Abraham, the father of our faith and of cross cultural mission!
Hi, this is Ross Paterson, I'd like to take a brief opportunity to share with you from a very important passage regarding cross cultural mission work. Many writers, many of those who share our heart for mission, turn to this passage. It's kind of the Old Testament equivalent of Acts 1:8. So, let me start with that passage.
God’s Word to Abraham in Genesis 12
Genesis 12."God had told Abraham, or Abram, 'Leave your own country behind you and your own people and go to the land I will guide you to. If you do, I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, and you will be a blessing to many others. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; and the entire world will be blessed because of you." Or in the more recent translation, "And all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
If you have heard this passage, you will know the reference here to what is called top line-bottom line, which I think is very relevant to our generation and to where we stand today. The top line, of course, "I will make you famous, I will make you become the father of a great nation, I will bless you, you will be a blessing to many others; I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you."
And that's the top line, it is the sense of God's hand upon us, God's blessing upon us, of God's goodness and favour upon us. But there's the bottom line, too. "And the entire world will be blessed because of you." In other words, with God's blessing comes a definition of the purpose of that blessing, and the definition of the purpose of that blessing is a very simple one; that others, indeed, in Abraham's case, the whole world. should be blessed because of you.
Equipping of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8
Now, just a minute or two ago, I made the observation that this is really the Old Testament equivalent of Acts 1:8, that you'll be familiar with. “You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”, that great promise of the empowering, of the equipping of the Holy Spirit. But that is the top line; the bottom line, of course in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, to the ends of the earth.” There is a very, very important balance there. Now, looking at this recently, four basic points struck me:
Firstly, there is a bottom line to this top line. There is a sense that God is calling Abraham, not just to be particularly blessed out of all the people upon the face of the earth. But also, at the same time that God is calling Abraham to take responsibility with that blessing, as one writer said,
"It is a timeless reminder of God's plan to bring man beyond judgment into His purpose. With the call of Abraham, that purpose began to unfold as God's programme for men's restoration; not just Abraham's, but for all men's restoration, and it became expressed through a very specific individual.”
God blesses us so that we can be a blessing unto others
And so, my first point is, and it's obvious from what I have been saying so far, that God's intention, when He bestows blessing upon us, is not just that we would be blessed, but that we would, in the equipment of that blessing, go out and become a blessing to others; specifically, in Acts 1:8 terms, that we would not stop until we are witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth, to the far corners of the earth. And every man, and woman, and child in our generation should have the opportunity to hear of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus.
Now, in a limited recording here, without going into that in too much detail, I believe that's a very, very, very crucial word for our generation. That we would come to the point of seeing that God has called us not just to go from conference, to meeting, to book, to this and the other, to be blessed. Legitimately, in my view, that is; but at the same time, it would be our heart's desire to use that blessing to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others. Then we wouldn't just seek more and more for ourselves - though I don't have a problem with that in one sense - but that the equipping should be for a very specific purpose, that men and women might hear of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God works through relationships
Secondly, very importantly, God's work flourishes in our lives through relationship. God told Abraham, verse 7, "God spoke to Abraham, then immediately after this, then the Lord appeared to Abraham and said: "I'm going to give this land to you and your descendants."
Very, very important also, that as one writer said, "These Abraham narratives begin to show what relationship with God can look like in the meanwhile, before the Lord Jesus, what for human beings in the fallen world, it can be to be God's friend. We see Abraham gradually beginning to understand who God is and what it means to trust Him.”
Knowing God And Being Hungry For God
Though when we receive the Lord Jesus we come into a personal knowledge of him, that's the fantastic truth of real Christianity, yet at the same time it is also true that God calls us to grow in that knowledge. There is, at the heart of Christianity, this divine dichotomy, if you like. We know Him, and yet we need to know Him more and more. We do know Him, and yet, we don't know Him enough.
One of the little tests that I personally would have as a focus, is the question “Am I Hungry”? Are you hungry to know more of God? I've been a Christian for over 50 years, I've been in full-time Christian service for over 40 years. It's 40 years since I went out as a missionary to Asia. But I have to say, I am hungry to know the Lord better. Praise the Lord, He speaks, He comes to us.
God speaking to Abraham in understanding and openness
Even in another passage, that actually I was reading in my quiet time this morning, in Genesis 18, just a few chapters later. It says, "The Lord appeared again to Abraham when he was living in the oak grove of Mamre." This is the way it happened. One hot summer afternoon, as he was sitting in the opening of his tent, he suddenly noticed three men coming towards him. He sprang up and ran to meet them, and welcomed them.
And it says later in the passage, verse 10, "Then the Lord said: 'Next year I will give you, and Sarah, your wife, a son.’" God has something important to say to Abraham, this is the occasion when Sarah laughs, and the Lord said: "Why did Sarah laugh?" And Sarah said: "I didn't laugh", then he said: "Yes, you did." I looked at the Scriptures this morning, where it said that it is not a fierce rebuke from the Lord, it's a simple: “let's walk in truth, but I also understand why you laugh, because at 90 years of age, you did not think you could have a child.” Very understanding, but very open and honest too.
And my point here is that God comes, the Lord comes to Abraham, the Lord visits Abraham in person. And as I just read, it says that as he was sitting under the tree, and they came towards him, I take it to be a pre-incarnation or a visit of Jesus plus two angels, Abraham leaps up and greets them. Now, I can talk as well as you like about Eastern hospitality and all this kind of thing, and that's true. But there is a parable there too. Am I keen to meet with the Lord? Morning by morning or whatever, do I do that, am I keen to meet with Him?
