Abraham: A Journey of Faith – Don't Skip the Tune-ups!

Grace and peace are yours from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We were eight hours into a sixteen hour car trip when the check engine light blinked on. We had just driven through Great Falls, Montana, at 11 o’clock at night, and we had the most desolate part of the trip ahead of us; a three and a half hour journey across the high plains of Montana and no hope of any help until we really reached Billings. What to do? Drive back to Great Falls, spend the night, have a mechanic check things out in the morning, but then that would delay our arrival at our family reunion We pressed on. We pressed on in the middle of the night through the high plains of Montana, three and a half hour journey until any hope of help. Because we had taken our van in for a tune up before we went on that trip, everything should have been in tip top shape in spite of what that check engine light was proclaiming We made it to Billings and beyond because, as it turns out, that check engine light was just a reminder to do regular maintenance. It’s good to have those reminders, though, isn’t it? Because if you skip the tune up, you just might find yourself stranded on the side of the road in the dead of night in the middle of Montana. Over the past month together, we have been following Abraham on his journey of faith and what a journey it’s been. We watched as God called to Abram when he was living in the city of Ur surrounded by idols. God said leave this place; Abram did. He went up to Haran and there settled for a while, and then God came again and said, leave this place and now leave your father and your brother Go to a land I will show you. And that land ended up being Canaan. For a time, Abram settled there, but then we watched as he zipped down to Egypt to escape famine. We witnessed Abram dash all the way to Damascus to rescue his nephew, Lot, who had been taken hostage. And then we watched as Abram made his way back to Canaan. With all the miles that he had put on, Abraham was in need of a tune up, a spiritual tune up. And what we’re going to learn today together, brothers and sisters, is that we dare not skip the spiritual tune ups that God has in store for us. Listen to our text as it’s recorded in Genesis Chapter 15 So far, our text. Whether you drive a Ford Focus valued at five, six thousand

dollars, or you drive a Porsche Boxster valued at twenty to thirty thousand dollars, your car, regardless of its make, will need a tune up. And so it doesn’t matter what kind of believer you are, you might even be a hall of fame believer like Abram. And yet, you’ll need spiritual tune ups from time to time. Abram wasn’t always certain of his future, he didn’t always know how God was leading him, if, in fact, God was leading at all. In our text it seems as if Abram was going through one of those times of doubt. Which is actually kind of interesting when you consider what he had just accomplished. Remember last Sunday, we heard how he dashed up to Damascus to rescue his nephew, Lot, and on his way back to his home in Canaan, he passed by the city of Salem. And that interesting character named Melchizedek, the priest king of that city and a fellow believer in the one true God, came out and he blessed and encouraged Abram Abram should have been at a spiritual high And yet there were still doubts there. I think that’s a good reminder for us believers today that as awesome as a Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday morning service might be, if these are the only times that we’re connecting with the word of God, the only time that we’re coming in for a spiritual tune up, we shouldn’t be surprised when doubts linger. Even if we come to church every Sunday, what about Monday through Saturday? What are you doing to feed your faith, to drive away those doubts? Well God knew what Abram was going through, and so he appeared to Abram in a vision He said, Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward. Was Abram uneasy because he thought that the kings he had defeated in his rescue of his nephew, Lot, were going to come back with a vengeance? If so, God was saying, don’t worry about them, Abram, I am your shield, not your servant. Or was Abram second guessing his decision not to accept a penny from the king of Sodom? So he said, just give me back my people, but you can keep all of our possessions. So, God was saying to Abram, don’t worry about that, I am your very great reward, not the riches of Sodom And yet Abram was still uneasy. He confessed to the Lord, but you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir. This was the problem, that he didn’t have any children? Yeah, and that was a big problem because without a son, then Abram wouldn’t have any descendants, and without any descendants, then God could not keep the promise that he had made to Abram, that all nations will be blessed through you The promise that through Abram’s family, the Savior will be born into this world. No son meant no savior. What good then was Abram’s riches and his fame? Because when he would die, he would still go to hell. It’s the way you and I would feel if we were standing on the lip of a canyon with our whole family gathered with all of our possessions but there’s

