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Courageous Faith Series

Getting Started: The Journey of Faith

5 January 2020

Promises! Promises! Promises are the fabric that hopes and dreams are made of. Promises encourage our hearts and lift our souls. Promises keep us going when the going gets tough. Promises also express the deepest commitments of our lives. And promises remind us of the greatest promise of all – Gods promise – which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise.”

The promise is an expression of the divine Promiser. It is His commitment to extend His grace and power to all those who trust in Him. The Bible calls it His “holy promise” (Psa. 105:42). And it calls those who believe in it “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28).

Obstacles. Battles. Weaknesses. Fears. Faith is the key that unlocks the power of God in our lives. It enables us to live by His promises and experience His blessings in our personal lives. Based on the lives of the Hebrew Heroes of the Old Testament, we will seek to overcome our barriers, conquer our fears, realize our goals, and start over when we fail.

Over the next 13 weeks we will study Abraham and his journey of faith; Jacob and his hanging tough in tough times; Joseph, who started over when it all fell apart; Moses, who overcame his past; Joshua, who conquered his opposition; Jephthah, who believed even though it cost him; Samson, who made his weaknesses his strength; Boaz, who reached out to others, even though they were different; David, who had confidence in the face of danger; Johnathon, who understood the value of true loyalty; Daniel, who developed spiritual determination; and Nehemiah who left a legacy he could be happy with. All of these examples God has left for us just as the Hebrews writer penned in the Hall of fame found in Hebrews 11. Let us learn these lessons and strive to build up our faith!

It is our hope to present these lessons in a way that presents to us the dynamic encounters with the power of God – power which transformed ordinary people. We want to walk through the pages of Scripture. And experience the work of God in the lives of these men. And discover Him at work in our own lives as well.

Each of us has much to learn. The longer we live, the more we will realize that life is a journey of faith. Martin Luther once said, “We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished but is going on. This is not the end but it is the road.”

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 145:13, 18 – “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations….18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.”

The writer of Hebrews says in Heb. 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Getting Started: The Journey of Faith – Abraham

Beginnings are exciting! They are the starting points of a brand new life. Each new step has challenges and opportunities of its own. But that first step really takes a lot of faith. Remember the first time you drove a car? Went on your first date? Started College? Took a job? Got engaged? Held your first child?

Each new step is an adventure. It requires taking a risk. It is a step of faith – an act of trust by which we commit ourselves to someone or something. Faith is simply belief in the object of our trust.

Faith is so important that it is mentioned over three hundred times in the Bible. The first reference to believing in God is found in the story of Abraham. In Genesis 15:6 The Scripture says, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This particular step of faith is so important that this statement is repeated three more times in the New Testament, (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).

The power of our faith rests in the object of our faith. At the foundation of all love is a belief in the object that is loved. If I do not believe in a person, I cannot love him. The same is true in our relationship with God. Without faith it is impossible for us to know Him or love Him. Faith is the starting point in our spiritual journey. We must begin with God: believing that He exists, believing that He cares, and believing that His love is real.

For Abraham, the starting point came four thousand years ago (c. 2100 B.C.) in a growing city near the Persian Gulf. At the time, he was wealthy, successful, and prosperous. The last thing he needed to do was to abandon everything and follow God. That’s where the promise comes in. The Bible expresses it like this in Genesis 12:1, 2: “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. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.”

God asked Abraham to leave everything that was dear to him to do to the land He would show him. Abraham had no idea where that land was. He only knew that God had promised to bless him and to make him into a great nation.

However, there was a problem with this – his name. In Hebrew, Abram means “great father.” But he didn’t have any children! So his name became a constant source of frustration to him. We can imagine every time he met someone:

“Hi, what’s your name?” “Great Father.” “Really. How many kids do you have?” “None!”

His name didn’t fit his circumstances. This was a real problem in Abraham’s culture because names were given based on their meaning and significance. God knew this and He promised to make Abram into a “great nation.” It was God’s way of personalizing His promise. His promise would dramatically change Abram’s life.

The Ultimate Change Agent

God is the ultimate change agent. This world He created changes constantly every day. People also are continually changing. Living organisms are not static; they do not stay the same. Change comes when we willingly grow and improve. Change involves several key elements:

1. Honest View of the past. Sometimes the “good old days” weren’t as good as we like to remember. We need a realistic understanding of the past to move on to something better in the future. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a rut of nostalgia where we mythologize the past and refuse to deal with the present.

