One Man’s Background
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One Man’s Background

Genesis 11:27–32  (ID: 1070)

Abram, now considered a hero of the faith and father of a great nation, was nothing extraordinary when introduced in Genesis 11. As Alistair Begg explains, however, God is never hindered by the background of those He chooses to redeem. Abram responded in faith to God’s command and looked forward to his future with God. When God shines the light of His glory through Christ in our hearts, we too must respond to His calling and seek His purpose for our lives.

Series Containing This Sermon

Venturing in Faith

A Study on the Life of Abraham Genesis 11:1–22:24 Series ID: 22101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Will you please take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis chapter 11? Genesis 11. Here we are at the book of beginnings, and we’re going to read together, in order to set our study in context this morning, the final verses of this chapter, beginning at verse 27:

“This is the account of Terah.

“Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.”

An Extraordinary Man

We begin this morning a series of studies which we’ve simply entitled Venturing in Faith. And I hope that as we proceed along this route, we’ll answer some of the questions that are uppermost in the minds of men and women regarding faith.

What is faith? Is it, as the cynics have suggested to us, merely a crutch for weak people? Is faith defined accurately by the little boy when he said to his mother that faith is believing something even though you know it isn’t true? Is faith adequately dealt with, effectively dismissed, with statements such as these? And you hear them almost every week: people say to me, “As long as you have faith, that’s all that matters.” Really? That’s not all that matters; what matters is the object of our faith. Or another one: “As long as you’re sincere, that’s really all that counts.” No, again, that’s not all that counts, because it is dreadfully possible to be sincerely wrong.

And so, this morning, as we begin to look at the life of Abraham, we’re going to begin to find answers to these kind of questions. And in turning to the life of this man Abraham, we’re focusing on the life of one of the great heroes of faith—in fact, one of the most significant men ever to walk across the stage of human history. His life is quite incredible. His stature as a man would rank him amongst men in every generation. He would be a great man in twentieth-century America as well: Abraham, the most respected Jewish ancestor of the Hebrew people; Abraham, to whom a whole nation looks as its founder. Every true Jew regards himself as a son of Abraham.

And furthermore, the New Testament teaches us that Abraham is also the spiritual father of all who have faith. “Understand, then,” says Galatians 3:7, “that those who believe are children of Abraham.” So if you are a believer this morning, then your spiritual lineage goes right back also to Abraham. In fact, a genuine Christian has a closer link with Abraham than a secular Jew. You think about that. Abraham is described by James as “the friend of God,”[1] and he’s repeatedly referred to in the Bible as an example of faith to be followed and also a yardstick by which our faith may be measured.

Now, when we turn to the Bible, and when we turn to this very ancient section of it—several thousand years ago, an historical section—one of the problems is that men and women press very quickly their switch-off button, assuming that since we are so far removed from this man Abraham historically, culturally, geographically, the studies that we’re now about to begin may be relatively interesting, but because of all these reasons, they’re ultimately irrelevant. And such an assumption is very wrong—first of all, because our source this morning is the Bible, the Word of God, which is powerful in its impact and which is as relevant today as it was at the time of its writing; secondly, because a careful reading of the events surrounding this man Abraham will reveal that there are timeless characteristics of society which are prevalent in twentieth-century life as we know it and which we then discover as far back as the patriarchal narratives in the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

“What do you mean?” you ask. Well, look with me at Genesis 11 for just a moment. You’ll notice that what we have here—following the origin of creation, we have the fall of man, the entry of sin into the world. Following that, we have God’s judgment of the world with Noah and his family being saved through the flood. Following that, we have the postdiluvian society, as it’s referred to, which is a kind of special way of saying “life after the flood.” And here we are, as it were, at the apex of society, after God has judged the world and life has begun and man has made an attempt to unravel the mystery of his existence.

God is not limited, nor is he tied to that which man regards as expertise or importance. Rather, he makes the ordinary extraordinary by making the natural supernatural.

And also, we read in the beginning of Genesis 11, “Now the whole world had one language and … common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone,” stone being a far more lasting and enduring substance, and they used tar instead of mortar, mortar being far more cohesive on a lasting plain than ever tar might be. Already there is transience built into their existence. And “they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens”—now, notice this next phrase—“so that we may make a name for ourselves.”[2]

Now, time does not permit us to read on in the chapter, but read on for yourselves, and you will discover that God enters into that society, and, finally, man finds himself sitting in the confusion of his half-constructed city, which was going to be the great city, the great quest, the fulfillment of society as it then was. And what do we have in Genesis 11? We have a graphic illustration of life minus God—life minus the purpose which God intends for people: to enjoy and to know him.

