February 28, 1944, started out like many other days in Corrie’s family watch shop in Nazi-occupied Haarlem, in Holland. Corrie, the first woman watch-maker in Europe, was helping her father, Casper, repair watches, and her sister Betsie, was doing housework in their home attached to the back of the watch shop. Corrie wasn’t surprised when a stranger, under the pretence of showing her a broken watch, whispered that his family was also hiding Jews. His wife had just been arrested. Could she help? Believing that God called her to resist the evil embodied in the Third Reich, Corrie led a clandestine network of rescuers hiding Jews in Haalem. By 1944, Jews still alive in Nazi-occupied countries had a simple choice: hide or die. Corrie agreed to help the stranger.
During the night of 1st March 1944, sleep in the ten Boom house was shattered by a Gestapo raid. That night Corrie, Betsie, Casper, and thirty-nine other rescuers in their network were arrested, beaten and charged with hiding Jews. But in spite of a two day search, the Gestapo never found the six people hidden behind the bookcase in a secret room. Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, died in prison ten days after his arrest. Corrie and Betsie were transferred to the Ravensbruk death camp, where Betsie later died on Christmas Day. The Jews hidden behind Corrie’s family bookcase were freed, hidden again, and eventually survived the Holocaust. Corrie Ten Boom had a God-given purpose, that kept her focussed and faithful to her calling during severe trial.
We don’t know what will happen in 2014. But how we respond to the challenges ahead will be determined by our convictions, by our character and above all, shaped by understanding our calling from God. Do you know God’s purpose for your life because you are not here by accident. Rick Warren says, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance…” The greatest tragedy is not death. The greatest tragedy is to live without a purpose.”
Last week I invited you to read with me the Bible in 2014. The One Year Bible is an excellent way to do that but you can also receive your daily readings by email – there was a link in the e-news, or you can download a bible reading plan. This is the best way to discover God’s will and purpose for your life. Today we are beginning a new series exploring the life and faith of Abraham, our spiritual father. The title ‘What Abraham Discovered’ is taken from Romans 4:1. Each week we will focus on a different discovery Abraham made about God, as he revealed himself and his purposes more and more through challenges in Abraham’s life. And with each, we will discover more of God’s purposes for our own lives.
Abraham is the first person in the Bible to be called “A friend of God”. Can you think of anything more wonderful than for Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, to call you his friend? Jesus said to his disciples, “you are my friends, if you do what I tell you”. (John 15:14). In the next few weeks we want to discover how we too can know God, not just as a distant creator but as our closest friend. Today our theme is “Lessons in the Call of God”.
Please turn to it with me to Genesis 12. Let’s begin by re-living the journey Abram made. First we need to know a bit of geography to understand the story. North is that way (pointing to the chancel. The town of Haran is up there in the north of Lebanon. Down here flows the river Jordon from Mount Hermon to the Dead Sea back there. The Music Group are floating around in the Persian Gulf. Over here is Shechem. You lot are the Canaanites who live there. You worship idols and do naughty things in your spare time…. And you lot are floating around in the Mediterranean. Abram starts out with his family living in the city of Ur. Ur is down there (near the Christmas Tree) in Iraq. The two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates flow down (the back aisle). So you lot (by the bookstall) are the Chaldeans and you worship Nannar the Moon-god which is not much better than the Canaanites over here. The ‘Primeval Prologue’ of Genesis 1-11 concludes with the people of the Plain of Shinar attempting to make a name for themselves and build the Tower of Babel. They wanted to make a name for themselves and avoid being scattered over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:4). But when God saw the mess they were getting into, and how far from him they were wandering, he confused their languages and scattered them. And he picked someone through whom he could start again, and by his own action, to save, redeem and bless the world. Abram was his man. So would you like to imagine you’re Abram and his family living in Ur for the moment? Make yourself at home but no worshipping the moon…. But don’t get too comfortable because, the first lesson is:
1. Hear God’s Voice
“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.” (Genesis 12:1)
The Lord spoke to Abram in a very definite way. This was an unambiguous call. But this was not an easy call. Imagine being asked to leave your country, leave your family and move to the other side of the world and start a new life… at the age of 75. Where to Lord? “Don’t worry, you don’t need to know that, I’ll show you…” Abram didn’t know where he was going. He just knew who he was going with. Isn’t that true of us? Do we know what will happen in 2014? God does. That is enough. So Abram obeyed and took his family south into the land of Canaan down to Shechem aged 75? It is never too late to start a new life. It is never too late to begin again with God. It is never too late to hear God’s call in your life. God doesn’t usually tell us where we are going, so that we have to depend on him. Notice God took the initiative. Abram wasn’t looking for God. God chose Abram. God called Abram. God has chosen you too. God has called you also. Hear God’s call and follow his lead, irrespective of your age, irrespective of your upbringing. Without knowing what the consequences will be. God knows what he is doing. That is the daily adventure of following Jesus Christ. God has a plan for your life, just as significant as the one he had for Abram. So the first lesson is? Hear God’s voice.
2. Trust God’s Promises
“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 peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
God’s promise to Abram has a sevenfold structure:
1. “I will make you a great nation”
2. “I will bless you.”
