Posted by: mikebackup | March 16, 2014

Stepping out in faith

Genesis 12:1-5

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Call of Abram

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[a]

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

This week I’ve come across a great quote and a Bible verse and they underpin these verses and ultimately faith itself. Fail to embrace them and you will never experience true faith. You may experience belief, spiritual moments, but until you trust the call and abandon deep reasoning you will only look out on the ocean of faith but not swim in it.

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see’ (Hebrews 11.1).

Blaise Pascal ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing…It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.’

Let’s see faith in action with the calling of Abram. The problem with a passage like this is that we can take too much for granted. Abram probably lived about 2,000 years before Jesus He wasn’t a Jew, a Christian, didn’t belong to a church, community of believers and certainly didn’t have a Bible. In the previous chapter we learn that Abram came from ‘Ur of the Chaldees’. There is nothing in the lead-up to these four verses to suggest that Abram had ever heard of the God of the Hebrews. Mesopotamia had a host of gods: Marduk, Shamash and Ishtar, among others. How was Abram to recognise YHWH’s voice among the competition? His obedience to the call is the starting point of ‘a people yet to be’; a radical act of faithful obedience for a man to leave behind all that is familiar. Why should Abram leave his family group – which constituted one’s social and financial security in the days before National Insurance – for a land about which he has no knowledge? And why should he do so, aged 75? And yet Abram goes. What was it about that voice, that call. The writer doesn’t provide us with any other information except that Abram obeyed.

Later, in Genesis 17.1-7, we hear how God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means ‘of great descent’ whereas Abraham means ‘father of a multitude’; this change in name shifts the emphasis from his past to his future, in covenant with God.

We are the inheritors of this same faith adventure – a journey without maps – provided we are able to listen to, and obey, God’s voice in our life.
Let’s compare this with an exchange we find in the Gospels

John 3:1-17 (New Revised Standard Version)

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c]7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h]14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[i]

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus can be read as a frustrating argument between a literalist (Nicodemus) and a symbolist (Jesus). When Jesus speaks of the need to be ‘born from above’ – a spiritual rebirth – Nicodemus takes this at face value: ‘Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

For John, Jesus is ‘the Light’, so the fact that Nicodemus approaches Jesus ‘by night’ is highly significant. It represents a darkness of understanding, borne out in the dialogue. ‘Nicodemus’ is a compound name, based on two Greek words meaning ‘victor/conqueror’ and ‘people’. As a Pharisee and a distinguished teacher of Israel, Nicodemus (‘victor of the people’), stands as the ‘champion’ or embodiment of the best learning of the entire Jewish nation.

Although he recognises that no one could do the things Jesus does without the presence of God, neither can he make the leap of faith to accept the divine nature of Jesus

Nicodemus represents those who, although they hear its potency, cannot leave their ‘comfort zones’ to realise the call of God in their lives.

Ours is a sceptical society. Yet, as people of faith, we are called to live by a reality – a spiritual reality – that can be experienced, but not proven. All this takes us back to the opening quotes

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see’ (Hebrews 11.1).

Blaise Pascal ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing…It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.’

How can we be sure that we are listening – that we are an Abram and not a Nicodemus? The question we have to ask ourselves is not how much we’re praying, attending church or reading the Bible, important things to do, but as Abram showed they’re not essential, no the question to ask is whether you are being a blessing?

That is the fruit and evidence of true faith in action. It all comes back to what God promised Abram if he followed the call – that he would be a blessing to the nations. As inheritors of that, our call continues to ask us to be a blessing. It means being ready to give the small blessings, generous blessings, unexpected blessings and at times big blessings. Whilst some blessings require planning, the rest should just be flowing, if they’re not then it’s time to make sure you’re listening properly to God. Blessing and call go hand in hand so take time this week to  think about your calling, whether you’re following it and whether you can see blessings flowing from you. As Abram showed age and resources are no barrier so don’t make excuses, step out in faith and make blessings instead.

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