Are there places in our lives God is calling us to make a journey of trust into the unfamiliar?
I really am delighted to be able to share, talk together, and explore Abraham together. This is who we’ve been focusing on in my little piece here. Let’s look at Genesis 12:1. You can use your Bible, Bible app, or handout. We’re going to read at least this first verse, which is the connector to where we were last week. This is before Abraham’s name was changed to Abraham. He was originally Abram. The 12th chapter is one of the key chapters in all the Bible. Theologians and Bible scholars often refer to the significance of Genesis 12. It sets everything in motion. It starts with a man God brings for the people. Out of those people comes a savior, but it begins by God calling out Abraham in this critical chapter filled with promise.
Verse one is the beginning of a movement. It’s a movement of God. No one can see it at the time, but it’s going to change the course of human history. It says, “Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country.'” Remember, he had settled in this place called Haran. I’m going to talk about that in a moment. God says, “Get out of your country from your family and father’s house to a land that I will show you.” Again, the Bible happens in real places. All the events, the things we’re talking about, really happened. You can go see these regions today. One of the things to note here is where Haran is in relation to, say Ur or the Tigris and Euphrates. These are the two critical rivers that actually make up the whole environment and area. This is where Abraham came from.
Today we call this area modern-day Iraq. If you were to go north and keep coming around, you eventually come to that little piece by the Mediterranean Sea. That’s Canaan, the land of Israel. Romans would ultimately call it Palestine. Abraham, originally with his family, his father Terah, and their clan were heading that way. They left Ur and were on their way to make the big circular motion into the land of Canaan. What ends up happening is they get stopped in Haran and settled there. They don’t go any farther. That’s the context for this. The starkness of the wording itself, the phrase like, “Get out of your country.” catches us off guard, almost as startling in a way. This is the case that I want to suggest; there are going to be times where God calls us to move in a new direction, a new season if you will. A new assignment to exercise faith and trust at a new level.
Of course, almost all transitions can be very scary. You can be younger and in a transition that’s scary. You can be older in a transition that’s scary. The fact of the matter is there are times when we are following God that He’s going to want to take us into something new. He’s going to want us to move us in a direction that is going to expand, deepen, or cause us to trust Him more. Often it is going to involve facing fear and facing our fears. It may not be an issue of geography. In Abram’s case, it was moved from the place you are. For others of us, it might have to do with our life situation. It might have to do with somebody that God is calling us to transition towards. Or, let go of something that we’re holding on to out of security. There might be some attitude shift that God’s trying to work into our life. Where He’s trying to really change how we see and go about things. There’s a season of growth and expansion for us, but it’s going to involve trusting Him.
For others of us, it might be something that has to do with something that’s more relational. God wants to really help us to begin to develop some healthier patterns. It could be vocational, have to do with our work, or transitioning out of student life into the job place. What does that mean for me? How has God wanted me to approach that? A lot of times it’s spiritual. The Lord is really trying to cause us to grow and to break free of some things that are holding us back. It’s a new country if you will like, “Get out from this country, get out from this place where you’ve defined yourself in me. I have a new thing I want to do and it’s connected to a promise, but it’s going to involve a lot of faith and trust.” It also is going to involve facing our fears. I think we can always get stuck in Haran like we talked about last week. We get ourselves mired in a way of being that is no longer suitable for what God wants to grow us into.
In that place, a lot of times we can sense the Lord’s trying to move us but we’re afraid. Sometimes it’s because we’re too comfortable. I think a lot of times, most of us are afraid inside. What it might cost me or what I have to give up, or just, “Can I do this Lord?” That isn’t a place where the Lord wants to work with us. God has not given us a spirit of fear. He doesn’t want us paralyzed in fear.
One of the verses that mean so much to me over the course of my life as a follower of Jesus is in Timothy. I’ve used it at different times and seasons. It meant more to me. It’s in second Timothy 1:7. It says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love.” This part has helped me a lot at times and has given me soundness of mind. Where, in my mind, these thoughts, my emotions, I need you right now. I need the power and the love. I need the soundness of mind so that I’m not allowing fear to be what dictates. A lot of times, what shows up as anger is really fear. What shows up as addiction is really fear. God is trying to help us.
It was at least 30 some years ago because my wife and I didn’t have children at the time. We had just gotten married. We would go out. Some of you may have gone to the Russian River at some point. I was trying to think back in time. I was thinking, “What was that like?” I remember this thing that happened though. I was in a canoe with Sheryl, my wife. We had only been married for a little. We had a friend with us, a couple of other people from the church had come and there were three different canoes. We were paddling. We were in the Russian River and it was a high water season. We all had life jackets on, but there were a lot of times where the water was really mellow. Then you hit these things that were close to rapids.
