Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "I will give this land to your descendants." And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. - Genesis 12: 6-7 (NLT)
The call of Abram. Theologically we usually find ourselves expositing on the initial call and the immediate obedience of Abram to trust God and go to a land he did not know. There are a great many lessons within the initial call. There is a lot of contemporary preaching focusing on how we are a friend of God based on the life of Abraham. But you do not become Abraham without having the obedience of Abram. The key verses above are the continuing story of the call and the lessons continue. The first lesson for us today is that it matters not what enemies stand in the way of what God has promised you. God will still hold true to His Word. God will still follow through on what He has promised.
What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge." - Romans 3: 3-4 (NIV)
In a world where promises are routinely broken and vows mean nothing, God always stands by what He says and promises. We need to realize that this does not mean the road is always easy. The lazy Christianity being preached today produces Christians who think that their road will always be smooth. Sometimes you have to face the fiery furnace and stand on the promises of God in the face of Nebuchadnezzar. Sometimes you have to walk out and face the giant when everyone else is cowering fear. Abram sees that the land is filled with Canaanites but God assures him that the land is his. He assures us today that what He has said will come to pass; will come to pass. Many Christians walk in such fear and weakness because they either do not understand the promises of God or they simply refuse to believe them when the world comes against them. The bless me theologies do not prepare Christians for what life is really like. It does not prepare them to pick up their cross and follow Jesus. It does not prepare them for the tribulations Jesus said we would face. It reinforces a shallow faith that only works on the mountaintop. The problem is that this may NOT be your year of supernatural blessing. This may be your year in the deep valley of the shadow of death that God requires to strengthen your faith and refine the impurities out of your life. Sometimes beloved, there are Canaanites in the land God has promised to you.
Abram could have been discouraged. He could have tucked tail and ran back to where he came from. It was safe to him. It was familiar to him. We do that too often in our walk. We know what God has promised to us but the journey becomes too daunting. The Canaanites scare us because we sometimes expect everything to be easy. Remember the twelve spies of Israel? They saw that the land was indeed as God had promised. It was flowing with milk and honey. The cluster of grapes they carried back had to be put onto two poles and carried by two men! But there were giants in the land. Here are the reactions of Joshua and Caleb and then the 10 remaining spies:
Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, "The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don't be afraid of them!" - Numbers 14: 6-9 (NLT)
But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. "We can't go up against them! They are stronger than we are!" So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: "The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that's what they thought, too!" - Numbers 13: 31-33 (NLT)
Joshua and Caleb stood on the promises of God. Look at their words! These giants have no protection! Christians should never stand afraid of something God has already promised. The other ten spies relied upon what they saw. Note what these verses say! They themselves felt like grasshoppers! How often do we diminish in our own eyes who we are supposed to be in Christ? We are supposed to be children of God! We are supposed to be more than conquerors! Instead we see the giants in the land and we reduce who we are in our own eyes. We reduce who we are in Christ. We listen to the world. We believe what we see and hear in the world. We see that Canaanites are in the land and start to doubt. Make no doubt about it beloved - these are matters of faith. It takes the faith of Joshua and Caleb to stare at giants and believe God. It takes the faith of the three Hebrew boys to defy King Nebuchadnezzar and be thrown into the fiery furnace. It takes the faith of Abram to believe what God said over what his natural eyes were telling him. It takes faith.
The second lesson from the key verses is found in the reaction of Abram to the promises of God. He built an altar and dedicated it to the Lord. There are three considerations for us here. The first is that God always comes first. Sometimes we have a tendency to not reflect to God when things are going well. Abram comes to the land and God appears to him and reinforces the promise. Abram immediately builds an altar. In our lives, our Christianity should come first to us. Not our job. Not our marriage. Not our family. To Abram, his identity was found first in God. Today we have too many Christians who find their identity in something other than Christ. What does the Bible teach us though?
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. - Matthew 6: 33 (NLT)
What are we seeking first beloved? Secondly, we need to realize that the promises of God alone are worth our praise and thanksgiving. Abram did not wait until the full promise had been completed to build the altar. The promise alone deserved his praise! The sad reality today is too often we are simply not thankful people. Sure we can praise God when things go our way but whenever the answer comes back "no" - we can become petulant like children. We can shake our fist at the heavens and demand to know why there are Canaanites in the land that was promised to us! Thanksgiving is also the key to defeating the fear and doubt that Satan uses to poison our hearts against the God we serve:
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4: 6-7 (NLT)
The secret in these verses is to thank God for all He has already done! David explains to King Saul that he can fight Goliath because God had already delivered him from the lion and the bear. Joshua and Caleb clearly remembered the plagues God visited upon Egypt. They remembered the parting of the Red Sea. The ten other spies however only focused on the giants in the land. Therein lies our problem often as well. We focus on the world instead of God. Is there anything God cannot handle in our lives? Can He not handle our medical report? Can He not handle our children? Our marriages? Then why do we look at the giants standing in our way and reduce ourselves to grasshoppers? Because we are focusing on ourselves! Joshua and Caleb focused only on God and what He had promised. Abram not only focused on what God had said and promised but he immediately built an altar to God with thanksgiving for what had not yet even come to pass. That is how our hearts are protected. That is how our hearts should be.
Lastly, Abram approached all of this with a sense of holy reverence. He built and altar and dedicated it to God. He set it apart for God. I think this is an important point that is sorely overlooked in modern preaching. We are rapidly losing the sense of reverent awe for who God is in our lives, what He can do and what He has promised. The modern theories of church growth preach a God who is entirely too casual. Modern worship songs do not emphasize who God is as much as what He can do for us. God becomes so sugar coated that we end up as diabetic Christians. We crave what we know is not good for us. We seek out the ear tickling, hyper sweetened messages that do not really satisfy and diminishes who God is supposed to be. I am always saddened to watch people during worship in churches who seem disinterested, distracted, cracking jokes, and overall treating God with disdain.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. - Hebrews 12: 28-29 (NLT)