Because we are all sinful creatures we fail God and other people regularly. In those moments of failure we certainly deserve whatever condemnation and judgement might come our way, yet we can all recall times when God showed us His grace instead and gave us a fresh start. You may feel like you’ve blown it so badly that God will never take you back. But He stands ready right now to extend His grace and give you a new beginning!
When Trust Turns Into Trials
Have you ever stepped out to follow God, only to discover when you got to where you were going, that it didn’t look anything like you thought it would? Has your obedience ever been followed by trials and testing? This is exactly what happened to Abram after he obeyed God’s call. It all started out very different than he must have imagined, but at just the right time, God fulfilled every one of His promises. If you are faithfully following God, but your life isn’t what you hoped for, keep trusting Him. He will not steer you wrong.
Have you ever bought a product that had fantastic claims, and when you got it, it just wasn’t anywhere near what it promised it would be? Maybe on TV you saw one of those great infomercials where the guy is screaming, “order in the next 12 minutes and you’ll get, you know, a free trip to Hawaii,” or whatever it is that they offer you. You order it and you get it, and man, it’s just a super letdown. Or maybe you’ve had another person promise you something, and they didn’t follow through. Or maybe you’ve made a promise to somebody else, maybe just a rash promise without thinking it through, and you failed to follow through on that promise?
Well, we started looking last week at the promises that God made to Abram, in the first few verses of Genesis:12. They are some extraordinary and hard to believe promises. If someone came up to me and promised me that these things were going to happen in my life, I’d have to have it in writing. Even then, I wouldn’t believe it. We did just a quick overview last week, and didn’t really get into the details at all. But just look at the things here that God promised He would do for Abram. It’s important to see that God is the one who’s going to bring about all of these promises. Abram by himself cannot do this. God is the one who said He would do this. They’re marked throughout these verses by the two words that God says: I will. I will do this.
Genesis 12:1. Now the Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people, your father’s household,” we looked at those three last week, “to the land, I will show you.” So God is saying, Abram, it’s your job to go. I can’t do that part for you. See, some people rely too heavily on the phrase “let go and let God.” They take that one way too far. So they say, “Well, I don’t have to do anything in the Christian life.” Now just read Paul’s letters. You’ve got to work out your salvation. You’ve got to put off some stuff, you got to put on some other stuff. So God says it’s your job, Abram, to pack your stuff, to say the goodbyes, and to go. If you do that, then He says, I will do my part. I’ll lead you. In the first part of Genesis 12:2 He says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” Now this had to sting just a little bit for Abram. In Chapter 11, that we looked at a few weeks ago, it has already told us that Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren. She could not have children. So God comes along and He says, I’m going to make a few. I’m not not just going to give you a child. He goes way above and beyond. He says, I’m going to make you a great nation and I’m going to bless you. So this is getting now more unbelievable. This is way past the promise of Ginsu knives, on TV, this is way out there.
Yet God is saying, Abram, have faith in me. Have faith in me, trust me, believe in me, I can do things that you can’t even see yet, things that you can’t even conceive of. In Genesis 12:2b, He says, “I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” It’s interesting to me, I think of this verse and my mind immediately goes back to Genesis 11:4, when those people were scrambling frantically to build the Tower of Babel. They said, “We’re going to build this to the heavens, and we will make our name great.”
God says here in Genesis 12:2, “Abram, don’t worry about trying to make your own name great. I’ll make My name great through you.” Man, there’s a lot there. Especially for us men. Guys, we really struggle with this. Everything in our culture, everything in the business world, screams at us to make our name grow, to make sure we have that certain title on the business card. So we can slide them out at those networking functions. Hey, I’m the CEO of so-and-so.
We want everybody to know who we are. We’re working for that corner office, working for that company, BMW, whatever it is. You know guys, we struggle with this. It’s in our fallen nature. We want to make our name great, guys, be very careful. Be very careful. This is one we’ve got to bring to God constantly, and lay it down before Him and say God, “I want to humble myself in this matter, so that You don’t have to humble me.” You rather humble yourself. So He doesn’t have to. I’ve been on the other side of that. It’s not good.
