I don’t know that there’s anything better than living in Colorado in the summertime!  It is absolutely beautiful!  As the sun was setting last night and I was outside enjoying dinner, it was just one of those reminders of God’s glory and God’s grace!  One of the things I love to do in the summer is to climb 14ers.  I only have one rule about climbing 14ers and it’s simply this: I refuse to climb any 14er that you can drive to the top of!!!  Mt. Evans — off the list.  Pike’s Peak — off the list.  Here’s the reason.  Imagine hiking the 13 miles up to the top of Pike’s Peak. It covers about 3,000-4,000 miles in elevation gain.  I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is spend the better part of 8 hours of hiking to the top of the peak, only to be joined by somebody who just got out of their car and is enjoying a cup of coffee and possibly a donut!  Here’s the thing, though.  If you were to stand on that peak with somebody who had a cup of coffee, donut and a T-shirt that said, “I made it to the top of Pike’s Peak”…….you’re going to look out from the top of that peak and see the same view.  Both of you will see Colorado Springs, the eastern plains, the glory of the Rocky Mountains.  But I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the person that spent the majority of their day hiking 13 miles to get to the top of that 14,000 foot peak is probably going to see things a little bit differently.  They’re going to see the same thing, but the perspective of what they see will be different.  The person that walked that journey will be able to say that there’s a valley down there and there’s a lake there and this was hard and we worked to get to the top.  They’ll get to the top and soak it in with a sense of accomplishment and say, wow! we did it!  The person in the car may deliriously think the same thing, but, I can assure you, they didn’t do it in the same way.

I think in some ways the place we find ourselves in modern evangelicalism is we’ve driven to the top of the mountain—-the mountain’s name is Jesus—-gotten out of the car and said, “Isn’t he great?!! Isn’t he wonderful?! Isn’t he beautiful?! Isn’t he Savior and Lord?!”  And I will affirm yes and amen!  But I wonder if our lack of understanding of the story of God in its entirety has robbed us of the absolute, majestic beauty, awe and wonder of being able to see the whole!  I think sometimes we find ourselves on top of this mountain and we’ll sing songs about Jesus, but maybe if we started at the trailhead instead of driving in the car up to the peak, we may start to see things a little bit differently.  Here’s our goal in this series:  Start at the beginning.  Over the next five weeks is one message.  It’s a message about the character and nature of God and what He has been up and what He IS up to.  We believe if we understand what he has been up to, what he IS up to we’ll get a better vision of what He WILL be up to in the future and the place that we play in that story.  I think we’ve often missed the boat a little bit.

Let me give you an example.  If you have a Bible with you, hold it up for me.  What is this book?  First and foremost, it is not just A book.  It’s a library of books, really, that we call the Scriptures that have historical accounts, that have prophetic accounts, that have wisdom literature, that have stories about Jesus, that have apocalyptic…….it’s not just ONE book, but it’s a library we hold in our hands of 66 books over the course of thousands of years of 40 different authors with one singular story.  Question is what is THAT story?  You hear a lot of different things.  Some people say that it’s a love letter from God to you.  There’s a bit of truth there.  But it’s one of the many stories in the big story.  It’s one of the subplots, if you will, that finds itself in this grand narrative.  It’s a fine place to start.  It’s not a great place to end, because it just doesn’t zoom out enough.  If we read this Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s all about just me and God, we probably have missed the point.  It’s not only a love letter.  We’ve also heard a lot of people say it’s a road map for life.  Sort of.  Have you ever been trying to make a decision and gone to the Bible…..alright, I have a decision….I’m either going to move to Colorado or to Kansas.  God, where should I move?  Well, Colorado obviously!!!  Kansas or Nebraska??!!!  If you’ve had a specific question and you go to the Scriptures assuming that it’s a road map for life, I think you’re going to be a little bit disappointed.  We’ve heard other people say it’s a guiding ethic.  It teaches you how to live.  It teaches you how to make the right decisions under the rule and reign of God, and to that I say yes and amen, but it’s part of a smaller story; it’s not the story in its entirety.

So let me tell you what I think the story in all its entirety is about.  This is going to be the framework for the next five weeks that we’re going to be wrestling with, circling around.  I believe, in a nutshell, that the Scriptures you hold in your hand are a declaration of an unfolding plan of God that He is relentless and furiously committed to upholding.  That’s what the Scriptures are:  they are a declaration that God is on mission is His world to restore, to redeem and ultimately, to bless his creation.  The Scriptures declare to us what God has said he will do.  He will be faithful to accomplish.  Now, that’s a bigger story than God loves me and God loves you and let’s hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” is it not?  It’s a bigger story than this is a guiding ethic, this teaches me how to make good decisions.  It’s a far bigger story than this is a road map to life.  It’s a declaration of a God who’s relentlessly for his creation, not just humanity, but all the cosmos and he’s committed to restoring, redeeming, renewing, not some things, but all things!  Amen!  That’s the grand meta-narrative of what God is saying through his Scriptures.  And if we miss it….it’s not that our lives will go completely off course.  It’s simply that we’ll fail to live into all that God’s inviting us to live into.  We’ll get to the top of the mountain in the car, step out, say, “Isn’t Jesus wonderful and beautiful?”  Yes!  Agreed!  But we won’t have the landscape of this is how God did this in the beginning and this is how he carried it through through the nation of Israel and this is how he reminded us through the prophets and this is how the whole story led up to Jesus.  I don’t just want you to drive to the top of the mountain.  I want you to go on a journey with me.

In many ways, that journey starts in Genesis 1 and ends in Revelation 22, with one message:  God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is relentlessly about completing the mission he has set out to accomplish, which is the renewal of all things.  The restoration of his beautiful creation.  That’s what He’s up to!  That’s the story we find ourselves in.  Here’s what I want to do:  I want to do a bird’s-eye view of Genesis 1-11.  I want to set up shop and camp in Genesis 12.  Really, in Genesis 12, what you see is God pulls back a slingshot that he launches into humanity that’s a story that’s told from Genesis 13 all the way to Revelation 22 of God accomplishing what he promises to do in Genesis 12.  Let’s start at the beginning:  God created the heavens and the earth.  And he declared it’s good.  He blessed his creation: animals, plants.  He blessed it and said it’s the way I designed it and it’s good.  He looks at humanity and blesses humanity; he speaks a good word over them.  The third thing he blesses in Genesis 1-2 is the Sabbath, that it’s good to have a rhythm of life and he looks at his creation, steps back to admire it and goes it’s really good!  Genesis 3:  God’s creation rebels against his creator and the story starts to go awry.  They’re rebelling.  They’re saying back to God, “We don’t need you and, in fact, if we were in your position we could probably do a better job!”  Which is the heart of all sin!  They’re disobeying his authority in regarding his boundaries that he set out for their freedom and creates absolute chaos in his world.  So in Genesis 4 you have Cain who kills Abel and its this reminder:  Things are not as they should be.  You think your family’s messed up?!  From the get-go we have Cain who kills Abel.  He then goes and makes a city “outside” of the presence of God, east of Eden.  We have Noah and the flood, where God says he won’t contend with humanity, he’s just going to wipe it out!  He decides He’ll preserve Noah and will restart the process through Noah that Adam and Eve failed to accomplish and failed to do.  You don’t get too far before you realize the Noah isn’t all that much better!  When the flood subsides, he gets naked and drunk in his tent….and you go, “This isn’t going according to plan, is it, God?”  In Genesis 11, we get to this sorta peak of human rebellion against God.  They start to build this tower in Babel.  And the tower’s all about one thing:  making a name for themselves.  They’re in rebellion against this creator, this merciful creator who says I’m for you and I’m good and they go well, that’s great, BUT we’re going to make a name for ourselves.  And we’re going to get to you, God, and we’re going to overthrow you!

