Monday, January 02, 2012

'Go and Leave' - Pondering Genesis 12

All this year- I will be meditating and learning from all the chapter 12's in the Bible - "All the 12's in 2012"

JAN: Genesis 12

Genesis

12 Now mthe Lord said1 to Abram, “Go from your country2 and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. nAnd 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. oI will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV online)

There is a great argument that this narrative may be the most pivotal moment in the entire Bible. It is from this calling that we have 4,ooo years of human history and a seminal moment of three historic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I personally have been fascinated with this study, especially all the extra-biblical sources and narratives. It would be hard to find another figure in history with more written and re-interpreted content than Father Abraham.

AND it is impossible to be exhaustive in this study because of all the roads to cover: Middle East Geography and History (even into present day), the Abrahamic Covenant, the nature of faith, the narrative as it applies to Moses and his situation.

Of all the sources I looked at (both conservative and liberal) I liked Richard Pratt's approach the best and spent a lot of time praying through his four part outline/application to the narrative: Divine Grace/ Abraham's Loyalty/ God Blesses Abraham/ Blessings Flow Through Abraham.

But for today's post I wanted to pursue this idea of 'Going from and going to' which is an important motif of faith.

If I may piece together some speculative background: Chapter 11 lists a geneology of Abraham that proceeds from a father, Terah, and three sons: Abram/Naor/Haran. Haran dies 'in the presence of his father in the land of his kindred which is Ur of the Chaldeans'. This is believed to be near that fertile crescent of the famous rivers of antiquity  Tigris and Euphrates (modern day Iraq).

After the death of Haran, the clan (including Lot) moves Northwest up through the fertile land to settle at a place called 'Haran' and Terah dies in 'Haran' at the age of 205.

It is in this context that the Lord calls to Abram to "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house TO the land that I will show you".

I have thought a lot about this- God was calling Abram to leave all he knew, all he trusted, all his security to follow God to mostly a realm of the unknown. It is the call of faith... a trust in God.. a holy abandonment to Him... a call to follow His ways, customs, and direction.

I don't want to make too much of this- but it struck me in chapter 11 that Haran died in the presence of his father and Terah died in Haran- and it almost made me wonder about the cycles of sadness and death some families can get swept up in for generations. Most of what we believe about Abraham's descendants were that they were pagan and possibly engaged in child sacrifice- a very common practice among men at that time.


So it is a terrible irony: we don't want to leave the comforts and 'security' of  'normal' life- but we have no clue how decayed, depressed, and dead that way of life really is. We can't let go of the merry-go-round because we really don't see it winding into the ground as a death spiral. We think we are flying on a path of prosperity, but it is an enchanted treadmill- a lot of activity, but no movement or meaning.

I hear the gospel call of Jesus when He says "whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt 10)" or in Matt. 8 "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead". It is the same call of faith, don't cling to anything in this life...even good things...even life... learn to leave and follow God even to the places that are unknown.

Now this all sounds so good- but how practical can we make this? How objective? And the worst application is how can we know if we are doing it at all? Think how easy it would be to use this as an excuse to cut and run from any undesirable situation. How do we flesh this out?

An example of this is when we decided as a family to pick up and move to Nashville in 2004. There was nothing easy about that decision or move. We pulled up deep roots and moved wife, children, pets into a big unknown. New places and people. I had no clue how to even find my way around.

Now in some way I laugh at this because it wasn't that big of a move- south to south, suburb to suburb, PCA church to PCA church- but it was a huge step into the uncomfortable and unknown- and it was great for us to do so. It meant trusting God to provide.. and He did. It meant trusting Him in ways that we were not accustomed to.. and He did. Was it hard? YES! Did we grow? ABSOLUTELY!

Now comes a tough part of this- after some time of being on the new assignment, we had a sense that things weren't going that well in some areas. We were struggling financially, we had a sense that some were against us, and my "oldest daughter was hurting in the new environment.

My wife paused one night and asked the question out loud that I was thinking inwardly- "Did we miss God's call? Did we really hear him or was this some man manipulated step?" After some prayer and review, we had to re-affirm that this was God's call and we had a season of learning about what God means about blessing. And things did improve, but the negative issues finally culminated in my termination after 7 years of honest effort on our part.

