Fix Your Eyes on Him
KV 13:3-4 “From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.”
This past week I had another birthday. As I get older, I only pray that I get wiser and pass more tests than I fail. In Chinese there is one test called a thunder and lightning moment administered to husbands by their wives or close friends and associates. These thunder and lightning tests are designed to see whether the husband really has his wife in the center of his heart but in a sly, cunning and unsuspecting manner to anyone who is not expecting them. There are great consequences to failing one of these tests. Answer wrong and your life may flash before your eyes like thunder and lightning. It is said that a man must always be ready for these kinds of tests at any moment because his life and his relationship with his wife is at hand. The point man should learn from these tests are that you should always have your wife and her interests above your own, your mother’s, friends, favorite sports team, pet etc.
In today’s passage, Abram experiences a thunder and lightning moment from God. Facing a severe famine, Abram is tested to see whether he really has God in the center of his heart or not. Will he still trust God, call on his name, give thanks to God? Unfortunately, in this passage Abram fails the thunder and lightning test when he fails to fix his eyes on God and suffers several very unpleasant consequences. However, we learn that God is faithful to His promises and is ultimately the one in control. What God promises will come to take place. Though man may fail, God never fails to carry out what he says he will. May God bless you to trust in God and live a victorious life in him even in the midst of your own famine in your life. May God bless you live a God centered life, fixing your eyes on him and not your problem.
Part One (A famine comes, verses 10-13)
We saw from last week’s passage and the preceding verses that Abram had just been given a great promise from God. Abram had been told by the Lord to “go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you”. God promised to make him into a great nation, to make his name great, to make him a blessing, to bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him and that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him. The words “I will” were emphasized over and over to remind Abram that it was God who would do this and was not dependent on who Abram was or did. Abram had obeyed and left as the Lord had told him. When he met the Canaanites living in the land (a fearful moment), God comforted him with the promise “To your offspring I will give this land.”. He believed God’s promise and built an altar out of thanksgiving. Later he built another altar for no clear apparent reason other than out of thanksgiving and called upon the name of the Lord. It seemed everything was going well. God was front and center of his life. God was the one he listened to, gave thanks to and received comfort and peace from. He had left everything behind to follow God. He looked like a textbook example of a man of faith until a famine came in his life.
Now let’s read verse 10. “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.”. Verse 10 says a famine came upon the land and this famine was severe. This famine for a course of time would change Abram’s outlook on life and his behavior.
When I was thinking about the impact this famine may have had on Abram’s life, I was reminded of the time when I first got sent to China with my family. I held on to the personal promise of God by faith and went to this unknown land with my family. I was excited to see the wonderful and great things God would do through us and thought about all the opportunities we would have to be a blessing. But when we arrived, suddenly I found reality at that moment much different. We arrived on New Year’s Day in the brunt of winter to a building that no heat. To make matters worse, that winter would turn out to be the coldest winter in the history of the city where we lived. I would check the weather forecast daily looking for hope but for weeks the temperatures wouldn’t break above freezing. I couldn’t work yet and didn’t know anyone or spoke the language so I had nowhere to go but stay in the freezing cold room gathered around a portable heater watching my 6 month old son also suffer in this environment. I got seriously sick. Wife got seriously stressed in response and conflict arose between us. Suddenly all my zeal and eagerness to do the work of God vanished and I could only focus on staying warm and fixing the problem with my wife.
Abram was perhaps like me but his situation even more dire and severe. He wasn’t just responsible for himself and his wife and child but we know he had Lot, all the possessions they accumulated and the persons they acquired in Haran with him (Genesis 12:5). They depended on him and they were his security in this world. He watched his family and livestock suffer day by day under this famine. Conflict and anxiety also arose in his family about what to do. Everyone looked at him. Do something Abram or we’ll all starve out here!! Prove your leadership skills! God and His promises, his calling became back stage. Abram now had a problem on his hands and this problem was severe. It consumed him. It was everything to him. Many of us can relate to Abram. Some of us have job problems, financial problems, health problems, green card problems, marriage problems etc. Like the famine, they aren’t small problems. When those problems pop up they can easily consume us and side track us from our life of faith or the calling God gave us. So let’s learn first today from Abram how not to handle a test or problem in our life.
