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Archive for Abraham

Jan
31

Out of Ur: The Distraction

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“This is the account of Terah’s family. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. But Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, the land of his brith, while his father, Terah, was still living. Meanwhile, Abram and Nahor both married.. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah…But Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children. One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter in law Sarai, and his grandson Lot, and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran” (Genesis 11:27-31, NLT).

Terah and his family, including Abram, departed Ur to begin the long traverse to Canaan. The most direct route would have been due west, but given the fact that Ur and Canaan were separated by hundreds of miles of the Arabian desert, they took the circuitous route around the desert. Traveling to the northwest they followed the Euphrates River toward the northern most part of the desert. There, they would travel southwest toward the promised land.

The northwesterly part of the journey would have spanned some 700 miles. It is estimated that caravans could travel up to 20 miles per day, so we’re talking at least 35 days, probably more. Everything seemed to be going well as far as we’re told. And then it happened. A distraction came along that led Terah and the family off the route. We’re not talking about stopping at a rest area or a Bass Pro Shop. Haran was some 80 miles due north of the apex of their travel plan.

It’s one thing for a person to be leisurely traveling and to have their eye caught by a persuasive billboard to visit this site or that. So what if you pull a few miles off the route to check out a famous person’s birthplace or visit scenic view? We can become temporarily distracted and in most cases it doesn’t create much of a ripple.

But this was more than a distraction, for Terah not only stopped, he settled. We’re not sure why he stopped and settled. The Bible doesn’t give us that detail. The real question is whether you and I have stopped and settled on life’s journey, and if so, why?

We can become distracted by many things. Sometimes we become distracted out of boredom. Other times it’s something shiny that catches our eye. Some times we are distracted by visions of greatness or some misguided expectation that over promises and under delivers. Maybe we’re homesick, and the distraction provides us with something comfortable and familiar. Or perhaps we’re just plain tired of the trip we’ve taken and the distraction becomes a substitute that I like to call, “good enough.” There are as many reasons for us to be distracted from life’s purpose as there are excuses for not fulfilling life’s purpose. The apostle John generalized the distractions of life, calling them, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

The city of Haran was a significant place. It was important to the economy, and was the center of worship for the moon god Zin. Located in what is modern day Turkey, it served as the convergence of several trade highways and waterways. The name Haran means “cross roads,” appropriately so, for it was the cross roads of trade and commerce.

For Terah and those like me who are prone to the distractions that lead to detours, the cross roads is significant. Cross roads cause us to contemplate the decision as to whether we will settle for what is or forge ahead to our God given destiny. Like Terah we can stop, settle, and eventually die having fallen short of our destination. Or, we can make the decision to push ahead and leave all that is good behind.

We can’t control the things that come before us that are distractions, tempting us to stop and settle. But we can control our response in the cross roads, pursuing the unseen in the face of that which is visible and convenient (cf. Hebrews 11:24-29).

Check back next Monday for part three of this series on Out of Ur, The Decision. If you enjoyed today’s post or found it helpful, feel free to share it with a friend!

Categories : Abraham, Out of Ur
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The third obstacle that Abram had to overcome was his lack of patience. God gave the promise of a land and a people to Abram when he was 75. God delivered on the promise (Genesis 21:1-5) when Abram was 100. Do the math.

It’s daunting for us to think about Abram waiting 25 years for God to fulfill his promise when we can’t stand in line 10 minutes for a double cheeseburger. God is never early. We must recognize that when God fulfills his promise he always delivers in accordance to his timetable. He’s never late. He’s always on time.

The final obstacle that Abram had to overcome was an incorrect perspective. It’s easy for us to sit back some 6,000 years later and pick Abram’s life to pieces. He did mess some stuff up, for sure. But for all that Abram got wrong, he got this one right. In Genesis 22:1-2, God spoke to Abram and asked him to give the promise back. In reading the story, I’m amazed that Abram responded so readily and willingly.