God says, “Abram, I am going to make your name great.” There’s the important difference.
Genesis 12:3, God says, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse.” Wow, what an interesting statement this is! God — curse people? Doesn’t seem nice, does it? There is some very strong language in the Old Testament that God uses for those people who come against Him and His people.
We don’t talk like that today. God is very stern on people who hate His people and who war against His people. He’s like a mother bear who comes out to defend her cubs. I’m thankful I have a God like that: who defends us and is not ashamed to say it either. This promise is still alive and well today. Have you ever taken a map of the world and looked at Israel? Draw an outline around it, and notice how small Israel is compared to the rest of the countries in the world? It’s this tiny little speck, and yet Israel is in the news almost every day.
Why is that? Why isn’t Scandinavia in the news every day? Name another country. Just last week, 200 rockets fired into Israel. It’s all the time. Here’s what we see happening, through my lifetime, I remember this — any country that has risen up against Israel has ultimately incurred God’s wrath. This is why I get very, very nervous when I see our country taking steps to turn our back on Israel, because God’s promise is true that He gave to Abram 4,000 years ago. He says, “My promises will not change. Abram, I’m going to bless you.” And from Abram came the nation of Israel. “I’m going to bless you, and anybody who blesses you, I will bless; and anybody who curses you, I’m gonna curse.” The long term promise is still rolling on. The second part of verse 3 says, and in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed. How is that possible? How in the world did that come about? Well, through Abram, Christ came, and through Christ, everybody in the world has been blessed, or has the opportunity to be blessed. By hearing the Gospel and receiving eternal life. Now we’re beginning to see why I’ve told you Genesis 12, is one of the key chapters in the whole Bible. Because from here, God begins working with this man, Abram, and from here, the whole thing begins.
So just take an overview now of these extraordinary promises. He says, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, you will be a blessing I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who curse you. I will bless all the families of the earth through you.” We’ve got to understand this. I said it just a moment ago, we’ve got to understand that Abram cannot possibly bring these blessings about by himself. God’s blessings must be present, in order for Abram to carry any of this out. The same thing is still true in our lives and in this church today.
Unless the blessing of God is upon us, we cannot bring about one single thing of lasting value for the Kingdom of God. Oh, we can be engaged in all kinds of busy religious stuff. We can have lots of activity going on. But activity does not necessarily mean that the presence of God is involved there.
So we see these amazing promises of God. In fact, frankly, as I said, they just sound too good to be true. I told you before, I’m a skeptic, I’m Thomas. I don’t say that with any amount of pride. I wish I wasn’t that way. If I’m in the store, and I pick up a box of cereal, and it says “New and Improved!” I smirk and go, “I doubt it.” I’ve been scammed by General Mills before. I don’t trust these people.
So here, God gives all these enormous, truly — in the true definition of the word — “unbelievable” promises to Abram. And what does the next verse say? “So Abraham went. Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” This is a life changing statement, folks. I’ve read this verse for years, and I have tried so much to figure out how I can live in this verse. I’m still asking God to give me this kind of faith. I’m like the man who Jesus said to him, anything is possible if you believe and he was so honest. He said, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.” Have you been there?
Abram didn’t smirk. He doesn’t seem to flinch. He doesn’t ask for a guarantee. He doesn’t call in his lawyer to read the fine print. It just says, “So Abram went, as the Lord told him.” He just believed. He literally took God at His Word! Astounding! So this ties into Hebrews 11:1 which says, What is faith? “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So through the eyes of faith, you and I can already hold in our hands and see something that doesn’t even exist yet. Do you get that picture? It’s powerful, man.
I’ve read theology books and commentaries on faith, trying to give descriptions. They all fall short for me. I’ve tried to write them, and they all stink. So here’s the greatest example of this I ever saw in my life. Twenty-two years ago, our daughter, Caroline was about three years old. She said, “Daddy, can we go to Disney World?” And me, trying to teach our daughter financial responsibility, rather than saying, “Sure, we’ll put that on the calendar.” I kind of got down on her level, and I said, “Well, hon, that would be great. We can definitely plan towards that, but it’s really expensive to go to Disney World. So we can start saving for that. We’ll start saving to go to Disney World but it’s going to take a while, you know?” I said, “It will probably take a couple years before we can go,” and she said, “Okay, here’s the first thing we’re going to do when we get there! We’re gonna ride the Dumbo ride first!” And she’s like, “Dad, did you know you can ride an elephant? And it flies?” Then she said, “After that we’re going to ride the teacup. Daddy, I know you’ll probably get sick, but will you ride them with me?”
