The Say Heh Kids (Genesis 17)


It’s not uncommon for celebrities to change their names.  See if you can recognize a few of them by their ‘real’ names.

I’ll start off with an easy one: Norma Jeane Baker.

Most everyone in my generation knows that Norma Jean Baker is the real name of actress Marilyn Monroe because of the Elton John song, Candle in the Wind.

(Elton John’s real name, by the way, is Reginald Dwight).

Guess a few others:

Melvin Kaminsky (comedian Mel Brooks).
Caryn Johnson (comedienne Whoopi Goldberg).
Alecia Beth Moore (singer Pink)
Carlos Irwin Estevez (actor Charlie Sheen)

Some celebs have had multiple name changes.  Rapper and actor Sean Combs has gone by Puff Daddy, Puffy, Puff, PDiddy, Diddy, and King Combs.  Back in May he changed his name for one week.  On his official Twitter account he explained, “for a week, this week only, you can call me by my new name, Swag.”

Bible characters have had their share of name changes.  Saul became Paul and Simon became Peter.

Perhaps the most significant biblical name changes were those of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah.

The change is significant not just because of the importance of Abraham and Sarah in biblical history, but also because of the particular addition God made to their names.  In both cases God did the same thing and inserted the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, HEH (pronounced hey).

The significance of their name change goes even further as we see God tell them to cut-away, or incise, the flesh of the foreskin.

Paying close attention to what God inserted and to what was incised, I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Inserts Himself In Your Heart, and #2 God Incises ‘Self’ From Your Heart.

#1    God Inserts Himself In Your Heart
    (v1-8 & 15-22)

I want to get right into this extra letter, the HEH, in their names.  The first thing to note about it is that it is the second and last letter of the name of God we pronounce Yaweh but is represented by the letters YHWH.

According to one source, “HEH is often used to represent he name of God, as HEH stands for Hashem, which means ‘The Name,’ and is a way of saying God without actually saying the name of God.  In print, Hashem is usually written as HEH with a geresh (an apostrophe-like sign placed after the letter).”

God took a letter from His name and inserted it in Abram’s to make it AbraHam.  He took a letter from His own name and inserted it in Sarai’s to make it SarHa.  He inserted His name into their names.

The letter is pronounced as a breath.  Some Hebrew scholars say the letter itself represents the breath of God.  In the Talmud (Menachot 29b) it is said that in Psalm 33:6 where you read, the “by the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth,” breath refers to the sound of the letter HEH.  Thus creation was breathed forth by God’s Spirit.

We could accurately say, then, that when God inserted a letter from His name into the names of Abram and Sarai He was representing to them that He was inserting Himself into their hearts, giving them a sense of His presence and the powerful breath of the Spirit.  God was telling them, “I will be in your life to accomplish by my Spirit what I’ve promised.”

That’s nothing short of awesome!  Especially coming at the time God was promising them He would do the impossible, perform a miracle, by allowing Abraham to father a child with Sarah.

While you’re mind is blown, think about this.  We know, do we not, that every Christian is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit?

If you are a believer, God has even more so inserted Himself into your heart, giving you a sense of His presence and the powerful breath of His Spirit.

Here’s something more: You, too, have a new name!  You don’t know what it is yet, but in the Revelation of Jesus Christ you read,

Revelation 2:17  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘

I don’t know about you, but I want to pay a lot more attention to Abraham and Sarah’s name change than ever before!

Genesis 17:1  When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.
Genesis 17:2  And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
Abraham was almost 25 years into his walk with the Lord but was still having amazing experiences of God.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’d like to think the best revelations are yet to come.

When God said, “walk before Me and be blameless,” what did He mean?  He certainly didn’t mean that Abraham was to be sinless; that’s impossible.  He might have meant that Abraham should live in such a way as to be “blameless” if an accusation were to be brought against him.

I rather think that what God meant was that, having justified Abraham, he could walk before God knowing he was not guilty of his sins and could never be condemned but had received eternal life.  From God’s perspective, Abraham was blameless!

You and I can still sin but Jesus Christ has born sin’s punishment and penalty.  We have been declared “Not guilty!” by God thanks to the Savior.  There is no condemnation upon us or awaiting us.

This “covenant” God was stating started in chapter twelve.  It was confirmed and enlarged in chapters thirteen and fifteen and again here in chapter seventeen.

Genesis 17:3  Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:
Genesis 17:4  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.
Genesis 17:5  No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.
Genesis 17:6  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
Genesis 17:7  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
Genesis 17:8  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

The most notable features of God’s covenant with Abraham are these three:

Abraham would be the father of a great nation.
The nation that descends from him is promised the permanent, literal, physical possession of the land of  Canaan.
All the other nations of the world are to be blessed by this nation.

The nation that descended from Abraham is Israel.  The land is the land of Canaan in the Middle East.  The blessing of all the nations by Israel refers to a future time on earth when Jesus Christ will return to rule from His throne in Jerusalem.

History and prophecy show the unfolding of the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to preserve, convert, and restore Israel before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

God’s covenant with Abraham is unconditional; nothing he or his descendants do or don’t do can alter it.  God’s covenant with Abraham is also literal; it is about the real, physical descendants of Abraham and the real, physical possession of the land of Canaan.  It is not a spiritual allegory about the believer possessing the blessings of Heaven.

Drop to verse fifteen.

Genesis 17:15  Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
Genesis 17:16  And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

God was going to insert Himself, as it were, into Sarah’s life, too, and by His Spirit do a miracle by allowing her to conceive a child with Abraham when it was humanly impossible.

Genesis 17:17  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

So many things encourage me in this verse!  Not the least of which is that Abraham “laughed” before God.  Not some weird holy laughter.  He just found this funny and let loose.

Then there’s the fact he was doubting God.  I can identify with that!

Finally, Abraham was just getting started at age 99.  God wasn’t through with him – not by a long shot.

Genesis 17:18  And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”
Genesis 17:19  Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.
Genesis 17:20  And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
Genesis 17:21  But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”
Genesis 17:22  Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

Abraham just couldn’t see Sarah getting pregnant.  Neither could she, having earlier suggested Abraham have a son with Hagar instead of her.  She must have been past the change of life.  God was going to do something powerful, something miraculous, by His Spirit.

The child would be Abraham’s and Sarah’s.  But he would represent for all time a dependence upon the breath of God, upon the Spirit of God, to accomplish His purposes.

God has inserted Himself into your life, given you His Spirit, in order for you to accomplish His purposes.  He’s not interested in your plans and solutions.  He doesn’t mind your doubts as long as you submit to Him and don’t let your doubts take the place of His doings.

I guess what I’m saying is that since God lives in you and in me, it ought to make a profound difference in the way we approach everything about life and living.  There should absolutely be something supernatural about us.

One of the pastors I follow on Twitter posted this quote today:

When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do. When we rely upon education, we get what education can do. When we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do. However when we rely on the Holy Spirit, we get what God can do!

Since God has inserted Himself into our hearts, then He has inserted Himself in all of our relationships, in all of our circumstances, everywhere we are, in order to reveal through us something beyond what we could hope to accomplish on our own.

#2    God Incises ‘Self’ From Your Heart
    (v9-14 & 23-27)

There was something God asked Abraham to do.  It was to be a “sign” that Abraham and his descendants consented to God’s covenant.  It was circumcision.

Genesis 17:9  And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
Genesis 17:10  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;
Genesis 17:11  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.
Genesis 17:12  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.
Genesis 17:13  He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
Genesis 17:14  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

There were two schools of thought among Jews regarding physical circumcision:

Some said that circumcision alone, the ritual, saved you since it was the sign of the covenant.
Others said that circumcision was simply an outward demonstration of the need for inward, spiritual renewal by God.

Abraham was saved before circumcision became the sign of God’s covenant so it could not, it cannot, be necessary for salvation.
Besides, later in the Old Testament God Himself speaks of the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4).  It was an outward ritual to represent a spiritual truth.  The truth it represented was that every human being needs a spiritual circumcision of the heart.

Every Christian has received this spiritual circumcision!  In Colossians 2:11 you read,

Colossians 2:11  In [Jesus] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

The moment you were saved this spiritual surgery took place.  The “body of the sins of the flesh” was circumcised, cut away, it was put off.  This is a reference, I believe, to the sin nature we were born with, elsewhere called the “old man.”  It’s been cut away, circumcised, by Jesus Christ.

Why, then, do I still struggle with and give-in to sin?  Because I remain in my current physical body and within my unredeemed humanness resides a principle, an influence, a propensity, to sin called “the flesh.”

Nevertheless, this truth – that you have been spiritually circumcised – is something you are to reckon to be true and to act upon.  You need not anymore yield yourself to the flesh, to its lusts, but can rather yield yourself to God, to serve Him.

Back to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac.  What was God representing to Abraham by asking him to perform the rite of circumcision?

Ishmael was conceived before the cutting away of Abraham’s foreskin through circumcision.  Isaac would be conceived after the foreskin had been removed.

Ishmael, then, represents our best human efforts to please and serve God apart from His Spirit.  Isaac represents God’s work through us by depending upon His Spirit.

It is possible for you as a believer to produce works that you desire God to bless.  God wants you to look past the natural methods and resources and enjoy His supernatural working instead.
Genesis 17:23  So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.
Genesis 17:24  Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
Genesis 17:25  And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
Genesis 17:26  That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael;
Genesis 17:27  and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

Abraham did it.  He circumcised all the men.

In our case, Jesus has done it.  God has incised ‘self’ from your heart.  He’s inserted Himself there.

Is it making a difference for you?  Francis Chan said,

Given our talent set, experience, and education, many of us are fairly capable of living rather successfully (according to the world’s standards) without any strength from the Holy Spirit.

What about me?  What about you?  Are you living rather successfully without the Spirit of God?

Or would someone look at your life and lifestyle and be forced to say, “Hey!  What’s going on?  How are you doing that?”

In a very real way, our lives can cause others to ‘say HEH’ as they begin to understand there is something new, something more, something heavenly about us.

Mammy Hagar (Genesis 16v1-16)


Singer songwriter Keith Green captures a sense of the misguided longing of God’s wandering people to return to Egypt in his song, So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt.

So you wanna go back to Egypt, where it’s warm and secure
Are you sorry you bought the one-way ticket when you thought you were sure?

You wanted to live in the Land of Promise, but now it’s getting so hard
Are you sorry you’re out here in the desert, instead of your own backyard?

Eating leeks and onions by the Nile
Ooh what breath, but dining out in style
Ooh, my life’s on the skids
Give me the pyramids

Long after the children of Israel entered their Promised Land they still sometimes looked to Egypt as a solution to their perceived problems.  It prompted God to say (in Isaiah 31:1),

Isaiah 31:1  Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek the Lord!

Although not explicitly stated in the Bible, Christians have long recognized Egypt as a type of the world we have been delivered out from, always beckoning us to return to it’s ways and often preying on our wants.  C.I. Scofield noted, “the resort to Egypt… is typical of the tendency to substitute for lost spiritual power the fleshly resources of the world.”

As we dig in to Genesis sixteen, this typical tendency to look to Egypt is going to play a prominent role.  A childless Abraham and Sarah turn to an Egyptian servant seeking an Egyptian solution to their being childless.

It prompts us to consider how drawn away from the Lord we may be by the ways and the wanting of ‘Egypt.’

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 The Ways Of Egypt Are Not Your Servant, and #2 The Wanting Of Egypt Is Not Your Solution.

#1    The Ways Of Egypt
    Are Not Your Servant

God had promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea and the stars in the sky and the dust of the earth.  He, however, was  childless and in his late eighties.