Being blessed is not the same as having experiences with God
You see, if I run these two points together, my first point and my second, could it be that many are getting blessed and having all kinds of experiences, but they are not, in that sense, meeting with the Lord? That is, they are not hearing what God is saying concerning His purpose, His destiny, His intention for their life. How many come into powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit, but are not listening to hear the Father say: "This is for the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and indeed, to the ends of the earth"?
Mission Work Requires Leaving Things Behind
Thirdly, and logically from here, in Genesis 12, it meant ‘going’. "Leave your country behind you and your own people." As another translation says, for Genesis 12:1, "Go out from your land and from your kindred and from your father's house to the land I will show you." There was no fluffing around in this. Almost every translation, New King James, Revised King James is clear on this point, "Go out of your country and from your kindred and from your father's house into a land that I will show you." At the heart of real spirituality, at the heart of real Christianity, is the ‘going’.
And I wonder again, whether many do not go because we are afraid to leave the comfort of our Father's house, if you'd like. One writer said, "They knew very well," this is Abraham, and those with him, "That responding to God's call meant that they would never see their country or their family again."
This was not Boeing 747. This was not a 2-week mission trip. If they went, they might never - and I do not think they did - ever see that land again. They knew very well that responding to God's call meant that they would never see their country or their family again. They responded anyway, even though they realized that the only point of stability in the new land would be their relationship with the Lord, the Lord that they were just beginning to know.
Would that be enough? That is a powerful point, is it not? Is it a fact that so few are really willing to go on mission, because whatever we say, and do, and read, and attend, and whatever; the reality is that the only point of stability in the new land would be their relationship with God, with the God that they were just beginning to know?
Why we run a cross cultural mission school
That is one of the reasons why we run a school of cross cultural mission. Actually, we run one both inside China, for those wanting to serve the Lord in China, and we run another one in Asia for Chinese-speaking people wanting to go into China to serve. Yes, we want to teach cross-cultural stuff, and history of missions. But more than that, we actually want to find out how well do people know the Lord.
Things to consider in cross cultural missions
And I would encourage you to consider these things. To consider maybe if you have been on a mission trip with us or with others, to consider the school of missions. Because it would be my sense that many actually can conceal our lack of knowledge of the Lord, our lack of that real dependence as the only point of stability our lives while in ordinary church life. That is not a criticism of church, it is just that we are in our own culture. There is something about being thrust into a new culture that is testing.
So, there is my challenge. Why not find out how well you know the Lord and take the opportunity to know the Lord better by venturing out? When I went to Soviet Russia, in about 1963, smuggling Bibles and Billy Graham books into communist Russia, at a very powerful point in their history, you quickly found out how well you knew the Lord, and you quickly grew in the amazing truth that He is with us.
God uses ordinary people - even if they mess up!
The fourth thing, and very important. God comes to Abraham, and He says, "Leave your country, I'm going to make you a great nation, I'm going to bless you, etc. etc." Yet the incredible reality is that Abraham is an ordinary guy.
The second half of Genesis 12, it says: "There was a terrible famine in the land, so Abraham went on to Egypt to live. As he was approaching the borders of Egypt, he asked Sarai - later Sarah, his wife - to tell everyone that she was his sister. 'You're very beautiful', he told her, 'And when the Egyptians see that, they will say 'This is his wife, let's kill him, and then we can have her.' If you say you're my sister, then the Egyptians will treat me well, because of you and spare my life.'"
What a coward! I mean, I hope we would not actually do that, if we are married. But here is this man of power for the hour, this man of destiny to the nations. The first thing he does after hearing God is lies his head off and acts like a coward. And you probably know what happened. The Lord sent a terrible plague against the Pharaoh’s house, so Pharaoh drove Abram out. He said: "What is this you've done to me? Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why were you willing to let me marry her, saying she was your sister? Here, take her, and be gone!" And the Pharaoh sent him out of the country under armed escort, Abraham and his wife, and all his possessions.
What a hugely embarrassing thing. I mean, here is Abraham getting dismissed from the country because he is a liar and a cheat. And one writer said: "They went to Egypt to find food, and also found trouble. Maybe God's knowledge that trouble really was to follow him, caused Him to ensure their return under armed guard and shame to the land of His promised Presence. It is encouraging to realize that unwise decisions do not automatically mean the end of a previously accepted calling."
God uses ordinary people
Ordinary people. It is so fantastic that! Let me read those sentences again. "It is encouraging to realize that unwise decisions do not automatically mean the end of a previously accepted calling." We make mistakes, we do stupid things, we sin, but God can restore and bring us again into His purposes, even under an armed Egyptian guard dismissing us from the country. Be encouraged, God uses ordinary people, fallible people. Peter - what more examples do we need? - and be encouraged also.
If at some point you have blown it, there is a way back through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Go back into God's calling on your life. I say that strongly. Return to God's calling on your life, because actually, that's where He destined you to be. And that's the only place of real prosperity and blessing for you.
Bless you then, I am just sharing with you a few thoughts from Genesis 12. There is a bottom line to it. There is a top line of blessing, there is a bottom line of God's heart for the nations. Get involved in that on a mission trip, praying, supporting those who go, or going on the school of missions or something long-term. May God help you, and bless you, and keep you. And like Abraham, keep us all, one way or the other, in His purposes.
“Lord, we commit ourselves to You. Have Your way in our lives, we pray. In Jesus' Name, amen.”
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