As I think about Abram’s offering of Issac on the altar atop Mt. Moriah, I am reminded that the promises of God are not given for the gratification of our flesh. This is where I take issue with the health, wealth, and prosperity movement in the western hemisphere. Those purveyor’s of riches boldly announce that God has promises for us that will make us richer, prettier, more successful, happier, thinner, and healthier. They are about the gratification of the flesh. But as I read the Bible I simply don’t see it. The promises of God are about the eternal purposes of God that he wants to accomplish in the world. The promise giver is always greater than the promise itself. In the words of Rick Warren, “it’s not about you.” Somehow, Abram had grown in his relationship with God to the extent that he was able to trust him with the promise itself.

I believe that God still makes promises to his people today. That’s the subject of this weekend’s message. But for now let me say that those promises involve our participation in the accomplishment of God’s eternal purposes in the world. God is about God’s work. We’re invited to join him.

God’s promise to Abram was that He would give him a land and then a people. Abram embraced the promise quickly, but standing on that promise would not come without challenges. He would have to utilize a deep faith in God to overcome several obstacles. Today I’ll post two of them and tomorrow catch the following two.

The first obstacle Abram had to overcome was his personal limitations. One of the first things we learn about Abram and his wife Sarai was that she was “barren” and unable to conceive children (Genesis 11:30). God’s promise to provide Abram more descendents than could be counted was located at the very epicenter of Abram’s impossibility. God’s promises do not come to us at our point of strength. God’s promises come to us at our point of weakness, vulnerability and impossibility.

Why?

So there would be no explanation for his life apart from the intervention of God. When people look at your life what do they see? Do they see your skills? Your knowledge? Your talent? Your sophistication? Your charisma? Or do they see a life that is unexplainable? God’s promises are God-sized. When He intervenes in the lives of his children he leaves clear fingerprints.

The second obstacle Abram had to overcome was his private resources and resourcefulness. As we continue to survey the life of Abram, we read that 10 years pass following the promise. As time passes, Abram begins to grow impatient and devises a plan that would allow him to do God’s will his way and in accordance to his own timetable. In Genesis 15:1-3, Abram suggests to God that he could adopt his slave, Elieazar, and allow him to be the heir of promise. God said “no,” and restated his promise to Abram again. In Genesis 16:1-5, Abram and Sarai concoct another plan. This time Abram would use Hagar to become the surrogate mother of an heir to fulfill the promise. Even though Abram slept with Hagar and conceived Ishmael, God again rejected this substitution, and again reaffirmed his promise.

Sometimes we can grow impatient with God and in our impatience begin looking for substitutes. Every time we do, we settle for something less than God’s best.

My favorite C.S. Lewis quote reminds me that “our problem is not that we are too weak…our problem is that we are too strong.”

What is your weakness? That’s where God is most likely to begin his greatest work. What substitutes for God’s best are you offering to Him?

The promises of God will create a crisis of belief that will have to be overcome by faith. That’s true of Abram. That’s true of you, too.

Have you ever had a person break a promise? Hurts, doesn’t it? I think the thing that hurts the most is the disappointment that comes…not because an obligation went unfulfilled…but because of the violation of trust. When promises are broken, relationships change.

A promise, after all, is only as good as the one who makes it. We trust others to keep their promises. When promises are kept, trust gradually increases. But when promises are broken, trust plummets!

The good news is that God is not fickle. He’s not on and off. He’s always true to complete whatever he begins. He always keeps his promises. He never denies his word. His character and actions are always consistent. He can be completely trusted. Even when his promises run contrary to our experience and understanding.

In Genesis 13:14-18, God gave Abram a promise.

After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. There he built another altar to the Lord. (Genesis 13:14-18, NLT)

In those verses God promised Abram that he was going to give him a land and then a people. When God makes a promise to his children, like Abram we find that our faith is immediately challenged. In tomorrow’s post I’ll share four obstacles that Abram had to overcome as we continue to look over his shoulder into his life.

Reading through Genesis 12:4-9, the biographer reports on two occasions that Abram stopped and erected an altar in the midst of pagan people. If you read on you’ll observe that through his life he built many more altars that would become spiritual markers for him.

In the midst of all of the transition, change and uncertainty of his life, worship kept him grounded. Worship reminded him that he was a part of something far more significant than himself. With each act of worship Abram was renewed in his calling and the eternal purposes that God was achieving through his faithful obedience. More importantly, worship fed and strengthened his relationship with God.