Abraham had suggested that perhaps Eliezar, a servant born in his household, could be his heir and fulfill God’s promise.

God said “No” and told Abraham “one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (14:5).

Evidently barren at age 76, Sarah took a stab at a possible solution.  Maybe Abraham could produce an heir from his own body but not hers by using the body of another woman!

Genesis 16:1  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.
Genesis 16:2  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.
Genesis 16:3  Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.

I used to fault Sarah for her suggestion, largely based on her upcoming reaction to Hagar’s pregnancy.  Not so much anymore.  Truth is, she was supporting her husband.  Her suggestion was still wrong but her heart was to see God’s promises fulfilled, to see her husband vindicated for following God into the unknown.  She did it for Abraham, for his ministry, for his testimony.

When Sarah suggested Abraham take Hagar to bear him a child it was also “to be his wife.”  She was suggesting a marriage practice that was widely accepted.  It was perfectly legal and it was even logical.

But it was not biblical!  We know from the Garden of Eden that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman for life.  Marriage is monogamous and heterosexual.

Abraham and Sarah were a monogamous heterosexual couple at a time when society around them was polygamous and homosexual.

We saw polygamy when Abraham and Sarah went down to Egypt and Sarah was taken by Pharaoh with the expectation she’d become one of his multiple wives.
We’ll see the open acceptance of homosexuality in the upcoming episode in Sodom and Gomorrah.

In an effort to be accurate, allow me to make this clarification.  “Polygamy” is a catch-all term and it is expressed in three specific ways:

Polygyny – wherein a man has multiple simultaneous wives.
Polyandry – wherein a woman has multiple simultaneous husbands.
Group marriage – wherein the family unit consists of multiple husbands and multiple wives.

Abraham and Sarah were living biblically separated lives in the midst of a culture given to unbiblical practices.
So are we!  By definition, the Christian is always to be separated from the unbiblical practices of the culture – even if they are legal and seem logical.

Sarah sought to fulfill God’s spiritual purposes by making ‘Egypt’ serve her presumed needs.  It was wrong – disastrously wrong.  The ways of Egypt cannot be your servant.

The ways of Egypt, or we could simply say the ways of the world, permeate our thinking.  It’s how we were raised and it’s what we experience all around us day-in and day-out.  Everything has a worldly spin, so to speak, so that it almost seems compatible with our walk with the Lord.

We must therefore make a concerted effort to recognize and to avoid the ways of the world.

How?  Well, for one thing we must look to God for our contentment.  Sarah said that it was God who had “restrained” her from bearing children but she refused to be content with the situation.  Her discontent led her to take spiritual matters into worldly hands.

Then there’s the fact we deplore waiting.  God had promised a child but Abraham and Sarah grew tired of waiting and thought they could speed-up the process.

Then there’s the truth that we don’t believe God will fulfill His promises because they seem improbable or impossible to us.  Much as we may hate to admit it, we don’t really trust God to do the miraculous.  We’re more mechanical and want to figure things out ourselves.

Other times I’d have to say that it’s just plain obvious that what we’re doing has been borrowed from the world.  That was certainly the case here.

The modern church’s fascination with psychology is certainly borrowed from the world.  One of the early proponents of the Christian psychology movement, Larry Crabb, went so far as to describe it as “spoiling the Egyptians.”  Just as the Israelites left Egypt with its spoil, so we, he said, take the ‘spoil’ of what godless men like Freud, Jung, and Skinner have ‘discovered’ and use it ourselves.

Trouble is, the psychological theories we borrow from godless men are not spoil.  They are foolishness.

Genesis 16:4  So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
Genesis 16:5  Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave
my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

Pardon the pun, but this was an ill-conceived plan.  It brought nothing but bitterness, strife, and contention into the home and household.

Where there is bitterness, strife, and contention, it’s pretty obvious folks are  going the way of the world.

But it’s also possible for things to seemingly be going great and yet the results are from some worldly plan.  Worldliness can stir things up in a bad way, but it can also lead you to settle for less.  I’d offer Abraham’s nephew, Lot, as an example.

The ways of the world ‘work‘ on a certain level.  They can appear successful.  We, however, are not just going for what seems successful but what is spiritual.  Worldly methods cannot achieve spiritual ends.

You and I must honestly approach God wanting to be sure that we are not seeking the ways of the world to serve our perceived needs, or even to fulfill God’s promises.  Never assume your ways are free from the world’s influence.  Be sure!

#2    The Wanting Of Egypt
    Is Not Your Solution

Hagar was in a bad situation.  She made it worse by despising Sarah.  But then again, look at what Sarah did to her.  Sure, Hagar was her maidservant and, technically, a slave.  But did Sarah have to treat her like a slave?

I mean, what must it have been like for Hagar to one day be going about her chores, maybe preparing a meal, and have Sarah send for her and say, “Right now you’re going to have sex with my 86 year old husband because we want a child”?

I can cut Hagar some slack.  Besides, until she sees the Lord she is not saved.

Genesis 16:6  So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

It was a desperate act.  A pregnant slave woman, all by herself, traveling through a harsh wilderness.  I have sympathy for her.

So did the Lord!

Genesis 16:7  Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.

This is the first use of the phrase, “the Angel of the Lord.”  We believe it to be a pre-incarnation appearance on earth by Jesus Christ.  The word “Angel” simply means messenger.  It doesn’t mean this was an angel – a created being.  Besides, in a moment Hagar is going to call Him God.

“On the way to Shur” was on the way back to Egypt.  It’s believed by most reliable commentators that Hagar was acquired by Abraham and Sarah while they were down in Egypt some years before.

Hagar was wanting Egypt.  She thought Egypt was the solution.

Genesis 16:8  And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Lord knew her by name.  We take this for granted but it’s really astonishing.  I mean, for example, does anyone famous or powerful know your name?  Would they recognize you if they saw you?  Let alone that they wouldn’t be seeking you.

Genesis 16:9  The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

Man, everything was going so great until this!  “Return” and “submit” are not the things we want to hear when we are on the run from our not-so-great circumstances.

The Lord referred to Hagar as “Sarai’s maid.”  Why?  To indicate that being Sarah’s maid was, at that time in her life, Hagar’s calling.  It was to put her on notice that that’s who she was, where she should be, what she should be doing.  God didn’t just see her by the well.  He had seen her in Abraham’s household, too.  He’d been watching her; “Always watching her!”

Genesis 16:10  Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.”
Genesis 16:11  And the Angel of the Lord said to her: “Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
Genesis 16:12  He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

You can’t believe how difficult it is to figure out who, exactly, are the modern-day descendants of Ishmael!  Opinions range from all the Arab peoples in the Middle East to an argument that there are no living descendants of Ishmael.

Here is what I do know.  There is a prophecy in Isaiah 60:6-7 that indicates Ishmaelites will minister to the Lord when He sets up His one thousand year kingdom on the earth.  Isaiah mentions “all the flocks of Kedar,” a son of Ishmael, and “the rams of Nebaioth” (another son of Ishmael).

We don’t really need a ‘who’s-who’ of the Middle East.  Israel has her right to the land God promised and soon every nation of the world and every ethnicity will oppose her.

Genesis 16:13  Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”
Genesis 16:14  Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

On the surface we might think that’s nothing too amazing.  I mean, after all, we know that God is omnipresent and omniscient.

We know it, but do we know it by experience?  The only way to experience it is to be in a time of distress and ‘see’ the Lord in it.

One other thing.  It’s the small experiencing of things we already ‘know’ that really matter.  Consider this:

Dr. Karl Barth was one of the most brilliant and complex intellectuals of the twentieth century.  He wrote volume after massive volume on the meaning of life and faith.  A reporter once asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize what he had said in all those volumes.  Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Familiarity with simple Bible truths should continue to astonish you.

Genesis 16:15  So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.
Genesis 16:16  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Upon her return Hagar obviously related her encounter with Jesus to Abraham and Sarah.  Otherwise how would Abraham know his name?

Hagar was wanting Egypt.  It was her fall-back position, so to speak.

We sometimes have a fall-back position or plan when things aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like.  Truth is, we are fight-or-flight oriented and if the fight seems too great we flee.

We need to replace our fight-or-flight reaction with faithfulness and endure rather than escape.

God sent Hagar back with nothing more than the theology of a children’s hymn.  It was enough to minister to Abraham and Sarah and to sustain Hagar until God would call her away from them.

Don’t be so anxious to escape your situation.  Now, listen, if you are being abused – really abused – I’m not telling you to stay.  That’s something very different.

I am telling you that, most likely, you are in the situation God has chosen for you.  You’ve been strategically placed there so you can, like Hagar, reveal the fact that God sees and He saves.

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping (Genesis 15v7-21)


The fantasy has come true – a long-lost relative you have never heard of has died, and you just received an email from a lawyer indicating that you are the only heir.

Well, not quite.  Somebody with your last name died without any heirs, and the promise is that if you can prove that you actually have the same last name the lawyer will send you his millions.  All you have to do is pay some legal fees up front, and fax over your identification and bank account number!

It’s a scam.  Don’t fall for it.

Truth is, most Americans have little to look forward to in terms of inheritance.  According to recent statistics, only about 8% of Americans get an inheritance of any kind – and those who do inherit will likely get less than $25,000.  Less than 2% of Americans receive more than $100,000 in inheritance.  The average inheritance is spent in less than two years.

The scams and sketchiness of inheritances can render it difficult for us to wrap our heads around the promises we encounter in the Bible that we each have “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (First Peter 1:4).

Maybe you don’t doubt what is waiting for you but you have doubts while you’re waiting as you experience various trials and tragedies.

If any of this resonates with you, then Abraham is your guy.  He flat out asked God to give him a guarantee of his promised inheritance.  Assured of it, he waited for it with a style of living by faith that has become the standard for every subsequent believer.

It prompts me to ask these two questions around which I will organize my thoughts: #1 How Do You Really Know You Have A Spiritual Inheritance Reserved In Heaven?, and #2 How Do You Roll Knowing You Have A Spiritual Inheritance Reserved In Heaven?

#1    How Do You Really Know
    You Have A Spiritual Inheritance Reserved In Heaven?

God promised Abraham an inheritance.

Genesis 15:7  Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

Abraham’s response was a little surprising – at least on the surface.

Genesis 15:8  And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Was the guy noted for his faith doubting the Word of God?

I don’t think Abraham was doubting God’s Word.  If anything, he was taking God at His Word.

God promised Abraham He would “give [him] this land to inherit it.”  Now when someone gives you something, it is yours to own and use and enjoy.

But if they promise to give it to you as an inheritance, then you need to wait for it.

Abraham’s question was asked in light of his believing God that he would never, in this life, possess the land but that it would indeed be an inheritance and possessed by Abraham’s descendants… Of which he had none at the time!

And you know what?  That is exactly how Abraham lived.  He is elsewhere described as a pilgrim, as a sojourner, looking forward to a city not on earth but in Heaven, a city whose builder and maker is God.

I’d say Abraham had faith, not doubts, when he asked God, “how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

I’m going to suggest that the real point of his question was something like this: “God, since I will never really possess in this life what You have promised me as my inheritance, how can I experience the effects of what you have promised me every day from now until I arrive in Heaven?”

In fact, the word translated “know” means to know relationally or experientially.

I see this more as a request than a question.  Abraham requested something by which he might experience his inheritance on a daily basis.

We don’t talk enough about experiencing God.  We’re more rational than relational and, after all, experiences can get weird.

Nevertheless, we are in a relationship with God, and He Himself often describes it in experiential terms.  One of God’s favorite illustrations of our relationship with Him is that of a feast.  Pastor and author Tim Keller comments, “a feast is a place where our appetites and our senses – of sight, smell, sound, and taste – are filled up.”