I was like, shell shocked! I said, “No, honey, wait, I don’t think you understand. I said, this is going to take a long time for us to save enough money to go to Disney World. We can’t go right now. It’s gonna take a long time.” She said, “I know, I know. So the first thing we’re going to do is ride the Dumbo ride.” I’ll tell you what, I just stopped talking in that moment. I let her show me what faith looks like. It was magnificent. The faith of a child, to take her daddy’s word. She took what didn’t exist yet and she was already living there. It is the greatest example of faith I’ve ever seen. I can throw all my commentaries out. That’s it right there. That’s faith. So it was with Abram. God said, “Abram, here are all these things that I will do for you.” Abram said, “I believe it. Let’s get on it.”
But now, here’s where real faith proves itself. Faith doesn’t just say “I believe it”. Faith steps out and does it. So we can talk about faith all day long. We can read about faith, we can listen to sermons about faith, we can travel the world and give lectures about faith. But until we step out, and actually do what God has called us to do by faith, all that talk, all that learning, it’s nothing but good intentions. Good intentions are useless, unless they’re actually turned into action. I can have the best intentions to call someone who needs to be called. And this does happen to me sometimes. Three weeks go by, four weeks go by and I see the person and I think, I meant to call them and I never did. Good intentions. They’ve got to be turned into action. If you intended to pay your power bill for the last six months, Duke Power won’t accept good intentions. They only accept payments. So you have to turn that into action.
Abram not only believes God, but he also steps out and he does what God called him to do. Here’s what that means for him in real life. It’s so easy for us to read this on paper. But now let’s take a look behind the scenes of how that plays out for him. It means, as we looked at briefly last week, he has to leave everything he’s familiar with. He has to leave all of his extended family. He has to leave all his business associates, his homeland, the place where he grew up. The last verse of Chapter 11, verse 32 tells us that his father had just died. He buried his father, and he had to leave his father and go. So now it’s getting real. Now it’s not just, “Whoo, God, I love you, I praise you, I’ll do anything for you.” Now it’s time to put on the boots and start walking. This is when faith turns into sweat. It’s more than just singing a nice song and quoting nice Christian cliches. Now this is where faith really begins to work itself out.
Genesis 12:4 continues. “So Abram went as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.” So he was a spry young fella. Verse 5 says that Abram took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son. Remember, Abram’s brother had died, so Abram kind of adopted Lot. He took Lot, his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered and the people that they had acquired in Haran, we will see this in weeks to come. They set out to go to the land of Canaan. We can read this and we can just move happily along. Okay, so they left Haran, and they moved to Canaan. But listen, folks, there were tears involved in this.
Have you ever packed up all your stuff and moved? I mean, this trip they made from Ur to Canaan was about 800 miles. There were tears here. There was a tearing away here. Surely Abram walked to his father’s grave one more time, and sat there. He had to leave. This leaving, it was a tearing, because when God calls us to follow Him, there will always be something we have to leave behind.
I told you this before — the reason for that is because you cannot follow God and stay where you are at the same time. You cannot. I don’t mean that geographically. Sometimes that’s the case, but rarely is that the case. You cannot follow God and stay where you are at the same time. I mean that in terms of your attachments, your loyalties, and your priorities.
God calls you to obey Him in some matter and it touches that relationship. Maybe, students, you know that relationship you’re in is not honoring God. So you have a choice to make. Who are you going to tear away from? Are you going to tear away from God, to keep this relationship? Are you going to tear away from this relationship to follow God? Maybe it’s a pursuit of money, or status, or pleasure, or possessions. Fill in the blank. God asks you to follow Him in some way, you’ve got a decision to make, because you cannot follow God and stay where you are at the same time.