Now, for that reason, I find it very interesting that in the midst of all of that background, God has been at work calling out a man who would stand like a colossus in the affairs of men. He called out an ordinary man whom he was about to make extraordinary. I’m running ahead of myself a little this morning; I want to say this: that that is God’s purpose. He takes ordinary men and women, and he makes them extraordinary—by his power, in accordance with his friendship. God this morning does not need extraordinary men and women. We often make the mistake of saying things like, “Oh, if only so-and-so were to become a Christian, he would really be great! I mean, he would be such a help to God in what he’s doing.” And what we’ve actually done is we’ve turned the thing completely on its head, and we have forgotten that God is not limited, nor is he tied to that which man regards as expertise or importance, but rather, he makes the ordinary extraordinary by making the natural supernatural. And such is his dealings with this man Abraham.

Now, what I want us to do this morning is not to begin where many studies in Abraham begin, which is with 12:1, but rather with 11:27, which is, of course, the portion that we read together. The reason for that is because I believe there is a great deal to be learned from the background of this man. Hence, on your outline which you have before you, you’ll discover that the title for our study is just simply, “One Man’s Background.” It’s very common for us, you know, in seeking to understand a man, his attitude, his approach to life, to ask him, “What’s your background?” We often ask for background information on someone or on something, which presupposes that our background is vitally important as we think of life. Backgrounds influence our character. Backgrounds, to a degree, control behavior.

Now, I hope you won’t mind me saying this, but it is a matter of some intrigue and not a little amusement to me here in the States to find that Americans are constantly in search of their background. They are in search of their roots. And one of the most significant series on television—although I never saw it—would be, according to all reports, a series simply entitled Roots. And so it is that people frequently come to me and tell me that they have ancestors in Scotland. And I say, “Where was that?” And they’ll say, “Oh, I’m not sure. It was somewhere near Edinburgh.” It’s always somewhere near Edinburgh, partly because Edinburgh is the one city that they know exists in Scotland. And I say, “That’s interesting.” They say, “Yeah, I guess my grandfather, he had a castle there, you know?” I say, “Oh, yeah. That’s good. Hmm.” And this is causing me a measure of concern because unless all of these people are somehow related to one another, something is wrong. Because I want you to know that there are not enough castles in Scotland to go around all the people whose uncles have got castles in Scotland.

But I understand what you’re saying. I mean, it’s far better to say that “my roots go back to a castle in the Highlands” than to say that your roots go back to a clan of sheep stealers from the Lowlands. I don’t find too many people come and say, “Oh yes, we used to steal sheep in England.” No, no, because if we want a background, we want a good background. Why? Because background is important. Even my father-in-law, who goes under the name of Harold Glenn Jones, was concerned that I would be able to trace his background back to a Scottish clan. Well, that’s a shame for a Welshman to act in that way, you know. But I did it for him. Of course I did! And I traced it, and I told him that he is a Stuart of Bute. And he is delighted with it and has a plaque in his hallway to tell everyone about it. So when you deal in the realm of background, you don’t really know what you’re touching.

Now, when we come to this man Abraham this morning, I want you to notice three things, and they’re on the outline in front of us. And we’ll deal with the first one probably in more length than the remaining two.

An Unexpected Background

First of all, to notice that Abraham’s background was different from what we might expect. You see, because we know him to be the founder of a great nation, to be the father of all who have faith, and to be the friend of God, it’s more than likely that we’ll assume that this man was of such stature in his origins that our lives will bear no relationship to him at all. Now, don’t be too hasty. Look with me at the facts, and see whether or not they don’t correct that kind of notion.

