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The Faith and Call of Abraham

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This is a talk that Drew Maust presented at Epping Forest Community Church (EFCC) on Sunday, January 23, 2022, as part of the church’s “Faith in Action” series. This is part one on the faith of Abraham. For part two, see “The Faith of Abraham and the Binding of Isaac.” Listen using the player below or download the MP3.


In the 21st century, if you want to learn a new skill, you will likely turn to the master of all trades, YouTube. How to tie a tie. How to draw. How to vote. How to make slime. How to make pancakes. How to lose belly fat. How to cook rice. How to take a screenshot. How to pronounce quinoa. How to solve a Rubik’s Cube. How to renew a driving license. These are in fact some of the UK’s top trending how-to searches of all time (purposely, of course, overlooking all those directly pandemic related).

We know from experience that learning a new skill usually has three parts. It starts with what we might call a knowledge phase: “Oh, I’ll just have a quick search on YouTube to see how to make perfect rice.” That part is easy and even pleasurable. We’re on a fact-finding mission.

The second step then is slightly more involved in that it requires us to discriminate between all the new input we’re receiving:

“’How to restring a rotary clothesline’… Hang on, what? Why’s this video 15 minutes long? Wait, why’s he doing that? Why he’s got the clothesline strung all over the place? I’m not doing it like that! Next… Ah, there we go. This video’s only two minutes long. Oh yeh, that’s more like it. I can do that.”

In this second step, something about what we’re seeing clicks. It makes sense. We can now proceed with a bit of assurance.

The third and final step is where it all (hopefully) comes together after knowledge is acquired (“OK”) and knowledge is affirmed (“OK, yep”). It’s now time to try it ourselves. Slime ingredients at the ready. Rubik’s Cube—check. “I’ll take a side of QUINOA please.” TV, off; running shoes on. Fingers positioned just right for that screenshot the world is yearning to see. Let’s make pancakes.

Now, you wouldn’t ever claim to have made pancakes yourself after only having watched a YouTube video, would you? After watching someone else tie a tie? Learning all about swimming, watching instructional videos by Olympic swimmers, feeling the desire to go swimming, and making plans to make it happen doesn’t make you a swimmer or prove that you know how to swim, does it? You can’t learn to swim without plunging into the water.[1]

Similarly, we find that faith, too, has three parts. It starts when God intervenes in the life of an individual and fills them in on what he’s up to, most notably in the message of the gospel which can be summarized as: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration through Jesus Christ. When presented with the gospel, the hearer may then respond positively “OK God,” or negatively, “Nope, next.” Their response is seen by whether they commit themselves to that newly affirmed knowledge (whether they plunge into the water) or whether they carry on unchanged. Christians for centuries have therefore found it helpful to describe faith in three parts: knowledge, affirmation (a “yes”), and commitment. But

“…because Christianity is a relationship with a Person and not just commitment to a set of truths (though this is, of course, essential), the capacity to develop emotional intimacy and to discern the inner movements of feeling, intuition and God’s Spirit in the soul is crucial to maintaining and cultivating commitment to God… These three classical distinctions—noticia [knowledge], assensus [affirmation] and fiducia [commitment]—are indispensable to helping us build a broader understanding of the concept of faith.”[2]

An additional definition of faith then becomes: “trusting what we have reason to believe is true.”[3] We see that faith is an action, an active trust, and in our case, an active trust in a person, God.

Series Introduction

In this series on faith, we are hearing about people of old who responded with faith when God interrupted their lives. Last week, we looked at the life of Noah and how he walked faithfully with God. By faith Noah was sure of what he hoped for and certain of what he did not see, namely that God would rescue him and his family from coming judgment. By faith Noah pleased God. By faith, Noah understood that his world was not to be held onto. By faith Noah understood the past, looked to the future, and lived in the present. He hoped in God for a better future. He took God at his word. By faith he chose to walk with God rather than being pulled by the current of society. By faith Noah obeyed God, built a big boat, and sought refuge in it. By faith, Noah worshiped God. In holy fear, Noah partnered with God. Noah took the plunge.

This week and next we’re looking at the life of Abram, or Abraham.

The Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)

In Hebrews 11:8-12, we read:

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. 12 So in fact children were fathered by one man—and this one as good as dead—like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore. (NET2)

In the Context of Hebrews

Earlier in Hebrews 6:12, we are warned not to “become lazy” but to “be imitators of those who inherit the promises [of God] through faith and perseverance” (CSB). What would cause the author of Hebrews to organize his letter around a series of warnings? From the chapter which precedes the hall of faith of our series, we get the impression that those to whom he is writing are experiencing severe persecution.

In Hebrews 10:32-39, we read:

32 But remember the earlier days, after you saw the light. You stood your ground while you were suffering from an enormous amount of pressure. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to insults and abuse in public. Other times you became partners with those who were treated that way. 34 You even showed sympathy toward people in prison and accepted the confiscation of your possessions with joy, since you knew that you had better and lasting possessions. 35 So don’t throw away your confidence—it brings a great reward. 36 You need to endure so that you can receive the promises after you do God’s will.

37 In a little while longer, the one who is coming will come and won’t delay; 38 but my righteous one will live by faith, and my whole being won’t be pleased with anyone who shrinks back.

39 But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved. (CEB)

The author then moves into a description of faith that we’ve already heard about:

What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see. It is what the men and women of old were famous for. (Heb 11:1-2 BFE)

After that, he goes on to list the acts of faith of God’s people. And of all the Old Testament examples, our author spends the most time on the life and trials of Abraham. He focuses on his call and wandering in the land, the miraculous birth of Isaac, and finally the binding of Isaac where Abraham is called to sacrifice his miracle baby boy.[4]

Today we are going to focus our attention on the first of these episodes (Gen 11:31–12:9; Heb 11:8-10), and unfortunately won’t have time to explore in detail the roles of Sarah and their children (Heb 11:10-11, 20-22). Next week, we will explore in closer detail the ultimate faith experience of Abraham’s life, the binding of Isaac (Heb 11:17-19).

Let us now turn to the account of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12.

The Call of Abraham (Genesis 12)

In Genesis 11:31–12:9, we read:

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (the son of Haran), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and with them he set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. When they came to Haran [חָרָן], they settled there. 32 The lifetime of Terah was 205 years, and he died in Haran.

1 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you.
2 Then I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.”

4 So Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do, and Lot went with him. (Now Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.) 5 And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they left for the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the oak tree of Moreh at Shechem. (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.) 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

8 Then he moved from there to the hill country 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 worshiped the Lord. 9 Abram continually journeyed by stages down to the Negev. (NET2)

God is awfully specific although startlingly concise about what Abram is to do. Curiously, he gives more instruction about what Abram is to leave behind than where he is taking him.[5] This will require faith to move from the familiar, the casual, the comfortable, to venture out following God’s leading to a land yet to be shown. Abraham is to experience movement from his land, his people, and his family into a closer relationship with his God.

God makes three promises to Abraham: 1) I will make you into a great nation, 2) I will bless you, and 3) I will make your name great. Here we see God’s plan for redemption laid out. As we read the Old Testament, we will see it threatened repeatedly before finally coming to fruition in Jesus the Messiah.

Faith in Three Parts

What do we mean when we talk about “the faith of Abraham”? If we feel confused about “faith,” then it is not surprising given the variety of ways that we talk about faith. Even in the Bible, faith language can mean any number of things, and we get the impression that it undergoes a development from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Even so, faith is a central aspect of the relationship of God and his people. If we are to be his people, we are to live lives marked by faith.

But what do we mean by faith? Some have found it helpful to divide faith in three parts. Those are faith as knowledge, faith as affirmation or agreement, and faith as commitment. An exploration of these three parts will hopefully cast light on and give us a greater appreciation of the faith of those we read about in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 and Abraham in particular.

1-2. Faith as knowledge (noticia) and Faith as affirmation (assensus)

From our YouTube introduction, we can easily grasp what is meant by faith as knowledge and faith as affirmation or agreement. But what about faith as commitment?

3. Faith as commitment or loyalty (fiducia)

Faith as commitment or loyalty is a relationship marked by faithfulness and is demonstrated by obedience as in the case of Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Gen 6:9 NIV).

