A Little Help Believing

On Sunday our pastor preached on Genesis 12.  Verse 1 reads, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.'”

(The previous Thursday I taught on the same passage.  It appears the Lord was really trying to get something through my thick skull.)

The gist of these verses is God calls Abram to move.

Away.

From his family.

To an undisclosed location.

My dad was in the Air Force for 20 years, so I know a thing or two about moving to an unknown land.  By the time I was 13, I had lived in 6 states and 3 countries.  Every time my parents informed my brother and me that we’d be moving, the same anxiety took up residence in my stomach.  I knew from experience that each move offered adventure, excitement, and opportunities that I would never otherwise have been exposed to.

But I also knew that each move meant having to learn how these new people did things in this new land.  The learning curve a new kid has to navigate can make for some painfully long and lonely months/years.

No doubt, Abram and his family felt these same emotions in their guts the day God told Abram to leave his country (Genesis 12:1).

Abram was to physically leave his country and his relatives, but, of course, this leaving concept can be applied a lot of other ways.

God calls us to leave churches, friendships, relationships, jobs, schools, sin habits, and the list goes on.

And, often, when He calls us to leave something, He has not yet showed us where we are going.  That was the case with Abram.  And that can be the case with us.

“Leave this job,” God might say, “and go to the job I will show you.”

“Leave this church, and go to the church I will show you.”

“Leave this friendship, and go to the friendship I will show you.”

So, at the very least, we have someone in the scriptures to whom we can relate when we are being called to leave something behind.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not enough to encourage me.  If I am to be uplifted in my circumstances of having to leave something, I need more than just the knowledge that other people have had to leave stuff too.  Misery may love company, but miserable company doesn’t offer hope or encouragement.

Lucky for me, God knows I need more than empathy.  Insert verses 2 and 3.  God says to Abram, “‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you'” (Genesis 12:2-3).

In short, God promises Abram that his leaving will result in great blessing.

And that was enough for Abram.  Verse 4 begins, “So Abram left…”  He didn’t “pray about it” for a month.  He didn’t consult his closest friends for their opinions and interpretations of what God was calling him to do.  He didn’t read a few books on the subject to become better informed concerning this calling.

He just left.

Abram believed God would honor His promise, so he obeyed.

That’s pretty bold faith.  That’s faith I can admire and desire to emulate when I am called to leave something.

But that’s not enough to convince me to trust God.   If I am to step out in faith, I need more than an example of someone who did just that.  I need to know that it worked out well for them.

And God knows I need that proof.  So He provides it.

As we keep reading in Genesis, we see that God leads Abram to Canaan, and God promises Abram, “‘To your offspring I will give this land'” (Genesis 12:7).

But when Abram and barren Sarai (as opposed to fertile Sarai, who was someone else’s wife) failed to produce children, Abram began to doubt there would be any offspring to whom the land could be given.  So, again, God appears to Abram, revealing more of the plan this time, and says, “‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation…and in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here [Canaan]'” (Genesis 15:13-16).

And then you know what happens?  Everything God said would happen.

The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt.  The Exodus goes down.  They return to Canaan, the Promised Land.  Oh, and they leave Egypt with gold, silver, and clothing.

So, to recap, God tells Abram to leave the comfortable known for the completely unknown, promising blessings for obedience.  Abram obeys, by faith, and God keeps His promise, blessing Abram and his offspring with land, numerous descendents, and wealth.

As I soaked up this story last week, it finally hit me, “Hey, this is the proof that obeying God – leaving whatever we’re called to leave – can really work out.  God can really be trusted.”  And I finally became okay with the concept of leaving.

If God is the one asking us to leave something, it really will be in our best interest to trust Him, even if we don’t know where He is taking us.  The story of Abram helps me believe that, even when my feelings and circumstances don’t.

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When Famine Comes

This semester I am teaching something called Chronological Bible Discipleship.  As you might infer, we’re going through the Bible chronologically in order to better understand the Bible as ONE story, not 66 independent books.

All that to say, we spent some time in Genesis 12 this week.  It is in this part of the story that the Lord aims to relocate the people of God.  God personally tells Abram to leave the land he is in and go to the land God will show him, promising blessings and prosperity (Genesis 12:1-3).

And Abram trusted God enough to do just that.  He gathered up his family and his stuff and he traveled by faith to the land God showed him (Genesis 12:4-5).

And because human nature hasn’t changed a bit since then, I can imagine the ridicule Abram received.

God spoke to you?  God Himself just came to you and struck up a conversation?  Yeah, right.”

God wants you to just set out with no idea where you are going?  That doesn’t sound like a very wise thing to do…”

During the travel, I can imagine the complaints.

“We’ve traveled 650 FREAKIN’ miles!  We still don’t know where we are going!  And you want us to KEEP GOING?!”

“My feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurt.”

“God isn’t leading us; you’re just making this up as we go, aren’t you?”

Whatever the journey was like, the text tells us Abram and his gang arrived in Canaan.  And as they trekked through the land, they saw that the Canaanites were still possessing the land (Genesis 12:5-6).

While he was staring at these Canaanites, wondering why God led him all that way to an inhabited land, God told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7).

Fantastic.

If I were Abe, I’d be thinking, “I’ve drug my family 700 miles in obedience to the Lord, and now we have no land to live on.  That’s all well and good that my offspring are taken care of, but what about us?  Where are we to live?”

But that wasn’t Abram’s response at all.  You know what this crazy God-lover did upon hearing this news from God?  HE BUILT AN ALTAR (Genesis 12:7).  Right then and there.  So everyone who passed it would stop and reflect on that time the Lord spoke a promise to Abram.

