"In Pursuit of the Master"
In Genesis 12, the Bible tells the story of a man God was leading on a journey. That man’s name was Abram. We know him better as Abraham, which is what his name was changed to in Genesis 17. So this morning, you’ll probably catch me going back and forth, referring to him by either name.
Abram lived about 4000 years ago and was part of a wealthy family living in the city of Ur. I like a name I can pronounce. “Ur.” (All together now… Ur.) Ur was located in the part of the world we know today as Iraq. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. In its heyday, Ur was one of the most important cities in the world and had ruled from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the city marked a major military and cultural peak in the history Mesopotamia. But by the time Abram arrived on the scene it was in a state of political decline. It was disintegrating rapidly under the impact of foreign invaders.
Even though the city was in a state of decline, though, it was still at a high level economically and culturally compared to the rest of the area. It was also a centre for worship. The people there were worshipers of the sun, the moon, stars, fire, rain, and other forces of nature. From a world that started off with one God in the Garden of Eden, the people had made gods out of a variety of things. Kind of like we’ve done today, making gods out of money, careers, social status, technology, possessions, power, and prestige.
Here… take a look at this drawing of how Ur would have been laid out. [PowerPoint] Up near the top you can see a huge structure that dominates the city [PowerPoint]. That was the location of the temple to their Moon-God. That temple supposedly looked like this [PowerPoint] at the time of Abram. And here’s a shot [PowerPoint] of some of the ruins there today, with the façade rebuilt and you can see some of the original temple peeking out the top.
So that’s where Abram was… living comfortably in a proud city, and enjoying all the economic, social and cultural benefits Ur had to offer. And it’s out of this setting that God spoke to Abram and challenged him to set out on a journey.
Last week we began a new series here entitled “In Pursuit of the Master.” To start things off, we looked at some of the ways it can cost a Christ-follower to truly live for Jesus. It’s not always easy and there is certainly the potential for danger, just as Jesus warned us. This morning, we’re continuing our series by talking about what it means to travel on this spiritual journey. In the process, we’re going to examine Abram’s journey as he set out from Ur and trusted God to lead him to a new land.
Just to get a sense of the journey that Abraham was about to take, let’s look at this map. [PowerPoint x2] You can see that he traveled quite a distance, especially considering that he would have walked most of the way. In fact, he traveled over 1000 miles (1600 km) following God’s direction.
God took Abraham on quite a journey. He’s taken me on a journey as well. And I believe God wants to take each one of us on our own personal journey. The journey He wants to take you on won’t be the same as the one He’s taking me on. They may intersect as they are doing this morning, but I know He has something special planned just for you. And whatever it is, let me tell you – you can trust Him. When I look back at my life and see the opportunities and experiences and even some of the heartaches and disappointments I’ve had because of my relationship with God, there’s nothing I would want to change about travelling with Him. The only things I would change would be the times that I decided I wanted to go my own way and started out on my own journey apart from God.
So this morning, over the next several minutes, let me give you a checklist. It’s a checklist for you to follow on your journey with God. The first thing on the checklist and the first thing we need to do is make sure we get directions.
1. Get Directions – Seek God’s guidance
Genesis 12:1 (NLT)
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”
“Go to the land I will show you.” Abraham was not setting out on this journey relying on his own sense of direction or even a GPS. No, he was trusting God to guide Him. God had called Him and had promised to lead Him, so Abraham took God at His word.
There’s another Abraham who was also famous for seeking and following God’s guidance: Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to be the greatest president in American history and one of the greatest figures in all of history. It was not uncommon for Abraham Lincoln to be found kneeling in prayer, especially during times of crisis. One story reports that he was found kneeling in the leaves near the fields of Gettysburg.
Here’s a picture of a statue in Washington depicting Lincoln on his knees in prayer. [PowerPoint]
You want direction you can trust? Seek God’s guidance.
Psalm 119:105 (NLT)
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
Whatever direction God may give to you, be ready for it. Read His Word regularly, talk with Him daily, and learn to be tuned in to the things of God. The more you grow and the closer you get to Jesus, the more you will recognize His guidance for your life. Allow Him to speak to you and show you the way He wants you to go. And whatever that means, remember that you can trust Him.
Number two… you’ve got your directions… you know what you’re doing… now it’s time to:
2. Pack the car – Prepare to follow God’s leading
Back in 1994, newspapers in England reported a bizarre story about a then-63-year old man who needed gall bladder surgery. The only problem was he was afraid of doctors. He refused to let them perform the surgery. But realizing that it needed to be done, he decided to perform the surgery on himself.
You’re probably expecting me to tell you about how that man miraculously performed the surgery and fully recovered. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Something went wrong, and the man’s self-surgery resulted in an infection setting in. He died not long after.