3. I will make your name great”
4. “you will be a blessing”
5. “I will bless those who bless you”
6. “whoever curses you I will curse”
7. “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”
Notice God promises Abram in verse 3 “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Now this verse has probably been abused more than any other in the Bible. Notice who this promise was made to – Abram. Anyone else mentioned? No. Certainly not you or me. But on the basis of this verse, many Christian leaders insist that God blesses nations and curses nations on the basis of how they treat the Jewish people. They speculate that the British Empire declined when we refused to give all of Palestine to the Jews. And Pastor John Hagee insists God will only continue to bless America as long as America supports the State of Israel. How do we know if they are right or wrong? There is a progressive revelation of God in Scripture. Jesus and the Apostles explain the meaning of the promises God made to Abram. In Acts this promise is applied to Abraham’s physical descendants:
“When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you?… And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.” (Acts 3:12, 25)
But in Galatians, the Gentile believers in Jesus are described as Abraham’s spiritual descendants and the inheritors of the promises.
“Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)
That is why Jesus could say “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)
God gave Abram an insight into how these promises would be fulfilled in you and me, and in the world-wide Church of all nations which is the true Israel. But at the time, the only thing that was probably on Abram’s mind was having an heir. He and Sarah were old enough to be great grand parents. They’d left it a bit late to start a family now. But Abram believed God. He may not have known God very well, but he took God seriously. He responded to the personal call to do God’s will. You may feel you don’t know God very well. It doesn’t matter how much you know, but its who you know and what you do with what you do know. The Bible is packed full of promises that are for you. Here are my top ten favourites.
1. No Condemnation
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
2. Never Forsaken
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
3. Perfect Peace
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
4. Clear Guidance
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8)
5. Answered Prayer
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
6. Victory over Satan
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
7. Burdens Carried
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
8. Strength Renewed
“but those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
9. A Future Secure
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
10. No More Tears
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Glorious promises that flow from the promise God made to Abram. But how did Abram become a friend of God? Abram became a friend of God because he heard God’s call and trusted God’s promises.
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?… What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3)
Paul goes on:
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-25)
Faith alone was sufficient then, and faith alone is sufficient now. We don’t become friends of God by being good, because we can never be good enough. We become his friends when we trust Him for what He has promised to do. Abram believed God’s promises. How do we know? Because he got up and left Haran and headed south. Abram heard God’s voice, trusted God’s promises and:
3. Obey God’s Word
“So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.”
It must have been hard to make such a move at 75 years old. To leave the security of his birthplace, his home land, his friends. Moving house is never easy. Do you remember ever moving to another house? There’s the decisions about what you can take.
What you must leave behind, there’s the packing up and chucking out. And they didn’t have Pickfords to help in those days. Obeying God meant more than this to Abram though. He wasn’t just moving from one town to another. He was also giving up his settled lifestyle. He was willing to leave the comfortableness of the city of Ur with its well built and drainage system and libraries, to live the life of a wandering nomad living in a tent with no electricity, no piped water, no bathroom, no loo. Can you imagine that? His Chaldean friends must have laughed at him. They despised people who lived in tents. Nomads were considered uncivilised barbarians. It was not easy for Abram to leave for that kind of life style. It is never easy to go against other peoples expectations, to ignore what other people think, to dare to be different whether you are 25 or 75. Obeying God was the evidence that Abram really believed God’s promises. And God blessed Abram he increasingly:
4. Call on God’s Name
“Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him…..and called on the name of the LORD.”
The more Abram trusted God, the more Abram enjoyed Him, the more they became friends. Where ever Abram journeyed he found the Lord was there waiting for him. Where ever he put the tent for the night he called on the name of the Lord. We don’t know exactly how Abram worshipped God. If I were Abram I could do no better than respond in the words of Augustus Toplady’s confession,
“Nothing in my hand I bring, helpless to thy cross I cling. Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless come to Thee for grace. Vile I to the fountain fly, wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
A relationship with God begins there. Sometimes you hear people say “I wish I had your faith…” or “I admire your faith”. Their idea of “faith” has a magic or superstitious ring about it. If only I had some, life would be so different. But that’s not how the Bible describes faith. As we have seen, Paul tells us that those who believe in Jesus share the faith of Abram (Romans 4:11-12). In other words his life is more than just an example of a man who believed in God. He is rather our prototype. He is the first man in the Bible to show clearly what faith means. Faith for Abram and for us begins with God and His Word. Genesis 12:1 begins, “The Lord said to Abram…” This eliminates right away some of our magical ideas about faith. It doesn’t suddenly descend on us in a vacuum.
God spoke and Abram trusted. Notice the first word of each promise? “I”. God’s sovereign initiative. Faith is simply trust. Our faith grows as we trust God with more of our life. Abram had a simple faith, yes, but this was no easy faith. It was based on a developing relationship that would be tested. And, as we shall see in the weeks to come, God’s purposes for Abram could even handle Abram’s failures. If you want to discover God’s purposes for your life, besides reading the Bible in 2014, I invite you to read with me Rick Warren’s classic “The Purpose Driven Life”. After the Bible, it has helped me more than any other book I’ve read. Rick identifies five main purposes that God intends to be a driving force in our life.
1. We were planned for God’s pleasure – to know him and love him;
2. We were formed for God’s family – to find a home and family;
3. We were created to become like Christ – displaying the fruit of the spirit;
4. We were shaped for serving God – with a unique mix of talents, skills and passion; and
5. We were made for a mission – to introduce other people to God’s five purposes for their lives too. Like Abram,
Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life.
Knowing your purpose simplifies your life.
Knowing your purpose focuses your life.
Knowing your purpose motivates your life.
Knowing your purpose prepares you for eternity.
How do we begin to discover God’s purposes? Like Abram, we have discovered this morning, we need to:
1. Hear God’s Voice.
2. Trust God’s Promises.
3. Obey God’s Word.
4. Call on God’s Name.
Discover God’s purposes for your life and like Abram, you will not only be blessed, but others will be blessed through you.
“Dear Lord, help me discover your purposes for my life so that like Abram, I might know you, love you and faithfully serve you all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”