiness of God or his promises?
§ pictures help me
§ thinking of my family … both the past and the future
§ doing an inventory of my past…week, month, year
o What are your faith triggers?
§ Let’s practice some right now.
§ Answers to prayer?
Fun fact: Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts is a marvelous faith building tool!
3. To build your faith you must practice ceremony.
Abraham remembered that odd ceremony with the split animals forever. It helped him believe!
· Simply ceremonializing your church attendance is key!
· Have breath prayers every day…sing the same song…
· Do something again and again the same way as a reminder.
· Teach your kids to not take their faith so casually.
For us the most potent of ceremonies is communion…practice it with thankfulness and maybe mix in when you drink the cup or take the bread….I believe.
Belief is the key that unlocks the door to a relationship with the Divine.
Faith opens rapport and intimacy with God.
Trust gives access to the resources of heaven.
Do you believe God?