In one place we are even told to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).  Picking up on that taste-test, Jonathan Edwards once wrote,

There is a difference between believing that God is holy and gracious, and having a new sense on the heart of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace.  The difference between believing that God is gracious and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness.

God is going to give Abraham an experience, a ‘taste.’  Is there a corollary in our lives as Christians by which we “taste and see that the Lord is good?”

Yes.  First, remember that you and I have been promised a future inheritance.  What is it, exactly?

The place to start talking about our inheritance is with Jesus Christ.  It is written of Jesus that “He has [been] appointed heir of all things…” which includes the entire universe (Hebrews 1:8).  We’re told “all things” will be put into subjection to Him (Hebrews 2:8).

Jesus, then, will inherit all of the created universe and everything in it.  Then isn’t it mind-blowing to read in Romans 8:17 that believers are “joint-heirs” with Jesus?  Everything He inherits, we inherit as well.

You and I will inherit everything that is the Lord’s – and that is everything!

In the mean time, while we are waiting, God has graciously given us a way to experience our promised inheritance.  A way to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  In Ephesians 1:14 we are told that God the Holy Spirit, Who indwells every believer, “is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession…”

This word “guarantee” means down payment.  God lives within us as a guaranteed down payment of everything we have been promised as an inheritance.

How do you really know, i.e., experience right now, that you have a spiritual inheritance reserved in Heaven?  You have the Holy Spirit in you.  You have God dwelling within you.  Every day and every moment of every day.

If that isn’t a foretaste of Heaven, I don’t know what is!

#2    How Do You Roll Knowing
    You Have A Spiritual Inheritance Reserved In Heaven?

We said that Abraham realized he would never own the land.  He was being given it as an inheritance.  How should he live in the present in light of the facts about his future?

Genesis 15:9  So [the Lord] said to 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.”
Genesis 15:10  Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee commented on this, saying,

When men made a contract in that day, this is the way they made it.  They would prepare a sacrifice in this manner.  The party of the first part joined hands with the party of the second part, they stated their contract, and then they walked through the sacrifice.  In that day this corresponded to going down to the courthouse and signing before a notary public in our day.

As we will see, however, God and Abraham do not walk together through this sacrifice.  Abraham does not walk through it.  There was nothing required of Abraham, nothing he could bring to the table.

Why the ceremony?  It was to establish to Abraham that God was going to give him the land as his inheritance and to illustrate God was giving it with absolutely no conditions for Abraham to meet or any contribution on his part.

God doesn’t get around to walking through the sacrifice until verse seventeen.  In the intervening time God shows Abraham how he should roll as he waits, as he sojourns, as he looks for the heavenly city.

Genesis 15:11  And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

You have to picture this scene.  Abraham had prepared the prescribed sacrifice, set out the pieces, but was just sitting around all by himself.  If you were looking on you’d wonder who was he waiting for?  Was it God – the God he’d left Ur to follow?

If so, God seemed a no-show, or at least very late.

Does God ever seem a no-show?  Does He ever seem late?  Sometimes even very late?

The answer – the honest answer – is “Yes,” from our human perspective He does.

F.B. Meyer wrote,

It is not easy to watch with God, or to wait for Him.  The orbit of His providence is so vast.  The stages of His progress are so wide apart.  He holds on His way through the ages; we tire in a few short hours.  And when His dealings with us are perplexing and mysterious, the heart that had boasted its unwavering loyalty begins to grow faint with misgivings, and to question…

To add to his waiting, “vultures” smelled or saw the carcasses and started to pick away at them.  Abraham had to drive them off.  He had to be there, to remain there, in order to be able to drive them off.

You must remain at the place of sacrifice if you want to be able to drive off doubts and fears and all such things as assault your faith.  That place of sacrifice is, for us, the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Thus you and I must daily live in the shadow of the Cross, being willing to lay down our own will in order to be able to honestly say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Genesis 15:12  Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.

Abraham’s taste of Heaven wasn’t all sweet.  He experienced “horror and great darkness” to represent to him that life would often hold tragedy and suffering.

We need to believe the Lord that in the world we will have trouble, but that He has overcome the world.

Part of Abraham experiencing darkness and horror was in identification with things that would befall his descendants.  The history of the Jews most definitely includes “horror and great darkness.”

The next few verses are a prophetic history lesson.

Genesis 15:13  Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.
Genesis 15:14  And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
Genesis 15:15  Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.
Genesis 15:16  But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Abraham was enabled to ‘see’ Israel’s future 400 year captivity in Egypt.  He ‘saw’ the Israelites come out of Egypt with great spoil and enter the land Abraham was being given as an inheritance.

We are able to ‘see’ many things on the horizon thanks to the prophecies yet to be fulfilled that we read in the Bible.  We ‘see,’ for example, a future seven-year Great Tribulation coming upon the planet to prepare it for the Second Coming of Jesus.

As far as Abraham, he would remain a pilgrim in the land and then die and be buried in it.  Many believers in Jesus Christ have died remaining strangers and pilgrims.  I’m hoping for the Rapture but I, too, may die still looking for the city whose builder and maker is God.

Abraham’s descendants “in the fourth generation” would return and claim the land as theirs by divine grant.  They would conquer the “Amorites” they encountered there, as well as the other inhabitants of Canaan.

Why the wait?  There are many reasons but one important one was that “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet complete.”  In other words, God was giving the Amorites opportunity to repent of their iniquities.  Four hundred years His longsufferring waited for them.

We live in a time in which God’s longsuffering waits.  As we report each week, that time is nearing its end.  Meanwhile folks are getting saved!

God would send Israel, under Joshua’s leadership, to both claim their land and destroy the sinful inhabitants of it.

This tells us that between here and Heaven we can expect conflict and combat.  In our case the battle is spiritual and so should be the weapons we employ.  But make no mistake about it: We are at war.

Genesis 15:17  And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.

Abraham had to wait all day – shooing vultures and enduring terrors.  Then a “smoking oven” and a “burning torch” go through the pieces.

There are no end of interpretations of what these symbolize.  Let’s try to keep it simple.

Remember what this was.  It was a ceremony in which two parties would walk through the sacrifice.  The two parties here were Abraham and God – but Abraham was not a participant.  That means these symbols represented God walking through the sacrifice alone.

The “smoking oven” is really a small furnace that would be used to refine metals.
The “torch” served as a light in those days.
Since we have the benefit of the complete Bible, I can’t help but suggest that both these symbols represent Jesus Christ Who walked through the sacrifice alone, as it were, when He died on the Cross for the sins of the world.

Why represent Jesus as a “smoking furnace?”  Can’t say for sure, but if I think in terms of how I am to be living while I await my inheritance, I’m told I will find myself in the furnace of suffering.  Ah, but Someone will be in it with me!  Just as Jesus was there in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s three friends, He will be with me.

The “torch” symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the world, and as the light to my path through this world to the next.

Genesis 15:18  On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates –
Genesis 15:19  the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites,
Genesis 15:20  the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,
Genesis 15:21  the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

Here’s the land grant to Abraham’s descendants.  It was God’s to give and He gave it, unconditionally, to Israel.

Technically, God’s covenant with Abraham was made in chapter twelve and it is ratified by God here in chapter fifteen.  The promise of land, of descendants, and of blessing all nations of the earth, are the three points of the Abrahamic Covenant.  We understand this to be literal and physical – a real granting of the land to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews, through whom the Savior, Jesus Christ, came to bless all nations.

We also understand that the ultimate fulfillment is yet future, when Jesus will physically return to earth to rescue Israel and establish His kingdom on the earth.

Mean time we can live as those fully expecting to receive our inheritance.

Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Starry, Starry Birthright (Genesis 15v1-6)


There are a lot of great songs about friendship.  Woody and Buzz are immortalized in You’ve Got a Friend In Me, by Randy Newman.

And as the years go by
… our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see
It’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me

I wonder if God and Abraham had a friendship song?  I’ve been struck by the fact he is three times called “the friend of God” in the Bible.

If God emphasized their friendship, we ought to pay close attention to it – especially since Jesus told His disciples that we were to consider ourselves His friends.

The text we have before us reeks of friendship material.  Abraham and God talk to each other honestly, intimately, the way only the best of friends can.

I want to be set free to talk to Him as my friend, the way Abraham and God talked together.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Is Your Friend And He Asks You To Count His Blessings, and #2 God Is Your Friend And He Accounted To You His Righteousness.

#1    God Is Your Friend
    And He Asks You To Count His Blessings

If you didn’t know who was talking, and you just had some of the dialog, you would conclude that this was a conversation between old friends.

Well, they are old friends, ten years into their relationship.  It’s a conversation exemplary of the intimacy and the honesty we can have talking to God.

Genesis 15:1  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

God initiated this conversation.  He approached Abraham in his time of fear.

While we talk about important spiritual disciplines like having regular devotions and prayer, don’t neglect to realize that the Lord is also seeking you.  He wants to begin conversations with you.  He will approach you – often and gently.

“The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision” seems to mean that God spoke to Abraham in a waking vision.  Abraham saw the Lord, he heard the Lord’s voice.  It was likely a pre-incarnation appearance of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Abraham had just won a great victory over marauding kings who had taken his nephew, Lot, captive.  He’d also won a great spiritual victory by refusing to take the reward offered to him by the king of Sodom.

The result of his victories was fear.  It sounds weird, but often victory is followed by fear.  Especially spiritual victory, because you wonder if God is really going to come through next time… And the time after that… And on down the line.  It can cause you to camp-out on a victory and stop pressing forward.

“Do not be afraid.”  God knew the heart of His friend.  God knows your heart, too.  Your fears, your stresses, your anxieties; He sees them all and wants to come to you and comfort you.

What are you afraid of today?  Don’t bother trying to deny it; God sees it.  Let Him speak to your heart about it.  Let Him alleviate your fears.

God told Abraham, “I am your shield.”  You only need a shield if you are being assaulted by dangers and devils.  So this is a double-promise.  God was promising Abraham he’d have trouble in the world, but also that God would be a sufficient shield to protect him.

You Lord of the Rings fans, remember in the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, when the cave troll speared Frodo?  It should have killed him but underneath his clothing he was wearing the mithril coat of chain mail.  That’s sort of how I see the shield God has promised.  I’m gonna get attacked and speared, but I’ll be fine so long as I have the shield of faith to see me through.

God next told Abraham, “I am… your exceedingly great reward.”  Abraham had just refused a great material reward from the king of Sodom.  God was here promising Him an exceedingly great spiritual reward.

God is my shield against outward attack, out in the world.  He is my exceedingly great reward inwardly, in my heart, to keep me from spiritual depression and dysfunction.  He has promised to reward me one day but more than that – He is my reward every day!

Genesis 15:2  But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Genesis 15:3  Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

Abraham did not want any great material reward for following the Lord.  He only wanted what God had promised him from the beginning – a son to inherit the land God was showing him.

I think we sometimes act like the TV detective, Columbo, when we approach God.  He’s given us so much but we take it for granted and say, “O, and one more thing…”

Abraham didn’t want ‘one more thing.’  He only wanted the one thing God had promised him.

From a human standpoint, it seemed too late for God to fulfill His promise.  He and Sarah were old and past the age of having children.

He needed to learn that God would only fulfill His promises miraculously.  God wasn’t going to give them Isaac until it was humanly impossible.  God had something to show them, and to show the world through them, about spiritual birth.

Never forget you are on display.  God wants to show you, and to show the world through you, something miraculous, something only He can get the credit for.