There was a particular area where the currents were very intense. There was a tree that had fallen. There were a lot of roots that were shooting up, and branches hanging down. We were novices and rowing. I remember we got sucked in by the current. You see it, and it’s going in slow motion. The entire canoe was drifting towards this churning water. The next thing we know, the little boat hits the tree that was underwater and wraps around it. We’re all there saying, “Oh my goodness.” Then the water starts flying over the edges of the canoe. It starts dropping down. I remember that. The next thing I remember is I had jumped out with my life jacket. Our friend was there too. I just assumed Sheryl was there.
I looked back and she’s hanging on a branch and it’s going up and down. She’s going under it, and then up with the jacket life. I yell, “Sheryl, let go of the branch. Let go.” “No, if I do. I’m going to get stuck in these.” There were these branches and stuff. “I can’t let go. I can’t.” She wasn’t going to let go. She told me until her arms started feeling like they were going to fall off. She finally does let go. She dips underneath the water and sure enough, she pops right out.
I was remembering that moment because it was the fear of getting stuck that caused her to hold onto that branch. It just kept working her over. That’s what fear does. If we can’t let go of something, it just keeps working us over. God wants us to let go. In Abraham’s case, the Lord says, “Get out of your country. You’re to leave the familiar and the friendly, and go out in the unknown and unwelcome. Don’t be afraid.” God was asking Abraham to be a pioneer of faith. If you were to look up the definition of Pioneer, it is one who goes before us into the wilderness to prepare the way for others to follow. That’s what a pioneer does. Abraham is like that. That’s why we would call him the father of the faithful because he shows us the way. We can follow behind his life and use it as an example for how to follow God better.
I’ve always been mesmerized by explorers. Some of you are like that. Some of you like reading about them. I’ve always loved reading about people who explored, and were adventurers, like the forefathers of extreme sports people, I suppose. I always was fascinated, even when I was a boy with people who were willing to take daring journeys into places that had not been discovered. There are fewer things now in this world that have not been discovered that we can see anyway.
There was a period not that long ago. The first report I ever did when I was a little boy. I was thinking back to elementary school. I quite remember the first time I ever did a report. It was on this Portuguese explorer. I had to pick one and I picked Vasco de Gama. Vasco de Gama was significant because I watched how he did. He was the first one to take a ship from Europe, bring it down the African coast, and curl around what is called the Cape of Good Hope. Then make their way to the east and open up the trade routes to the Indies or to India. He started it. I was just fascinated by it.
Later on, as an adult, I got immersed myself. There was a period where everybody was talking about Lewis and Clark. Stephen Ambrose had written this amazing history book called Undaunted Courage. Ken Burns and PBS had come out with this special on Lewis and Clark. They were really showcasing our history as a people, a nation, and what it was like to explore. In 1804 Thomas Jefferson basically asked two men, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to form a corps called the Corps of Discovery. Their assignment was to go explore the land between what we knew on the East Coast. Only 215 years ago, nobody knew what existed between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast. They didn’t know what was there. We get this thing called the Louisiana Purchase. We purchased this land in the middle.
The Mississippi River cuts right through. It’s one of the critical rivers obviously, but you can also see where the Missouri River is. Nobody knew what was there. Not really, but they were hoping. They were given this assignment. “We want you to figure out what’s all in that region. We also are hoping that you will be able to find a waterway that will allow people to travel.” This is a little over, not that long, 200 years ago. Travel from one side of the country to the other side of the country, from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. They were thinking, “There’s this thing called the Northwest passage. If you find it, it will allow us to take the water, the river up to Missouri. Get to the river.”
They were hoping, “There’ll be another waterway that you will be able to come down and will ultimately empty towards the Pacific Ocean. We’ll be able to connect our land to the water. That’s your task. Find the Northwest passage. Discover everything you can, find that passage.” Well, they ended up going for it. It was an amazing story. What happens, I think some of you are aware. The only way you could get around from one ocean to the other in the United States. I saw this video. I think it was Jimmy Kimmel. They had these people that they were doing street interviews with and they showed them a map. They didn’t name any country, just a world map. They said, “Can you name one country on this world map that had no designations?” There were people who could not even identify the United States. They were identifying continents. Even if you identified Australia, you would get the country.
