|RPM, Volume 13, Number 44, October 30 to November 5, 2011|
Chancellor/CEO Elect; Interim President,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte North Carolina;
Director, the Chaplain Ministries Institute
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. And 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.
Have you ever had a call in the middle of the night, when your teenager is out? When the phone rings, you look at it for a few seconds before you pick it up, don't you? It seems that your heart stops beating in those suspended seconds.
When God calls, it is also alarming. When God calls a man to preach, it seems that his old dreams are suspended in time as he hears the heart tug of the "hound of heaven" on his soul. When God calls a woman to leave the prospects of marriage and a home to go to the mission field, it is like looking at that telephone in the late night. "What does this one moment mean for the rest of my life?"
All of us who have heard God's call on our lives to repent and follow Jesus Christ also know the power of that moment in our lives, when we leave all to follow Christ. I have a good friend who heard that call. In his repentance and embracing of the Scriptures and salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, he knew that the call could cost him his family. It did. He was separated from his family of origin since the day he left to follow the call of God. After his call to be Christ's disciple, he experienced a second call: a call to preach. That call seemed to blow up whatever bridge remained to his old home and family and friends. But God supplied a new family, a new home, a promised land of hope and even the opportunity to trust God for his family back home. When God calls things happen. There is a famous place in the Word of God about calls. It is in Genesis 12:1-2, where the Lord calls Abraham to leave all and follow Him to a place that He would show him. This divine interruption, like the telephone call in the night, would change his life—and ours—forever. In Abraham's call, in this passage, we may know the pathway ahead in God's call on our lives, whether it is a call to come to Him as His child, or to come into a deeper relationship with Him as His disciple, or to, indeed, leave all and come and follow Him to a new place of service.
Let me highlight three consequences of God's call on our lives.
"Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house…'"
Abram, the original name of the great Patriarch, was called in Ur of the Chaldeans. The call was repeated in the city of Haran (according to Acts 7:2-5). F.N. Meyer opines that Abram's delay in responding could have been due to his father, Terah's, passing. One thing is certain, though. When Abraham and his wife and household set out to somewhere, they had to leave somewhere else.
Leaving and cleaving to Christ is the norm in the Christian life, whether it is to become a disciple of Jesus and remain in your home, or whether it is to become a preacher and leave your home to make your home among others who may today even despise the name of Jesus. This is, of course, what Patrick did when he left what is now Wales for Ireland to bring the Gospel there. The pattern of the disciples, who left their nets and their fishing enterprises and their families, to follow the Lord Jesus, in His earthly life, is the pattern that is given to all those who follow. When God calls there is a parting. It is not a case of "running away." It is not a case of "greener fields elsewhere." It is a case of obediently following the call of God to part from even your loved ones, to follow God.
Perhaps as you read this God is calling you: to leave your old life behind and come and follow Him. Perhaps God is calling you to leave all and go and share the Gospel that saved you with others across the sea—or even across the nation, or across the table. It may be that the risen Christ is calling you to come and follow Him and use your gifts and open doors to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. There will be a parting. But what we know is this, if you are called to part from "houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for [His] sake, [you] will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29 and see Mark 10:29). This is not a promise of parting in order to gain! There is no righteousness is parting for its own sake. The meaning of the passage is that Jesus will personally provide replacements for all that you have parted with, including loved ones and even home. For in the Church, He will give you new family members to help you through and become mother and father to you. He will also provide you with a home, both here, with the congregation of Christ, and in eternal life with in the new heavens and the new earth. You say, "Wow. That is really taking the long view." Everything is, my friend, in following Jesus. Everything is. But the long view, the greater vision of what God is doing, informs and transforms life today, bringing joy and hope and meaning to living. Sometimes we miss that when we are stationary and self-dependent. And maybe that is why we are called to part.
"Get thee out of thy country, and from thy father's house, unto a land..."
The call of God turned Abram and his family and household into pilgrims. And so it does to all who are called.
In Hebrews 11:8 we learn that to follow God is to begin a journey through a wilderness and, like Columbus, to be "...sailing month after month through unknown seas, never knowing at what moment the dim outline of the shore might appear" (FB Meyer, Our Daily Walk, Christian Focus, 236).
The Christian life is a pilgrimage. Indeed, our very literature, like John Bunyan's "Pilgrim" in Pilgrim's Progress, reflects the reality of our lives as God's people on the move, following the Lord. Our history, too, is one that is framed in the language of pilgrimage. America was founded by pilgrims. That DNA in our own nation remains an important part of our identity that we refer to in difficult times. We are that "city on a hill" as Reagan so often quoted that pilgrim, John Winthrop (1630).
Being a pilgrim is not easy. Abram and his family lost the luxuries and securities of their past as they faithfully followed a future of hope given by God.
Our pilgrimage is not just about traveling through life, but traveling to somewhere. We are not just taking off on a journey without a destination, but we are headed towards the Lord and a new heaven and new earth. This very moment, as you read this, it is very critical for you to remember that you are going somewhere. Your losses in parting have led you to pilgrimage. But your pilgrimage is leading you to know God in a greater way if you had not made the journey. There is a cost to discipleship, as Bonhoeffer reminded us. Yet the cost of the journey brings about a reward of intimacy with Christ. More than that, this intimacy will lead you to know Christ so much that when you come into HIs face-to-face He will be the One you have come to love along the way.
God promised a land, a blessing and fame. That land was real, not imagined. In Joshua, that land was gained and lost, through sin and syncretism with the pagans there. Yet the blessing on Abram, as well as the fame—the greatness—was realized. Though it was endangered through human sin within and without, Jesus Christ fulfilled this promise. He is, in fact, the living Promise. He is not only Abraham's descendant; he is actually Abraham's destination. When he saw his great, great grandson at the Transfiguration, he saw his destination. Jesus is the Promise that is your destination also. It is not, therefore, that you have parted, are a pilgrim, but that you are fueled by a promise that is a person—not only a place (although the new heaven and new earth is a place and we were made to live in a place). It is just that the place has no meaning without the person.
When my wife travels and leaves the home, I am always reminded that without her, the home is just a house. I feel like a lost pup in a cavernous, and heartless, construction of brick and martyr and wood and appliances. Yet when my wife returns, that house becomes, one more, a true home. My wife makes our home. Literally. Jesus is our home. He is the Promised Land and the point of pilgrimage and is worthy of all parting. That is our faith. That is where Scripture is leading us. So Christianity is not just pie in the sky bye and bye, as has been sarcastically asserted, but is all about Jesus the Lord.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
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