Abraham had already begun trying to figure-out a way to accomplish the miraculous.  Maybe Eliezer was going to be his heir.

Too much of what passes for the work of God today is some ‘Eliezer’ born in our own plans and not in the power of God.

Genesis 15:4  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”

Are you OK with God crushing your plans?  When you present ‘Eliezer,’ if God says, “No,” do you accept it?  Or do you press on?

It’s hard to wait on the Lord.  Especially as you grow older.  I know I start to think there’s no time left, really, to see a revival in Hanford, for instance.  It’s not true, of course, but it can be a powerful discouragement.
Genesis 15:5  Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

This conversation was occurring in Abraham’s tent.  God said, “Let’s go outside, I want to show you something.”  This is one reason why I think this was a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus and not just a “vision” in Abraham’s mind.  They physically moved outside and looked up at the night sky.

Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the “stars.”  In other places God compared them to the sand of the sea and to the dust of the earth.  As the Bible unfolds you come to understand that God was referring not just to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Israelites, but to the spiritual descendants of Abraham – all those who would be saved by believing on Jesus Christ.

God was going to give Abraham one son and then, through him, innumerable descendants.

Do we believe that God can and will multiply our lives in terms of their long-term effect?  Some believers, like Billy Graham, obviously have affected lots of people.  Do I think I am less of a Christian than him?  Do you?

Truth is, you can’t see the effect of your life, of your Christian life.  You could affect one who could affect millions!

Have you ever heard of a guy named Mordecai Ham?  The place to begin talking about him is with another guy you may not be familiar with.  Edward Kimball was a Sunday School teacher in Chicago in the late 19th century.  He led a 17 year old D.L. Moody to faith in Jesus Christ.  As an evangelist Moody would go on to share Christ, it’s estimated, with over 100 million people – all before modern technology!

Moody would influence a London pastor, F.B. Meyer.  As the years went by, Meyer influenced J. Wilbur Chapman; J. Wilbur Chapman influenced Billy Sunday; then Billy Sunday influenced Mordecai Ham.

And it was Mordecai Ham who led Billy Graham to Christ.

You and I are in that kind of mathematical ‘flow’ when it comes to God.  We can ‘count’ on Him to bless us.  Meanwhile, He is your closest friend and will shield you and be your exceedingly great reward.

#2    God Is Your Friend
    And He Accounted To You His Righteousness

In these six verses, for the first time in the Bible, two absolutely striking phrases occur:

“The word of the Lord came,” and,
“Fear not!”

Also for the first time, the Lord is described as a “shield.”

Besides that, one incredibly important word occurs for the first time: “believed.”

There are commentators who would argue that verse six is one of the most important, if not the most important, in all the Old Testament.  That’s because in it you learn exactly how a man is brought into the relationship of being the friend of God.  It’s how you are saved.

Genesis 15:6  And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

What is “righteousness?”  In its most basic biblical meaning, it is to be right with God.  It is to be able to stand in the presence of God without guilt or fear.

The Bible tells me there is no one righteous, not one, in the human race that can stand in the presence of God because all have sinned and therefore fall short of the righteousness required to stand in God’s presence.

I’m further told that the end result of my sin is death.  Not just physical death, but eternal separation from God being deservedly punished for my sins in a real place we call Hell.

Are there works of righteousness I can do to earn a right standing with God and avoid going to Hell?

No, there are not.  All my good works will always fall far short of God’s standard of righteousness which is nothing short of absolute internal and external perfection.  All my thoughts, words, and deeds would need to be perfect from conception through my life… And that is not humanly possible.

How, then, did Abraham become the friend of God?  How was he saved? “He believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

The word “accounted” is a bookkeeping term.  It means to credit, or to put into your account.  Think of it like this.  You have a spiritual account in Heaven, on the books there.  If you were to look at your account, check its balance, all you’d see there is sin that separates you from God.  No righteousness; not one iota.

But here God tells you He can make a deposit into your account.  He can credit you with, He can put into your account, “righteousness.”  He can, and He will, gift it to you.

All you do to receive this gift of righteousness is “believe in the Lord.”  That’s it.  While it’s not easy to believe, that’s all you must do.  And it’s all you can do – there is no other way to be made right with God.

How is it that righteousness can be credited to you?

2 Corinthians 5:21  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

“Him who knew no sin” was Jesus Christ, God come to earth in human flesh.  Where did God make Jesus sin?  He was made sin for us when He took our place by dying on the Cross at Calvary.

When we believe God about Jesus Christ, He makes an exchange: Jesus takes our sin upon Himself and He credits us, He gifts us, with His perfect righteousness.

We are therefore declared “righteous” when we simply believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin.  We are saved!

Let me clear something up.  We’ve just read, in verses one through five, about a remarkable promise – several, really – that God made to Abraham.  Is that what he “believed,” what therefore caused God to credit him with “righteousness?”  Is this when Abraham was truly saved?

No and no.  Abraham “believed God” prior to these events.  I offer two proofs:

The form of the verb used in this verse suggests a prior belief.  According to competent language scholars, the verb reads, “and he kept on believing the Lord.”
In the New Testament (Hebrews 11:8) we learn that Abraham first believed God when he set out from Ur towards the Promised Land.  He believed and God credited it to him for righteousness.

Have you “believed God?”  I didn’t ask if you believed there is a God, or even if you believe that Jesus is God.

Have you “believed God” exchanged His righteousness for your sin when He died in your place on the Cross at Calvary?  If not, you are not only not the friend of God, you are His enemy.

Look to the Cross and cry out to the Lord!

If you have “believed God,” then God is your friend.  He is your shield and your exceedingly great reward.

You’re in His ‘flow’ to be able to affect untold millions of people.  Really!

But you need to be willing to effect one or two around you, where God has strategically placed you, at home or at work or wherever you find yourself.

He Ain’t Heavenly, He’s My Brothers’ (Genesis 14v1-24)


You know to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, but what would you do if no one answered?

Residents of New Hanover in North Carolina encountered that situation back in 2009.

Around 6:30pm Saturday night, neighbors noticed a fire.  They immediately called 9-1-1. “I had my cell phone on this ear and her house phone on the other ear,” Kathy Boone said, “and they were just ringing and ringing.”  Fellow neighbor John Cumbus said, “My wife tried three times to get 9-1-1 and the phone rang, nobody was there.”  About five neighbors called to report the house fire.  They say they couldn’t believe no one answered their calls.

Someone dialed the Sheriff’s Department directly and help was sent.  Neighbors say a firefighter told them 911 was just too flooded with calls when neighbors tried to report the fire.

It’s being called 9-1-1 overload.  There are lots of reasons for it.  One study, for example, reported that as many as 45% of 9-1-1 calls made in California are for non-emergencies.

To give you some perspective, in 2010, 260 million calls were made to 9-1-1 in the United States.  Dispatchers do an incredible job, but they can’t do it when the lines are full.

A ‘call’ for help is made in our text in Genesis fourteen.  Information gets to Abraham that his nephew, Lot, has been taken captive during a battle.  Abraham was Lot’s 9-1-1.  Abraham answered the call and rescued Lot.

The Bible describes situations in which people – both believers and nonbelievers – are taken captive.  In Second Timothy we read,

2 Timothy 2:26  [correct those who are in opposition]… that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Perhaps the clearest spiritual 9-1-1 call is Galatians 6:1.

Galatians 6:1  Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Our story is very much an illustration of Galatians 6:1.

Lot was indeed overtaken.
Abraham, who was spiritual, rushed to “restore” him.
Then Abraham had to be careful because a temptation presented itself to him.

Abraham was ready to answer the call, and he remained steady in the face of temptation.  So must we!

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Are You Ready To Answer The Call And Rescue Those Taken Captive?, and #2 Are You Steady To Avoid The Fall And Refuse To Be Taken Captive?

#1    Are You Ready To Answer The Call
    And Rescue Those Taken Captive?

We’re going to note two things about Abraham:

He was mission-ready at all times.
He was mission-willing regardless the outcome.

Let’s take a quick look at his mission readiness.

Genesis 14:1  And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations,
Genesis 14:2  that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
Genesis 14:3  All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).
Genesis 14:4  Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
Genesis 14:5  In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim,
Genesis 14:6  and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness.
Genesis 14:7  Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.
Genesis 14:8  And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim
Genesis 14:9  against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar – four kings against five.
Genesis 14:10  Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains.

The king of Sodom and the kings of the adjoining cities, after having been tributaries for twelve years to the king of Elam, combined to throw off his oppression.  To punish their rebellion, Chedorlaomer, with the aid of three allies, invaded their territories, defeated them in a pitched battle where the nature of the ground favored his army, and hastened in triumph on his homeward march, with a large amount of captives and spoil.

Genesis 14:11  Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.
Genesis 14:12  They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

The last time we saw Lot he was parting ways with Abraham, and the Bible said he had “pitched his tent as far as Sodom.”  Here we read that he “dwelt in Sodom.”

Lot’s first poor choice led to others.  It made it easier for him to justify his backsliding.  It’s a good ‘bad’ example of being overtaken, and it led to him being taken captive.

Genesis 14:13  Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram.

The “one who had escaped” we suppose was a godless citizen of Sodom.  He sought out Abraham.  It’s wonderful when the ungodly, in their time of crisis, seek out the believer knowing that you can be of real help to them.

This is the first occurrence of the word “Hebrew” in the Bible.  It’s a description, really.  The word itself means something like to cross over or pass over.  Abraham was called the first “Hebrew” probably because he crossed-over the Euphrates river in pursuit of the one, true God and His promises.

Abraham had relationships with nonbelievers, like Amorites, but he wasn’t being affected by them in a negative way.  He was in the world, not of the world.

Abraham received news that Lot was taken captive.  He was mission-ready.

Genesis 14:14  Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
Genesis 14:15  He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.

Three hundred and eighteen servants are a lot of servants!  But it’s not a very large army to face-off against four kings with their armies.

God loves to send-out His servants against overwhelming odds.  It gives Him the opportunity to display His power.

We used to sing a song whose chorus was, we are few, but we are strong when You surround us.  Numbers are great, but they are never necessary in a spiritual battle.

In fact, you might be better off with a smaller force.  There are times in the Bible that God goes out of His way to reduce the number of His soldiers.

Abraham had trained his servants to fight.  They were servant-soldiers.  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I point out that you, too, are a servant-soldier in God’s household of faith, the church.

Abraham had equipped his servant-soldiers with weapons.  I’m not sure what type of weaponry they had, whether it was state-of-the-art or not.  I will say that, in keeping with the idea that God wants to reveal His strength in your weakness, that often the weapons of our warfare seem inadequate.

It reminds me of Will Smith as Agent J in Men in Black when he is given his weapon, the noisy cricket.  It was tiny and seemed inadequate but packed quite a wallop.

Ever feel like your weapons are like that?  They are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds!

Training and weapons were great.  But you still need a plan.  Abraham had a strategy and it worked.

Genesis 14:16  So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.

Abraham was mission-ready and it was mission accomplished.  But I also mentioned at the outset that he was mission-willing regardless the outcome, and now we see what that means.

We’re told that Abraham “brought back… Lot and his goods.”  Brought back to where?

Back to Sodom!  The next time we see Lot he is one of the leaders in Sodom and he has to be dragged out by angels as the city is about to be toasted from Heaven.

I believe most Christians are somewhat mission-ready.  We’ve been taught the Word, we spend time in prayer, we have some idea about our equipping in terms of the gifts of God the Holy Spirit.

We might not always be mission-willing, however, if we have opinions about the people needing rescuing.  Or about the expected outcome of our mission.