Here’s the thing. People in that period, the only way you could get to the Pacific Ocean was to travel by water all the way down. This is the way we’d do it. It was a treacherous attempt, but you traveled down all the way down to what’s called a Cape. You can see Cape Horn and you have to come all the way around. Here’s the problem. The waters by Argentina and Chile down there on the tip are some of the most intense, tumultuous waters in the world. The Pacific Ocean is more sedate. Why is it called the Pacific, tranquil?, when The Atlantic and The Pacific come together, they are a mass of water churning together. People died all the time. Shipwrecks all over the place. It was perilous. You took your life into your hands. People die frequently trying to make that journey.
I say all that because there was a lot of incentive going back to that Lewis and Clark thing. They take off. They finally get to what’s known as the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is a part of our landmass in the United States where the water will flow ultimately to the Atlantic or from the Divide. If it flows this way, it will flow to the Pacific. That’s the Divide. They’re coming to the top of the Missouri river, to the space where they’re going, “Okay. This is where we think it’s going to be. The opening that’s going to allow us to connect. Everything we’ve been searching for, we’re going to find a river, a lake, something. Maybe an inland sea that will allow us to negotiate all the way from one side to the other with very little trouble. It will open up the United States. All this land will open up.”
As they get there, they’re coming to the crest, to the edge. They get to the spot where they’re thinking, “This is it. This is the moment. We’re getting to the Divide. What is on the other side? Nobody has seen it that has been able to record it.” They get there thinking, “Could it be? Could it be?” They see the sea. They do see a sea, but it’s a sea of mountains with jagged ridges that go from the north to the south, to the west. It’s just over. They’re stunned. They’re utterly shocked. They’re stunned by what’s before them. Do you know what they end up seeing? The Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains essentially were a sea of jagged mountains that made it so clear. There would be no Northwest passage. By the way, it would take 65 more years before you had a railroad that would cross the country.
Lewis and Clark came back with the report. “We couldn’t find it. What we found, there’s no way to get it across. It’s not going to work. There’s not going to be any waterway to get across the United States, but we did discover all kinds of wonderful things. We met all kinds of Native American tribes. Some of them were very sophisticated. We came across amazing flowers that no one has ever seen before and recorded. We came across fauna and wildlife that no one even knew about in this recorded world of the west. Never seen buffaloes and things like that, they were amazing things.” They came across these things called prairie dogs or gophers that would stand on their heels and make noises. I’ve never seen one. I was a city boy. Until I went to South Dakota, I actually saw prairie dogs. They saw one other creature they had never seen before. When they tried to shoot it down, it kept coming. It was no creature they had ever seen before. Their guns couldn’t take it down. They had to run into the river. It was a grizzly bear.
I said all that to say that God was calling Abraham to be an explorer in his faith, an adventurer and not play it safe, to dare and take risks. I look at this passage. Go back to it if you can with me because there’s one thing that really stands out. As I’m looking at this, I’m saying, “Oh.” Even before I look at this, I say, “Wow, Lord. That’s exactly what you’re saying. Get out of this country, have faith, be daring.” I think a lot of us live our lives, certainly spiritually speaking. I think we live our lives within a small range of our potential. We underestimate what God has made us be. We tend to play it safe within the borders, rarely exploring the wilderness, the uncharted territory of what God has for us or would have for us to become. We talked about last week, all the excuses we make. Why can’t God do this or this? I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m a mess. I’m a contradiction. I have a past. I failed, all the reasons.
William James was talking about in his book, Memories and Studies, what he called the habit of inferiority to our full self. He says, “The human individual thus lives far within his or her limits. He or she possesses powers of various sorts that we habitually fail to use. We energize below our maximum, and we behave below our optimum.” Do you see what this is saying? We’ve got so much more in us, so much more. It’s like God has more for us. Right now, this is a season that God is actually calling some of us to not settle for living in Haran and get out to the country that God has for us. There’s a new thing He wants to do in our lives. It’s a growth point for us. It’s a trust component. God was challenging Abraham to become daring, courageous, and risky. Live his life to the optimum, to maximize, to push beyond the safe, to push beyond the self-appointed limits that he was content as most of us are to live within.
We see here a picture of God pushing Abrahan out of the nest. How did God say it? “Get out of your country, leave the place of your father.” There’s a principle here by the way. When we are on a journey, it’s much easier to keep the momentum going than to restart. I’m a very strong believer in pacing in any good endeavor. When you have to restart something, we often don’t. A lot of times what occurs is what happened with Abraham’s family. They were on their way, but they got stalled. Then, they laid down roots. When you break out of orbit, you can keep things going easily. The power to break out of orbit is much more intense and hard than once you get in there to keep it going. The principle is certainly true in the Lord as well. It’s better to pace ourselves, but if we get to places where we completely stop, it’s much more difficult to restart.