What was Abraham’s background religiously? His religious background, first of all, was heathen. In the light of what he became, we might have assumed that Abraham came from a very strong, God-fearing background and that God had picked him up and used him because of the heritage that he enjoyed. But not so. In fact, his father’s name and the names of his family circle point to idolatrous worship, and specifically to the worship of the moon, and even more specifically, in the society in which he lived, to the worship of the moon god Hurki: h-u-r-k-i. So if you imagine Abraham as a small boy, don’t imagine him getting up in the morning and singing the Psalms; first of all, they hadn’t been written. Nor was he arising in the morning to bestow glory to the God of all creation, but he would arise, and, with his family, they would worship the moon god Hurki. And it was this man upon whom God set his hand. I find that intriguing. Joshua, when he wrote of Abraham and his forefathers, said this: “Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods.”[3] That was his background religiously.

Secondly, what was his background culturally? His background culturally was highly civilized. If we have cherished any kind of notion of Abraham as a kind of patriarchal caveman wandering out of a forest somewhere, then we need for it to be corrected. Research done between 1922 and 1934 by Sir C. L. Woolley of the British Museum revealed incredible discoveries, especially in the tombs of the third dynastic period. And when they brought out their archeological findings, it made clear to them that Ur of the Chaldeans was a highly advanced city: that architecturally, it was beautiful; that in terms of simple things like plumbing, it was very advanced—they had their own central heating systems. Not only that, but Ur of the Chaldeans had libraries, and any of you who have done anthropology at all to any level will know that in the discovery and research of man, any society that has reached the level of storing away information for others of a subsequent generation to discover—will know that that is a very advanced state. And so it was from this cultural background that God laid his hand on this man, Abraham.

Thirdly, what was his social background? What was the thing that held life together for Abraham more than anything else? It was his family. It was his family. And it’s impossible to read now about Abraham without realizing the strength of the family unit. The few verses that we read together introduce us to the fact that his dad’s name was Terah. His father was already quite old by the time the boys were born. Genesis 11:26 tells us that he was seventy years old. Abraham’s brother—and Abraham was one of three sons—his brother died in early life. You’ll read that in verse 28: “Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.” And he left a widow, and he left three children, and if you’re looking carefully at the passage, you will notice that one of these children was Lot.

“Oh, so Lot was brought up without the influence of a father?” Yes. I wouldn’t want to base a doctrine on it, but as we look at the life of Lot in subsequent Sundays, it’s going to be of interest that the way this young man made his decisions and eventually turned out may have had a great deal more to do with the fact that he lost his dad when he was a young boy than ever we’ve perhaps realized before. “Well,” you say this morning, “that’s fine, because I’m the father in my home, and I’m around.” Are you? Do you know, my friends, that children are growing up in twentieth-century America with fathers who live in the same house, but they’re growing up without dads? They’re growing up without parental influence—and we’ll come to this tonight as we turn to the Christian family. They’re growing up without that solidifying factor of their existence with a one-to-one encounter with their dad. The average amount of time that a father spends on one-on-one encounter with his children in a twenty-four-hour period is so unbelievable that it’s hardly worth recounting, and it does not measure in minutes.

And into this family background Abraham grew. And if there is one word that might mark his life, I think it would be the word loyalty. Loyalty. A lovely word and a lovely characteristic. And Abraham was loyal to his father, as we’re going to see. Abraham was loyal to the memory of his brother as he began to look after his nephew. Abraham was loyal to his wife, despite the fact that, as verse 30 says, she “was barren” and “had no children.” Now, you say, “Well, what’s so surprising about that?” Just this: that in the society of Abraham’s day, that was sufficient reason to dispense with your wife. That was sufficient grounds to chase her out of your home and out into the wilderness if you should choose. And so Abraham was a strange man in many ways in his day, for when others were casting away those to whom they had committed their lives, he was drawing her close.

Now, there’s something of a thumbnail sketch of his background: religiously heathen, culturally civilized, and socially, vitally dependent on the family unit. Now, I mention that this morning because background counts for something. It doesn’t count for everything, but it counts for something. And we all have backgrounds. Some of us have ordinary backgrounds. Some might be regarded as outstanding. Some of our backgrounds have been poor; some of them have been privileged. Some of us are here with a godly heritage; some of us are here out of a total spiritual vacuum. And we can’t do anything about our backgrounds, except we can learn lessons from them, and we can learn to be thankful for that which has been helpful.

But I want to say this this morning: we may not be able to do anything about the background which we have received, but we can do something about the background which we in turn give to others, so that every one of us is having an effect on a coming generation; every one of us is leaving something to pass on to our children and to our children’s children; so within the society of America, we leave to the coming generation that which we consider vital—hence the importance of our responsibilities as Christians in our day and generation in the decision-making of this land.