Let’s be blunt.  Why should Abraham risk his life for Lot when Lot chose to live in Sodom, knowing the possible consequences?  Why should Abraham go to battle for Lot only to see him move back to Sodom and backslide even further?

Well that’s like asking why should Jesus leave Heaven, take the body of a man, and die on the Cross for the sins of the whole world, knowing most people will reject Him and His offer of salvation!

Or that you and I would reject Him for so long a time and then, even after receiving Him, often choose poorly on our path toward Heaven.

The nonbelievers around us are taken captive by the devil to do his will.  That doesn’t mean they are possessed, only that they are dead in their sins and act like sinners towards us.  They need rescuing despite their undeserving condition.  In fact, the more undeserving they seem, the greater is the display of God’s grace.

Believers overtaken by sin need rescuing, too.  Even when they bring it upon themselves.  Even when they return agaian-and-again to making bad choices.

That’s our mission and we need to be ready and willing despite the results.

The results are not up to us, only the mission.  We will be evaluated on our faithfulness, not on our seeming success or failure.

So today when we ask, “Are you ready?”, we also mean, “Are you willing?”  If there are prejudices and opinions that are keeping us from reaching out, then we need to leave them at the Cross and see people the way Jesus did – with compassion.

#2    Are You Steady To Avoid The Fall
    And Refuse To Be Taken Captive?

Abraham was in his greatest danger after the battle.  Flushed with victory, a serious temptation was presented to him.

Genesis 14:17  And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.

Genesis 14:21  Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

Abraham certainly deserved a reward for his efforts.  Or did he?

Whenever we start down the road of what we might ‘deserve,’ we’re headed for a fall.

It’s not that we deserve nothing because we are so unworthy.  It’s that we must let God determine what we deserve, and that we must prefer things that are spiritual over things that are material.

Abraham was steady.

Genesis 14:22  But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth,
Genesis 14:23  that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’ –
Genesis 14:24  except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

The problem here was that if Abraham received the goods the perception would be that the king of Sodom had made him rich.  It would cast doubts upon Abraham’s motives for rescuing Lot and the others with him.  Was he in it for the money?  For the glory?

It is so hard to not judge, and to be judged, by the standards of the world.  We tend to measure success, even spiritual success, by outward observation.  We need to look deeper, to what God is doing in the heart.

Abraham had trained himself and his servant-soldiers for the battle.  More importantly, God had prepared him for the victory by giving him mission parameters, and we see that in verses eighteen through twenty.

Genesis 14:18  Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.
Genesis 14:19  And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;
Genesis 14:20  And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.

“Melchizedek” is a title, not a name so much, and means, king of righteousness.  He was a believer, declared righteous the same way Abraham was – by believing in God.

He lived in “Salem,” which is the precursor of Jerusalem.

Melchizedek is an interesting Bible character.  It is best to study him in the context of the Book of Hebrews.  Chapter seven of Hebrews draws out the importance of Melchizedek in convincing the Jews that Jesus qualifies as a priest even though He was not in the lineage of Aaron.  God saw to it that there was another priesthood He had ordained, a superior one, prior to the Law of Moses.

Abraham was returning with great wealth and was met by both the king of Salem and the king of Sodom.  It was intended as a contrast: The wealth he had been blessed with could either be an occasion of stumbling or an opportunity for sacrifice.  It could stain his testimony, or it could steady it.

Abraham chose to remain steady and sacrifice.  He gave to the priest, and therefore to God, “a tithe of all.”  “Tithe” means tenth, or 10%.  On your gross and before taxes!

It’s often argued that since Abraham gave God 10% before the Law of Moses, then it is a universal principle that God’s people give 10%.

It’s not.  The New Testament gives us principles to evaluate our giving.  We are to give regularly, joyfully, and sacrificially of our money to the work of the Lord, especially through our local church.

If you want to set a percentage of how much to give, it’s 100%!  We belong to the Lord and are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  That would include, but not be limited to, our money.  Now God said we owe Caesar (the government), and obviously we need to live.  But our giving to God should not be a matter of getting a small percentage out of the way so we can do what we want with the rest.

It’s not about how much we are required to give, but about how much we should keep knowing that the Lord’s coming is imminent and that there is much work to be done.

Melchizedek brought Abraham “bread and wine,” which we immediately recognize as the future elements of the Lord’s Supper.

There’s certainly a lot of deep mystery we can plumb here, but it’s also pretty obvious what was going on.  God was preparing Abraham for the temptation victory always brings by having communion with him, fellowship with him.

It was in this fellowship that God instructed Abraham how to answer the temptation.  When the king of Sodom offered him the goods Abraham referred to God as “God most high, the possessor of Heaven and earth.”  He got that title in this encounter with Melchizedek.  It readied him to remain steady against temptation.

In his personal fellowship, God revealed to Abraham that God was “the possessor of Heaven and earth.”  Instead of thinking that meant he deserved the world’s goods, Abraham understood he needed nothing from the world except what God chose to provide him.  In fact, he gave away
some of what he had to show he understood.

By the time the king of Sodom made his offer, Abraham had settled in his heart that he wasn’t going to take anything from him that might insinuate he was enriching him.  God had given him mission parameters.

It’s in knowing the nature and character of God that we are steadied to handle temptation.  We come to know Him in our personal fellowship with His priest – in our case, Jesus Christ Who is at the right hand of the throne interceding for us, with Whom we have communion because of His body and blood.

You’re mission-ready and God has placed you strategically in the world to answer the calls to rescue and restore.

Make sure you have the compassion of Jesus to be mission-willing and then let the Lord steady you against temptation.

The Plains! The Plains! (Genesis 13v1-18)


A new monk arrives at the monastery.  He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand.

He notices, however, that they are copying copies, not the original books. The new monk goes to the head monk to ask him about this.  He points out that if there were an error in the very first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies.

The head monk says “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.”  So he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original.

Hours later, nobody has seen him.  One of the monks goes downstairs to look for him.  He hears a sobbing coming from the back of the cellar, and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying.  He asks what’s wrong.

The old monk sobs, “The word is celebrate.”

Monks represent to us a sort of ultimate separation from the world in order to walk with God.  I think, however, monks give separation from the world a bad name.  They make separation from the world seem as though it is something to be endured rather than something that can be enjoyed.

While no one here thinks that a believer must become a monk, we might nevertheless have the attitude that separation from the world is something that is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

In our text Abraham is going to example what it means to live separated from the world.  Lot is going to provide the opposite example.

The key to enjoying separation is very simple.  It has to do with who you allow to make your choices in life.  If you let God choose, you will enjoy living separated from the world.  If you let you choose, you won’t.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Let God Choose For You And Separation From The World Will Be Enrapturing, and #2 Let You Choose For You And Separation From The World Will Become Elusive.

 #1    Let God Choose For You And Separation
    From The World Will Be Enrapturing
    (v1-9 & 14-18)

We often summarize the biblical Doctrine of Separation by saying, We are in the world, but we are not to be of the world.

There are numerous verses that encourage separation.  None is more concise than First John 2:15-17.

1 John 2:15  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:16  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.
1 John 2:17  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

That’s all great, but how do we actually put it into practice?  Do we simply make a list of things to separate from?  Is that real, biblical separation?  Is separation removing the ‘r’ from celebrate to remain celibate?

We should learn to think inward, not outward.  Separation from the world is a matter of the heart and your love for God.

Abraham is our example.  In these verses he makes a clean separation from the world, but he does it because he’d rather hang out with God.

Genesis 13:1  Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.
Genesis 13:2  Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.
Genesis 13:3  And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,
Genesis 13:4  to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

In chapter seventeen Abram’s name will be changed by God to Abraham.  Mean time I’ll read what the text says but call him Abraham.

We covered these first four verses in our last study.  The backslider was back: Abraham was back in the land, back at Bethel, back to worshipping God at the altar.  If you’ve backslidden, “Get back!”

Genesis 13:5  Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.

Lot was Abraham’s nephew.  His father had died and Abraham was perhaps a sort of guardian to him.

Genesis 13:6  Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.
Genesis 13:7  And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

This is what I call a high-class problem.  They were too rich for the land to support them!

Still, it was a problem that needed resolving.  It was a spiritual problem.  In fact, the spiritual aspects of it were the most important.

How was it spiritual?  The “Canaanites and the Perizzites” were watching. Abraham and Lot were the guys representing to them the one true God.  If they had strife, and if it went unresolved, well then maybe their ‘God’ wasn’t so powerful after all.  If Abraham and Lot couldn’t solve their problems, why follow their God?

Genesis 13:8  So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.

Look for the bigger spiritual impact of your difficulties.  Think of your testimony.  Subordinate your will to that which will bring glory to God.

Genesis 13:9  Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

The word ‘magnanimous’ comes to mind.  Abraham was the uncle; Lot his nephew.  He could have told Lot what to do.

Why did Abraham let Lot choose?  There are at least two reasons:

First, it was a way of letting God choose for him.  He would leave it up to Lot and thereby leave it in God’s hands.
Second, Abraham gave Lot an opportunity to choose for himself whether he would pursue a spiritual path or a carnal one.  You can’t really force spirituality.  At some point a person must choose for themselves.

Lot is going to choose for himself the better grazing land.  It was a poor choice.  In a moment we will return to discuss Lot’s poor choice.  For now let’s stick with Abraham and the results of his letting God choose for him.

Genesis 13:14  And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward;
Genesis 13:15  for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.

Would you rather have a season or two of good grazing land or the promise of an everlasting spiritual inheritance for you and your descendants?  Well, when you put it that way, letting God make the choice seems better.

God didn’t say, “Let Lot choose ‘cause I’ve got something better for you.”  God didn’t have to say it because Abraham believed it by faith.  He trusted in God’s choices for him – even if they seemed foolish from the world’s point of view.

You may as well understand that when you let God choose you might end up in circumstances that seem foolish from the world’s point of view.  No matter.  The fellowship with God you gain is your reward.  His whisper to your heart about the heavenly inheritance awaiting you is priceless.

Genesis 13:16  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.

This was a pretty big promise to an old guy who had no kids.  It looks beyond Isaac and the children of Israel to the spiritual children of God – all those who, like Abraham before them, would believe God and to whom He would account it for righteousness and justify them.

This was enrapturing, meaning it moved Abraham to a delight without measure.  In a culture in which land holdings and offspring were how you measured wealth and success, to be promised land in every direction as far as you could see and more descendants than could even begin to be numbered, this was the bomb.

You see what happened?  It was time to separate – from Lot, from the world.  Abraham’s idea of being separated was to let God choose for him.  The result was a more difficult path in the world, for sure, but an enrapturing, enthralling revelation of God to his heart.

Separation wasn’t some monastic torture to be endured.  It was a spiritual delight to be enjoyed.

Genesis 13:17  Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

This wasn’t something Abraham got up and did all at once.  It wasn’t a final walk-thru before the deal closed.  It was God’s way of telling Abraham that wherever he went in the land, wherever he found himself, God was with him to remind him of the spiritual promises He’d made.

You and I are promised that one day we will be resurrected or raptured to Heaven to be with the Lord.  From there we will return to rule and reign with Him over the earth for a thousand years.

There’s a sense, then, that everywhere I walk, wherever I am, I’m gonna one day rule.

How might that affect us?  It might make us like Philip in the New Testament.  God told him to go sit along a desert road.  Along came the Ethiopian eunuch.  Philip might seem a poor beggar sitting by the side of a desert road while the eunuch was at the top of the world, being carried along in a caravan.  Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip ruled that encounter – going up to this worldly treasurer and sharing with him the treasure of the Gospel.