It’s interesting to note that in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, you have these sparks of grace in every single story until you get to Babel.  Adam and Eve are naked in the garden and God comes to cover them.  Cain rebels, kills his brother, but God says to him, “I’m going to be good to you and I’m going to protect you.”  Noah is preserved through the flood……you have these sparks of grace that carry the narrative forward from Genesis 1 to Genesis 11.  But when you get to Babel, the grace that we saw there—sparks of it—is absent.  It’s just not there. On one hand, God’s creation story continues to move forward, but relationship with God is broken and fractured.  I love the way that Gerhard von Rad made the observation after his exposition of Genesis 11 and Babel:  “Is God’s relationship to the nations now finally broken? {That’s the question we should ask at the end of Genesis 11.  Is God over this whole project he started?  Let’s be honest, if we were God we might be over it. Attempt after attempt after attempt….is it finally broken?}  Is God’s gracious forbearance now exhausted; has God rejected the nations in wrath forever?”  You need to feel the weight of that at the end of Genesis 11.  It ends with the story of this guy named “Terah,” who’s actually Abraham’s dad.  His name literally means “moon” in the Hebrew.  It was this metaphor for “the end.”  As if to say, this whole thing is over.

In Genesis 12:1-3, we find ourselves at a crossroads. I want you to feel the weight of that.  God, in justice, could have said, “I’m done!”  But what you’ll see is that he does the exact opposite thing and if we’re going to have a view for what God is doing in and through his creation, we need to understand Genesis 12.  At the end of Genesis 11 He could have rightfully said it’s over, but He doesn’t.  Listen to what He says as we see this picture of a God who is relentless:  (Genesis 12: 1-3) 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.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Now, you may have read that a hundred times.  My invitation to you today is to read it anew.  This is one of the two main hinges in the Scriptures to understanding what God is like, what God is up to, and what His mission and purpose is for all of His creation!  Listen to the way the great scholar, John Stott, talked about this passage: “These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.”  Christopher JH Wright, the great scholar, whose book, The Mission of God, has been largely influential in the development of this series, says this: “It is a pivotal text not only in the book of Genesis, but indeed in the whole Bible.”  Here’s what I want us to circle around this morning as we wrestle with the Scriptures that are about far more than a love relationship or a guiding ethic or a road map for life.  We wrestle with the Scriptures in saying this is the story that God is telling, not just in our church and not just in our country, but around the world throughout all time.  The linchpin to living in abundance (the life that God designed you and I to live) is embracing God’s mission!  The reason that this is such an important series is because it’s a series, first and foremost, about who God is and what God is like and what He’s doing in the world, but it’s also a series where we sort of take our puzzle piece of our 80 years and we look at his million piece puzzle and we go, “Alright, God, where does my little life fit in your grand narrative? Where does my little tiny story fit inside your massive story?”  (Don’t) miss the fact that God is on the move, and (don’t) miss the fact that for all of history God has said to humanity, “You’ve given up on me, but I’m not giving up on you.”  From the beginning of the story He says, “My intention is to bless and I will find a way to do that!”  If we miss that…we could be holding our little piece to the puzzle wondering where it fits for the 80 years, 90 years, 40 years, however many years we have.  But God’s intention is far more than you hold the puzzle piece and stare at it.  It’s that you would know what He is doing, that you would know where you fit and that you would partner with Him in what He’s doing, not just in the world right now, but in the renewal and redemption of all things.  Look up at me a moment.  If you don’t know what God is up to, you’ll have no understanding of or awareness of why you’re here.  And people wrestle with this…the deep longing and gnawing at their soul….if they could just understand that this is what God is up to, this is what God is doing in this world….that maybe, we’d be able to take that puzzle piece of our life and go, well, that’s where it fits in His grand narrative.  People wrestle with the meaning of life because they don’t understand the character of God.  When you do, you get invited into the abundance that Jesus says that He is for.