Within the fellowship of God’s people, we leave something to pass on to our generation. Within our family life, our children will grow up, and they will say in years to come, “I remember my dad always doing such and such,” or “I can remember as a small boy waking up in the middle of the night, as I thought it was. It was probably only eleven o’clock or even half past ten at night, and I could hear voices. But the voices seemed so far away, so I knew they weren’t in the room adjacent to my bedroom. And padding my way through the family room, I stood outside my parents’ door, and I could hear them speaking. But it didn’t sound like a conversation. And I heard my father pray for me. And I heard my mother pray for me.” And if for no other reason than that I have the privilege of opening up the Word of God today, it is because within that background, God was working his purposes out. So I say to you, moms and dads, I say to you as a fellowship, I say to the nation, as it were: What background do we leave for a coming generation?

God’s Unfailing Purposes

Secondly, Abraham’s background was no hindrance to God’s purposes.

Now, we need to keep in mind that God’s purpose for Abraham was first of all to make him a father of a nation and, beyond that, to make him the spiritual father of all men and women from every nation who believed. So it was a high calling. Well, think about it: Is it not a little strange that God should lift him from such a heathen background to fulfill his purpose? But he did. And the reason that Abraham became the man he was was because God came to him within the context of his moon worship, within a family life marked by idolatry, and he revealed himself to Abraham. We do not have the details of that revelation, but we can only but assume that it was something quite devastating to transform Abraham not only geographically to a whole new area and to take his family with him but also to transform his life.

Now, God had revealed himself to Abraham while they lived in Mesopotamia before ever they made the move to Haran. And you can read of this in Acts chapter 7, where Stephen, in his speech to the Sanhedrin council, in response to a charge of blasphemy, begins with a very central, formative aspect of Jewish life, and he responds to show these Jewish people that what he has said and done is not out of sync with Jewish history—that it is directly in accord with the unfailing purposes of God. And so he begins with Abraham, and this is what he says: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” That’s authoritative, isn’t it? It’s not “If you’d like to listen, listen.” It’s “Hey, listen!” Why? “Because what I’m about to say is important.” “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.”[4] Now, turn back to Genesis, and look there at 12:1, and you’ll notice, especially if you’re using a New International Version, the phraseology is so accurate. Because it reads like this: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country.’”[5] In other words, it is referring back to the encounter of God with Abraham in Mesopotamia before ever they set out from the land of their upbringing.

It seems clear that Abraham’s encounter with God must have been similar to that which Moses had at the burning bush,[6] when God took ahold of his life and raised him up for usefulness. The encounter of Abraham with God must have been similar to that had by Isaiah in the temple, when in the normal routine of temple worship, suddenly God met with him, showed him the kind of man that he was, and drew from him the cry, “What shall I do?” And the response to God’s word, “Who will go for me?” and Isaiah said, “I’ll go.”[7] Why? Because God revealed himself to him. No man or woman ever went to serve God anywhere in any meaningful dimension but that first God revealed himself to them. Men and women have gotten themselves involved in altruistic deeds under the guise of religion, but they never met God! And Abraham met God.

So did Paul. Remember Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road: hated the Christians, on his way to persecute a few more in Damascus. Within a relatively short period of time, he was preaching the authority of the risen Christ.[8] What happened? Saul of Tarsus met God! Met Christ. And I believe, although I wouldn’t argue for it, that what we have in these encounters as they’re given to us in terms of the revelation of the “glory of God”—you will notice the phrase—the revelation of God’s glory seems to me to be described very helpfully by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6, where, describing the experience that he had had and that of believers subsequently, he says this: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Oh, you see, my friends, there’s all the difference in the world between saying, “Oh, I believe in God. I believe there’s a God,” or “I believe that Jesus existed,” or “I believe in the resurrection”—there’s all the difference in the world between that and God making “his light shine in our hearts to give us the … knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” And you chart the progress of any missionary organization that has gone on for anything for God or any individual life that has counted for God, and you will discover that it has always begun with God revealing himself to that individual or to those people.

God does not allow himself to be limited by the backgrounds of people he chooses to bless and use.

And so it was this kind of revelation which confronted Abraham, obviously, with the futility of idol worship. You see, up until that day that God met with him, he must have been relatively content with what he was doing. After all, his family did it; his uncles did it; everyone was doing it. They would go to the Hurki and worship there. Now he’s on the move, because God revealed himself to him and found Abraham asking the question, “What do you want me to do?”