So, you see, the idea of being a monk, locked away in some monastery, away from nonbelievers, is in some ways the exact opposite of biblical separation.

Genesis 13:18  Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.

One of the meanings of “Mamre” is richness, and “Hebron” means communion.  Abraham was rich in communion with, in fellowship with, God.

Separation isn’t me making a list of don’ts.  Neither is it me insisting I can take my Christianity right to the limit, to the edge, of what might be considered sin to some people.

No, separation – according to Abraham, the friend of God – is letting God choose for me.  It is listening to the still, small voice of God the Holy Spirit telling me what will tend to increase my fellowship with God versus what will interfere with it.

I will say that the more I listen and let God choose, the less like the world I will look, and the less I will like the things of the world.

Or, to put it the opposite way, if I look and act worldly, then I’m not really listening to the Lord and letting Him choose for me.  Separation isn’t a list of ‘don’ts,’ but if I am doing all the usual ‘don’ts,’ then I’m probably fooling myself about my walk with Jesus.

If God isn’t making my choices, then I am… And that is exampled for us by Lot.

#2     Let You Choose For You And Separation
    From The World Will Become Elusive

The place to start talking about Lot is in the New Testament.  The apostle Peter gives this commentary about him:

2 Peter 2:7  [God] delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked
2 Peter 2:8  (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)

Peter calls Lot “righteous” no less than three times.  Perhaps God the Holy Spirit knew that the emphasis would be necessary to convince you that Lot really was a child of God!   There is very little in his behavior to suggest that he believed in the Lord.  Nevertheless you must accept God’s testimony:  Lot was declared righteous.

If you look at Lot’s conduct, then listen to Peter’s commentary, you have to conclude that it is possible for a Christian to be carnal.  Carnal is a word that describes a Christian who sets their mind on the things of the world.  In the context of our theme this morning, Lot is the Christian who chooses for him or her self rather than submitting their life to God.

Genesis 13:10  And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.

Lot was concerned mostly about “water.”  In the New Testament water becomes a symbol of the abundant spiritual provision of God to His faithful children as they walk with Him in obedience.  Lot preferred the water that leaves you thirsting for more rather than the spiritual ‘water’ that flows from you to others.

Lot compared Egypt to Eden.  Eden had been Eden because of fellowship with God – not because of its water and vegetation!  Lot thought of fellowship in terms of immediate material blessings.

Genesis 13:11  Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.

“Ze plains!”  Lot could have deferred to Abraham.  He could have prayed about it and let God choose for him.  Instead he “chose for himself.”

I can only wonder how many times I have, at a spiritual juncture, chosen for myself based on what appeared to be the best from a physical and material mindset.  It’s the yellow pad thing I’ve referenced a few times recently – how we make a list of pro’s and con’s on a piece of paper and go with what seems to make the most sense.

That’s what Lot did – and it led to a life lived backsliding.

If God chooses for you to live in some ‘Sodom and Gomorrah,’ then He will be with you there.  He was with Daniel in Babylon, for instance.  But let it be His choice and not yours.

Genesis 13:12  Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.
Genesis 13:13  But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.

Just for emphasis the Holy Spirit lets us know that Sodom was no place for a believer in those days.  Had Lot said from the get-go, “I’m moving to Sodom,” it would have been obvious he was backsliding and not listening to the Lord.

Instead he approached Sodom in stages:

First he looked l longingly at the plain before Sodom.
Then he pitched his tent as far as Sodom.  In Chapter fourteen he was living in Sodom.
By Chapter Nineteen he was one of the leaders, like a city councilman, in Sodom.

Ask yourself, “Am I on a course that is more worldly or more other-worldly?”

It’s pretty easy, in one sense, to look back on my life and see if I am becoming more separated from the world or more worldly.  To see if I am really closer to God, really a better friend to Him, than I was previously.  I’m tracking one way or the other.

The world around us is like Sodom and Gomorrah and we are called to live in it.  But we don’t have to be like Lot.  We can be Abraham’s – enjoying rather than enduring.

I’m tempted to say, “The choice is yours,” but really it’s a matter of whether you will let God choose for you.

The other day we surprised CJ by taking her to Disneyland.  Sunday after church she came home and we asked her if she wanted to do something super-fun.  She said she wanted to go swimming.  So we asked her, “If you could go anywhere and be at the most super-fun place, where would you want to go?”

She said, sort of questioning, “Play some games?”

We finally just told her we were taking her to Disneyland.  Then we surprised her again, when we got there, because her mom and dad were there already.

Her choices were OK – swimming and games.  Our choice for her was better!

God’s choices for you are always better.  They are spiritual in nature, drawing you closer to Him, so don’t set your heart on the things of this world which are passing away.

Sister Act (Genesis 12v10-13v4)


One of my favorite lines from The Little Mermaid is when Sebastian says to Ariel, “You’re under a lot of pressure down here.”

We say it in our family whenever we want to communicate that we’re feeling a little stressed from the pressure of certain circumstances.

We all feel pressure from life’s circumstances.  The question is, What do we do to relieve the pressure?

Abraham was feeling pressure.  Finally in the Promised Land, he faced a severe famine.  He had a lot of mouths to feed.  He decided to relieve the pressure by altering his circumstances.  He left the Promised Land for Egypt.

Big mistake!  He should have stayed in the land realizing that the famine was a pressure-test of his faith.

When you and I are in difficult circumstances the first thing that comes to mind is to get out of them – to alter our circumstances.  It can be a big mistake.  Instead we might want to consider that it is a pressure-test of our faith.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Pressure-Relief Should Not Be Sought By Altering Your Circumstances, and #2 Pressure-Relief Should Be Sought By Sacrificing At Your Altar.

#1    Pressure-Relief Should Not Be Sought
    By Altering Your Circumstances

Abraham was definitely under a great deal of pressure from his circumstances:

His wife, Sarah, was barren and they were without any children
His father, Terah, had recently died
He was the head of a rather large household and was responsible for their survival
He was living in the midst of godless, immoral Canaanites who looked upon him with suspicion at best and malice at worst

I wish I could say things were about to improve for him.  They were not!

It’s not a good idea to try to encourage people who are in difficulties by telling them that things are going to get better.  Sometimes things get better, but often they take a turn for the worse.

It’s not about circumstances getting better but about our focusing on the Lord in them.  Romans 8:28 assumes that we will be in dire circumstances but that all things will, indeed, work together for the good as we look to the Lord.

Genesis 12:10  Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.

“Abram” is Abraham.  God will change his name in a little while.

After five years of delaying, Abraham had finally obeyed God and moved into the Promised Land.  You’d think God would greet his obedience with milk and honey.  Instead Abraham faced a “severe famine.”

God does want to prosper you for your obedience – but not necessarily in a material way.  Real prosperity, real wealth, is spiritual in nature.  It is knowing God in a deeper, more intimate way.  We can be rich in faith, but it will require that our faith be tested in order to come forth as gold.

A barren wife… A death in the family… Surrounded by godless idolators.  Abraham was holding up pretty well in all these troubles.  “Now there was a famine in the land…”

“Now” – while Abraham was already being tried, there came another trial.  It is a word of precise timing – of God’s precise timing.  In God’s dealings with Abraham, “now” was the ideal time to test him with the famine.

It could be that he was holding up in his own strength and that God added weight until Abraham was in a place where his own resources were insufficient.

One author noted, “Given our talent set, experience, and education, many of us are fairly capable of living rather successfully (according to the world’s standards) without any strength…” from God.

That being true, God must keep adding weight until we are at the point our own resources fail.  It’s a place of decision.  Will we walk by faith?

Abraham would stumble in this trial; his faith would fail.  There is no mention of his seeking the Lord on the decision to go to Egypt.  There is no mention of a tent or of an altar the whole time he is in Egypt – the two objects that are symbols of Abraham’s walk of faith.  Abraham was acting on his own – choosing to change his circumstances without God’s clear leading to do so.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that you can never, ever change your circumstances.  That is both untrue and a tremendous burden to bear.  What I am talking about are those circumstances in your life that you know to be God’s sovereign circumstances for you but that you would rather see changed on account of the difficulty of remaining under them.
How do you know when your circumstances are a trial to remain faithful in?  Go back to God’s last instructions to you.  If Abraham had done that, here’s what he would have discovered:

Genesis 12:1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”

Genesis 12:7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

God’s last instructions to him were to go to the land that He had promised him.  The difficult circumstances he faced in the land were by themselves not a sufficient reason for Abraham to move.  Going down into Egypt to avoid the famine was not a part of God’s leading.  It was a natural choice on Abraham’s part in order to get out from under the difficult circumstances he found himself in.

By the way, it made sense, did it not, for him to go to Egypt?  Would we not have given him that counsel?  This stuff isn’t just about us.  It’s about how we encourage others.

What were God’s last instructions to you?  It’s important that you remember them!  You may soon find that the land that seemed so promising has a famine in it.  Difficult circumstances are not a sufficient reason in themselves for you to move in a new direction.  Whether you remain faithful in difficult circumstances or take a disastrous excursion into Egypt can depend upon your confidence in God’s last instructions to you.

“Egypt” is, of course, a real place, but it also has a symbolic meaning to believers.  In Isaiah 31:1 we read,

Isaiah 31:1  Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek the Lord!

Egypt symbolizes a dependance upon the world or upon ourselves rather than looking to the Lord for help and leading.  It symbolizes the natural, logical way to relieve pressure.  But it is not the spiritual way and any excursion back to Egypt will take its toll.

Genesis 12:11  And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance.
Genesis 12:12  Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.
Genesis 12:13  Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

“Sarai” is Sarah – also shortly to receive her new name.  She would have gotten the senior citizen’s discount at Denney’s but she was blessed with unusual beauty.  Or cursed with it!  Her beauty made her attractive in the wrong way.

We try to encourage girls by telling them that it’s their inner beauty that matters.  It comes across as a concession to girls that aren’t very attractive!  Truth is, attractive girls maybe need to hear this even more.  Sarah was beautiful but in the New Testament she is praised for her inner beauty.

The commentators seem to be in agreement that Abraham’s life was, in fact, in jeopardy.  Abraham went to Egypt to save his life all the while knowing that he would be in grave danger.

When we try, on our own, to relieve the pressure of our circumstances, often we merely exchange one set of pressures for another.  Our own plans are filled with fatal flaws.

The custom in those times was to negotiate a dowry with the father or brother of the woman you wished to take as a wife.  If the Egyptians saw that Abraham was Sarah’s husband, he reasoned they might murder him.  As her brother they would perhaps approach him with hospitality rather than homicide!  He may have supposed that he could drag out the dowry negotiations until the famine in Canaan was ended.

Sarah was indeed a half-sister to Abraham.  In Genesis 20:13 Abraham goes on record saying that he asked Sarah to participate in this half-truth everywhere they went.  It was their cover-story while wandering through the land.
Do we sometimes come up with a cover-story?  I think we are tempted to whenever we don’t want to appear as though our lives are somewhat foolish because we are walking with the Lord.  We can do this among nonbelievers but also in conversations with believers.

Bill O’Reilly calls it ‘spin.‘  We put a spin on our lives to make them seem either more normal to nonbelievers or more spiritual to believers.

Abraham was right about the Egyptians wanting Sarah!

Genesis 12:14  So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful.
Genesis 12:15  The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.

Abraham didn’t take into account that Sarah might catch the eye of the Pharaoh himself.  There would be no lengthy negotiations prior to Pharaoh’s taking her.  He had the power to take her and the wealth to compensate her brother afterwards.