I meet a lot of people who say I don’t believe in God, I only believe in myself. Have you encountered such people? They seem confident they can handle every problem in their life on their own. In this passage when this test came in his life, Abram lived as such. Though he was a man of faith, he failed to apply any faith to his situation. There is no mention that he sought God, called on his name, remembered His promises, give thanks or anything as such.
Instead he came up with his own ideas and depended upon them. He lived like he believed in himself. Verse 10 says he went to Egypt to live there for a little while. Egypt was a fertile land with a developed economy and culture. It seemed like a reasonable place to go to wait out this famine. However, when he failed to apply his faith, we find he had no peace about going there at all. Let’s read verse 11-13. “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.” What a scene! What a restless man. He must have been pacing the floor, heart beating nervously the whole time on the way to Egypt. Finally, he breaks down and shares this elaborate scheme with his wife just before entering Egypt. Can you imagine her response? You want to do what? Tell me again, I don’t think I heard you correctly.
Out of his desperateness Abram repeated and Sarai must have been speechless. When Abram went his own way to handle the situation great anxiety and fear arose in his heart. Desperate times call for desperate measures Abram probably reasoned and persuaded with Sarai.
When I think about this I’m reminded of Isaiah 26:3. Can we read together. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”. Abram had no peace whatsoever because he failed to trust God in this test. I was greatly encouraged recently by Joseph Forbes. Even despite Monica’s severe situation, Joe seemed to have God’s peace in his heart. Still joining praise team and serving Sunday worship even right after Monica’s stroke. He even helped as he always does with the microphones at Andrew’s engagement. Unlike Abram, he kept his life of faith even in the midst of this difficulty in his life. When I see his pictures with Monica even after the event his face is full of a bright smile.
Many people suddenly stop worshipping, stop serving, stop praying, stop trusting, stop their life of faith when the trial or test comes. They say I have a problem now that I need to fix. I need to turn my attention to my personal problem. I will come back when everything is resolved. Those are foolish people.
In John’s gospel, many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to leave as well?”68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Peter knew that there is no other place to go. All wisdom, all help, all comfort and peace come from the Lord. He has the words of eternal life. You will never solve your personal problem on your own apart from God. In fact, when we live like that we create more problems for ourselves as Abram’s life in Egypt shows. Instead we should live our life like with 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 in mind. It says “6 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”.
Outside of his fear which led him to lie and depend on deception we see three other consequences in this short passage of his failure to trust in God during this famine. First, he hurts the person closest to him, his own wife Sarai by placing her in a place of real danger. Is there any woman here who would like to have been Abram’s wife at that time? Please raise your hand. The lie Abram told opened wide the door for Pharaoah to take her as part of his harem. A man should cherish and protect his wife but Abram purposefully exposed her to great danger in order to protect his own life. It is a clear picture of a fallen man. Once his relationship with God was non-existent and he depended on his own ideas he also begins to fail in his relationship with others. Instead of taking care of his wife, he uses her for his own good. He neglects his duty given by God to love his wife as his own body. Instead he becomes a curse to his own wife.
2nd, not only did Abram become a curse to his wife but he actually became a curse to the world with whom he lived. Verse 17 says “But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.”. Yes, it was God’s way of protecting Sarai and Abram as we will see later but at that moment Abram became a clear curse with whom he lived. He was called to be a blessing. God had promised him that all peoples on Earth would be blessed through him. What a great and wonderful promise. But when he got into Egypt, he became a curse instead! We are told that serious diseases were inflicted upon others. Can anyone consider that to be a blessing?
A Christian out of fellowship with God is of no help to the lost people around him. Instead, he actually becomes a hindrance. His life of hypocrisy and weakness is a stumbling block and a plague upon the hearts of those who are watching him.
