Together We Follow: Genesis 13

When we last read together, we saw how Abram made a decision motivated by fear and self-preservation. We saw that God was merciful and brought him through a situation that could have ended in disaster…today, we will read about his journey back into Canaan.

Genesis 13

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)

Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”

Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.

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.

This is what makes an impact on me in this chapter: we see Abram offer Lot the first choice of land. This decision – unlike his actions in Egypt – are not ignited by looking out for his own best interests. I believe that Abram trusts that God will provide and protect his family in whatever portion is left for him — and so he can willingly open his hands, letting go of his control. He must believe that the outcome will be okay, no matter what Lot decides, because of God’s faithfulness to him.

Seeing Abram surrender the control of his future so fully stops me in my tracks, even as I type this – because the letting go of control thing? It is hard. I struggle with it on the day-to-day level of my life. I think that the only way we can truly surrender ourselves and all that our lives hold (our dreams, our plans, our futures) is to make the choice that Abram made.

He chose to believe that his portion, if blessed by God, would be enough to sustain and satisfy him.

Whatever we have – little or much in the eyes of the world…maybe even in our own eyes…it’s His presence that makes it worthwhile. It’s His pleasure in us that holds our heads up high. It’s His joy and His love that infuses our lives with gladness, with strength, with contentment. It’s the wondrous name – child of God – that we wear. This is the title that we will keep forever. This is the identity that cannot be taken away from us.

I feel like I have said this over and over again lately…but maybe, in a world that tells us such a different story, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the truth. It’s His presence that fulfills us. It’s following Him that brings peace – even when it looks like giving things up, even when it feels difficult, even when it’s a faith-step that doesn’t make sense. What God entrusts to us in this life…whatever He puts in our hands or in our paths…it is enough, because He is in it. And He is always, always enough. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

 

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 12:10

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Into the unknown, Abram followed God. Not knowing where the road would lead, he set off into the future. He believed the promise of blessing. He believed the promise of a homeland. He believed the promise of family and purpose. He believed God – so, with Sarai at his side, he left behind what was familiar…he chose the uncertain path, staking his life in the One who would go before him.

They entered into Canaan. They traveled through parts of the land, getting to know this new place. They made altars. They made camps. They began to settle in, with worship in their hearts.

And then?

Genesis 12:10:  At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.

Famine.

How could this be?

In this place of promise, there was need. In this place where God had led them, there was barrenness. Where they expected blessing, hardship showed up.

Abram had another choice to make — would he keep Canaan as his goal? Would he hold onto what had been promised or  would he give up hope? Would he still accept what God had given, even when the gift held such a difficult season?

I don’t know about you – but if I’d been there with Abram and Sarai, I’m quite certain this turn of events would have unraveled my confidence in our decisions. I might have tried to turn back for the familiar home I’d left behind.

But Abram didn’t do that. Instead, he went into Egypt. And Genesis doesn’t say that Abram abandoned Canaan, finding a new home in that neighboring nation…no, he lived as a foreigner there. He wasn’t settling there, but only staying for a while.

Did they wonder why God allowed famine to come to Canaan at this time? I don’t know if Abram questioned it, but I do wonder at the timing. Knowing that God is good and His purpose was to reveal Himself to Abram and all of his descendants, I wonder what this famine was used to accomplish in the heart of Abram.

Perhaps He knew the time had come to show Abram that it wasn’t the blessing that was most important, but the Giver of the gifts. Perhaps God wanted Abram to learn that no matter the circumstances, He would remain with him.Perhaps He wanted to teach Abram that each step – when taken in obedience  – leads us closer to His full purpose. Situations may not look like what we imagined they would…but He uses each circumstance to strengthen, discipline, and deepen us.

This is how Abram kept his course – by looking to the One who had laid out the road before him. In times like these, we have to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The enemy could have used this famine as a tactic to distract, discourage, and deter Abram from his relationship with God…I feel it’s pretty likely that he would have been working, all the while, to undermine Abram’s trust in God. I can almost hear his voice, whispering – go back. Go home. It’s safer there. It’s easier there. He brought you this far and for what? For famine? For failure? 

And they could have gone back…but they had set their hearts on the promises of God. They were no longer looking for what had been, but for what would be. A life fashioned from their own hands was no longer enough to satisfy their hearts — now that they had seen Him, now that they had heard His voice – they were looking for a home built by God.

Nothing else would satisfy.

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Have you ever been in a spot like this? Have you obeyed God, walked in His way, and found obstacles in your path? Have you listened and planted, worked and waited – only to have a field barren of harvest?

When He is silent…when the answers aren’t immediate…when the answers are not what we would have chosen…do we still trust Him?

What if we never see the reality of God’s promise or the harvest of our labor in this life-time?