Abraham, God is asking him, “You gotta get out. You got to start out. You got to get out. You got to go.” Look at verse two, “I will make you a great nation.” How’s this word come to him? Whether it was an audible voice, or an impression, or a dream. “I’m going to make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham departed as the Lord had spoken. Lot, his nephew, went with him. Abraham was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. I’m going to bless you and make a great nation. He’s 75. He doesn’t have any children. His wife, Sarai, is barren. What? What are you talking about, Abraham? It says, “Your name is going to be great. People who bless you, they’re going to be blessed. People who curse you, they’re going to be cursed.” Those who do well to you will be blessed by God.
Then God says, “In you, all the families.” That means all the people of the world will be blessed. What was God getting at? Because out of you is going to come a savior who will bless the world. It was already a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus who had come very much directly from Abraham. The miracle son that Abraham would have, Isaac, would ultimately bring forth a people. Out of that people, would come forth that savior. The promise that God gave to Abraham was a tremendous promise. Incredible, actually irrationally, radically disproportionate to anything that Abraham or Abram had ever done to deserve it, which is, by the way, a great working definition for what grace is from God. It’s a disproportionate blessing of God’s goodness over our lives.
It was also still going to require this disproportionate blessing that Abraham could never have earned or deserved. Why me? That blessing was still going to require costly obedience. He had to get out. He must break with everything he knows. He has to believe that he’s heard from God. I must say, it must have seemed initially a little preposterous, maybe to those who loved him. “Abraham, are you sure? We respect you and everything, but this seems like a very unnecessary move at this stage in your life. I don’t know if you’ve checked that out. It sounds a little bit foolhardy for you. I’m not sure, maybe even a little bit fanatical.” The way God works with Abraham reminds us of a couple of things. There are times when God is intentionally vague about the details. Vague about the details of what He’s going to ask us to do. What He’s leading us to do. When we’re following the Lord in a way that requires us to have a little bit of daring, we usually don’t get all the details on the front end.
It’s almost like He doesn’t fully disclose. He’s going to ask this thing. He’s asking for a full commitment from you without telling you exactly what you’re committing to. “Don’t I get to read? I don’t want to …” “No. I’m asking you to commit to me without actually telling you exactly what you’re fully committing to.” “That’s …” “Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly it.” “I want the facts first. I need the facts. How can I commit to what I do not know?” That’s what trust is. That’s what faith is. Get out of the country, walk with me to this land. I will show you. It will open up. There are times when all God really wants from us in our life is humble obedience in the right direction. That’s all. We take a step. There’s our word, “step.” We take a step. I think this is what you want me to do, Lord. It scares me. I’m going to do it. I’m going to try. I’m going to trust you. I asked you to help me. I want you to put people around me. I’m going to be open. I’m open Lord.
A lot of times, that’s when His will unfolds. I can’t see where this is going. I’m going to go with what the Lord, I feel, put in my heart to do. I’m going to walk by faith into it. That’s what I want to do. This means to me, I have to let go of something in my heart or in my life. I need to be open to a change. I need to be open to making. I want to respond to you here, God. Help me because I’m afraid. I’m afraid, but I’m going to take my step anyway. That was the hardest part for me. It’s like Abraham finally had to decide to go, packing up, preparing, but then you’ve got to do it. He did it.
Now, consider the gap. There’s going to be 25 years between the time that God gives the promise here in Genesis 12, and the time that God begins to fulfill it. Two and a half decades before a blade even breaks out of the ground. 25 years before the promise shows up, all here underground. This is what happened to me. There are waiting periods. You can see, between the time we got off and burst something in our heart. When He brings it to pass, a lot of times we think, “Lord, I want this to happen now. I did my faith thing. I trusted you. I made this adjustment. You have to deliver the promise. It’s the promise you made. You have to deliver it.”
I reminded myself. Look, all the Lord is saying you make the move that God’s putting in our hearts to make, but sometimes that gap is a little bit longer. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Abraham walked by faith for 25 years by a miracle. God brought the miracle boy, and he laughed. When God said, “This is the time,” because he says, “There’s no way.” Sarah laughed. They laughed. That’s why Isaac’s name means laughter. Jacob becomes the son of laughter if you will. It’s because it was incredible. Well, I just have to be careful not to get stuck in a timeline. So, “Lord, if I do what you asked me to do, you’re going to bring this person. Well, if I do what you asked me to do, then you’re going to open up this door.” I’m going to really take a risk here with how I use this analogy. A lot of times we’re searching for the Northwest passage, but what we really are doing is discovering things.