Just like Abram, God wants to make you into a source of blessing but it won’t happen when we live apart from him. When we try to handle things on our own like Abram did. It won’t happen because we have a title (Christian, missionary, shepherd, fellowship leader, pastor etc.). John 15:5 my key verse for the year says “”I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”. When we are apart from God we can do nothing. God called you to be a branch and to remain on the vine. May God bless you to remain in Jesus even through the difficult times in your life.
Finally, when Abram lived apart from God, Egypt became a place of rebuke and shame in his life. We have another drama filled scene! Here is Abram, the man of God, standing before a pagan king and being publicly rebuked for his fear and lies. What did he say? Let’s read verse 18-19. 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.”.
People love to be exalted and praised. It brings a smile to their faces. Nobody likes to be shamed even more so publicly. But shame tends to stay with one much longer than praise does. In fact, we see many people with serious life problems because of the shame they experienced in their life. When Abram lied to Pharaoh he experienced the true shame of what he had done. His lie was exposed and he was rebuked before a pagan king. His face covered in shame. Nobody wants to be put to shame. My son recently asked me if you could have one wish what would it be? Out of all wishes in the world it may be one of the wisest “to never be put to shame”. When we live apart from God but claim that we are Christians, it’s only a matter of time before we too are put to shame. If we deny Him all together we will be put to shame for all eternity. How can we keep from being put to shame?
Thankfully we have good examples in the Bible of how we should live in a time of great difficulty. King David writes Psalm 34 to commemorate God’s deliverance from the hand of Abimelech and show who will never be put to shame.
Psalm 34:4-7 “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” David reminds us that those who seek the Lord are delivered from their fears. Their faces are never covered in shame. They lack no good thing. May God bless you to seek the Lord in all of your impossible situations and taste and see His goodness. May God bless you to have a radiant face and to proclaim that we lack no good thing when we seek the Lord.
Part Two (Fix your eyes on God)
So far in this message we learned primarily about Abram and his failures. When he failed to seek God in the midst of the famine he became full of fear and resorted to depending on a lie to fix his problem. In the process he used his wife and put her in danger, became a curse instead of a blessing and his face covered in shame before Pharaoh. It’s easy to say “Don’t live like him.”. In fact, when I asked my oldest son Nathan what he learned from this passage in the Bible he said rather quickly, “Don’t lie”. But if we don’t know who God is or learn to put our faith in him then we have no real alternative other than resort to similar such behaviors in times of testing.
What can we learn from God in this passage? First, God doesn’t give us tests in order to only crush us but in order to make us stronger. In doing so God is preparing Abram for his future where he indeed will be a blessing. Even though Abram seemed to fail the test, he was not crushed and defeated. In 13:3-4 we see that when Abram returned to the place where his tent had been earlier, he called on the name of the Lord. He praised God again even though likely the famine still persisted. In next week’s passage we see that Abram trusts God and allows Lot to choose the better land in which to settle. In this way he became a blessing to Lot. We should never run from God or curse him in the midst of our difficulties and hardships but run to him and even learn to thank him for them. In our church I see many people who have gone through many difficult times. I see Joshua Kim who struggled with a green card status for years and years. Now his face is radiant and he is most eager to serve college students with Bible study because he knows that it is only God who provided him a way to be here. We see David Brogi who had so many health issues and trials in his life but now he talks passionately about having faith in God to anyone who will listen. We see Isaac Yoo who recently shared his graduation testimony after having been kicked out of several degree programs and rejected for numerous jobs for years and years. Now he wakes up and comes to early morning prayer meetings faithfully everyday even in the cold of winter. He even now brings his students to SWS. God strengthened them through many difficulties in their lives. He is always better than our difficulties. If you are going through difficulty now, stop and thank God. Pray you can see God and not the difficulty. Romans 8:28 says 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.