(I may get a chance to explore this further in later posts, but we often think of the patriarchs having a daily time in God's presence and then doing great things for Him. We read events in a few short chapters without the context of time. Abraham and Moses went years between visits by God. I have to think that Abraham might be laying wake in his tent, no son or land yet, and wondering 'Did I hear that right?' How long are we willing to wait on God? That is a part of trusting Him as well.)

When God threw us that curveball after 7 years, it led us on a deeper path of trusting Him. Was it hard? YES! Did we grow? EVEN DEEPER!

So the life of faith is a willingness to pick it all up and follow God's call. It means eagerly listening for God to show the next step and being found faithful as we wait on that message.

I guess I need to close this with a couple of applications:

_ LEAVE- "Leaving" may not be geographical. Though some are called to leave and go to other nations or other environments (and all should be open to that leading)- others may need to stay. And moving or still, we are all called to leave the world and leave 'self-rule' to follow the voice of our Great Shepherd. This may be a lifestyle, a pattern of sin, an attitude, an unproductive activity- as you sit alone, just you and God's Word- do you hear Him calling you to leave?

My ultimate metaphor in leaving is a heart statement I tell myself a lot- "I am leaving this at the cross"- It may be a frustration, or unrequited desire, or unfulfilled dream. I try to begin everyday by crucifying myself to Christ- being a living sacrifice to Him- thinking of Galatians 2:20 "I have been tcrucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives uin me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, vwho loved me and wgave himself for me."

_ GO- The best way to put off is to put on. (See Colossians and Ephesians) The best way to leave is to go. I love the idea in Romans where Paul speaks of 're-dedication' not mutilation. (See "A New Light on an Old Problem- link here) It is a more positive outlook on living for Christ. I don't look back like Lot's wife in sadness of what I am leaving, I look ahead to where God is taking me. I don't look at the waves and sink like Peter, I look at the Lamb and His outstretched hand to help. I may not 'see' the end result, but I am confident of the One who is taking me... somewhere. I trust Him enough to follow daily His word. I am willing to be patient on His timing.

So where are we? It is a new year! Are you ready to Go and Leave?

Are you tired of dwelling in the same cycles of sin and shame? 

Then practice a daily abandonment of yourself and live with an expectation that God is taking you somewhere or preparing to take you somewhere.

 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

John Calvin says all of this much better:
John Calvin:
Institutes of the Christian Religion III.7


The principal part of self-denial, that which as we have said has reference to God, let us again consider more fully. Many things have already been said with regard to it which it were superfluous to repeat; and, therefore, it will be sufficient to view it as forming us to equanimity and endurance. 
 
First, then, in seeking the convenience or tranquillity of the present life, Scripture calls us to resign ourselves, and all we have, to the disposal of the Lord, to give him up the affections of our heart, that he may tame and subdue them. 

 We have a frenzied desire, an infinite eagerness, to pursue wealth and honour, intrigue for power, accumulate riches, and collect all those frivolities which seem conducive to luxury and splendour.
 On the other hand, we have a remarkable dread, a remarkable hatred of poverty, mean birth, and a humble condition, and feel the strongest desire to guard against them.
 Hence, in regard to those who frame their life after their own counsel, we see how restless they are in mind, how many plans they try, to what fatigues they submit, in order that they may gain what avarice or ambition desires, or, on the other hand, escape poverty and meanness.


 To avoid similar entanglements, the course which Christian men must follow is this:
 They must not long for, or hope for, or think of any kind of prosperity apart from the blessing of God.

And of course, any productive success in any of this is a gift of His grace. May 2012 find you with an expectation and adventure of following the call of God on your life! 

2 comments:

Sara Wall said...

Wow! This pondering has been so true in my life on several levels the last few years. How hard it has been for me to leave unresolved issues at the cross. But what blessings I've received when God gave me the strength to do so. Thank you Jay, for so eloquently explaining the need to "leave".

Jay Mathews said...

Thank you Sara- I'm excited about the opportunities ahead for you and Mike. Can't wait to see it!