Even though we don’t get the main thing, we might by the time we’re done. We have so many other wonderful things that came because we were willing to move with that. So, God does. The last thing I’ll say about it is to consider the test. Abraham, this is his first test. This is his first big test. It’s going to have to do with his willingness to respond, his willingness to embark on a journey into the great unknown in search of a land that God says, “I will show you.” Along the way, Abraham will have about 11 tests in his life culminating with what I call the final test. Everything he’s learned is going to get called into this moment because God is going to say to him, “You know that miracle boy I gave you? You got to give him back to me.” “What?” “Yeah, give him back.” “Why? Surely. You’re not like that. That’s what the gods of Canaan do. That’s what these people do. They do human sacrifice. That’s not what you do. It goes against everything you ever taught me.” “You give him back to me.” In the end, you read it. That test, “God says no. Don’t do it.” In the end, he spares Isaac. That doesn’t happen. You know what? What Abraham was asked to do, God, he has done. He’s given his only son. That’s what that was all about. I think a lot of times we forget as we seek to gain ground that God has for us, that we’re also going to be tested along the way. That testing isn’t really to catch us doing something wrong. It’s not about God toying with us.
Remember this. When we get tested in our life with Him, it really is far more to do with how He’s trying to develop and grow us. It’s like, “What he’s trying to work into our lives?” Here’s the question. Where is the fearful place that God is asking us to step into? Where is it for you? Where is it for me? Where is that fearful place? Because a lot of times, that’s exactly what’s going on. God is saying, “I need you to that place that you’re afraid of, that place.”
It might just be, we’re sensing God calling but we’re thinking, “I don’t want to let go of this thing. Even though it’s not good, I know it. So, bad familiarity is better than not knowing what will happen if I let go.” That’s the place right there, that fear. God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love, and soundness of mind. If He has a new chapter to write, He has a new place for us to break into. If He has a new level of depth for us to get to, maybe for some of us it’s the first time we say, “Lord, I’m going to open my life up to you.” That’s a risk. That’s facing a fear.
I’m going to open my life up to you. I’m going to really take it seriously. Lord, I want to be open here to a new thing that you’re trying to develop in me. I want to be open to letting go of what has been my security, my identity, or what that means something to me. I don’t think I can live with it. I’m going to try. If you’re asking me to yield that, then help me. Help me, Lord, because a lot of times what it is, is that at the core we’re afraid. Fear and faith clash. Wherever fear runs things, it is going to ultimately come into conflict with faith. Where there is real faith and trust, fear is pushed out. They don’t coexist well. When we have faith, we begin to trust God, fear begins to naturally pull away. When we hold on and we’re afraid, we get small, can’t let go, keep getting, can’t get free.
“Get out of this country. Get out of that country. Get out of that place. That is not the place of promise for you. The place of promise for you is not here. No, not here. It’s what I know. It’s what I’m comfortable with. I can’t live without that. This is what I want. This is what I feel. You’ve got to get out of there to get here, and this is the place of promise where I want to take it.” I don’t know where that is in our life. I believe there are seasons where we are being called into a point of trusting God in new ways, with something that we’ve always held onto. The Lord is saying, “This is time for a new thing. I want you to learn how to challenge this fear in your life and trust me. Step with me. Step with brings others into this. Step with me here.”
Let’s pray. Before we’re going to have our closing song or time of giving, I know a lot of us are giving now faithfully through our apps, and online. We’re still going to have a time of giving. I’m going to ask you, Lord, even now to take this word that we’ve been able to share together and help us to not let it go quickly. Maybe there’s something very specific that we felt impressed to respond to in faith in our lives, but the truth is we’re afraid. We’re a little afraid, or maybe we’re a lot afraid, being in both places.
How hard it is sometimes to trust you. Even when we know it’s the right thing to do, how hard it is to trust you, to have faith. That’s the way we grow. That’s the way your promises come to pass over and through our lives. It’s how you affect other people. Help us God to be open, not to be afraid of letting go and be open to the new places that you have for us to move into. Perhaps the next stage of our life with you has to do with an adventure of trust, to be a daring risk-taker for you to live more closely into our potential, our God-given potential as a follower of Jesus. Help us Lord to keep growing and be with us as we close out the service. I’m not in a hurry right now. As the final song comes after this little upbeat interlude, I ask for the last song to settle into our soul. You would speak to us through it in these closing minutes. This is what I ask for all of us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.