Atrocious Abe, 5 February 2017

Atrocious Abe
Series: Ideal Family
Genesis 12:10-13

Series Big Idea:
All families are messed up, including biblical families.

Big Idea: Jesus, not Abraham, is the ultimate example of a godly husband.

Today we’re resuming our series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. And the mess begins with the marriage. We all need help!

Abraham is one of the most important figures in human history. Some have called him, “Father Abraham.” When I was a child, we used to sing a song about him.

“Father Abraham had many sons/many sons had Father Abraham/I am one of them/And so are you/So let’s just praise the LORD.”

I think the reason it was so popular is it had motions that accompanied the music. Nevertheless, it taught me a bit about Abe. I like to say Abe not merely to make him sound a bit more hip and cool, but because it applies to both of his names. You see, Abraham used to be Abram, much like Paul used to be Saul.

A few weeks ago, we talked about righteous Noah and how at the end of his biblical story he is drunk and naked, not the most noble place to be! One of the lessons from Noah is even the godliest people are imperfect, and your good deeds in the middle of your life are no guarantee that your ending will be as positive. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years to earn trust and seconds to lose it. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said,

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

He did not say, “Pick up your cross and you’ll be set for life.” He said to truly be his disciple requires daily surrender. We can never rest on our past accomplishments.

Abe’s story ends well.

Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:7-8)

But let’s back up.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

Imagine God says, “Go to the airport, board this airplane, and begin a new life wherever the plane lands.” Would you do it? Would you go? Would you leave your home, friends, family, and even your country to follow the LORD?

For centuries, people have been doing this very thing. Some of you have been led by God overseas. You’ve sacrificed, studied new languages, and said goodbye to everything you’ve known in this life to obey God. That’s faith!

If God calls you to relocate, you had better be sure you’re hearing from God and that it’s not bad lunch! I can think of two occasions when our family followed God’s prompting to move. The first was moving to Ann Arbor in 1998 to plant a church, launching a brand-new ministry from scratch. God was so good and faithful to us despite our humble beginning as a church of three in our living room!

The second big relocation felt like an international move for us. As a Michiganian, I always considered Ohio a foreign country and when God called us to Toledo we were so surprised! Now, of course, we love Toledo!

But I don’t say that to pat ourselves on the back for our great faith. Instead, it was God’s vision and clear direction which made both moves no-brainers for us. I’m sure Abe could relate. Listen to what God promises him:

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth 
will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

That sounds good, right? Would you go to Michigan or Ohio if He promised that to you? What about Canada? Mexico? Africa?

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:4-5)

Obviously, he didn’t board a plane. This was a land journey of about 400 miles…without motorized transportation…with his family…

Have you ever traveled 400 miles with your family…WITH motorized transportation?! That’s about from here to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)

That’s a special moment! Look at this land, Abe. It’s not yours, but your offspring will get it someday. But don’t stop now! We’re not there yet!

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

Abram is obviously devoted to God. He must be quite the altar builder!

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. (Genesis 12:9)

So far, so good. Then we get to this unusual story.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. (Genesis 12:10)

Remember, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. That means he will become a dad…eventually. In a sense, he was invincible. He
couldn’t die! God always keeps His promises. Always.

We’ve never experienced a famine, but I can imagine it would be scary. We all need to eat. But we don’t see Abe consulting God about what to do. Maybe God was going to miraculously feed Abe manna and quail. Perhaps God wanted this couple to travel to a place other than Egypt. We don’t know, but there’s no indication that Abe followed God into Egypt.

Have you ever faced a challenge and ignored God? Have you ever taken matters into your own hands rather than consulting the Creator? I confess I have. We often talk about making Jesus the LORD of our lives. That means He’s the boss. He’s in charge. He is always consulted before making important life decisions. Always.

But let’s suppose God told Abram to go to Egypt (which
is possible).

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)

Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

First, Abram is worried about himself. He’s sure his wife Sarai will be fine. The plan isn’t even for Abe to lie, but for his wife to do his dirty work! She’s supposed to lie for him! Now I’m sure if she loved her husband, she would obviously be concerned for his welfare, too. But Abe’s plan is hardly going to benefit her.

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16)

Let’s give credit to Abram. He was right. The Egyptians found his sister—err—wife to be beautiful. She was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. What would Pharaoh want with a strange woman in his palace?!

But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. (Genesis 12:17-20)

Abe’s plan worked. His life was spared. But what an ordeal. Can you imagine how Sarai must’ve felt during this whole experience? Abram receives grace—unmerited favor—despite his selfish, deceitful behavior. He became a biblical hero and the father of many nations, but this episode did not cause him to win Husband of the Year!