2nd, God is faithful. In Msn James’ message last week he said if God wants something to happen nobody can stop him. God promised Abram to make him into a great nation and bless him, to make his name great and you will be a blessing. If it were up to Abram that never would have happened. It seems Abram was doing his best to stop him. Despite his own weakness and failure, God blessed Abram abundantly even in his time in Egypt. In verse 12:16 we see that Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels from Pharaoh. Verse 13:2 emphasizes again this blessing “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.”. In man’s eyes, Abram definitely deserved none of that. Somehow it seems Pharaoh let Abram keep what he had given him. The greatest blessing was not material however but in experiencing God’s deliverance from Pharaoh. Here was a man who had goofed big time. I don’t think he ever had any hopes of ever getting his wife, Sarai back. She was good as gone to him. If not for God’s mercy and faithfulness, Abram would have only been remembered as a textbook example of how not to treat your wife. But God had mercy on Abram and Sarai because it was from Sarai’s offspring that God had promised that all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Verse 17 reads “But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife.”. In doing so, God made a way for the seemingly impossible. To cause Pharaoh to return Sarai back to Abram and let them both go so they could continue on the mission God gave them.
Even though we should learn from Abram’s failure and our own we will still likely experience many failures in our own life. Thankfully though the promises of God don’t depend on man’s faithfulness, morality or ability but on God’s faithfulness. 2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
As long as we live like God’s promises depend on us we will never have peace, joy and comfort from God. We’ll never enjoy our spiritual life but it will be burden to us instead. When I first started to serve Sunday message years ago I was greatly troubled. I thought I would surely mess it all up. Then someone told me that you are not the Lord of the Sabbath. It is not man who blesses the Sabbath but it was God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. It doesn’t depend on you. When I believe that I stepped out in faith and started giving Sunday message. When I believed that God gave me great peace to write and serve Sunday message. God is faithful to what he says and promises. Our job is to believe his Word despite whatever our situation may look like. Now I became director or pastor of this church. I can easily be tempted and troubled by things on a daily basis. By my own inabilities and weakness as well as many external things I have no control over. I’m again tempted that the success or failure of this church depends on me but I must remember God’s promise to Peter — I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. What God wills to happen will happen. Despite any of the devil’s schemes, man’s failures, or people’s resistance God is building and will continue to build his church and nothing can stop him.
I received much comfort from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” God is faithful, he will do it!!! If God can keep us blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, what can he not do? May God help you to put your faith in him and take Him at His Word to experience victory in Him.
Third, God is our protector and provider. In today’s passage, it seems Abram had no way to provide for his family or protect his wife after he messed up. He was desperate. But God provided food and protection for his family. He even went above and beyond and provided him with great wealth as we saw in verse 13:2. A man or woman of faith must always believe that God will provide.
When I think of Abram’s story who left everything to follow God I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in the New Testament to his disciples in Mark 10:28-30. Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”. 29“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
We see this promise of God come to fruition over and over again. Most recently to Msn Ezra Cho who last year received his new job in seminary and nice new house in College Park Woods after many years of struggling in this land. When I asked him about his situation last year before all of this he simply replied “God will provide for a man of faith”. I also saw this promise come to fruition with a friend in another country. He left his job at the age of 40 to suddenly do a Ph.D. because he felt God’s leading to raise disciples on college campuses. Everyone worried about him because his wife also had no job, they had kids and nothing back in their country. In this world nobody dares do such a thing, taking such a risk. But God provided the best job for him and recently was given a house by his school. Financial issue is huge issue but we must not worry about that but live a life of faith, trusting in God who is our real provider and protector. When we do, God will certainly provide for us what we need.
In conclusion, today we learned the story of Abram’s life in Egypt and how he struggled with the severe famine in the land. When we look at this part of his life we may see our own. We may be reminded of our own struggles in certain areas of our life or difficulties. Like Abram, maybe there is something in your life like this famine that you aren’t able to trust God with. That thing is now consuming you to where it is bigger than God in your life. Instead of coming to God you’ve been busy with scheming up ways to fix it day and night. If only I do this and that maybe it will work out. Stop. Maybe you’ve stopped scheming already and lost hope. Repent. Turn and fix your eyes on God. Trust him with whatever it is and don’t look back. God is faithful, is our true provider and protector and cares deeply for you and your family. He is working for your good even at this moment. Fix your eyes upon Him, thank him and live before him. Come to Him and He will give you strength to handle whatever it is. May God bless you with faith in the living God in the mist of your most difficult struggles.