When we look at this third part of faith—faith as commitment—we find that the concept of covenant is key, a covenant being “a passionate, interactive relationship between [God] and [his] people.”[6] We see that “to have faith in God or Jesus is to be faithful to a covenantal bond, which is initiated by God and bound according to appropriate promises and expectations on both sides.”[7] Faith viewed this way is not just a mental exercise, it is a response to a relationship that shows itself in our emotions and our actions. Faith is a relationship of loyalty in both directions.[8]

Yes, by faith we know that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb 11:6), but we do not always know what he is up to, nor can we always have complete certainty that our personal understanding of him is entirely accurate. While faith as loyalty does assert certain beliefs about God, it seeks to demonstrate faith by walking with him, listening to his voice, faithfully obeying, faithfully bonding.

So, too, the author of Hebrews introduces the faith of Abraham this way:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb 11:8 CSB).

Abraham demonstrated faith by affirming God’s promises not audibly with his mouth (“OK, God”), but visibly with his feet: “The Lord said to Abram: ‘God from your land…’ So, Abram went…” In response to God’s call, Abram started down a path of loyalty to the one who called him out—all of this with imperfect knowledge of his future: “Go from your land… to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1).

Feet do not insist on understanding; obedience does not require full knowledge, but trust; trust not as a heartfelt emotion but putting into practice the conviction that God has plans for my well-being and not for harm; a future, a hope (Jer 29:11).

We may think of Abraham as a shining example of faith, but that was not always the case. It was a process. God turned Abraham into a model of faith. In the very next episode after his call, Abraham tries to give up his wife, probably because she was barren. And later in life he would do it again. Abraham is on a faith journey, learning to trust God through life’s trials.[9] God is faithful such that at the end of his life, God will say of Abraham: “Abraham listened to my voice and kept my charge, my orders, my decrees and my instructions” (Gen 26:5 BFE).

How can we not trust a God who continues to demonstrate himself trustworthy and faithful? Faith exercised in this way is a mind-body exercise where we demand of our bodies what our mind may struggle to affirm. Abram is commended for setting out when called even though he did not know where he was going. It is not so much faith in action as faith-action, faith actioned. Faith that moves feet before it moves mountains.

Two Calls

What do the message of Hebrews and the faith of Abraham call us to today?

A Call to Faith

We, too, are called to faith-action. We, too, are called to leave certain things behind while faithfully walking with God to a place and a personality that he will show us.

At the start of the New Year, I made the mistake of informing my children that I want to become the kindest person they know. They laughed in reply. Their laughter has spurred me on to print out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 on A5 sheets of paper to keep on my bedside table, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. My goal this year is to make it the first thing I read when I wake up. Every day, knowing that I have a long way to go and that I will not get there by accident. Every time I put on the kettle:

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things…” (1 Cor 13:4-7 CEB)

“The kindest person my children know.” What a challenge when it feels like child-rearing exists not for our self-satisfaction but for our sanctification. When else in life are adults constantly pushed to humble themselves, all while being subjected to routine tests of patience? Love is pushed to its limits when 3 AM cries sound beckoning a bleary-eyed parent to set off on a benighted journey through the house. Raising children, being in that close of a relationship with another human being, is a tool that God employs to chisel away the things that are not of him in order to reveal the person he has created us to be.

This week I made the mistake of asking one of my children to read me the sheet. Their sweet little voice provoking me with each pronouncement of love’s character. My conscience calling to me that I am not patient, not kind, I do act arrogantly. There is a reason Paul lists love among the spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians. If we are to love as Christ loves us, then his Spirit will have to bring it about when my flesh is failing me. I can accept like Abraham to embark on the journey of trusting God, but it is the tendency to wander and the temptation to give up and return to a former, less than godly way of doing things that I on my own cannot avoid. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57)!

If we think primarily of Abram’s faith as one of mental assent to a body of doctrine, then we may find it odd to assert that faith must be put into action. How is doctrine enacted if not enacted through obedience to the issuer, through relationship, a bond? Seeking the Christian virtues of faith, love, and hope (1 Cor 13:13) in response to the same being shown to me by God in Christ is the fuel of faith-action. Faith enacted. Faith actioned.

Faith actioned in this case thus starts with understanding (finding out) what God requires—faith as knowledge. This new knowledge is either then affirmed or rejected—there really are no other options, for to half-heartedly or hesitantly affirm is in part to reject.