Genesis 12:  That’s where we’re going to be camping out.  I have three stakes that I want to put in the ground at the beginning of this series as we look at a God who is absolutely, whole-heartedly relentless and what God did to Abraham, I’ll propose to you, He does to you, too.  In your outline, when it says something about Abraham, I want YOU to apply these and receive them as your own.  Here’s the way God starts in his address to Abraham:  The Lord said to Abram….   This is epic!  I know it’s just a few words, but here’s what you have to understand about Abram.  Abram lives in this place called Ur.  It’s in Babylon, modern day Iraq.  Abram is not exactly the cleanest, he’s not the shiniest….God doesn’t come to him and say to Abram anything because Abram has it all together.  The Scriptures are going to say in the book of Judges that Abram is an idolator.  He’s a polytheist.  He believes in many gods, most of which he created with his own hands. God meets him in Ur of the Caldeans and He’s going to invite him to go on a journey with Him, but where Abram finds himself is in sorta the centerpoint of what we’d call idolatry.  Ur was known for having the ziggurat.  It was a pyramid shaped structure that had a temple on top.  What the Mesopotamians believed at the time was that the closer the temple got to God, the more God could hear you!  Luckily, we’re in the Rockies!  That was there conviction, so Abram’s life revolves around idolatry, probably revolved around the ziggurat of some sort.  Here’s what we learn in the story of Abram.  He’s the RECIPIENT of God’s PURSUIT.  He’s not the best guy for the choice as we’ll learn.  He’s not a knight in shining armor.  God doesn’t choose him because he has it all together.  God in his grace and mercy is firmly committed to His pursuit of the nations and He pursues and chooses Abram out of all the families of the earth to join Him in this missionary endeavor.

What we learn in Abram’s story is that your past does not and cannot disqualify you from what God wants to do in your destiny.  That’s what you see in Abraham’s story.  That God is at work in his disappointments.  God is at work in his failures.  God is the one who’s saying Abram, I am chasing after you.  This is not unique to Abram.  This is what God is like in history!  You look at Adam and Eve….God chases them down.  You look at Cain….God comes after him.  You look at the anointing and rising up of David….that’s God’s pursuit.  You look at God chasing down the Apostle Paul….meeting him on the road to Damascus….bright, shining light.  Falls off his donkey, meets the living Christ.  This is God at work.  It’s what God is like.  It’s why the English poet, Francis Thompson, declares that God is “The Hound of Heaven.”

Let’s take a step back a moment and ground ourselves 2015 today, right now….is it possible that this God who was pursuing Abraham is pursuing us??  Is it possible that this relentless God, at work throughout all times, for ALL the nations, may be this morning saying, “Will you join me in what I’m up to?”  Will you use whatever I’ve wired into your being for this story?  Your passions, your skills…’re like I just sit behind a computer all day or I’m just a….contractor…an electrician…a teacher…a mom.  God goes stay there!  My story’s big enough for you to find your place in it.  You don’t have to leave to be part of this story.  It’s way bigger.  He’s chasing humanity down.  Here’s the beautiful thing about it:  He does NOT tell Abraham come out and then I’ll talk to you.  He pursues him INSIDE and calls him out, yes, but His pursuit of Abraham begins exactly where Abraham is at.  Maybe holding an idol he’s carved with his hands.  Maybe sacrificing to one of the many deities that he bowed down to.  Maybe wondering, in disappointment, why they (he and Sarai) weren’t able to have the kids they so longed to have.  And God meets him right in the middle of that disappointment, that idolatry and He says, “Alright Abram, I’m doing something and I want you to join me.”

Look at the way this story goes on.  Genesis 12:1-2 says: Now the Lord said to Abram, {That’s key.  He’s in pursuit.}  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. {Don’t you love the detail God gives?!  Have you ever felt like this in life? Where God’s like come on. Come to the land I will show you. And it’s as though you want to say, “Well, I thought this was a road map for life! Point to the destination in the road map and I’ll go there.”  It seems as though God isn’t as interested in the map or giving you a path to follow as He is to giving you a person to follow.  Abram was like where is the land?  What’s there?  What’s waiting for me?  This is a huge request, God.  If I could get a few more details, then I’m in.  Raise your hand if you know that God doesn’t always give you all the details before he gives you the invitation.}   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.    See, Abraham is not only a recipient of God’s pursuit, but he is this BENEFICIARY of God’s PROMISE.  I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna accomplish this, I’m gonna bless you, I’m going to make you a great nation.  Abram, I know you’re old and aging and don’t have any kids, but I’m going to work in your life.  I’m going to give you land, He says.  I’m going to give you a legacy and I’m going to give you a blessing that you could not have purchased, that you cannot earn on your own.  What a beautiful story, isn’t it?  This gracious God pursuing humanity—it’s bigger than a love letter, it’s bigger than a road map, it’s bigger than a guiding ethic….it’s God at work.  Relentless!