Can I ask you this morning, as the Scriptures ask me: Have you come to the point in your life where you’ve said to God, “What do you want me to do?” And that is not just as straightforward as it might seem. Many of us have come to the point where we have explained to God what we’re going to do, and we have written it out very nicely for him, and we’ve presented it in a very adequate fashion. And now all we want is for God to give us a rubber stamp of approval, and then we’ll go ahead and do what we’re going to do. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The question is: Have I asked God, “What do you want me to do with my life?” “Now I’m thirty-five, and I may have three-score years and ten,” for example, “so I have lived half my life, and I have half to live. What do you want me to do?” “I’m a young man today—I’m eighteen—and the array of opportunities are diverse. What do you want me to do?” Have you asked that question? Do you have an answer?

And the answer that God gave to Abraham was, “I want you to get up and go and leave everything that represents security to you. I want you to leave your country, leave your family, leave all your stuff behind, and go!” Anybody here prepared for that kind of venture of faith this morning? Are you prepared, if God should call you, to leave everything that represents security to you and go? Until we get to that point, whether God would call us to that kind of commitment or not, we haven’t begun, really, to walk on the venture of faith.

Now, the application here is obvious as we come quickly to the final point: God does not allow us to be limited by the backgrounds of those he chooses to bless and use. Abraham’s background was no hindrance to the purposes of God. And as you read church history, both within the Bible and then in secular writing, as it were, of the accounts of men that God has used, you’ll discover that history is full of examples of people who, by human standards, were dismissed as being useless and ill-equipped—even by people who ought to have known better. It’s my contention that if you read the book of 1 and 2 Timothy, you’ll find there a young man who probably would have been rejected by most modern missionary societies. You see, because what has happened is that in our secular thinking, we’ve begun to think that the Mr. Macho Man—the kind of man who has the right background, the right training, the right everything—in business terms, he’s “the man for the job”; therefore, in spiritual terms we just take those same kind of men, kind of sprinkle them with a little bit of Christian dust, and all of a sudden, they’re the men that God needs and wants to use. Not at all! God—and I want to underline this—does not allow himself to be limited by the backgrounds of people he chooses to bless and use. We don’t have time to turn to it, but read 1 Corinthians 1:26–31, and you’ll discover there that when God is at work, “the weak” will “shame the strong,” and “the foolish” will “shame the wise,” and the low and “the despised” will achieve the seemingly impossible.

Let me illustrate it from the life of a man well-known in America, and his name is Dwight L. Moody. When he went to Scotland, he arrived there on the twenty-first of November in 1873. He had had successful campaigns in England and was now about to arrive in Edinburgh. And the biographer says this: “The Scottish people…” And this is open to debate; I think it was perhaps written by someone who didn’t know the Scottish people too well. But anyway,

The Scottish people are eminent for their knowledge of theology. Doctrinal discussions are as natural to them as kites and marbles to boys, or dolls and ribbons to girls; and the various dissensions, disturbances, and divisions which have taken place among them on account of theological opinions, form a voluminous and remarkable history.

That’s a none-too-savory comment, but that one is pretty accurate.

He who would edify a congregation of Scot[s]men must come to them with the beaten oil of the sanctuary; and pour it out from vessels of a proper and traditional form. He should be a man of high attainments in learning; the stamp of some college should be upon him; and more than all, he should come with the endorsement of some eminent body of divines.

Then comes this short, simple, expressive statement:

All these things were wanting in Mr. Moody. If there were any great preacher in all the world who was likely to be rejected in Scotland, aside from the power of God which attended him, D[wight] L. Moody was that man.[9]

In other words, looked at from a human perspective, he was a funny, wee man whom, the word was going around, had been saved in a shoe shop (he was shoe salesman). He didn’t seem to be very well educated. His sermons seemed to keep going back to the same old thing over and over again. And really and truly, I mean, what could you expect? Ha-ha!