Once affirmed, the new knowledge now at home invites us to entrust ourselves to its wisdom: “I trust that this is for my good and not for my harm. God is working out his plan. I want to be a part of it.” As a result, then, when confronted with whatever hardships, afflictions or troubles life may present—whether they be domestic in the form of child-rearing or growing in Christlikeness through the sanctifying effects of marriage—will I, a believer, one called out by God, remain steadfast? Will I be found trustworthy, true, faithful to the God who called me? Will I respond in obedience to the call of God on my life or will I falter? O Holy Spirit accomplish this work in me!

Faithfulness to God’s new covenant in Christ calls me to step out in faith even when the outcome is unclear; calls me to greet from afar God’s promises to right what is awry in this world through the constitution of a new creation of which I am evidence and participant.

Guided by the Spirit, I will step out in faith today by being obedient to the things that I know God has already called me to. I will be faithful in the seemingly unimportant things as I work toward Christlikeness in all things. I will investigate the Scriptures with fellow believers, both ancient and modern, to keep the cycle of faith ever maturing. I will seek to embody faith seeking understanding as I about who God is and who I am, affirming his truth in my heart, and entrusting myself to him with my feet.

How is it that without faith it is impossible to please God? Because he has told us what he requires of us. He has told us how to please him. Trying to seek his approval any other way is a fool’s errand. He has prepared good works beforehand for us to walk in them.

Faith is required to please God because faith-action responds favorably to his good intentions. It starts with a knowledge-seeking exercise to gain an awareness of what he requires (noticia). That comes through hearing the good news of the gospel, reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, conversing with God in prayer, and shared meals and drinks. It’s secondly an awareness brought about by the Holy Spirit that that knowledge is true. It’s a conviction that what one has learned in fact corresponds to reality (assenus). It resonates with you, and you accept its true value. But it shouldn’t stop there because even demons have awareness of such things and perhaps even more so than we do: “You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear” (Jam 2:19 NET2). That’s why thirdly and lastly, it is trust that leans into the truth (fiducia). It’s a whole person awareness, acceptance, and handing over to the object of one’s faith, or trust. We entrust ourselves to what we have reason to believe is true.

A Call to Perseverance

What links together the recipients of Hebrews with the heroes of the faith is the need to endure faithfully amid life’s challenges. In hardship, there’s the temptation to abandon the faith to avoid further persecution. At these times, we are called to demonstrate faith. We are called to demonstrate faith when we want to give up or when the outcome isn’t clear. We are called to put faith into action when the world around us makes earthly life uncomfortable.

Faith when the lie presents itself that it’s easy to escape this or that look of judgment, to escape missing this or that social function, to avoid being the odd one out. When the fear of missing out in the eyes of the world collides with the fear of missing out in the eyes of faith, who wins out? Our neighbors, our coworkers, our families will surely give us a break if we only take a break from our faith. But is it worth it?

The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 tells story after story of a faithful God and those who trust him, those who lives are marked by faith. How did God do it? By faith. How did these people of old accomplish what they did? By faith. “By faith,” is repeated over twenty times in this chapter.

God has called them out to live a life walking in fear of him while temptation all around beckons them to abandon and chase after their previous life.

Our natural inclinations draw us back to our old selves. It’s always easier to keep doing what we’ve always done. But faith calls us to preserve, to step out, to take daily leaps to follow Jesus in ways both ordinary and radical.

But we are not persevering so that we can create our own self-made future.[10] Our success—either now or in the future—is not dependent on “the power of passion and perseverance” that we can muster up to keep going.[11] We look rather to the one who is passionate about fulfilling his promises—promises that stretch right back to Abram and run down through the centuries undeterred generation after generation. We look to a God-created future, not one that we create.[12]


Elsewhere it’s been pointed out that,

“Tis not the dying for a faith that’s so hard…—every man of every nation has done that—’tis the living up to it that is difficult.”[13]

Whatever God calls us to, no matter how clear or unclear it may be, let us respond in faith like Abram. Faith like Abram’s faith. Faith that moves. Faith of a friend of God as Abraham is called (Isa 41:8; 2 Chron 20:7; Jam 2:23). Interestingly, some early Christians must have found it difficult to accept that one could be called “a friend of God,” for they crossed out philos “friend” and replaced it with doulos “servant, slave.”

Maybe that’s where you’re at today? You feel more like a passionless slave of God than an energetic friend of God? Make no doubt about it: you do in fact belong to God. Make no mistake about it: faith-action is fashioned from a bond of seriousness.[14] But he is drawing you in closer than just servant. You are a son; you are a daughter. He has provided all that is required for you to be right relationship with him, if you will only respond in faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was calculated in his favor, putting him in the right” (Rom 4:3 BFE).

That God made decisive movement toward an Ancient Near Eastern semi-nomadic tent dweller calls out to us today. He speaks, interrupting the life of Abram and the flow of human history: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘You there, Abram, go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household’” (Gen 12:1 NET2). Abram takes decisive action: “So Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do” (Gen 12:4 NET2).

Let us not just respond in faith on that day, but respond in faith day after day, footfall after footfall, embarking on a journey of faith like Abram. The journey is winding, but the destination is sure, a city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10-11). We see it now from a distance (Heb 11:13), but that distance is ever decreasing for the friends of God. It’s like starting a journey up a spiral staircase.

Let me leave you with a story about American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who actioned faith in time-altering ways. Fellow activist Marian Wright Edelman reflects on visiting King’s church after his death:

“In Montgomery, Alabama, [my son] Jonah and I went to the Civil Rights Memorial, and then we walked around to Dexter Baptist Church and went up into Martin’s pulpit. I’d forgotten what a little place it was. We looked out from the little pulpit in that little church and talked about how something so big started from a place so small. Just a lot of committed people of faith in church on one side of the street, and all the power of Alabama in the state capitol right across the street. As a young lawyer, I used to listen to Dr. King in chapel at Spelman College. One of the things I liked about him was that he didn’t pretend to be a great powerful know-it-all. I remember him discussing openly his gloom, depression, his fears, admitting that he didn’t know what the next step was. He would then say: ‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’”[15]

“Take the first step.”


Works Cited

Brueggemann, Walter. Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Cocozza, Paula. “Is Grit the True Secret of Success?” The Guardian, 7 May 2016, § Life and style.

Edelman, Marian Wright. “Kids First.” Mother Jones, June 1991.

Gupta, Nijay K. “Faith.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.

Ho, Andrew Chinpeng. “A Paragon of Faith?: Doubting Abraham.” Themelios 42.3 (2017): 452–64.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. Hebrews: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

Kim, Yung Suk. “Between Text and Sermon: Hebrews 11:8-16.” Interpretation 72.2 (2018): 204–6.

Kloppenborg, John S. Christ’s Associations: Connecting and Belonging in the Ancient City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

Moreland, J. P., and Klaus Issler. In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, UK: IVP Books; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. “Faith.” Oxford Essential Quotations. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Tietjen, Mark. “Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith.” Blog. TheLAB (The Logos Academic Blog), 26 September 2018.


  1. Mark Tietjen, “Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith,” Blog, TheLAB (The Logos Academic Blog), 26 September 2018,

  2. J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, UK: IVP Books; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 19–22.

  3. Moreland and Issler, In Search of a Confident Faith, 18.

  4. Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 288–89.

  5. NET2, Genesis 12:1, fn 4.

  6. Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 76.

  7. Nijay K. Gupta, “Faith,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

  8. John S. Kloppenborg, Christ’s Associations: Connecting and Belonging in the Ancient City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 14–15.

  9. Andrew Chinpeng Ho, “A Paragon of Faith?: Doubting Abraham,” Themelios 42.3 (2017): 452–64.

  10. Yung Suk Kim, “Between Text and Sermon: Hebrews 11:8-16,” Interpretation 72.2 (2018): 205,

  11. Paula Cocozza, “Is Grit the True Secret of Success?,” The Guardian, 7 May 2016, § Life and style,

  12. Kim, “Between Text and Sermon,” 205.

  13. Susan Ratcliffe, ed., “Faith,” in Oxford Essential Quotations, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017),

  14. Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith.

  15. Marian Wright Edelman, “Kids First,” Mother Jones, June 1991; Ratcliffe, “Faith.”

One response to “The Faith and Call of Abraham”

  1. […] “Faith in Action” series. This is part two on the faith of Abraham. For part one, see “The Faith and Call of Abraham.” Listen using the player below or download the […]