Monday, August 08, 2016

August 7, 2016 Following God...

I’ve always enjoyed a road trip.

Whether by air or by car, I love the idea of hitting the road, striking out on a trip, and the sense of being free and anticipating the adventure to come.  Two Sundays ago, I picked Tanya up at the airport in Louisville as she returned home from a work trip.  When I got out of my car I stood in the atrium that leads into the terminal for a few minutes.  I imagined that I was preparing to board a plane and begin a journey.

But maybe I should say I’ve enjoyed road trips – most of the time.  I’ve had a few memorable road trips; sometimes memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Flat tires on the interstate and a flat spare, overheated engines while crossing mountain highways, and any number of engine part failures that left me stranded on the roadside, and almost all of them in the ancient days before cell phones could help me to quickly find help.  But in spite of those misadventures, I still like to get behind the wheel, or on the plane, and go on a journey.

I believe a road trip makes a great analogy for the spiritual journeys of our lives.  We begin at one destination, plan for the place where we will arrive, and find a lot of adventure between the two points. 

As we continue messages based on what I have been referring to as connecting points, this week we’ll talk about Abraham and his journey of faith, or, to stay with our analogy, his road trip.  Our text is a brief passage from the 12th chapter of Genesis, verses 1 through 9 –

1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and 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.
Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

I want to sum up Abram’s road trip this morning in three words – Go, Do, Be.  Each of those words offer us an insight to the foundational aspects of Abram’s life, the type of person he was, and the role that faith played in his life.  And, certainly, faith played a very large role in Abram’s life, as he set out with very little information to share with is family about the road ahead.

1.  Go.
One of the fascinating aspects of Scripture, I believe, is not just what it tells us, but what it doesn’t.  Our Scripture text from Genesis doesn’t tell us whether or not Abram spent much time thinking about God’s call, but it does seem that he responded rather immediately – so Abram went, as the Lord had told him (verse 4).  I can’t go anywhere quickly.  My family finds it rather ridiculous the way I prepare for a trip.  To go on a week long trip requires me to pack for three months.  If I could, I would take ten suitcases.  One must prepare, after all, for every contingency.  What if something happened that required me to stay longer than I had planned?  If so, it is necessary to have a lot of stuff with me.  And how many guitars can I take with me?  If I take an electric guitar, I must surely take an amp and some effects pedals as well.  I must also long to do lists and, in the days before we leave, I suddenly decide I must finish projects that have been dormant for months.

How likely would it be for us to answer such a dramatic call with such a rapid response?  What would we need, by way of confirmation, before we would pick up our lives and begin a journey while knowing so little about where we were going or what challenges we might encounter along the way?  It is almost inconceivable to me to imagine an instantaneous response to the call of God, but it seems as though that is exactly what Abram does.

Abram is called by God to leave his homeland and to go in search of a land I will show you (verse 1).  Note that God does not provide any details about the land (which is the Promised Land).  And Abram just goes!  Isn’t that amazing that, with so few details, Abram packs up his family and all he has and begins his spiritual road trip.  And, it is worth noting that Abram was 75 years old when he began his journey.  Evidently, retirement wasn’t on his mind!

What hinders us, what holds us back from where God is calling us to go?  Where might God be calling you to go?  Across the street, to minister to a neighbor in need?  Next door?  To someone in the next cubicle at work.  To someone in the next classroom at school  To somewhere different from the places we are used to?  To someone who is different from us or makes us uncomfortable?

2.  Do.
I thought about whether or not to use the word do because, in our culture, we are so obsessed with doing.  We live in a time where action is so important – hurry up and do something!  What are we going to do today?  What are we going to do this weekend?  We are people of action, people who want to do something, people who want to make a plan and then work that plan.  So, the first thought that comes to our mind when it comes to where we will go is the question of what will we do when we get to our destination?  What’s our task?  What’s our plan?