That man knew what needed to be done; he knew the surgery was desperately needed. But he had a problem trusting the doctors, so he decided to take things into his own hands and he suffered the consequences. Folks, we need to trust God. Whatever directions he has given you for your life, you need to know that you can trust Him and you can follow Him. Don’t try to wrestle control from Him; trust Him.
Abraham received God’s instructions, and then He had a choice. He could acknowledge God’s leading and prepare to follow it into a land he knew nothing about, or he could stay where he was with family and friends, enjoying the wealth that his family had accumulated over the years. What was his choice? Verse 4 tells us;
Genesis 12:4 (NLT)
So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed…
Over in the book of Proverbs there’s a great couple of verses. In fact, they’re your memory verses for today. Read them with me…
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
Listen, I don’t always understand God’s leading or what He has in store for me, but then I don’t need to. I trust God’s leading. He sees the big picture and He directs my life accordingly. And He’ll do the same for you.
3. Step on the gas – Put it into action
Remember the movie “Up” that came out a couple years ago? It was an animated movie starring Ed Asner as one of the voices. And after things get rolling, it’s a pretty good adventure. But the movie starts out on a sad note. As a young couple, Carl (played by Asner) and his wife Ellie have a dream of travelling to Paradise Falls in South America, but other things keep getting in the way. Years pass, and they grow older and older. And they keep dreaming about taking this trip, but they never do it. Until finally, Ellie becomes sick and dies. They had these great plans, but they never put them into action.
You know, people can come up with all kinds of excuses for putting off listening to God and following His guidance.
Abraham was 75 years old when he got his marching orders. (v. 4). He could have complained about being too old.
Moses was 80.
Samuel and David… they were both young boys when God called them. Perhaps their youth could have been used as an excuse.
Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared to her to say she would give birth to Jesus.
Age… money… family… career… there are all kinds of excuses that people can and do use for putting off following God’s leading. But none of those excuses are really valid. God calls people from all kinds of backgrounds at all kinds of stages in their lives, and His will is always in their best interest. God is providing some kind of direction for your life, even today. Whatever direction he’s giving you, don’t hesitate. You can trust Him.
James 1:22 (NLT)
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
4. Turn right – Be committed to the journey
I’ve got to tell you, Abraham didn’t always stay on the right road. Later in the same chapter where we read about his call we read about him taking a wrong turn. He arrived in Egypt, and was afraid that some Egyptian might kill him in order to have his wife. I mean, Sarai/Sarah was 65 years old but must have been quite the hottie. She was still a babe, so the two of them agreed that they would pass her off as his sister instead of as his wife so that no one would kill Abram in order to have her.
And their plan worked… kind of. Pharaoh himself was smitten by Sarai’s beauty, and took her for his harem. But when Pharaoh discovered their deception, he was furious and had them forcefully sent out of the country under armed escort.
Abraham trusted God enough to follow him, but later on he failed to trust God to protect him.
Or how about Peter, Jesus’ disciple? Late one night (actually, early one morning around 3:00 am) he and the rest of the disciples were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee fighting against the wind and the waves when all of a sudden they looked out and saw a figure walking across the water toward them. They began screaming and yelling in terror. They thought it was a ghost coming toward them. But a voice called out, “Relax… chill. It’s just me.” It was the voice of Jesus. Peter being Peter called back, “If it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water, too.” Perhaps not the brightest thing he ever said, but Jesus humoured him and said, “Okay, come on out. The water’s fine.”
So Peter hoped over the side of the boat and headed out toward Jesus. And he was doing all right, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. He was walking across the top of the water, but then he lost perspective. He looked away from the very one making it possible for him to walk on the water. And when he did, he began to sink. And Jesus had to reach out and rescue him.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
While I was preparing this message, I came across a quote:
“It’s easy to trust God when everything falls neatly into place, but the faithful trust God even when they feel lost and without direction.”
~ Eddie Snipes, Exchanged Life Outreach
You and I need to turn right and be committed to following God’s leading throughout the journey. Easy enough to say, but the truth is there may be times that you take a wrong turn… when you take your eyes off of Jesus. My problem is that when I’m driving a car down a wrong road, I’m too stubborn to admit it. I prefer to wander aimlessly, hoping that by some fluke I arrive at my destination. Which, of course, never happens.
When we take our eyes off of Jesus and stray from the road He’s leading us on, we need to set our pride aside, admit our failure, apologize for it, and get back on the right road. Listen to what it says in Proverbs 24…
Proverbs 24:16 (NLT)
The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.
So make it your goal to turn right. And in the event that you do take a wrong turn, don’t waste time. Do whatever it takes to get right with God again.