Well, about twenty pages on—and I’m not going to read the intervening pages—“The farewell meeting of Messrs. Moody and Sankey at Edinburgh was held in the fields, on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat.” Arthur’s Seat you have all seen in the film Chariots of Fire, where Charleson talks with his sister, and she tries to tell him that he shouldn’t be a runner; he should just stick with the Intervarsity Fellowship. And that is right there. That’s Arthur’s Seat. That great, grassy, slopey mound is where they held these Moody meetings. Why? “Because no church would have them.” No! Because “no building” was “adequate to accommodate the … congregation. The whole city, one might almost say, came out to bid them good-bye and God speed.” And listen to this:

From this historic seat of Christian learning, which they had entered with so much trembling, they went forth, with the blessings of the whole community upon them, and with such joy in their hearts as only those can know who are honoured of God in leading many souls to Christ.[10]

God is not hindered or limited by our background. And some of us are so disappointed with the past that we believe God has no great purposes for us. Wrong! God has great purposes for everyone he has redeemed, and there is “a work for Jesus” that “none but you can do.”[11]

God’s Providential Molding

Thirdly and finally, quickly, Abraham’s background was used by God to mold his life.

We’re going to see in these coming weeks that God used their childlessness, the problems and the tragedy, to humble Abraham and teach him what it really means to trust. God was at work in the disappointment caused by delay, so that they would know when Isaac came along that this was not in the natural order of things; this was not because of some accident. It was when his body was “as good as dead”[12] and his wife was in a similar situation, so they would know: Isaac is God’s gift.

And God used Abraham’s awareness of advanced civilization in Ur of the Chaldeans to underscore the prominent place which Abraham gave to seeking something better. You see, it’s all very well seeking something better if we’ve got nothing at all to begin with. But Abraham wasn’t in that position. Abraham was an affluent man. Abraham had the best society could offer. Abraham was the kind of guy that people looked to and said, “Abraham, you’ve got it made!” Abraham said, “Yeah, in human terms, perhaps. But I’m not staying here.” “Where are you going, Abraham?” “Well, I’m going to head for a city whose builder and maker is God.”[13]

Do you see the kind of picture? Here is the crumbling Tower of Babel, with the tar and the bricks and the confusion. And here is God’s man for a generation. And here is the future, and there is the city towards which he moves. And turning his back to that and all that it represents, he turns forward to all that this holds. And what happened? Well, Abraham’s life became and becomes today the encouragement to some of us to walk with him the pathway of faith as we understand the reality of his testimony about God.

Let me summarize; our time is gone. Three things: One, background is important, so never minimize the powerful influence that you will have on others in this respect. Your children will either “arise and call [you] blessed”[14] or the reverse. Secondly, God’s purposes are not impeded by our backgrounds. God is the God of new beginnings, and he is the God of happy endings. And he supplies the need to meet the challenge of the call, so “No” is never the right answer to any call from God. And thirdly and finally, God uses our backgrounds to mold us to his glory. So we need to be thankful for what is good and learn to be encouraged by it and build on it. We need to be unafraid of what is disappointing or bad in our background, realizing that God is uninfluenced by it. We need to learn from that and make sure that what we learn helps us in our influence upon others for the good. And finally, we need to learn to set no limit upon what God can do through any man or woman who answers his call and who walks closely with him in genuine obedience.

Let’s just pray together, shall we?

O God our Father, teach us now from Abraham’s background how to walk with you. Call us out, Lord, from the idolatry of our self-worship, from the crumbling edifices of our own creation and the futility of our lives without you, and set us, Lord, we pray, upon the highway of faith, and keep us on, so that that which is a disappointment cannot drag us down, and that which in our past is an encouragement cannot make us proud, but that we may have a sober estimate of ourselves and an unlimited estimate of the power of Almighty God, so that we may become all that you intend for us to be. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] James 2:23 (Phillips). See also 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8.

[2] Genesis 11:1–4 (NIV 1984).

[3] Joshua 24:2 (NIV 1984).

[4] Acts 7:2 (NIV 1984).

[5] Genesis 12:1 (NIV 1984). Emphasis added.

[6] See Exodus 3:1–4:17.

[7] Isaiah 6:5, 8 (paraphrased).

[8] See Acts 9:1–22.

[9] W. H. Daniels, D. L. Moody and His Work (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1875), 266–67.

[10] Daniels, 291.

[11] Elsie Duncan Yale, “There’s a Work for Jesus” (1912).

[12] Hebrews 11:12 (NIV 1984).

[13] See Hebrews 11:10.

[14] Proverbs 31:28 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.