2. Dissatisfaction with the present. We won’t change as long as we are satisfied with the way things are. There is something wholesome in a holy dissatisfaction with the status quo. Good leaders always ask how they can improve and make things better. Unless we begin asking the tough questions now, we may wait too long to take action.

3. Hope for the future. Great leaders are always optimistic about the future. They embrace it and make the most of it. They realize that change is a necessary part of personal improvement.

Taking That First Step

Abram said yes to God’s call, and he stepped out by faith on a spiritual journey that changed the course of history. He gathered up his wife, his nephew, and all of their possessions and started the long journey up the Euphrates River to the land that God promised He would show him – Canaan.

Significant moves are never easy. If you have ever made such a move, you know what I’m talking about. You leave home, family, and familiarity to launch out on your own in new directions, new places, and new challenges – a new beginning. But most likely there was a time when uncertainty settled in. Apprehension overwhelmed you. You asked yourself, “Is this really what I want to do? I’m leaving everything behind.”

Things weren’t all that easy for Abram either. This new land was full of unfriendly strangers – Canaanites. There was also a famine, a disastrous trip to Egypt, and problems with the relatives. Then his nephew left, and eventually war broke out. I’m sure Abram began to wonder if he was ever going to have any children. Then years went by and that’s when Abram came up with his own idea: adoption. It was perfectly acceptable in the ancient near East to adopt a trusted servant as one’s heir. Abram happened to have a great servant named Eliezer. So he approached God like this in Genesis 15:2, 3: “But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!"

Abram presented his plan, but the Sovereign Lord had another idea. God Replied in 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." He would still have a son after all. God then told Abram that his descendants would be as innumerable as the starts. “Count the stars,” He challenged. “So shall your offspring be.” What a promise!

That’s when it happened! The Bible says in Genesis 15:6, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” That’s the moment the promise became real to him. That’s when he believed God in spite of his circumstances. God said it. That settles it. I believe it! And that’s how the journey of faith begins for us too. Romans 4:5 puts it like this, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

How does faith begin? By believing. God has made us an offer – to forgive our sins and to give us His righteousness as a free gift. Believing His offer to be sincere, we take that gift by faith. Believing that Jesus died for our sins we obey His will. As we begin our walk with Him after our birth through immersion we learn to walk and then to run. But we must begin by taking that first step. No more doubts. No more excuses. It’s time to believe. We must trust Him today!

Making A Clear-Cut Decision

They had a unique way of settling things in the ancient world. Instead of “cutting a deal,” they literally cut a covenant with each other. A covenant was an agreement. But “cutting” it was something else. They actually took animals and cut them in half. Then they laid the halves several feet across from each other, forming an aisle. Next, the two people making the covenant joined hands and walked together between the divided pieces.

Literally they were agreeing, “I’ll keep my half of the bargain, if you’ll keep your half.” Half of an animal isn’t worth anything by itself. You can’t get milk out of half a cow – especially if you have the wrong half! So unless we cooperate, we’ll never get the job done.

Genesis 15:12-18 tells us that God came down alone and “passed between the pieces.” He did not take away Abram’s hand and walk with him through the pieces. In fact, Abram was in a trance (“deep sleep”) the whole time. This was not a conditional covenant. It was not an agreement that depended upon both sides keeping their half of the bargain in order for it to work. God promised He would do it, and He did it – by Himself!

“On that day” The Bible says in 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.” And God cut it deep. He promised Abram that his descendants would possess the entire land – the Promised Land. The land was the external evidence of God’s commitment to keep His promise to Abram, which meant that it would belong to Abram’s descendants’ forever.

It was a great day – a high and holy day. There had never been a day quite like it before. God had made an unconditional covenant with one person. The promise had been personalized. And the world would never be the same again!

Unconditional covenants are like marriage commitments. The vow is for life and the bride receives a ring to symbolize the groom’s commitment to her. She does not keep the ring only if she keeps certain conditions. It was given to her unconditionally. That’s what God did with Abram. He made him an unconditional promise.

Don’t Get Sidetracked

Abram undoubtedly became excited. He had met with God, and God had promised him a son. But when he tried to explain it all to his wife, Sarai, something got lost in the translation. After all, he was eighty-five years old, and she was seventy-five. She was too old to have children. Wasn’t she? The Bible says in 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.” That’s when Plan B – a surrogate mother – went into action. Abram and Sarai put reason above revelation. God had clearly spoken, but it didn’t make sense to Sarai.