Genesis 12:17  But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.
Genesis 12:18  And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
Genesis 12:19  Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”
Genesis 12:20  So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

The nonbelieving Pharaoh acted better than the believing pilgrim!

People often compare their works of righteousness with those of Christians and come out looking better.  Regardless of their respective works, Abraham was saved by grace through faith and Pharaoh was not.  Salvation is not a matter of comparison; it is a matter of conversion.  Your salvation is not a matter of works of righteousness; it is a matter of grace.

The challenge of his circumstances seemed too great for Abraham’s faith  and, so, he chose to alter his circumstances rather than remain at the altar.  The result was a disastrous excursion into Egypt during which he compromised his testimony, his marriage, and his integrity.

The challenge of your circumstances is often great.  It is all too possible for you to choose to alter your circumstances.  There is always an Egypt to which you can flee.

When you do find yourself in Egypt, take heart: When you are faithless, God remains faithful!

#2    Pressure-Relief Should Be Sought
    By Sacrificing At Your Altar

The Beatles gave good advice when they sang, “Get back to where you once belonged.”

Abraham returned to the Promised Land, to Bethel (v3), and, significantly, to the place of his altar.

Genesis 13:1  Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.

One commentator wrote, “Back to Bethel is the rallying cry for all who have wandered from the Lord.”

Genesis 13:2  Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.

Wait just a minute.  You mean that Abraham avoided the famine and came out of Egypt far wealthier than before?  Yep.

When we are in Egypt we can seem to be prospering and we can even think that it is God prospering us because we are so resourceful.

But at what cost are we prospering?  Abraham lost his testimony, he lost his integrity, and he almost lost his wife.  “Livestock, silver, and gold” are no substitute for the testimony of a godly man who leads his family in the ways of the Lord.

When we sin, God’s grace abounds, but we should never conclude that we ought to sin so that it will.  I’m certain that when we talk to Abraham in Heaven he will tell us he regrets his time spent in Egypt.  It was a spiritual setback.

Genesis 13:3  And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,
Genesis 13:4  to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

It is not said he came to the altar but “to the place” where it had stood.  It’s possible it was no longer standing.

Maybe it fell by itself from disrepair
Maybe it had been destroyed by the Canaanites
Maybe it was demolished by Abraham himself before he left for Egypt

We don’t build altars anymore.  Instead we are described as living sacrifices to the Lord.  Our lives – every aspect of them – are to be dedicated to worshipping and serving Him.

We can still suffer from disrepair, destruction, and demolition.

Living sacrifices fall into disrepair when we withhold those things God is asking from us
Living sacrifices can be destroyed, in a sense, by too much compromise with the world
Living sacrifices can be demolished by our own decisions, discouragements, and depressions

I see Abraham standing where his altar had once stood reflecting upon his excursion into Egypt.  He realized he ought to have remained in the land – realized that the famine was a test of faith.

There in the rubble he had made of his altar God met him as Abraham sought after Him.

God had not changed.  His Word had not changed.  His promises were sure and certain.  Abraham could build another altar and continue on his pilgrim journey.

I don’t want to be Abraham in Egypt.  Do you?

Of course not!  Therefore, unless you have a compelling spiritual leading to alter your circumstances, don’t.  Embrace them; endure them.

Be the living sacrifice.

God’s Pilgrim Vs The World (Genesis 12v1-9)


The year was 1678 when John Bunyan found himself in the Bedfordshire county jail for breaking the law which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the authority of the Church of England.

Bunyan put pen to parchment and began to write.  The result was the Book Pilgrim’s Progress, whose formal title is, The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come.

It is regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print.

Pilgrim’s Progress follows the main character, called Christian, as he journeys from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  Along the way he visits such locations as the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Characters include: Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Much Afraid, Mr. Ready-to-Halt, and Mr. Stand Fast.

It is an allegory of your Christian life.  You are ‘Christian.’  You are the pilgrim journeying through life to Paradise.

How should I approach my life as a pilgrim?  There’s no better example of the pilgrim on his way to Paradise than Abraham.  We may as well learn from the best!

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Must Look Beyond His Promises To The Promiser, and #2 You Must Look Beyond Your Pilgrimage To Paradise.

#1    You Must Look Beyond His Promises To The Promiser

There is a famous exhortation pastors sometimes quote that says, “Are you standing on the promises or just sitting on the premises?”

It’s a reminder that we are a people who live by the promises God has made us.  According to one person’s count there are 3,573 promises in the Bible.

I don’t know how many there are.  I do know this, and so do we all.  A promise is only as good as the Promiser.

We’re coming into an election year in 2012.  We are going to hear a lot of promises.  We already know most of them will be broken.

On a more personal level, you and I have broken our promises to others.  And folks have broken theirs to us.

The key to promises is the trustworthiness of the one doing the promising.  In our case, it is God, the Creator of Heaven and earth.  We can stand on His promises because God is the Promiser.

As important as it is to stand on God’s promises, there is something even more important.  Abraham looked beyond the promises, behind them, to the Promiser.  He went out as a pilgrim not because of what he would gain but on account of Who he was going with.

Genesis 12:1  Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.

“Abram” is Abraham.  God is going to change his name in just a little bit to reflect the promises He makes to Abram.

We talk often about the new glorified bodies we are going to have after the resurrection and rapture of the church, when we are in Heaven.  Do you realize that you will also receive a new name in Heaven?

Revelation 2:17  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘

I wonder if I already have my new name waiting for me, or if it is being formed as I cooperate with the Lord along my pilgrim path homeward?  Looking back on my life, will I be Mr. Ready-to-Halt or Mr. Stand Fast?

We assume God appeared to Abraham as the Angel of the Lord, an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ to mankind before He was sent to earth as the God-Man.

We learn later that Abraham believed God and was saved.  God declared him righteous.  It’s how everyone has always been saved – by grace through faith in the Lord.

Told specifically “get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house,” Abraham only partially obeyed.  He took his family and settled short of the Promised Land.

Here in chapter twelve, five years have elapsed since that initial call and calling.  God was patient with the man He would later call His friend forever.

Take a look at the first promise we encounter.  It was “a land that [God would] show [Abraham].”

What do you mean, “show?”  Isn’t God going to give Abraham the land?  Yeah, but He only promised to “show” it to him at first.  Still, Abraham set out.

I suggest to you that Abraham, from the start, was captivated with God Himself, with the One making the promises, rather than the promises.  He set out as a pilgrim, on a lifelong pilgrimage, because it was God he was going with.

Indeed, in the New Testament Abraham is described as looking for the city whose builder and maker is God.  The land of promise, per se, never excited him the way that future city did.

That’s not to take anything away from the reality and the importance of God  giving Abraham the land that we know today as Israel.

God was calling Abraham to leave both family and familiarity behind.  Did he do it for real estate?  For livestock?  For the prospects of being prospered?

No.  He did it because he’d had an encounter with the living God.

So, too, with us, we must live by the promises of God by looking beyond them, behind them, to the One Who promises.  Only then can we hope to put into perspective some of the sacrifices along the way.  Only then will I, if called upon, leave everything – family and familiarity – in my pilgrimage.

Genesis 12:2  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.

God had a very definite plan in mind for Abraham.  He would be the father of the Hebrew people.

It’s so hard to believe that God’s plan for my life is every bit as involved and important as was His plan for Abraham… Or Moses… Or David… Or the apostle Paul.  God was not closer to Abraham or these other heroes of the faith because their earthly paths were more important to furthering His kingdom.  He is just as intimate with each of His pilgrims as we want Him to be.

Don’t confuse God’s plan for you with His passion for you as His friend.

Genesis 12:3  I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is a Messianic prophecy.  Through Abraham would come Jesus Christ Who would bless all the families of the earth by providing mankind with a universal offer of salvation for the universal problem of sin.

Also tucked away in this promise is the understanding that Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrew people, would be at the center of world politics.  God would and will judge all other nations based upon their relationship with Israel.

Genesis 12:4  So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

After a five year delay, and at the age of seventy-five, Abraham set out to fulfill his calling.

Right now, right where you are, you can move forward in your walk with the Lord.  If you’ve been faithless, He has remained faithful.

God’s promises are great in and of themselves, but beyond them is a revelation of God Himself – His nature, His character, His passion for intimacy with you.  He’s given you things and is going to give you more.  But His real delight is showing things to you; it’s being with you to see the expression of your heart at the revelation of Himself.

Yesterday the ladies had their Secret Sister Reveal.  You should have seen the expression on their faces when the time came to open the envelope and find who had been blessing them the past nine months.  The expressions were priceless.

God is blessing you daily as you stand on His promises.  But in each of them there is a kind of ‘reveal’ of Who He is.  Look for Him.

#2    You Must Look Beyond Your Pilgrimage To Paradise

“Pilgrim” is one of those words that is loaded with images for us.  I can’t help but think of a guy dressed all in black with a big hat with a buckle on it.  There’s a turkey in there somewhere about to become Thanksgiving dinner.  A little farther back in my image is a boat, the Mayflower.

Those are the symbols I associate with the word “pilgrim” as an American.  Either that or John Wayne movies!  In the 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he used the word 23 times.

The word “pilgrim” should evoke other images for us as believers.  The symbols of a God-pilgrim, on a spiritual pilgrimage, are two: the altar and the tent.  Watch for them in these remaining verses.

Genesis 12:5  Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.

This was Abraham 2.0.  He may still be traveling with too much baggage, but at least he was moving forward.  Charles Swindoll once described this kind of progress as taking three steps forward and two steps backward.

We all carry too much with us along our pilgrim journey heavenward.  Especially here in the West where we are prosperous in comparison to the rest of the world.  But rather than rebuke everybody for being so materialistic, I think it better to simply encourage everyone to move out, to press forward.  Because as you serve the Lord, if you are really listening to Him, you’ll come to points where certain baggage must be left behind.  It will prove too heavy if you want to keep making spiritual progress.

Genesis 12:6  Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

There were some people, lots of them, living in the land God was showing Abraham.  He’d have to coexist with the Canaanites and their barbaric, godless practices.  The Promised Land was not necessarily better, but it was where God would reveal Himself further and that made it wonderful.

Genesis 12:7  Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

The ‘giving’ of the land would be to Abraham’s descendants.  In fact, we will see at the end of Abraham’s life that the only land he ever owned was a family burial plot that he purchased.

Think about what this meant on a practical level for Abraham.  He was being tasked with raising a godly offspring in the midst of a godless society.  He was being asked to make sacrifices in order for God to bless future generations.

God’s promises are not easy.  We don’t just pull them out of a promise box and magically possess them.  There’s a cost involved; there’s a sacrifice somewhere along the way that makes them active.

Abraham acknowledged that he understood he was being to called to a life of sacrifice by constructing an altar.  One commentator noted, “It has been said of Abraham that one could trace his paths by the altars he built.”

There’s a lot of things we could say about altars and their significance.  If you look at all the altars that were built by Abraham and his descendants you’ll find they were places of intercession, of forgiveness, of worship, and of encountering God.  The constant is that a blood sacrifice was involved.

“Altar” is translated from a word meaning place of slaughter.  These Old Testament guys sacrificed animals.  The sacrifices didn’t save them.  It hearkened back to God sacrificing animals in the Garden of Eden when He promised Adam and Eve He would send a Savior to die, to shed His blood, that mankind might be saved by believing.

Every lamb that was killed pointed forward to the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world.
The altar reminded Abraham that his Savior would be the ultimate pilgrim.  God would leave Heaven for earth.  He, too, would seek, as it were, the city whose builder and maker is God.  He would look beyond the suffering of the Cross upon which He would offer Himself our sacrifice for sin to the joy of our salvation.