a grassfire that’s closing in and there’s no way across the canyon, no way safely down it, no means of escape. What good will all those possessions do us? You have to hand it to Abram, he was more concerned about the spiritual than the material Do you echo those sentiments? Do you cry out to the Lord to increase your faith more often than you cry out to him to increase your bottom line? When you hear that a family member is sick and suffering, no doubt your heart goes out to them. But what about the family member who is straying from the faith, or who has no faith at all? May God make us more like Abram that we too make it our chief concern about the spiritual rather than the material. So how would God react to Abram’s complaint? I wouldn’t have been surprised had God rolled his eyes and said, this again? Come on, Abram, we’ve been friends for how many years now? How many times have I told you that you will have descendants and those descendants will inherit this land? Only that isn’t how God reacted, and this is the delightful truth about the true God. He welcomes our questions, and he handles our doubts with grace This is what God did for Abram; he took him outside at night and he said, look up and count the stars if you can, so shall your offspring be. Do you see what God is doing for Abram? He’s not just repeating the promise, he’s illustrating it. So that every time when Abram would step outside and look up at the night time sky, he wouldn’t just see the beauty of God’s creation, he would see the beauty of God’s love for him personally. Isn’t this the way that you and I should feel whenever we see a rainbow in the sky? It’s not just a beautiful natural phenomena that causes us to reach for our phone, snap a picture to put it on Snapchat or Instagram. It should cause us to pause and remember that promise that God made to Noah after the flood; never again will I destroy this world with a flood and I’m going to put the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that promise. God has kept that promise, and so he will keep all the other promises that he has made to us. Abram believed what God said about the stars corresponding to the number of his descendants, but he still had some questions. What about this land in which he was living, where there were many other people who were living? How would that land go to his descendants one day? And so, Abram asked God, Lord, how can I know I will possess it? Now you might expect God to become impatient and to say, Abram, that’s enough, I’m done with this conversation. How many times do I have to tell you? Instead, this is what God said, Go get a young cow, a goat, and a ram and also a dove and a young pigeon Abram gathered the animals together and then God directed him to cut the larger animals in half. What’s this all about? If Abram had been living today, God would have said to him, okay Abram, go call your lawyer. I’m going to put my promise in writing. More than that, I’m going to make it legally binding. And in that way I hope I can assure you that what I said I’m going to do, I’m really going to do it. Only Abram didn’t live today, he lived over four thousand years ago, and in his day, when you wanted to make a contract, this is the way you did it You’ve got big animals like a cow, a goat, a ram, you cut them in half and then together with your business partner, you would walk in between the carcasses

What was the unspoken truth? What you were saying to your business partner was this, if I break my side of the bargain, may I become like one of these animals Don’t you think you would think twice about going into any kind of business arrangement if that’s how these legally binding contracts were made? That’s what God was doing with Abram. But once Abram got everything ready, birds of prey, perhaps vultures, came down and started to pick at the dead animals. And Abram had to shoo them away. If you’re familiar with this text, did you ever stop and ask yourself, why is this detail included? I mean, it’s interesting, but so what? I have to admit, I don’t know why God included the detail but it does remind me of this truth; that whenever God goes out of his way to assure his people of his love, guess who else is there running interference—Satan. Even think right now how many times in this service or even in this sermon has your mind wandered? Have you, like Abram, worked hard to shoo away those distractions so that you can stay focused on God’s love? Once Abram had taken care of those birds he fell asleep waiting for God to make an appearance so that they could ratify this covenant. And as he was sleeping, a deep, dark foreboding came upon Abram. Was this Satan again? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell us where this deep, dark foreboding came from, but I do know this, that if Abram would have been like many people are today, they would have woken themselves up and gotten as far away from those dead animals as possible. Why? Because a lot of people today base their faith on their feelings, and this didn’t feel right. Oh sure, God told me to split open these animals and to wait for him, but I’m not feeling good about this. I’m not really sure that this is really from the Lord. And so many people will say things like, well, but it feels right. That relationship with this individual is okay. But my use of that substance is fine, it feels good Or on the flip side. I don’t feel good about that, and so I don’t think that’s really in line with the way God would do things. Like our practice of member communion; it’s so awkward when we ask guests to just observe. That doesn’t feel right But here’s the truth, Abram experienced this dark foreboding. He didn’t feel good about what was going on, but that said, nothing about reality. The reality is, is that God was still there with him In fact, his voice cut through the darkness and he said to Abram, know for certain that your descendants will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will certainly punish the nation they serve and afterward they will leave with many possessions. As for you, you shall die in peace and be buried at a good old age. God wasn’t just there with Abram in that darkness, he actually gives the patriarch a bit of information about the future. We, of course, know what God was talking about. He was talking about how the Israelites would be slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, but in time, God would use Moses to lead them out and bring them back to the promised land. But God didn’t tell Abram all those specific details. He only spoke in generalities. Isn’t that the way God still deals with us? You might like to know the specifics of your future life and God hasn’t told you when you will die, how you will die. But he has spoken in generalities, hasn’t he? He has said that