It was customary in the ancient world for a childless couple to have a child by a slave girl and adopt it as their own. However, this was merely a custom, not God’s command. Abram gave in to Sarai’s pressure and had a son by Hagar, their Egyptian maid-servant. That son was Ishmael, the forefather of the Arabs.

“Hey, what could go wrong?” They reasoned. And four thousand years later, we are still asking, “Hey, what went wrong?” To this very day, the Arabs and the Jews hate each other, creating massive controversy, terrorism, and unrest in the Middle East. Many of the problems that Israel faces today could have been avoided if Abram and Sarai had not taken God’s plan into their own hands.

Every time we try to read between the lines of divine revelation, we do the same thing. We put reason above revelation, customs above the content of Scripture. And the result is always trouble.

Look at Genesis 16:16. It’s the last verse of the chapter. It says, “Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

Now look at Genesis 17:1. It says, “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.” It says that God appeared to Abram when he was “Ninety-nine years old.” Now subtract the difference: - Thirteen years.

For thirteen years there was no new message from God. What happened during those silent years? We don’t know. But you can’t read these verses without getting the distinct impression that God stopped talking to Abram. He wasn’t listening, so God stopped talking.

Divine revelation came to a screeching halt. Abram muddled on the best he could, wondering what had happened to the promise. In the meantime, God waited for a better time.

A New Beginning

After thirteen years of silence, God spoke to Abram. He was now ninety-nine years old. Ishmael was a teenager. The promised son had not yet been born, but God’s intention had not changed. He still planned for Abram and Sarai to have a son of their own. Genesis 17:1, 2 tells us, “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. 2 "And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."

Abram fell on his face before God. The long wait was over. All he could do was listen. In Genesis 17:5 we read, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.”

God went on to tell Abraham that he was making an “Everlasting covenant” with him and his descendants to give them the land of Canaan. Then he explained that circumcision would be the sign of that covenant. It would be a mark in their flesh to remind the generation to come that their descendants were to be dedicated to God. Then God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (which means “princess”), and we read in 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 graciously reconfirmed everything He had told Abraham thirteen years earlier and clearly reemphasized that he would have a son by Sarah.

Abraham should have been thrilled. But the Bible says in 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?" Then Abraham appealed to God to let Ishmael be the promised son.

God replied that He would bless Ishmael, but that the covenant would be made with the new son – Isaac (which means “laughter”). It’s almost as if He was saying, “You think this is funny? Let’s see who is laughing now. Name the boy “laughter.” When? By this time next year, you will have a son.” Then God “went up” and disappeared.

I believe this was the ultimate turning point for Abraham. He had been given a second chance. He went back to Plan A – no more messing around, no more laughing at God. It was time to get serious, and he knew it.

Telling Your Wife The Truth

There is no doubt Abraham went home a new person, with a new name, a renewed faith, and a new confidence. However, he made one major error. He didn’t bother to tell Sarah about what had happened.

She’ll never believe it! He probably thought.

Like a lot of men, Abraham made his peace with God, but he remained a spiritual “secret agent” at home. No use getting the little woman all upset, thought Abraham. She’s got enough pressures on her. Besides, she’ll just think I made the whole thing up. I’ll just keep quiet and see what happens.

But God wouldn’t let him keep quiet. He decided if Abraham wasn’t going to tell Sarah, He would. In Genesis 18 we read the story of God and two angels visiting Abraham’s tent at Mamre (modern Hebron).

Abraham looked up one day and saw three strangers coming his way. Strangers! Visitors! It was time for some good old Near East hospitality. He bowed and greeted them and welcomed them into the shade of the great tree before his tent. Then there was a flurry of activity. Sarah ran to make bread, and Abraham ran to catch dinner.

Later, when the men settled down to eat dinner, they asked, “Where is your wife, Sarah?”

“There, in the tent,” Abraham replied.

The stranger lifted his head to speak: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

It was the Lord himself! Abraham sat speechless.

Now Sarah could hear them talking outside the tent, and she laughed to herself because she was as Genesis 18:11 says, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.” It wasn’t even physically possible for her to get pregnant. It would take a miracle for her to have a baby!