What or where is our altar?  Is it my prayer closet?  Is it my devotions?

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord.  In other words, my life itself is to be understood as constantly being on an altar, as a sacrifice.  A living sacrifice dies to himself in order to live for God.  Daily I ought to be discovering new ways to die to self and live for my Savior.

Simple question: What is dying right now, if anything, that I might live unto the Lord?

Genesis 12:8  And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Another commentator stated, “It is often said of Abraham and the patriarchs that they built altars to the Lord; it is never said they built houses for themselves.”

Indeed, Abraham lived in a “tent.”  The tent is the other outstanding symbol of pilgrimage.

Tent camping can be fun… But you look forward to a shower and some real comfort.

Your whole time as a Christian is one long tent camping trip.  You are to be looking forward, looking beyond, to your home that is being built even as we speak by Jesus.

There is no real standard of living given to us in the Bible.

We are not called to communal living, where everyone has an equal share.
Nor is there value in poverty for its own sake.
The wealthy are warned about the use of their money, but the very warning itself indicates there will be rich believers.

The tent, then, is an attitude I adopt that makes me more interested in Heaven than earth.  If I adopt such an attitude I will want to further the kingdom of God by supporting the work of evangelizing the lost and edifying the saints.

Again this becomes an individual question only I can answer for myself.  Whatever my status financially, are my life and lifestyle choices consistent with giving to further the kingdom of God?

Genesis 12:9  So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

You want it to be said of you that you “journeyed, going on still.”   You don’t have to be physically moving all the time, but spiritually speaking you need to be making real progress as a pilgrim.

Are you – making real progress?  Are we – as a church?

God the Holy Spirit is speaking to our hearts, through this text, so we might ask and answer those questions.

Let’s do what He shows us and be able to say “Yes” to our pilgrim’s progress.

The Time To Hesitate Is Through (Genesis 11v27-12v3)


Have you ever been put on hold?

Just mentioning it probably reminds you of a time when you finally hung-up rather than go on waiting.

It was probably on a call to computer giant Dell!  In a recent (June 2011) survey, Dell was rated just about the worst company for its response time to waiting customers.

What if I told you it was possible to put God on hold?

It sounds strange, but it is all too possible.  Obviously I’m not talking about getting a phone call from God.  But we do receive “calls,” or we might say “callings,” in our lives from God, do we not?

Abraham did.  According to the commentary of Stephen, the first Christian martyred in the Book of Acts,

Acts 7:2  … “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,
Abraham saw the Lord, was saved, and received God’s call while in Mesopotamia, in a place called Ur.  He immediately set out with his father, Terah, and got as far as Haran.  Stephen noted that he “dwelt in Haran.”  In fact, Stephen went on to say,

Acts 7:4  … [Abraham] dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.

Abraham set out but stopped short in Haran.  If you do the math, Abraham delayed in Haran, short of the Promised Land, for five long years until his dad died.

There can be no doubting that he hesitated in Haran.  In essence, he put God’s call upon his life on hold.

If Abraham was capable of hesitating, so are we.
Likewise, if Abraham was capable of re-heeding God’s call even after years of delay, so are we!

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Take The Time To Review The Call Of God Upon Your Life, and #2 Today Is The Time To Revive The Call Of God Upon Your Life.

#1    Take The Time To Review
    The Call Of God Upon Your Life

There are some remarkable relationships between God and His followers in the Old Testament but only one man was ever called “the friend of God.”

Abraham is called “the friend of God” twice in the Old Testament:

In Second Chronicles 20:7 Abraham is called God’s “friend forever.”
In Isaiah 41:8 God refers to the Israelites as “the descendants of Abraham, My friend.”

In the New Testament Book of James we read, “”ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23).

Abraham may be the only Old Testament saint so-called, but he is not alone!  Jesus Christ looked at His disciples, both then and now, and said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” (John 15:15).

If we, too, are the friends of God – best friends forever (or BFFs) – then we should learn something about what it means to have a friendship with God from Abraham.

The very first thing we learn is strangely comforting.  We learn that even Abraham fell short in his walk, putting the call of God on hold, hesitating.

We are introduced to Abraham as “Abram” some four hundred years after Noah’s flood.  God is going to change his name in a little while.  We’ll call him Abraham.

Genesis 11:27  This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot.
Genesis 11:28  And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans.
Genesis 11:29  Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah.
Genesis 11:30  But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Genesis 11:31  And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.
Genesis 11:32  So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

We’re introduced to some folks who will be important to the life of Abraham.  Lot was Abraham’s brothers’ son, making him his nephew.  Perhaps, when Haran died, Abraham became a guardian to Lot.

The marriage of Abraham’s brother Nahor is mentioned because he became the grandfather of Laban and Rebekkah, both of whom would later figure prominently in the story of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob.

It was in Ur, according to Stephen, that God appeared to Abraham.  The departure of the family from Ur for Canaan was in response to that call upon Abraham’s life.  They only got as far as Haran, though, then settled down there.  For five years, until Terah died, Abraham delayed.

God had distinctly said, “Get out of your country, From your family and from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”  He had been told to leave his father and the extended family behind.  Instead he either convinced them to come along, or he compromised and let them come along.

Abraham’s decision to delay in Haran reminds you of the man in Matthew 8:21-22 where we read, “Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Notice that this man is called a “disciple” but he wishes to delay his call.  This disciple wants to “go and bury [his] father.”

Jesus’ answer seems harsh until you understand the circumstances.  The man’s father wasn’t dead!  He was asking Jesus if he could delay following him until his elderly parents passed away and were buried.  This was a common expression in the Jewish culture to communicate that the son felt he had a responsibility and a reason to stay with his parents.

The responsibility was to honor his parents.
The reason was so he wouldn’t forfeit his inheritance!

Leaving his family to follow Jesus would make it seem he was choosing Jesus over his family and it would cut him off from receiving any inheritance at the death of his father.

We don’t know what happened to this disciple; his decision is not recorded for us.  It should be clear enough, however, that believers often offer excuses to delay the call of God.

The responsibility may be noble, as perhaps it was in this case, to honor parents.
The reason may be logical, as perhaps it was in this case, to receive the inheritance.

A call from God is something overruling, overriding, every other responsibility and reason.  It’s a stop-whatever-you’re-doing and follow the Lord situation.

It might be good to stop and talk about exactly what I mean by God’s “call.”  We can see God’s call illustrated very simply by Abraham.  It had two distinct parts.

The first part was a call to salvation and the second part was a call to service.

We read that God “appeared” to Abraham.  We don’t know exactly what that means.  I think it was probably in the form of what the Old Testament calls “the Angel of the Lord.”  It was an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ prior to His coming in the first century in human flesh as the God-Man.

Regarding this appearance of the Lord, we read in James that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (James 2:23).  The apostle Paul makes much of this appearance of the Lord in the Book of Romans where he explains how sinful men are saved by a holy God without God violating His nature.  He establishes that Abraham simply believed God and God then could declare him righteous.

Everyone is saved just that same way.  You believe God and He declares you righteous.

He can do that because Jesus Christ died on the Cross for your sins.  There, on the Cross, Jesus paid the penalty for your sin, once-for-all satisfying the holiness of God.  As a result God can extend to those who believe in Jesus His grace to save them.

Have you answered the call to salvation?  If not, don’t delay any longer!  It’s one call you definitely do not want to leave on hold.

God is gracious.  He will wait.  You have your entire lifetime to respond.  God will honor even last second, deathbed conversions.  The problem, of course, is that you don’t know when you will breathe your last.

Besides, waiting is a waste of your life.  You were created to know God and every moment you don’t know Him is a moment wasted on some other meaningless pursuit – no matter how successful you may be in the world’s estimation.

Abraham had a life in Ur, then in Haran, as a successful shepherd.  Is that why he was created?  To taste the successes of this world?  No, he had a hunger for the next ‘world,’ as does every human being.  And he gave his life to the Lord to satisfy it.

Abraham also received a second, separate call to serve God.  He was called to get out of Ur and get into the Promised Land.  It was here, in this call, or we might say “calling,” that Abraham hesitated and put God on hold.

You and I have been called to serve the Lord.  We tend to think of that in terms of one big, sweeping responsibility to follow the Lord.  While that is true, our following Him is made up of many components, each of which can be seen as a ‘calling’ in its own right.

For example, if you are married, being a husband or a wife is a calling.  It is something that, when done for the Lord, costs you something and requires sacrifice.  God says, “Get out of your old way of thinking about what it means to be a husband and instead love your wife the way Jesus loves you.”  God says, “Get out of your old way of thinking about what it means to be a wife and instead submit to your husband as his helper as unto the Lord.”

The same is true for any and all the various callings in your life: parent, employer, employee, church member, etc., etc.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ touches every one of these with its unique perspective, making them each a calling that involves cost and sacrifice.

We can therefore be walking with the Lord, pressing forward in one or many areas, but hesitating in one or many areas, too.  I’ll use pastors as my example.  It’s not uncommon for someone in the ministry to devote so much time and energy to their calling as a pastor that they hesitate, they delay, they neglect, their other callings – especially in the home.

It’s also true that a Christian who we might categorize as ‘laity’ devotes so much time to their calling as an employer or employee that they don’t serve the Lord in His church on the earth.

All that we’ve said so far, then, leads us to this point, that we must constantly review our callings.  It’s not good to delay or hesitate or neglect ANY of the things God has called us to.

Chances are God has called you to something that you have put on hold.  You are waiting for just the right time, when you have just the right resources, and then (so you think) you will fulfill your calling.

It doesn’t work that way!  It didn’t work that way for Abraham.  It didn’t work that way for the disciple in Matthew’s Gospel.  It won’t work that way for us.

Let’s say you review your callings and find one or more in which you’ve hesitated.  You’ll be glad for the kind of friend you have in Jesus!

#2    Today Is The Time To Revive
    The Call Of God Upon Your Life

For five years Abraham waited.  He heard nothing from the Lord.  Was the Lord angry?

No, the Lord was being patient with His friend!

Genesis 12:1  Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:2  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.
Genesis 12:3  I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is what the Lord “had said” five years earlier.  And this was what the Lord still was saying!

Sometimes we can feel as though God is silent; as though He is not speaking to us.  Well, just maybe it is because He has already spoken to us and until we act there is nothing more He needs to say.

God waited patiently for Abraham to obey his calling and serve Him.  He didn’t withdraw His calling.

Does God’s patience with Abraham cause you to think, “That’s great!  I’ll just wait until I’m ready to serve the Lord, and God will just pick right up with me where we left off”?

If it does then I’d say you’re not much of a friend to God.  You’re taking advantage of Him and that’s not a characteristic of a true friend.

Perhaps that’s why when Jesus said He was calling us His friends He prefaced it by saying (in John 15:14), “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

Abraham gives that verse a depth I’ve not understood before.  We are Jesus’ friends who have callings to serve Him.  But we’re not very good friends if we’re taking advantage of Him and waiting to serve Him when it’s best for us, when it’s comfortable and convenient for us.

He goes on being our friend, waiting.  We’re the ones who lose out.  And we are taking advantage of Him – something no friend ought to do.

The truth is, you CAN go on hesitating… delaying… neglecting God’s call.  You can settle down in Haran and you can live there until you die or the Lord raptures you.

God patiently waited for Abraham.  For His part, God was a good friend.

If He has been waiting for you… Maybe it’s been five months, or five years, or five decades that some calling, some area of service, has been neglected.

Isn’t today the best time to revive whatever calling you’ve put on hold?

No matter where you’ve settled short of God’s calling you can get up from there, get out of there, and get into the place the Lord has for you, the place of living by His promises.