Can we trust that His eternal vision sees the outcome we cannot? Can we trust that He is using our lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for this present time and the age to come? Can we hold onto what is yet unseen, trusting the reality of our eternal home that we will one day call our own?

Can we trust in His faithfulness, even when it feels like we have taken a detour that makes no sense, a circumstance that feels like setback, a fall that feels like failure?

I think we have to re-define our definition of success when it comes to our lives. Merriam Webster’s first explanation is this:  the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

But what if success is actually, simply, the delight of our Father?

What if success is being content in all circumstances because of His presence?

What if success is laying ourselves down and picking up a cross, following Him?

What if success is seeking first the Kingdom of God, putting His name above our own?

What if success is finding joy and beauty in even the smallest moments of our lives?

What if success is being transformed more and more into His image?

What if success is the overflow of His love into the people He has placed on our path?

What if success is giving all – whole-hearted, whole-soul, whole-life to Him, with only the aim of pleasing Him?

What if success is walking with Him, not for what we will gain, but because we love Him?

What if success is developing faith that believes Him, chooses Him, reveals Him through our lives?

What if success is one day hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, as we enter into the City of God?

Isn’t this the kind of success in which a heart can still sing in the midnight, in the storm, or in the famine?  Isn’t this the kind of success that brings real life?

I believe, with all my heart, that this is the only kind of success that satisfies our souls in every season of our lives.

We won’t understand every road we take, every turn or stop…but it isn’t our role to control the outcome of all that we do – that is the work of God and only He can do it in a way that will be both for our good and for His glory. It’s our role to keep trusting, to keep following, to keep obeying the One who loves us.

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If this is where we are right now — earnestly seeking to follow God and finding ourselves, still, in famine or fire, storm or desert, disaster or silence – I hope that we will remember that the One who called us to this place hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us, even when it feels like we are walking away from what we thought would be our future…in the waiting and in the wandering, He is here.

So let’s learn this from Abram: don’t give up and don’t go back.

Don’t let the enemy dissuade or deter you. Don’t let anything talk you into going back to the way things were before…set your eyes on the One who will complete the work He has begun in you. No matter what – His promises are sure. He will do what He says He will do.

Hold onto tightly to your hope. Hang on, with all your heart, to your faith. Famine or plenty, Egypt or promised land, calm or storm, darkness or day – He remains. He stays the same…and He is the satisfaction of our souls.

 

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.-1 Peter 1:6

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.-Hebrews 11: 13-16

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.-2 Corinthians 3:8-10, 16-18


 

Together We Follow: An Interruptible Life (Genesis 12:1-9)

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Genesis 12:1-9

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.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 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. 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.  Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

This is what I love about the call of Abram: God didn’t call him because of his background or his qualifications. We aren’t even told that Abram was particularly upright in the way he lived or trying to find the God of his forefathers. All we know for sure is that his father had not worshiped the one true God (Joshua 24:2). There, in the crowded city of Ur, they did not remember God.

But God remembered mankind. He remembered His promise of blessing to Adam, to Noah, to Shem. He still wanted a relationship with the people He’d created. He wanted to restore the communion that had been lost.

So He chose a descendant of Shem – not because of who Abram was in that moment, but because of His own faithfulness, His own enduring compassion for the men and women on this planet He’d shaped.

God spoke something new into Abram’s life – a calling, a command, a commitment. He reached out and initiated a relationship that would bring Abram and his descendants into covenant with Him…in this way, God would reveal Himself, again, to the world. Through an on-going relationship with Abram and his family, there would be a revelation of God’s character and His heart. He could communicate what He wanted for their lives. He could be their God and they could be His people — this would be the restoration of communion for all the world to witness.

And as for Abram?

God didn’t force him to obey. God didn’t coerce him into leaving Haran.

Abram heard God’s voice and he chose to respond in faith. Abram chose to believe Him.

He chose to lay down all of his old expectations, his former life, who he thought he was and what he thought was in store for the future…he allowed God to create something different and totally new in him. When God invited him into this transformed life, turning everything topsy-turvy, Abram said – yes.

I want that kind of faith, the faith that says yes to the journey before the destination is revealed…just because God has asked me to go. I want to stay yielded…interruptible. I don’t want to hold on so tightly to what I know and what I plan that I leave no room for God to make something new out of me, to re-direct me to His purposes.

Because just like He revealed His heart to the world through Abram’s obedience, He still reveals His love through His people, through the surrendered lives of His sons and daughters.

Lord, help us to hear You when You call us.  Help us to leave space for Your Spirit to work within us, to transform us. Help us to trust You enough to surrender what has been when You are ready to do something new in our lives. Help us to boldly live out a yes when You ask us to act, to move, to follow You.