It must have been incredibly difficult for Abram to take this step in certain ways. But perhaps it was a time where the death of his father was kind of the closing of a chapter. Where he kind of launched out from there to go and he stepped out by faith. So he steps out and he goes. He obeys God, and he does exactly what God has told him to do. He steps out, and he takes this journey. He’s 800 miles from home, exactly where God has told him to go. So surely now, that must mean that he will not experience any problems now at all, because he’s done exactly what God told him to do, right? Wrong! Let me give you a peek into some of the things we’re going to see in the weeks to come that that will await him. When he arrived in the so-called Promised Land it was inhabited by unbelievers, the Canaanites, who were not his friends. He wasn’t even able to take possession of the land that he had been promised. He had no home to live in. He almost had his wife taken from him. He could have been put to death by Pharaoh. His nephew, Lot, was taken captive by an enemy. Abram had to go and basically fight a war to get his nephew back. Twenty-five years went by as he waited for this promised child to come. Twenty-five years! I can’t wait till next Tuesday for some things, and I’m going, “God, do you remember my name?” Twenty-five years and promises are still not fulfilled. By the way, Abram died without seeing most of these promises ever fulfilled.
Have you ever been there in your walk with God? Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever thought, “God, the more I follow you, the more struggles I seem to face. The more enemies seem to come into my life, the more that I follow you.” That’s often what it means to walk by faith and follow God. If you listen to too much of the wrong teaching, you’ll get very confused about what it means to follow God. Some people will tell you, “Oh, listen, you follow God and He’ll make all your wishes come true. He’ll give you the best life possible. Read the last half of Hebrews 11 and if you can read that without a lump in your throat, you need to check your pulse. Because it’s horrifying. It’s horrifying what those believers went through on this earth. It says none of them received what was promised in this lifetime. But it says of those people, “The world was not worthy of them.”
The Bible says following God is warfare from beginning to end. Some of you guys probably remember the first words that were ever spoken to this church. They were this. “You have just started a war.” And everybody’s like, “What? What now?” Well, it’s proven to be true, in many ways. Oh, so many wonderful, joyful times. But boy, it’s been warfare. This is why the Bible tells us to put on the whole armor of God. You don’t wear armor unless you’re going into battle. You don’t wear 100 pounds of armor if you’re going to Target to pick up stuff for the week.
It’s for warfare because we’re in a battle. So Abram steps out by faith. He doesn’t see any promises come through yet. He encounters all kinds of obstacles, and how does he respond? Well, he arrives in this land filled with unbelievers and he begins planting God’s flag there by building altars and worshiping God in public. He builds altars in Genesis 12:7, Genesis 12:8, Genesis 13 and we see this going through. So here’s one, Genesis 12:6 and 7. Abram passed through the land, to the place at Schechem to the Oak of Moreh. It says at that time the Canaanites were in the land. We read that and go, “Sounds nice.” No, not so nice. Then verse 7 says, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said…” He reminds him of this promise, I wonder why He needed to remind Abram. Again, we’re getting a condensed view of the timeline here. Some days had passed, weeks had passed. I wonder if everyone was looking around all this going, “Yikes. This doesn’t exactly look like I thought.”
God comes to Abram and He reminds him, “Hey, Abram, to your offspring I will give this land.” So what did he do? He built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him. Now, surely, we have to stop and ask, of all the things God could have included in this section of Scripture, which is, as I’ve said, is a pivotal section of Scripture, why in the world would God mention an oak tree in verse 6? Why would he do that? I mean, on this 800 mile journey, I’m guessing Abram had walked past a bunch of trees, not one of them were mentioned. Yet here, in verse 6, it says he came to a place called Shechem. Remember that name. He came in that place, to a tree, an oak tree called the Oak of Moreh. So I gotta stop and say, “There has got to be something important about this tree and why Abram chose this place to stop and to build an altar.”