“Why did Sarah laugh?” The Lord asked. But Abraham just sat there in shocked silence. “I did not laugh,” Sarah protested, apparently sticking her head out of the tent. “Yes, you did,” the Lord said. “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” That was it. They finished the meal and got up to leave. The two angels had serious business to attend to in Sodom, so they went on their way. Abraham talked with God a little longer, and then He was gone.

The Promise Fulfilled

Time passed, and sure enough, Sarah got pregnant. It was humanly impossible, but it happened. It was a miracle of God’s grace. Nine months later, the miracle-born son arrived. And they called him Isaac.

They had laughed at God, but now they were laughing with Him. The promise was real. It had been kept. Their son had been born. Their faith had been confirmed. Isaac was the son of the promise – the son of the covenant, the forefather of the Jews, the ancestor of the people of God.

Isaac, the miracle-born son of Abraham, was destined to become the forefather of another miracle-born son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Messiah. He too, would enter the human race by unconventional means – this time without a human father. Isaac would begin a miraculous line of people, and Jesus would be the culmination of their hopes and dreams.

It was a great day when Isaac was born. No one could have been happier than Abraham. He had believed God and trusted Him. Though his faith had been challenged by his circumstances, he was now completely committed to God. He knew the Promisor, and that made all the difference.

The Final Challenge

For the next twenty years, Isaac was the joy of their lives. They watched him grow into a young man. But then one day God decided to put the promise to the ultimate test in Genesis 22:2 we read, “Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."

Human sacrifice! It was totally contrary to the nature and character of God. A “burnt offering” meant killing the sacrifice and burning it up completely as an offering to God. The Hebrew term for it was hola, from which we get the word holocaust. Nothing could have been more inappropriate for the father of the Jews!

You don’t find Abraham laughing this time. No excuses. No explanations. No hesitation. He saddled his donkey, chopped the wood, took two servants along with Isaac, and set out for Moriah. He was 120 years old. He had walked with God a long time. He had come to realize that the Promiser was greater than the promise. And this was no time to doubt the Promisor.

I believe with all my hear that Abraham knew that God would keep the promise. The boy can’t die. He’s the fulfillment. There can’t be a Jewish race without him – no promised land, no future Messiah, no Savior, no salvation! That is why Abraham told the servants to wait with the donkey. Then he added in Genesis 22:5, “And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."

In every journey of faith, there comes that crucial moment when everything you believe is out to the test. We want the blessings all right. But do we really want the One who blesses more than the blessings? Only when we face that question for ourselves are we ready to move on by faith. Our journey with God begins by faith. It must also continue by faith.

When God Provides

When Isaac asked about the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham simply replied in Genesis 22:8, “And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.” Here is faith at its best. Abraham knew God would provide a substitute or else raise Isaac back from the dead. One or the other – He can’t let him die. He promised! That is why they later called the place of sacrifice, Jehova Jireh which means “the Lord provides.”

They arrived at the rocky summit of the hill – ironically, at the very place where the altar of sacrifice would stand in the temple. Here at this point, an incredible act took place. Isaac, willingly allowed his aged father to bind him and lay him on the altar. He could have easily resisted, but he did not. He was obedient even unto death.

Willing to do whatever God asked, yet desperately believing the Promiser would provide, Abraham took the knife and raised it above his son. Only then did the angel of the Lord (Christ Himself) call from heaven which we read in Genesis 22:12, “And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

When Abraham turned, he saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. God had indeed provided a substitute for the burnt offering. Isaac was set free.

There would come a day, two thousand years later, when God would bring His only begotten Son to that same place. He too would carry the wood – the cross. He too would willingly be bound – with our sins. He too would be placed on the altar of sacrifice, and the hand of the Father would be raised against Him.

But this time there would be no one to call form heaven. And God’s hand of judgement would fall on Jesus – the ultimate substitute, the eternal sacrifice, the only Son of the divine Father. God would do to His Son what He would not let Abraham do to his son. Jesus would be put to death as the ultimate sacrifice – the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.

That’s when the promise began in the mind and heart of God, in the eons of eternity past. As He foresaw our great need His divine grace moved to meet that need. So, He created the perfect plan, and sent His Son to redeem the world.

God gave everything He had for us. The least we can do is give ourselves to Him. That’s all He really wants – you! And He will take you just as you are, with all your sins, failures, and defeats; with your broken life and broken promises. He will take you however you come and make you a brand-new person – a person of the promise.

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