Did you ever play that game, “If you could travel anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go?” I would love to go to Wales, England because my grandmother was born there. I would love to go to Israel, Turkey or Greece because of the biblical sites. I would love to go back to Kingston, Jamaica, because we lived there for a year, and I haven’t been back since 2005.
But really, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many places, and I’ll be okay if I never get to visit any of those places above. I have to admit, though, that one of Michelle and my greatest fears when our family moved home from Jamaica was that we would lose a sense of God’s heart for the world. We had become convinced during our years in college that God so loved the world, as the famous verse, John 3:16 states, that we wanted to share his love. After a year church planting in Kingston, Jamaica, a year that did not go according to our plan, were we done with that phase of life? Was it just a phase? Should it be a phase? What do we do about God’s heart for the world?
To follow God’s heart for the world, we had come to believe in the idea that we should leave our culture once every 24 months if at all possible. If you don’t leave your own culture, you can start to get myopic and prejudicial about your culture, thinking that yours is the best culture, the most important, and truly forget the beauty, value and necessity of being cross-cultural. We continue to believe that, even though the reality of life has meant that we haven’t been able to travel to another culture every 24 months.
But that frequency was our desire. Is that desire overkill? Once every 24 months? Really? Maybe it is overkill, especially given the expense of travel. So perhaps the better question, when it comes to the world is: What is God’s heart for the world?
This week we conclude our five-part series about relationships with God, family, church family, community and now the world. We have been seeking to apply the Fruit of the Spirit to all these relationships. But the world seems far too big. How do we express the Fruit of the Spirit to the whole world? It’s obviously not possible when you consider the geography and the quantity. So we might be tempted to think it is a waste of time to have any sort of relationship with the world. But in so doing, I believe we miss God’s heart for the world.
To begin to learn about God’s heart for the world, we read the following in Genesis 12:
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’.”
God would repeat this covenant in Genesis 13, 17, and 22. Then again to Abraham’s grandson Jacob in Genesis 28 and 35. Each time, the repetition of the covenant was nearly verbatim, “Your family will be a blessing to the whole world.” The ramifications of this are clear.
God’s heart was not that Abraham’s family would have a family god that they would keep to themselves, putting it on display in their living room (I know…they didn’t have living rooms per se…they lived in tents). As if a family, or even a nation could have possession of their own god. We’re used to the idea of nations having a national anthem, a national bird, a national flag, and so on. Even though we are very much used to national this and national that, we Americans are not so much used to the idea of a national god. Though some might wish for it to be true, we are not and have never been formally a Christian nation. Some states had a state religion, but that was abandoned in the aftermath of the US Constitution Bill of Rights which unequivocally declares the our national approach is freedom of religion for all. Which amendment is that? #1.
When my wife, Michelle, helps her coworkers, refugee women at Stroopies, study for their citizenship tests, the First Amendment is fact of American life they all find beautiful. Historically, however, and in many other countries still today, there were and are national gods.
In the Old Testament, we frequently read that the nations surrounding the people of Israel had their own gods. This is why we also read that Yahweh, the one true God, was Israel’s God. The people of Israel saw Yahweh as their God. They were not wrong, in a sense. Often Yahweh told them that if they would abide by the covenant he set up between himself and them, he would be their God and they would be his people. His chosen people. In fact, he articulated it in such a way that he wanted to be in a loving relationship with them. God and Israel did have a special relationship.
But that’s not all he wanted, as if God’s desire was for the smallness of some codependent relationship with Abraham’s family, and the nation it would become. It seems, however, that the people of Israel wanted God as their property, their own special God, and no one else could have him. They were so self-deceived by their selfishness that they likely believed that God wanted the same thing as they did.
That’s what so often happens to our view of God. Our understanding of God and our understanding of God’s desires can become remarkably similar to our personal desires. We can very quickly and easily grow an idea that God agrees with us and all of our opinions. And he disagrees with everyone else.
When it came to the family of Abraham and the nation his family grew into, that very tendency happened. Instead of them looking more and more like God, they created a viewpoint about God that looked more and more like their selfish hearts.
How do we know this? Because God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant that he repeated over and over and over through years, rarely came to fruition in its second part. That line about being a blessing to the whole world? Yeah…barely happened. Maybe for a few decades during the reigns of David and Solomon.
Why didn’t it happen, though, for the most part? Why didn’t Israel want the world to experience God’s blessing? As we’ll see, their failure wasn’t God’s fault. When you read the story of Israel, and the Mosaic Law code, you observe God repeatedly trying to give Israel a vision for something larger than themselves, a vision to reach the world.
We’ll talk about that in the next post, because just as God wanted Israel to have a vision for the world, he wants us to have that vision too.