“Out of the Harbor” – Genesis 12:1-9 (sermon audio & notes)

This is message #3 in our sermon series, The Faith-FULL Life.

In 1620, the Mayflower left the safety of an English harbor and set sail for the New World. There were compelling reasons to board, including the promise of a new life of freedom for this band of religious non-conformists whom we call Pilgrims. But setting sail on that journey was a profoundly risky venture. Looking back, we know how it turned out. But they were looking ahead into the unknown.

The harbor is always the safe place. It is a comfort zone. A place where we can talk about what we plan to do someday without having to actually set sail and take the risks that are always associated with journeys into the unknown. As someone has said, “It is the start that stops most of us.” And so we remain tightly moored in the harbor.

Maybe this is where you are right now.  Frantically trying to secure yourself to the dock where you will feel safe, secure and comfortable – and in control.

But at some point, because God loves us, he unmoors us from the dock and calls us to leave the harbor in order to set sail upon the open seas where we have to trust him on the journey.

What if the open seas are where real spiritual growth takes place, not in the harbor? Years ago, researchers at UC-Berkley experimented on amoebas, which are simple, single-cell organisms. They created a perfect environment of temperature and food supply where the organism had to make no adjustments. Just live in the box of comfort. Yet, rather than thrive, the amoebas died.[i]

That is so instructive for us, because living outside of our comfort zones is what cultivates spiritual maturity. But it is also what creates seasoned guides for the high seas.

  • Those of us who have struggled in marriage are equipped to help others who struggle.
  • Those of us who have experienced loss and grief are uniquely able to minister to others.

But these and countless other guide opportunities require that we leave the harbor.

The main character in our passage in Genesis 12 was called to leave his harbor, too. His name is Abram, whom later in the biblical story we will come to know as Abraham. Like many of us, it was from a place of comfort, safety and security that, around 2100 B.C., he received…

I. The Call to set sail (We see this in v. 1)

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

Alan Ross says in the Bible Knowledge Commentary that Abram “was middle-aged, prosperous, [and] settled…”[ii]  You can see on the map where God was calling Abram to go. From Haran, which is modern-day, northern Iraq to the land about 500 miles south that is present day Israel.

For Abram, this was a major step in an unknown direction. He was simply commanded to leave for “the land I will show you.”

Notice that the call to set sail is personal and direct. The verb for “go” is an imperative in the second person. It is not up for debate. You see, when God calls us out of the comfort zone, it usually is very clear, and often at the point of our greatest fears, where it feels like we are having to give up all self-protection and self-provision.

When my family and I moved from our home in Mississippi to Georgia in the fall of 2007, we had no idea where we would end up. We had a two-year appointment to be on staff with Perimeter Church, who would send us out to plant a church somewhere in Georgia north of   I-20. We had never been to north GA. It was as if the Lord were saying, “Go to the land I will show you.” And he showed us Dahlonega. But in order to get here we had to take the first step out of the harbor.

So, where is God calling you to set sail?

  • For some of us, setting sail means leaving home and going off to college, or starting your first “real” job.
  • For others leaving the harbor means getting married. Or making an appointment with a marriage counselor.
  • There are some of us who are considering adoption.
  • Sharing your faith or opening up about your personal, life story can be a comfort zone defying experience.
  • Although God calls every believer to at least tithe financially to the work of the Kingdom, that step can feel like giving up total control of your life. Which is kind of the point.

Where is God calling you to step out in faith? Only you know the answer to that. And discovering the answer usually begins with listening – listening for God’s call.

You may find it encouraging to know that it is a call bundled with…

II. A Promise and a Purpose (This is what we see in verses 2-3)

2 “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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 

As I read those verses, did you notice what was repeated five times? The LORD says, “I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.”

Here is the point. God’s call upon Abram’s life was not just about Abram or just about his immediate family. His obedience to the LORD, just to follow him outside of his comfort zone, would create a chain reaction that would impact and influence the entire world! All Abram had to do was believe this promise, and then act on it by setting sail out of the harbor and onto the seas.

However, Abram’s influence would be unique. God was making a specific promise to a specific person for a specific purpose. Abram had been chosen by God to continue the Messianic line that had originated with Adam and Eve, had passed from Seth to Noah and on through Noah’s son, Shem. Abram, as a descendant of Shem, would become the father of a family that eventually would become the nation of Israel, through whom Jesus would be born – from Abram’s descendants Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and all the way to Joseph and Mary.

So, while Abraham’s context is unique in the redemptive scope of God’s purpose to bless the nations with a Savior, the principle remains for all of us. When we leave the safety of the harbor and being living by faith, our faith response will impact the lives of others.

I learned just this week that around 40% of students in Lumpkin County schools have suffered some form of sexual abuse – 40 percent. My guess is that many of those not abused physically, have been and are being abused emotionally. Those moments when we shame our children with name calling, or by always finding fault and comparing them to others, or motivating them with threats of rejection and other fear tactics.

The sad reality is that some of us have grown up in abusive homes. And research tells us that abuse tends to be repeated if not addressed and reversed. This means that there are families here today who are being called to leave the harbor of generational abuse.

The first step in departing from this kind of harbor is usually is self-awareness and confession, where we admit to ourselves, our spouses and our children that we have contributed to the sinful, unhealthy and harmful patterns of abuse and neglect. In this conversation, you will need to explain to your children specifically what is not right about what they have experienced in your home. But let me also encourage you to share your dream for what life can look like as you leave the toxic harbor of abuse for a new life that trusts in God’s forgiving grace and seeks to live in the power of his enabling grace.