as the end of the world draws closer, things will get harder and harder But he’s also promised that he will come back in glory and take us to be with him in heaven. That’s enough for us to know And so if you’re going through a dark period in your life right now and you’re wondering, is God really with me? Ignore your feeling. Think back to this text, this experience that Abram had and know that God is with you. Or better yet, think back to another very dark day when the sun literally stopped shining. On Good Friday the disciples who stood at the foot of the cross and the disciples who had run away, they had lost all hope Here was their master. The one that was going to bring salvation and hope and now he was dying. But the darkness of Good Friday gave light, gave way to the bright light of Easter Sunday morning, just as Jesus said it would. No matter what darkness you are going through, in time, it will also give way to the bright light of eternal glory. When night fell, God finally made an appearance. He showed up in an interesting way, taking the form of a smoking fire pot and a blazing torch Those two items processed in between the carcasses as if an Olympic torch on parade. And know well Abram did not walk through the carcasses with God. In spite of what the picture might seem, Abram was still sleeping. He was on the sidelines He was watching God walk through the carcasses alone. In other words, God was saying to Abram, Abram, I and I alone am making this promise And I and I alone will bring this promise to fulfillment and you will receive all the benefit. You’re just on the sideline That’s kind of like, if I would say to Eric here, Eric, let’s go into business Let’s set up an ice cream store in downtown Flagstaff. I’ll buy the land I’ll build the shop, I’ll equip it with all the ice cream servers that we need I’ll hire all the people, I’ll order the inventory, I’ll do the merchandising and the marketing, and you will receive all the profits. Does that sound like a good deal to you Eric, are you in? Um, yeah, except part of what Eric is saying right now is there’s no way, there’s got to be a catch There’s got to be something that I’m going to have to do, some sort of investment that I have to make. That’s what people think about religion. That’s what people think is the way to heaven. That God says if you keep your nose clean, if you behave, then I will give you heaven But that is not what God has said throughout scripture. And he illustrates that here in a beautiful way. God says to Abram, let’s make a contract. And then Abram sits out on the sidelines. But God himself signs the dotted line and he pledges himself to Abram, just as God has pledged himself to you in Christ Jesus, his love poured out at the cross, sealed with his blood, the blood of the covenant, which in fact is what we receive when we come to Holy Communion. What an awesome God this is. We’ve learned a lot this morning, haven’t we? We’ve learned that even hall of fame believers like Abram needed spiritual tune ups from time to time. That they had doubts even when things were going well. They kind of were worried still about the future, what’s about to go wrong? Can you empathize with that feeling? We also learned that when God makes us a target of his love, Satan makes us a target, period Don’t be surprised when he comes after you, when he tries to distract

you from that love God has pledged to you, keep shooing him away. And perhaps, most importantly, we learned that we are not to base our faith on feelings Things will not always go well in your life, there may be this feeling of foreboding that you’re going through right now. But even if you have to go through that dark period for four hundred years as did Abram’s descendants, know this, that God will bring you to the light and joys of heaven. But we won’t remember that will we if we skip the tune ups? And so let’s keep encouraging each other to be here in worship, to be in Bible Class, to do our home devotions. So that we stay focused on God’s love for us, in Christ. Amen