So What?

Abraham lied about his wife being his sister. Twice! It happened again in Genesis chapter 20. Look it up!

Parents—and grandparents—it’s important to remember the next generation(s) is watching you. Whether it’s interpersonal conflicts as we saw in the drama or habitual sins like dishonesty, children often become like their parents.

Abraham’s son, Isaac, lied about his wife being his sister! It’s in Genesis chapter 26. You can’t make this stuff up! I know the Bible’s true, if only because nobody would fabricate these embarrassing stories and call them sacred scripture!

One thing we continue to see in this series is the imperfections of the heroes of the Bible. I find this encouraging, knowing I’m not alone in my weak faith, selfishness, pride, and sinfulness. Obviously, the message is not, “Husbands, lie about your wives because it’s the biblical thing to do,” but rather a message of what NOT to do…and hope when we fail.


Jesus, ironically, sets the perfect example for husbands to follow…love and sacrifice, not selfishness and lies. Where Abram failed in the desert, for Jesus, the desert was the site of one of his finest hours, resisting temptation despite forty days of fasting. Paul famously wrote to the church in Ephesus

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:25-30)

That’s what real marriage looks like—true love that’s not based on feelings, but rather on commitment, even when it’s costly.

Jesus loved us, the Church, to the point of laying down his very life.

Jesus has entered into your suffering and into your disgraces and into your depressions and into your shames and into your pains. The cross is not just a redemptive place for the follower of Jesus. The cross is also the solidarity place where God joined us in our deepest death. Perhaps you’ve lost a friend who got drunk and then had a fatal car accident, or perhaps you’ve lost the joy of family togetherness because of divorce, or perhaps you’ve seen a friend waste away from some disease, or perhaps you’ve got a tattoo on your body that evokes bad memories. The cross is about that, too.

At the cross Jesus enters into our pain, into our tragedies, into our injustices, and into the systemic evil we have created and into the sins we have ourselves committed. But his solidarity with us is also an act of redemption.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Journey Through The Wall, 22 January 2012


    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea

    The third pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to journey through the Wall.


    Life is a journey. We are all at different places in the journey. It matters not where you are, but where you are headed.

    The Bible is full of journeys. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Jesus spent three years journeying with his disciples. Life is not a simple straight line. We have detours, curves...and obstacles or Walls.


    What is the greatest obstacle in your life? It might be your job, finances, physical health, shattered dream, betrayal, a wayward child, being single, your marriage, etc. The Wall is not a traffic jam or getting the flu. It’s a season of testing or a severe trial.

    If you’re honest, there are moments in our lives when we just don’t understand. Our faith does not appear to work. God seems distant or absent. We have more questions than answers. St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul.

    On Monday nights at the greenroom we’ve been talking about being real with God with our anger, fear, and even doubt. For reasons sometimes known only by God, we just don’t understand. We ask why. We cry out for help.

    I’ve done that countless times—especially over the past several years. I’ve faced walls, I’ve searched for God, I’ve struggled with pain, uncertainty, and stress.

    If you’ve ever felt like the door of heaven was closing when you prayed, you’re not alone. If you’ve ever felt helpless, empty, dry, or defeated, you’re in good company. Today we’re going to look at the story of a man who faced an incredible wall. In his case it wasn’t the absence of God, but God’s presence and outrageous command that challenged his faith and reality.

    The Bible...and church history is filled with people who have faced walls.

    Ignatius Loyola, John Wesley, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, and countless others have experienced stages of their faith.

    David cried out to God for years when Saul and his men pursued him, and he
    was forced to hide in caves.

    Psalms 69, 70, 71 and others are filled with cries for help from God. In fact, the largest category of psalms—about 1/3 of them—are psalms of lament.

    Consider Job. Satan challenged God to take away Job’s wealth, animals, children, and good health, all as a way to see if Job would continue to be upright. At first, Job cries out to God, but God does not answer right away (Job 13: 20-26). Eventually, God speaks up and Job repents and relents (Job 42:1-6).


    Abraham had his share of Walls in his life. He was asked to leave his family and travel to an unknown land. He arrived and encountered a famine, had a conflict with his nephew Lot, his wife was unable to have children, he bounced off that wall and had a son with his wife’s servant.

    At age 110 he hit another wall. His promised son was finally born and then God asks him to do the unthinkable.

    Genesis 22...

    Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1-2)

    God does not tempt, but tests Abraham to confirm his faith and prove his commitment.

    This seems so bizarre to us, yet in that day child sacrifices were commonly offered to pagan gods.

    Tragically, 1/3 of my generation has been killed, but that’s another issue for another time.

    Mount Moriah is now the covered with the Dome of the Rock in Israel, a Muslim structure.

    Abraham faces a Wall, a test that he causes a crisis of faith.

    Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Genesis 22:3-5)

    Imagine that journey!

    Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

    “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

    “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
    (Genesis 22:6-7)

    Good question!

    Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied. (Genesis 22:8-11)

    “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

    Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:12-14)

    Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich developed a model in their work
    The Critical Journey: States in the Life of Faith that looks something like this...

    Stage 1: the beginning; we recognize our need for God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness

    Stage 2: we learn about God and what it means to follow Jesus.

    Stage 3: we get involved, serving God and His people with our gifts and passions

    We encounter the Wall which turns our world upside down. Our faith doesn’t seem to work.

    Many people get stuck at the Wall and refuse to do the hard work necessary to journey through it. They give up their faith, mask their true heart, or self-medicate.

    How do we get through the Wall?

    - by the grace and timing of God
    - on our hands and knees
    - through deep introspection
    - by releasing the trappings of this world
    - with prayer and help from others
    - with determined faith
    - by not giving up hope or giving in to temptation
    - by not losing sight of God

    Stage 4: The Wall compels us to the inward journey. Sometimes the inward journey leads us to the Wall. It is ultimately God that brings us to the Wall.

    Stage 5: after passing through our crisis of faith, we begin to serve God, but this time we give out of a new, grounded center of ourselves in God. We have a deep, inner stillness and an awareness of God’s deep, unconditional love for us.

    Stage 6: the brokenness we have experienced coupled with the healing of the Holy Spirit brings us to a place where we surrender to God, His will, and His power.

    There are several things that the Wall roots out in our lives.

    - pride
    - greed

    luxury (using God for your own pleasure)
    wrath (easily irritated)
    spiritual gluttony
    spiritual envy

    The Wall changes everything!

    You may not know exactly when you begin to go through the Wall, or when you reach the other side. Ultimately God moves us through the Wall and there is a mystery to it, but you are making progress if you experience shifts in your life.

    From Pride To Brokenness

    Years ago there was a young preacher that was attracting huge crowds of people. An older, wise pastor was asked about him and said, “He’s gifted, but he’s not broken yet.”

    When we journey through the Wall, we are forever changed. We are broken. We endure pain, but experience transformation in the process. Our affections and passions are purged.

    Richard Rohr has written five realities that we must recognize if we are to grow into maturity.

    - Life is hard.
    - You are not that important.
    - Your life is not about you.
    - You are not in control.
    - You are going to die.

    From Pleasure To Appreciation

    Rather than focusing on our own pleasures, we have an awareness of ourselves, God, and the world around us. We begin to seek His pleasure.

    We don’t take things for granted.

    We also have a greater awareness and appreciation of the mystery of God. We know He does not fit into a tidy box. As the classic line from the Narnia book says, we realize that He is not safe, but He’s good.

    The more I know about God, the less I know about Him. That may sound like a bad thing, but actually it’s wonderful to have a child-like faith filled with awe and wonder, resting in the truth that God is in control...and I’m not!

    From Impatience To Patience

    I hate to wait, but I’m slowly—pun intended!—learning that God’s timing is perfect. He is never late, but rarely early.

    I want things now, God knows best.
    Look at Psalm 130.

    A song of ascents.

    Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their
    (Psalm 130)

    Here’s a man facing the Wall, yet aware of God’s perfect timing. He’s been through the wall previously.

    Abraham learned to wait. He was 75 when he was told he would be a dad. Eleven years later, he got tired of waiting and birthed Ishmael through his maidservant Hagar. He waited another fourteen years for Isaac. Then he had to wait until the very last moment for God to provide a sacrifice in place of Isaac, his cherished son.

    There are so many similar examples throughout the Bible, yet we literally read years or decades in a sentence or two.

    From More To Enough

    The purpose of the Wall is not to harm us, but to help us detach from certain selfish actions and desires and experience a more intimate, loving attachment to God.

    Those who are most detached on the journey are best able to taste the purest joy in the beauty of created things.

    They are able to experience contentment. They look to Jesus to be enough.

    They are able to fully surrender to God and worship Him with all we are.

    You can listen to the podcast

    Note: many ideas derived from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituailty.