God’s Mission for Abraham: The Undiscovered Country

Henry Blackaby and Claude King point out in their spiritually formative book, Experiencing God (1994), that when “God invites you to work with Him,” you will be led to “a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.” They add to this that you “must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.” This crisis of faith hinges on whether you will accept God’s invitation. Will you say “yes” or “no”?

If you accept God’s mission, the authors would remind us, then your life is about to change significantly. The biblical stories bear this out. No one God has ever called was allowed to live life as it had been previously. Think of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Deborah, Samson, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jesus, His apostles, and Paul, just to name a few. Their lives were radically changed because they accepted God’s call.

Abraham serves as an exemplar for those who would accept God’s call. Abram, as he was known in the early years of his life, was living among this family in the center of civilization among the ancient people of Babylon (known as Sumer by historians). The city of Ur, his hometown, was well-known for its luxury and sophistication. Ur was a someplace. Important people came to live in Ur.

One day the predictability of his life was shattered forever. God called. Abram! Leave your country, your people and your father’s family and go to the land I will show you. But Abraham does not actually get to “own” the land, outside of being buried there. The land, however, was only a part of the package that God had planned for Abraham. The God who called promised: I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Sounds like a good deal, right? Yet before Abraham’s story is over, he will have to run to Egypt to escape a famine in the good land God promised him, he will nearly lose his wife twice to protect his own life, and his relationship with his nephew Lot will disintegrate. Moreover, attempting to make God’s call work to his benefit, Abraham will seek to adopt his servant; his wife Sarah will seek to speed the process along by offering her servant Hagar to Abraham so they can have a heir; and to top it off, Sarah will laugh at God’s messengers when they promise that she will have a child. You see, when God calls you, you will have to make some radical adjustments.

Nonetheless, in the end, Abraham and Sarah will show that they are committed to God’s plan. Despite Abraham’s missteps and occasional lack of faith, he proves faithful even if it means sacrificing the promised heir—because he learns that the God who calls is also the God who is faithful.

This God has a mission for you. He wants to lead you to the yet undiscovered country.

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The Missional Church and God’s Mission

There are quite a bit of misunderstanding about what is meant by the phrase “missional church.” Some emergent church leaders take it as a badge for the founding of non-traditional, anti-institutional church projects.

However, the missional church conversation is not about church planting per se, though it could fuel the planting of new churches. When I speak of missional church, I’m not primarily speaking about any church growth or church planting scheme. I’m not talking about a plan or a scheme at all.

The missional church conversation is primarily a biblical and theological conversation that starts not with the church or our culture, but with the mission of God as revealed in the Bible and then carried out throughout history through God’s gracious guidance of his people, the church.

Through the influence of many voices in this conversation, I have come to summary the mission of God in three steps. From the beginning of the biblical story, God’s mission has always been (1) to call a distinct people (2) to live his life (3) for the sake of the world. This mission is deeply rooted in the nature and character of God and those who join this mission will look increasingly like God.

To call a distinct people. Whether we are in the Old Testament or New, God seeks to call a people to be his own. In the Old Testament, God called the Israelites to live a life distinct in the Ancient Near East. True many of Israel’s practices were similar to the nations around them. However, what was distinct about Israel was their commitment to YHWH and to him alone. In the New Testament, we have a continuation of this story in the distinct life which Jesus lived and which he passed on to his disciples. Thus, the church was born to live out this life until Jesus returns.

To live God’s life. Part of the uniqueness of the Christian life is that at root it is a renunciation of our lives so that we can take upon the life of Christ. With the rhythm of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our lives participate in the life of God by living, suffering and even dying for the good of others.

For the sake of the world. There are perhaps plenty of Christians who really do want to be part of God’s distinct people and think they want to live God’s way. However, the missing link is often today that we, in line with the culture in which we live, don’t understand that our lives are now dedicated to do good in this world and for this world.

The Mission of God

The Bible is the grand narrative of the mission of God. From beginning to end, God is on a mission to reclaim his creature and even the creative order. We might summarize this mission as: God’s mission is to form a distinct people to live His Life for the sake of the world.

In the Old Testament, God sought to form a “distinct” people from the descendants of Abraham. After promising to form a people from Abraham’s descendants, God will rescue them from Egypt under the leadership of Moses to lead them to the promised land where they are to live a God-kind of life, but not just for their own good but so that the nations around might catch a glimpse of who the true God really is. The Old Testament story is really a sad story, a tragedy even. The nation of Israel never really joins God on His mission, even though God sent prophet after prophet to point the way.

However, God did not give up. He sent his Son to show people how to participate in God’s mission. Jesus gathered around himself disciples who would take up the mission of God after he had ascended to Heaven and sent the Spirit of God to empower them and to guide them. Jesus constituted a distinct people on Pentecost known today as the church. Those who belong to Jesus have accepted the call to join God in his mission.

One constant theme in this story is the notion of sending: God sent Abraham to Canaan, God sent Moses to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, God sent prophets to redirect the nation of Israel, and God sent his Son. His Son, in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to the community of believers gathered at Pentecost. Jesus then sent his disciples to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the outermost reaches of the world. Now it’s our turn accept God’s call to send us.

What Does It Means to be Missional?

The simplest way to begin is to begin. So here I go. The word “missional” has come into vogue in an attempt to speak meaningfully about the church’s place in North American culture. This has two basic challenges. First, the church has been encrusted, if not lost, in Christendom. And, second, the church is deeply North American in its instincts and values. No doubt we will have a chance to unpack these in other posts.

So what do we mean by being “missional”? My working definition begins with God. God has always been on a mission. That mission involved calling a distinct people, to be different from the culture around them, to live God’s life in the world and thus participate in his mission in calling others into the mission of God. One last item I find necessary to say is that God calls people not for their sake alone but for the sake of the world. To live God’s life is to be spent for the good of others.

What would you add?