This is where…

III. The Journey Begins (It’s what we see in verses 4-6a)

4 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. 5 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.  6a Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.[iii]

Abram would have understood Paul’s testimony to the Philippian church, where two-millennia later he would say,“Forgetting what lies behind, I press forward to what lies ahead.”[iv]

This does not mean that we should ignore the past. Not at all. We should learn from the past, and can repent of the past, but we can’t change the past. Therefore, we should not live in the past, but rather, walk with God now into the future with new and better dreams.

The dream that many of us at Creekstone have been pursuing is a spiritual odyssey to experience a life where grace is our defining truth. We have heard the voice of Jesus call out, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”[v]

What we have discovered on this journey is that grace is unfamiliar territoryas unfamiliar as Canaan would have been for Abram. For many of us, our religious upbringing mentioned grace, but didn’t emphasize it. It wasn’t the defining truth. What we are learning as we set sail for the deep waters of the gospel is that the love, grace and mercy of God is not only what initially saves us, it also is what progressively grows us in spiritual maturity, so that when the storms rise up on the seas and the waves threaten us, even accuse us, we know that the anchor of our hope will hold.

It is in light of our fears that the Lord provides…

IV. A Reminder (in verses 6b-9)

6b At that time the Canaanites were in the land. [These were a physically intimidating people, large in stature, experienced in war, and characterized by a form of immorality that knew no boundaries. Certainly, Abram would have had reason to be fearful. And so, a reminder in v]. 7 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.  8 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. 9 Then Abram set out & continued toward the Negev.

What we notice in that moment of much needed reassurance, is that something deeply affected Abram’s soul, for he immediately responds by taking the time to build an altar and worship the LORD.

Remember, God had promised Abram land, a place and a home for his children. Yet as we learn in the preceding chapter, his wife, Sarai, was unable to conceive, and they now were beyond childbearing years. Furthermore, he knew that he couldn’t secure the land himself. The inhabitants of the land were far too numerous and far too strong.

I think what we see happening in Abram is a deeper awakening to the significance of God’s grace in his life. The Lord had called him out of a land and a life of idolatry in Haran. He had known God’s saving grace; now he would experience God’s sustaining and empowering grace.

I think that this is what kept him going. For that is what we read. He worshipped and moved on. Then he stopped to build another altar, where he would worship again. Then, he kept going.

This is the same grace that keeps us going, too. When we are tempted to give up or turn back. We remember, we pause to worship, and then we are empowered to keep going.

Just like a car needs refueling, so our hearts need refueling with reminders of God’s promise to bless us in order that we, like Abraham, might be a blessing.

What if we had that perspective? The perspective that sees God’s blessing flowing not only to us, but through us. That is so exciting. But it can also be terrifying, especially when the blessing God offers is outside the safety of the harbor. Yet for those who are ready to set sail, the Lord tells us in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

We need that reminder, because the unknown can be a scary place. Maybe that is why, in ancient times map makers would put monstrous beasts on their maps in far away, unexplored regions. Because the unknown is a scary place.

  • Whether the unknown with our finances.
  • The unknown futures of our children.
  • The unknown test results.
  • The unknown results of any decision can paralyze us from any move forward.

But what if someone went with us into the unknown who had faced and conquered the beasts for us? It’s always easier when someone goes with us.

This is where we have to look past Abram to Jesus. Abram left the harbor of Harran for Canaan. But Jesus left the comfort zone of heaven for the cross, where he was cursed so that we could be blessed.

It may be that you have never received this blessing because you have been stuck in one of two harbors that prevent us from experiencing that blessing.

  • One is the harbor of condemnation, where we feel utterly sunk by moral failure.
  • The other is the harbor of seIf-salvation, where we moor ourselves to the dock of a praiseworthy identity through some kind of achievement, whether moral, vocational, academic, whatever.

If we will just look to Jesus as a crucified and risen Savior, we will be set free from the toxic harbors of condemnation and self-salvation where we can sail onto the seas of his grace, knowing the blessing of complete forgiveness, full reconciliation with God as your Father, and having an identity that is no longer based on your achievement, but on the achievement of Jesus for you. If you are ready to receive this blessing, let me invite you to bow you head and pray along with me as I lead us.

PRAYER. Dear God, as I bow before you, I confess that I am more deserving of condemnation that I ever would be able to fully admit. Yet, I also now believe that Jesus was condemned for my sin and that, through faith in his paying my debt, that I am counted fully-forgiven and completely accepted as your beloved son or daughter. I now take this step of faith to leave the harbor of condemnation and self-salvation, and everything I cling to for identity and security that I may now live by faith, trusting Jesus as my righteousness and my guide now and always. For I pray in Jesus’ name, AMEN.



[i] John Ortburg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, p. 47.

[ii] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 46.

[iii] ESV Study Bible, The site of Shechem is the modern Tel Balatah, which has been extensively excavated. [In fact, according to archaeologists,] a major settlement here begins around 1900b.c. Its importance in the patriarchal period is confirmed by its mention in the Egyptian Execration Texts and in the Khu-Sebek inscription, which both date to the 19th century B.C.

[iv] Philippians 3

[v] Matthew 11:28, NASB

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