Honestly, Abram didn’t always think clearly about what he was doing.  Sometimes he got in a hurry, unsatisfied with God’s plan and God’s timetable, and out of his impatience, he made mistakes.  And not small, insignificant mistakes.  Abram made some really big mistakes.  In this way, certainly, Abram is a template for all of us, as we can also, out of our impatience, make mistakes.  Abram allowed, for instance, his wife Sarah to be taken into two different harems, and from it he profited handsomely (Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:1-18).  Abram’s name meant father.  Because God promised that he would be the father of a multitude, he changed his name to Abraham, which carries that meaning.  But Abraham grew impatient, and wondered how he could be the father of a multitude when he had no children.  In their impatience, Abram and his wife, Sarai, decided Abram should have a child with her servant Hagar Genesis 16:1-16).  That decision, which brought Ishmael into the world, has altered world politics this day, as the question of the ownership of land is at the root of the contentious politics of the Middle East.  We live with the consequences of our decision for days, months, and sometimes even years.  Imagine knowing that your decision affects human history for thousands of years!  Those were not Abram’s finest moments, and I imagine it caused no shortage of difficulty between himself and Sarah.

Perhaps because of Abram’s decisions, perhaps because of his impetuousness, perhaps because of his need to learn a few lessons, his journey began by traveling to what was known as the Negev (Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev – verse 9).  The Negev was a desert region that took up just over half of the geography of the land.  Before Abram did anything, besides take his initial steps of the journey, he was led into the desert.  Make no mistake, sometimes we spend time in the desert.  It is not always easy to follow God.  God will lead us to places, people, and tasks that are neither simple nor easy.

3.  Be
But for Abram, the purpose of his journey into the desert, I believe, was to work on our final word – be.  The words go and do are action words.  Be sounds like an action word, because it is a verb, but it really has to do not so much with action as it does with who we are as people.  Be is an existential word, it is a word of character, and it is a word that speaks of how we are shaped and molded into who God wants us to be.

Genesis tells us that Abram’s nephew, Lot, also went along on the journey.  Again, Genesis doesn’t give us any information about why Lot went along for the journey.  Perhaps it was out of a sense of loyalty to his uncle, to help him, and to provide company.  Abram was, after all, 75 years old when he set out on his journey.  Or, perhaps, there was a greater reason at work. 

I believe that people will follow along on a journey because they are interested in where we go.  Perhaps Lot was intrigued by the idea of Abram’s journey and wanted to accompany him for the sense of adventure.  People will also follow because of what we do.  Perhaps Lot believed in what Abram was going to do and he wanted to be part of it.  A good cause, a good calling in which we participate – in which we do something – will attract people.  But I believe the reason Lot went with Abram had to do with the Be.  It was the person Abram was that attracted Lot.  Abram was a man of great faith.  Abram was a flawed man, make no mistake about it (as we are all flawed), but he was a person of faith, character, and dedication and this is what attracted Lot to him, I believe.

I experienced an example of this in the past week.  Ministry requires that I spend a lot of time driving, generally by myself, and I often stop to get something to eat while I am out.  I was across the river one evening early in the past week.  Seated at the next table was a group of five or six people.  It’s not that I was eavesdopping, but I found myself listening to their conversation (to be fair, if you speak loud enough for everyone at the surrounding tables to hear you, it doesn’t qualify as eavesdropping).  It was a rather discouraging conversation, as they were discussing their church, and the discussion was not at all positive.  It was a long litany of the problems with their church, of all the things they didn’t like, and the things that made them unhappy.  I have no idea what church they attend or even what denomination it is, but I had made one decision after hearing their conversation – it wasn’t a place I wanted to attend!  I didn’t want to go along with them.  I wasn’t a bit inspired by what I heard.  To the contrary, I was in Louisville on Friday and encountered a group of young people.  They were wearing matching T-shirts and obviously part of some kind of event.  A man stopped them and asked them what they were doing in Louisville and they gave a very animated and excited answer.  They were part of a church gathering in Louisville, and as they told the man about it, they were all talking at once, with great excitement and enthusiasm.  Their excitement was contagious.  Although I didn’t know the nature of the event, where they were from, or what they were doing, I was ready to go with them!

Ultimately, we will not follow or support another person unless we are convinced of the goodness of their character.  Abram, full of faith, elicited from Lot admiration.  I believe Lot knew his uncle very well, he knew the kind of person he was – in spite of his mistakes – and made the decision of traveling with him because of the person Abram was.

We also have the capacity to take people along with us for the journey.  But ultimately, they do not come just for the journey, for the adventure, or for the companionship.  People will accompany us on the spiritual journey because of who we are.  If we are people of faith, people who are willing to Go, Do, and Be for God, they will journey with us.

So let’s Go, Do, and Be!

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