Worship will serve the same purpose for you. I believe that one of the reasons we become overwhelmed is because we attribute greater value to our problems and our adversity than we ascribe to God. When God is diminished in our lives due to our lack of worship, fear and worry becomes daunting. But when we worship, God becomes bigger than life itself and everything is put into clear perspective.

One way we can address fear and worry is to erect an altar of worship right at the source of our problem. Are you worried about your job? Erect an altar of worship at work. Are you concerned about your family? Erect an altar of worship in your home. Are you worried about your financial situation? Erect and altar of worship where you pay the bills. Fear and worry cannot co-exist with true worship that invokes the presence of God.

Where do you need to erect an altar to the Lord?

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The story of Abram begins abruptly in Genesis 12:1-3. Following the death of his father, Abram received a special call from God to leave the security of his comfort zone and begin living the adventure of faith. God’s first word to Abram was “leave.” The reader might expect the first word to be “go,” but it wasn’t. Here’s the simple truth: you can’t go until you leave. I know this sounds trite, but it’s true. Years ago I remember hearing John Maxwell say “break-throughs are always break-withs.” You have to leave before you can go.

Sometimes I am asked to provide some pastoral advice on how to determine God’s will when facing a transition. When people ask me about making transitions, I share the same three questions that I have always applied to my own life when confronted with this kind of decision.

1. Am I finished? Has God released me from my place? Have I completed what I set out to complete?
2. Am I called? In other words, am I going “to” instead of “from?”
3. Are those closest to me on board, particularly my immediate family? Your decision to “leave” and “go” will impact others.

If you’re facing some tough choices, try giving these three questions a try. See if they will help provide clarity in the midst of confusion and doubt.

Do you ever reflect on how you came to live in Central Iowa? Some of us may be natives who have never really gone far from home. Others are native, who, after a time of checking our greener grass in other places have returned. Others among us are transplants, traversing from faraway places while navigating a myriad of twists and turns before eventually landing here. Some of us will die here and here we will be buried. Others will have one or more transitions in us before we come to our final resting place.

How you got here is always an interesting story. More compelling, however, are questions like “Why are you here?” and “What are you doing during your time here?” God has created and gifted you to be who you are and what you are. But don’t forget to consider that God is also interested in where you are. That matters too.

Woven into the story of Abram is an extensive travel log. His purpose? To found a new nation that would be a blessing to the world. His story doesn’t begin in Canaan. It begins in a place called Ur. Reading Genesis 11:27-32 provides us with the back story of Abram. It proves to be informative.


For example, we learn that Canaan to some degree had always been on the map for at least two generations. Abram’s forefathers had been working their way to Canaan for some time. So God had prepared Abram for his special call with an inclination of heart.

We also learn that there had been a delay. We don’t know why the family stopped, but they did. One rule of group travel is that when you travel with a group, you always travel at the speed of the slowest member. We don’t know why they stopped, but they “settled.”

Finally, we learn that through a life changing event, the death of his father Terah, God’s call came to him. It’s interesting how significant events — death of a family member, loss of employment, dissolution of a relationship, an unexpected illness — turn our attention to God and make us seek Him.

Though we live life in real time, I believe life is best understood through history. Abram is known for leaving his home land and moving to a new place. But the back story helps us see how God has prepared him for a new venture. I think it works that way for us too. No one wants to live in the past. Sometimes we can get stuck if we dwell on the past. But nothing is more helpful to understanding your present than a clear understanding of the past. If you want to understand today, you need to begin by understanding yesterday.

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Jan
19

Living with Resolve

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Since I’ve been married I’ve moved seven times. Seven times in nearly 25 years. Some of those moves were simply across town. Three of them crossed state lines. The moves across town were aggravating because we didn’t take the time to pack as carefully as we did when we made a major transition, so some stuff was broken. The long moves were aggravating because they involved substantial planning and expense, so I felt broken. But each move had one thing in common…we knew our destination. We had the house picked, complete with address and everything. Abram? Not so much. When God invited Abram to become involved in his plan and purpose the destination was not disclosed. Abram was simply to pack the truck and head south until God told him to stop.

How do you respond to those invitations to participate in the work of God? Like Abram, we respond to the invitation of God through faith. As Christians we talk a lot of faith, but sometimes our conversations are somewhat uninformed. What do we need to know about faith?

First, faith is my response to the revelation of God. God discloses himself to us, and that disclosure is the invitation to respond to God. No where does the Bible suggest that believers are to sit and trump up stuff to do for God. More often than not, that kind of thinking only leads to trouble. God discloses himself and his plan and I respond to him.

Second, faith reveals what you really believe about God. Faith is relationship based, not task based. It is not about assessing the actions of God but about assessing the character of God. What I do when God reveals himself to me and invites me to join him speaks volumes about what I really believe about God.

Third, growing faith is a cycle of revelation and response. Like getting to know someone, God discloses himself in stages. We know God to the degree that he makes himself known to us. Each time we respond to what he reveals, he discloses himself a little more fully. He reveals and we respond. He reveals himself again and we respond again. You get the point.

Responding to God in faith, then, becomes a life changing experience. It creates urgency, passion, and meaning. Following God is no longer a big deal, it is the deal! When you pursue God and participate in what he’s doing, you experience a paradigm shift from seeking success to seeking significance. Remember, Abram was already wealthy. He had more money than he could ever hope to spend. But he wasn’t blessed by God. Abram didn’t know everything, but he knew enough to realize that success wasn’t enough. He realized he’d been created for significance, and that significance would only be found in walking by faith and participating in God’s eternal purposes. He could not go with God and remain as he was. Neither can we.

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Many of us began 2010 by making New Year’s Resolutions. This common practice is usually accompanied by the common practice of breaking the New Year’s Resolutions. Why do we have a hard time keeping those pesky promises we make to ourselves and to others?
The basic definition of a resolution is “a formal expression of a good intention.” And well intentioned we are.

This year I’ve decided to move past resolutions and begin living with resolve. The word resolve is defined as “a definite and earnest commitment.” Maybe the difference between resolution and resolve is semantics, but the more I think about it, the more I believe I’m on to something. So rather than live in accordance to “good intentions,” I’m choosing to make some definite and earnest commitments.

The Old Testament character Abram (a.k.a. Abraham) is an example of a person who lived his life with resolve. His life is the basis of our inaugural 2010 sermon series. Last weekend, from Genesis 12:1-4, I posed three questions to help you move from resolution to resolve.

Question one: Are you aware that God has a plan and a purpose presently at work in the world?
God’s plan and purpose has been settled from eternity past to eternity future. His plan is revealed to us in time and space, but it’s not for time and space alone. It remains eternal in its scope and dimension.
Having said that, I think it’s fundamental that you realize that God is at work in the world around you whether you recognize it or not. For example, the air around is full of radio waves and all kinds of signals. You’re consciously not aware of these signals unless your cell phone rings or you tune in to a radio station or you open your laptop to search for a wi-fi network. The activity of God is like that. It’s around us everywhere all the time.

Question two: Are you willing to be included in the activity of God that surrounds you? God’s purpose and plan includes you. In the Genesis account, Abram was not seeking God but God was seeking Abram.
Abram had no idea that his part in God’s plan would affect generations to come. Little did he
know that the choices he would make would impact the world geographically and politically for generations to come, even to this present moment. What that means is that your life is a bigger deal than you may have originally imagined! God knows you and has chosen you to participate in his purpose for the world.

The final question is this: Are you ready to participate in God’s plan and purpose? Are you ready to accept his invitation?
One thing I learned from Henry Blackaby is that God’s call to participate in his purpose is simultaneous with his timing. When God speaks, it is a present tense moment and requires an immediate response.
Are you willing and ready? It takes both to be fully obedient to God.

As you think about 2010, think about what is stirring in your heart. That may very well be a part of God’s invitation to you to join him in his awesome work. What are you going to do about it?

Jan
12

Living with Resolve

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Here’s the artwork for my new weekend series on the life of Abraham!

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