Well, in fact, there was something special. I’ll remind you again, Abram’s journey took him from Ur, up to Haran and down to Shechem. So that’s where he is, and now he’s in Shechem at the Oak of Moreh. This oak tree does in fact, have great significance. It’s mentioned in numerous places. For example, Genesis 35:4 this is later on now, this is Abram’s grandson it says, so they, the people, gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the Oak at Shechem. Joshua 24:25 and 26: “On that day, Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he established for them a statute and an ordinance. Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God, then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak. The oak that was near the sanctuary of the LORD.”
So what exactly do we know about this spot there? This oak tree? Well, when we look at history, we find out that this oak at Shechem was a holy place for pagans. They used to come to this oak tree and perform pagan worship. Their leader, their diviner, their soothsayer would come and he would stand under this oak and the people would gather around. This is what they say, that when the leaves on the tree would rustle, he would say that was the voices of the spirit world imparting knowledge to him. Then he would impart that knowledge to the people.
So the Canaanites who lived there considered this oak tree and that spot to be sacred. So what does God do? He appears to Abram right at this tree. I think it was as a way of saying, “There’s a new God in town and He’s coming to claim your territory, and He’s beginning with your holy place here.”
So began Abram’s witness in this unbelieving land. Because you’ve got to remember, Abram wasn’t just traveling with Sarai and Lot. We’ll see later on, he had a massive entourage, and when he rolled into town, everybody knew they were there. They booked out the Ramada and the Best Western completely. So as they are worshiping around this oak tree, worshiping the one true God, everybody knows they’re there. You can bet people are peeking out their windows, people are hiding behind trees, and looking to see what’s going on. They’re seeing this and they’re hearing this worship to God, and his witness is beginning. From this simple step of faith, the whole world will ultimately be impacted, and it started with one man putting his faith in God and then stepping out on faith to actually act upon it.
Abram doesn’t stay there. He moves on to do what God tells him to do next. Verse 8 says, “From there he moved on to the hill country, to the east, at Bethel, and he pitched his tent there.” And it goes on and says, verse 9, “He went on toward the south.” Abram now is constantly on the move. So the testimony of God is spreading, and he’s building altars as he goes, and he’s calling on the name of the Lord, it says here, and we’ll see going forward, it says repeatedly that Abram lived in tents. Now remember, Abram left Ur, I showed you pictures of what they’ve excavated. It was a massive, sprawling, modern metropolis of a city. Indoor plumbing and the works. He left that place to do what God told him to do, and now he and his wife are living in a tent.
Anybody here still want to obey God? As he’s in the tent, the promises of God must be ringing in his ears: “I’m gonna make you a great nation. I’m going to make your name great.” Huh? I wonder if Abram was thinking, “You know, this doesn’t look like the brochure. This doesn’t look anything like what I was expecting.”
I wonder if along the way, on that journey, he and Sarai were talking about, “Wow, hey, you’re going to be the leader of a great nation. How big is our house going to be?” You know, they were talking about, “Are we going to have a swimming pool? What color Jag are we going to get? Is it going to be the British racing green or the white one?” They were normal people and they get there and it’s just nothing, nothing like what they thought.
Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith Abram went to live in the land of promise as a foreigner living in tents. We think, “Well, that that can’t be God’s will.” No, it was. It was. See, God calls us in very strange ways sometimes. He calls us to follow Him and His calls are often followed by tests of faith.
So I wonder this morning as we close, is there anything holding you back from following God in some small way? Again, Iet’s not brush this off and go, “Yeah, well, He hasn’t called me to the mission field.” Because we’re so good at sweeping this kind of thing under the rug. Let’s think smaller. I rarely say that to people. It’s like the opposite. But today, let’s think smaller. Is there anything small in your daily life that God has already asked you to do that you haven’t stepped out by faith and obeyed? Would you be willing this week to say, “God, would you give me the faith to step out and take this little step of faith so that I can trust You there, so that my faith can grow a little more next week, and next week, and next week?”
As we’ll see in the coming weeks, while things look bad now, God will be faithful. His promises will come true. We can trust Him. Where are you in this whole thing today? Where are you in your journey of following Him by faith? I hope we’re all in this together. I hope we’re all willing to admit, “Man, I’m not there yet, but I want to be. I want to be on the move. I want to be on the journey,” and I hope we can all do that together.