5. Pull over at the rest stop – Take time for God
I already mentioned that the journey God was taking Abram on would cover 1600 miles. That’s from here to Toronto. Can you imagine driving all that distance without stopping for a break? How about walking it while towing all your earthly possessions, as Abram would have been doing? Obviously, he had to take some breaks along the way. And what did he do on these breaks? Take a look…
Genesis 12:8 (NLT)
After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord.
When you’re driving down the highway there are two kinds of rest stops you can pull over at. There are the small ones along the side of the road that you just stop at for a little break by yourself, and there are the larger ones that have washrooms, picnic tables, vending machines, gas stations, convenience stores, and a whole lot of people.
You need both on this journey God is taking you on. You need the times to pull over by yourself and spend time with God in private, reading His Word and talking with Him about the details of your life. And you need the larger rest stops where there are other people, too… getting together with His Church, as you’re doing this morning at Sunrise. This is a place to get together with other people on their own journeys, and we all come together to worship Christ. Plus, just like many of those rest stops have maps posted for you to check out, you have the opportunity here to check the map, get your bearings, and make sure that you’re still on the right road.
6. Fill up the tank – Replenish yourself spiritually
Ever feel out of gas spiritually? You need to refuel. How do you do that? There are lots of ways. Let me just give you the top three. These are really essential and should be part of the life of every believer:
• Worship Him Regularly
(That’s what Abram stopped to do.)
• Talk with Him Daily
• Read His Word Faithfully
This is interesting to me. Did you realize that Jesus, who was Himself God, needed to spend time replenishing Himself? Look at this:
Luke 5:16 (NLT)
…Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
If Jesus needed to take time to fill up His tank, so do I and so do you.
7. Check under the hood – Evaluate yourself
Any M*A*S*H fans here? I know Lynn is. It’s one of the best comedies ever on TV. I remember seeing one episode where Hawkeye was upset because while he was in Korea one of his old schoolmates who Hawkeye described as “incredibly average” was back in the U.S. receiving a $100,000 grant to study mice. And remember, that’s 1950s currency. That’d be about $906,000 today. Hawkeye was feeling sorry for himself and the fact that he was out of the loop. He wasn’t in a position where he could receive honours and be given grants for work projects. That’s when Colonel Potter sat him down and told him something that was so good that I wrote it down:
“It’s too big a world to be in competition with everybody else. The only person I have to be better than is who I am right now.”
~ Colonel Potter
We all need to stop and evaluate ourselves from time to time. How are we doing? Are we improving? Have we progressed on our journey? Are we stronger Christians today than we were a year ago? Are we expressing God’s love more freely, frequently, and fruitfully? What have we learned in the past week about God? The past month? Are we consistently spending time praying and reading God’s word? Are we an encouragement to other Christians? Are we withstanding temptation?
It can be a difficult thing to evaluate yourself, unless of course you’re willing to lie. But it’s a process we all should go through from time to time.
1 Timothy 4:16 (NLT)
Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.
8. Get back on the road again – Keep moving forward
[Show picture of Willie Nelson]
All together now… “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…”
Hey, you can pull over at the rest stop, fill up the tank, and check under the hood… all that’s good. It’s important. But when that’s done, be sure to get back on the road again. After Abram stopped for his rest stop, it tells us…
Genesis 12:9 (NIV)
Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
God’s glad when you stop to worship Him, whether you do it privately or on a Sunday with the rest of us. But remember it’s only a rest stop, it’s not the journey. It’s not where Christianity is lived out. You live out Christianity in your everyday life… in the way you treat the people who wait on you, the way you talk to your spouse, the way you fill out your income tax forms, the way you handle difficult people at work, the way you share Christ and represent Him to your friends and family.
You’ve got to get back on the road and keep moving and obeying and following the directions He gives you for your life.
God takes us all on our own journey. For Shera and for me, that has meant starting a new church here in Charlottetown. For Abram it meant taking his family and leaving the familiar and comfortable surroundings of Ur and heading to a land God promised to him. I don’t know what it will mean for you. Just be tuned into His Word and into what He’s trying to say to you, and be obedient. Check the roadmap He has provided—the Bible—to make sure that you’re headed in the right direction, and trust Him.
Parents… make sure you let your kids follow God’s roadmap for their lives. Realize that God’s plan for your kids may not align with your plan. Let God’s plan win out. I can think of several examples of parents who had their own big dreams for their children… good dreams… but they pushed their children toward those dreams even if those dreams conflicted with what God had in mind. And they ended up regretting it.
There’s nothing you could do worse than not letting your child follow God’s plan for their life. It may not be what you dreamed of, it could mean they’ll move away, and it may mean they won’t make a whole lot of money or be seen as successful in the eyes of the world. But believe me when I tell you that any sacrifice to be in the center of God’s will is no sacrifice, because there’s no better place to be.
God’s good, and you can trust Him on this journey He’s leading you on.
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson