JULY 13, 2008
I know it says in the Bible that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and training in righteousness, but what we have before us today is very special. If there were a national ranking of the top ten moments in Scripture, then our passage for today would be one of them.
This passage certainly marks a significant moment in the Book of Genesis. It marks a major shift, a major turning point in the book. For the first eleven chapters of Genesis it has seemed as if God were on the defensive, attempting to keep the cancerous growth of sin in check, keeping it from landing a knock-out punch to creation. That’s the sense we get from stories like Noah and the Ark and the Tower of Babel, sort of God containing sin rather than defeating sin. But now, at last, as the eleventh chapter of Genesis draws to a close, God goes on the offensive. God goes on the offensive by calling someone who will begin the ball rolling in a more positive direction. It marks a significant moment in the book. But it also marks a significant moment in all of Scripture as well.
And the moment has to do with the person to whom we are introduced in this passage. He is a seventy-five year old nomadic Semite named Abraham and Christians and Jews and Moslems all have pointed to the calling of this man as one of the most significant moments, not only in Scripture, but in all of history. In fact, one man said of Abraham, “Next to Jesus Christ, Abraham is no doubt the most significant person mentioned in the Bible.” Now, I would not go that far. I would put Abraham about #4 and not #2, right after Paul and Moses, but regardless of his specific ranking, he is definitely one of the giants of the Bible. Twelve chapters of Genesis are devoted to his life. He is mentioned again and again throughout the Bible as the “George Washington” of the Scriptures, the very “father of our faith,” and today we are going to meet the man and see how it all began with him and God.
Please open your Bible to Genesis 11:27, and follow along with me as we closely investigate this important moment in the Scriptures.
Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram ...
That’s our hero. He’s called Abram now meaning “exalted father.” Later God will change his name to Abraham meaning “father of a multitude.”
Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai ... (she’ll later get a new name from God as well – Sarah) ... and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Now that’s an important tidbit of information that the author drops into the text in order to prepare his readers for what follows, because the promise of a son is going to dominate God’s promise to Abraham, and the truth is, Sarah belongs in a nursing home and not a maternity ward. How God will pull this off – give these old folk a child – and what Abraham does while waiting for God to send a child will be a major story line in the next nine chapters of this book.
Let’s continue ... verse 31,
Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.
After this formal introduction to Abraham’s family, we move on to that momentous occasion of history, the calling of Abraham to be the father of our faith. Chapter 12, verse 1,
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
By the way, isn’t it interesting that the land God will show Abraham is the same place where Abraham’s father, Terah, had planned to move in the first place? We do not know why Terah stopped short of Canaan. Maybe he had a relative there as was the case with my father. When my mother and father moved from Hawaii in 1950, with their adorable two year old son, Richard Christopher in tow, they had planned to land in Los Angeles, and then drive across the country to New Jersey where my father had been raised. But my father had a sister living in Burbank, California, my aunt Gertrude, and my aunt talked my parents into living in California – the land of opportunity – and my father never made it back to New Jersey.
Maybe Terah had a sister in Haran named Gertrude. Or maybe some catastrophic event befell them along the way. Or maybe Terah was just taken with the place. We do not know. Regardless, it was left to Abraham to complete the move to Canaan.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brothers’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they acquired in Haran ...
Note that this is not the story of a poor, little family, packing their belongings in a U-Haul trailer and moving cross country. The mention of possessions plus slaves – people they had acquired – tells us something of Abraham’s wealth. Couple this with the 318 men Abraham will have with him when he rescues Lot and what we see here is a sizeable caravan on its way to Canaan. Abraham was not a poverty stricken refugee. When he leaves Haran he is not, and I underline not, abandoning a life of ease for one of physical deprivation and asceticism. His leaving today would be more akin to a couple from Pennsylvania retiring and moving here to Florida. Listen to it once again – verse 5,
Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran.
In the Sundays to follow we will look at how this promise of God’s is fulfilled as well as Abraham’s trial and tribulations in Canaan as he awaits the fulfillment. Today, however, I want us to focus our attention on the subject of call and the premise it this – God has called you to accomplish some great task just as certain as God called Abraham to accomplish a great task. Furthermore, this is not Meyer premise, this is a biblical premise. One of the great teachings of the New Testament is that we are all called to ministry, not just the clergy. We are all called to perform some significant work for God.
But let me ask a question. How many of us know what our calling is? Abraham knew that his call was to get up and go to a land God would show him and also to father a child. How about us? One of our ten year goals is to become a “Gifts in Gear” church where our slogan is “Everyone is a minister,” where 75% of us know what our calling is, but I suspect we have a way to go in this regard. Why? Well, a couple of things come to mind. First off, we are uninformed, and second we are misinformed.
By uninformed I mean, we do not realize the centrality of lay ministry in Scripture. From its inception, Christianity was a lay movement. Jesus could have called religious professionals – scribes and priests and rabbis – but he didn’t. Instead he called fishermen, tax-collectors, political activists to usher in the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Peter, knowing what Jesus had in mind, called each of us priests, and the Apostle Paul said the major task of every pastor is to train and equip church members for ministry. One of the great teachings of the New Testament is that we are called to ministry, and not only that, it points to the laity as the ones who will have the greatest impact for Christ and not the clergy.
Elton Trueblood made an interesting comment related to this. Elton Trueblood was one of the great church renewalists of our century, and in an interview with a Christian journal he uttered these words.
I led a retreat in northern Ohio not long ago for 22 people, and I went around the circle asking each one of them to tell what had brought him or her into a full Christian commitment. I assumed some would mention a public meeting or a sermon. Not one did. They told about little people, the shoe repairman who made such a testimony in personal living that an impression was created.
The interviewer interjected, “Nobody said Billy Graham or Elton Trueblood?” and after laughing, Trueblood said,
Not one! Of course, I didn’t expect them to say me, but I thought someone would mention Billy Graham, lives have certainly been changed by his public preaching but my experience is that the great majority are changed in a much less obvious fashion. If the church could make members realize this, that they are a team, what a difference it would make. How it would raise their sights.
If only more of us could see that a calling to ministry is not something that just happens to clergy, but to every Christian. If only we could raise our sights to see that ministry does not begin with ordination but with conversion.
So some of us do not know our calling, our ministry, because we are uninformed. But for others of us it is because we are misinformed. We are misinformed in a couple of areas. Number one, we mistakenly limit ministry to within the institutional church. We see ministry as ushering or singing in the choir or being a Stephen Minister. However, there is a major problem with this. Simply put, there are not enough church jobs to go around. Former Chaplain of the United States Senate, Richard Halverson, told of the time he went to a new church as pastor. At the time there were close to a couple of thousand members and he discovered, to his amazement, that only 365 people were required to fill church slots – choir, ushers, greeters, elders, teachers – just 365 slots. That meant, of course, that the overwhelming majority of people could never have a personal ministry within the institution. That left 1635 pew potatoes.
Contrast that limited view of ministry to that of cartoonist Charles Schulz, the father of the Peanuts comic strip. Schulz views his comic strip as a ministry, as a calling. He writes,
If we are all members of the priesthood of believers, why cannot a cartoonist preach in the same manner as a minister? Anyway, it’s much better to be a good cartoonist than a terrible pastor.
My wife manages a real estate office. She says her ministry is to help people make good decisions. You may be a physician. You have a ministry of healing. You may be a public school teacher. You have a ministry of teaching. You may be an attorney. You have a ministry of insuring that justice prevails.
I mentioned there are two ways in which we are misinformed. The other way we are misinformed is that we think ministry is going to be a very uncomfortable experience, so we hesitate to do anything about discovering our gifts and listening for our call, but look at Abraham. So often we emphasize how much God is asking of Abraham – leaving his homeland, and his family and set off to God knows where. And yes, God asks a lot of Abraham. It was a major sacrifice for him to leave his home. Homeland and family meant much more back then than it does now, however, we forget to tell the rest of the story. Have we ever thought about how much Abraham wanted to do this?
When I think of Abraham, I see a man with an adventurous spirit – a guy with wanderlust in his veins. He is also a guy who wanted a son. And what does God do? God says, “Abraham, I want you to travel and I want you to father a child,” and Abraham responds, “Sounds great,” and off he goes. And herein lies an important insight into our call from God. Like Abraham, our ministry will most likely involve something we like to do and want to do.
What might that entail for you? I heard a woman whose pastor preached on lay ministry and she went home and asked God, “God what are you calling me to do?” Do you know what she does? She has a great smile and she smiles people into and out of church on Sunday mornings.
Another woman, unsure of her call, went home after church, prayed about it and began thinking of the students at a nearby university who were away from home. So she made 3 by 5 cards and wrote on them, “Are you homesick? Come to my house for cokes and ice tea at 4,” and posted them around campus. After a slow start, homesick students began flocking to her house in the afternoons. When she died, ten years later, 80 pall bearers were at her funeral – all of whom had come to have coke and ice tea at her home and had discovered the love of Christ in the process.
What’s your ministry? What’s God calling you to do? Make no mistake about it. God has one tailor made just for you. God’s calling you to do it just as God called Abraham to his. If you haven’t yet discovered your calling, ask yourself three questions: 1) What do I like to do? 2) What tugs at my heart? 3) What am I good at doing? God’s call will come out of those three questions.
At our church picnic last month, I spoke briefly with a young, single mother in our congregation. She’s a part of the team Bruce has put together to plan our Thursday night worship service which will target 20 and 30 year olds. I asked her how she liked being a part of the team and she said, “I grew up in this church, and this is the first time I feel like I fit, I belong and am contributing something.”
That’s what I want for you. So once again I ask, 1) What do you like to do? 2) What tugs at your heart? 3) What are you good at doing? Answer those three questions and you will discover where you fit and belong and you will make a huge contribution to the Kingdom of God.