Huh.

Abram honored the Lord despite Him being responsible for Abram’s homelessness in a foreign land.  Odd.

Hats off to Abram.  He has more faith in his little finger than most of us have in our whole bodies.

Or does he?

Before we start worshiping Abram for his faithfulness, we need to keep reading.

In Genesis 12:10, everything changes. It reads, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for awhile because the famine was severe.”

<insert sound of screeching tires>

Where did Abram’s faith go?!

(It went to Egypt, apparently, quips my smart-alack self to my writing self.)

Notice the lack of God directing Abram in verse 10.  God didn’t tell him to go to Egypt to wait out the famine.  This was all Abram’s idea (and perhaps his traveling companions’, whose faith was less than his).

Abram didn’t trust God to provide for the physical needs of him and his family during the famine.  So he took matters into his own hands, like any good male provider would, and made sure his people had enough to eat.  But in so doing, he left the land God had promised to his descendents.

And it was this one decision that began to unravel Abram and his remarkable faith.

He went down to Egypt and immediately began lying and trying to self-preserve, resulting in giving his wife to Pharoah.  Eventually, Abram was found out, and he and his family were booted out of Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20).

When famine came, Abram’s faith, rock-solid as it was at times, collapsed.

I can’t say for sure how God would have provided for the Israelites during the famine, but I can say that God’s track record with Abram was pretty good.  God took care of them on the journey.  God led them like He said He would.  God continued to speak to Abram directly.  I can say with confidence that God would have provided food during the famine had the Israelites stayed in Canaan.

A lesson to be learned here is that it is important to remember how God has been faithful to you and me, personally, in the past.  If you are experiencing some type of famine, trace the thread of God’s goodness back through time.  When was the last time He was faithful to you?  How about before that?  And before that?  I bet it won’t take long for you to build a pretty impressive resume for God.

Use the past to promote trust in Him NOW, during the famine.  Don’t give into the temptation to self-preserve.  Keep trusting Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Grace: Not Just a New Testament Doctrine

I had the pleasure of spending time with some remarkably brilliant women on Thursday morning.  We were training to lead a new Bible study in January, but really what we were doing was dissecting Genesis 1-3.

Yeah, THAT Genesis 1-3.  The section of the Old Testament we’ve all read a million times.  The accounts of the Creation and the Fall that bore us to tears anytime a pastor preaches on them.

Only instead of being bored, we were all riveted.

Our gifted teacher, Iva May, lead us through these pages of scripture by asking questions like “What is God doing here? Why would He do it this way?  What does this say about God?  What does it say about God’s relationship to man? What do we learn about man?  What do we learn about our own sinfulness?” And on and on the questions went, producing a lively discussion via some of the most tired stories of the Old Testament.

And, as a result, God became a personal God again.  It seemed like Genesis was written FOR me to be able to better understand who God is, what our relationship is like, and what He WANTS our relationship to be like. And it seemed that way because it IS that way!  The scriptures are for US.

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned through that time of study is that God has ALWAYS been a God of grace.

I know sometimes we consider the God of the Old Testament (who is the same as the God of the New Testament, by the way) to be a pretty angry, vindictive Guy.  It seems like He is constantly losing His temper and smiting thousands upon thousands for their blatant disobedience.  And, don’t get me wrong, He does do that in the Old Testament.

But you know what else He does, He offers grace.  From the very opening pages of Genesis, God offers second chances to His creation, not wanting any of them to perish.

Take the very first sin (Genesis 3), for instance.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and how did God respond?  He said, “Where are you?”  He was inviting the pair to come to Him.

Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And God asked another question, “Who told you you were naked?”  I can hear the disappointment in God’s voice.  Adam was never supposed to be aware of his nakedness; that wasn’t God’s plan.  God never intended for Adam to ever know what it felt like to be ashamed or embarrassed or self-conscious.

Then God asked another question, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Why would God ask that when He knew full well Adam had eaten from that tree?  Perhaps God was giving Adam a chance to confess.  In other words, maybe God was setting Adam up to receive grace.  But Adam didn’t accept that invitation.  How might the story have been different if Adam had confessed instead of blaming Eve and God for his sin?

Fast forward to 3:21 and we see another act of grace on God’s part.  “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

Why would God do that?  Because He felt compassion for them.  He knew Adam and Eve felt embarrassed of their nakedness, and, out of His empathy, He remedied that problem.  God is a great Daddy – He cares tenderly  for our hearts.  He clothed them with animal skins and grace.

And then He boots those rebellious kiddos out of Eden.

Where’s the grace in that?

Let me show you.

In 3:22, God says, “‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'”

Once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their innocence was forever destroyed.  Sin had entered their lives, their beings.  And if they had also eaten from the tree of life, that sin problem would have become permanent.  Their eternal fate – separation from God on account of the presence of sin – would have become permanent.

And that was too much for God to bear.  So He banned them from the Garden, preventing them from having access to the tree of life while He was working out a plan for their salvation.  He would provide a way out of their sin problem for them, but He had to ensure they didn’t muck things up in the interim.

So we see that His kicking them out of Eden was actually the most gracious response to their sin He could have had.  It was the only way He could ensure they’d have a shot at reconciliation.

Grace.  Three instances of God’s grace in Genesis 3.  And, guess what… His grace is in Genesis 4, too.  And Genesis 6.  And the rest of the Old Testament as well.

God has always been a God of grace.  It isn’t just a New Testament thing or a trendy topic to talk about.  His grace is at the core of who He is and our relationship with Him.

Do we believe that?  Do we live like we believe that?  How would our lives change if we truly bought in to the doctrine of grace?