Abraham receives his promise. And it’s this promise in Genesis 12 that shapes humanity’s destiny!  If you don’t understand Genesis 12, you will have absolutely no awareness when you stand on top of the mountain–who is Jesus–of all of the weight and beauty and magnificence that led up to that place.  It shapes humanity’s destiny.  God’s saying to Abram, “I’m going to give you land.  I’m going to give you blessing.  I’m going to give you legacy.” But notice there’s a condition attached to it, isn’t there?  What’s the condition?  GO!  So, when you leave, Abraham, if you’re willing to be obedient, not to the idols you hold in your hand and not to the family that you live with and the only thing you’ve known and the land that is really grounded in who you are for the few centuries, but Abraham, if you’re willing to leave….to leave your land….I’ll give you better land.  To leave your people, your ethnic identity.  Step out of that and I’ll create a lineage of faith that’s going to flow through you…if you’re willing to leave.  Did you know Abram’s name is mentioned in Scripture 300 times?  It’s mentioned in the New Testament alone, at least 2100 years after this promise was given, 74 times.  Did you know that 50% of the world’s population, right now, will trace their faith history lineage back to this guy?!  For one reason.  God said I have a promise for you, Abram.  But in order to activate the promise, you’ve got to step out and follow me.  Listen to the way Christopher JH Wright puts it: “It does not mean in any way that Abraham merited God’s favor and covenantal promises.  God addressed Abraham out of the blue without any prior activities on Abraham’s part.  BUT, Abraham’s response of faith and obedience not only moves God to count him as righteous, but also enables God’s promises to move forward towards its universal horizon.”  It’s as though, when Abraham responds yes,……it’s like the fireman walking over to the fire hydrant, hooking up the hose and just going booooommmm!

Genesis 12 is what God is up to.  It’s what God is all about.  God says, “Abram, I want to bless the world, but I won’t bless the world from within the world’s systems…the Babylon systems of pride and power.  I’m calling you out, Abram, that I might redefine who you are, recreate my creation in order to look back and then from the outside bless it, cover it, redeem it, call it forth to be all that it can be.”  This promise hinges on Abram walking out and following Him in trust.  Ultimately, the promise lands on the person and work of Jesus.  Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:16:  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring  It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  {He is the mountain we stand on.}  In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul tells the church that ALL of the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Him!  It’s the promise Abraham receives.  It’s the promise Abraham carries.  He’s a beneficiary of it.  So are you, friend.

Finally, last stake in the ground.  First is God’s pursuit.  Second is God’s promise.  The third is: 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.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  If we miss this, friends, we miss the heart of God.  When God comes to Abram to make him a promise, to pursue him, it’s not for Abraham’s sake alone that He encounters him, that He blesses him, that He speaks over him….it is for the purpose we read here of ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed.  What’s God up to in the world?!  If Genesis 12 is a slingshot that launches God’s redemptive promise in Israel, what is He up to?  He’s up to……BLESSING.  He’s up to benevolently recreating His creation that sin fractured!  That’s His plan.  That’s His purpose.  That’s the meta-narrative.  That’s the story we find ourselves in.  Is it a love letter?  Partially.  But it’s an invitation to be part of what He’s doing in blessing, not some of the nations, but ALL of the nations.  He’s a CARRIER, Abraham is, and so are you of God’s PURPOSE.  Abraham isn’t meant to just enjoy the blessing of God, but he’s meant to carry it.  He’s meant to distribute it.  He’s meant to declare it amongst the nations.

It’s interesting to step back from that and say, “Alright! How do we fit into that?”  We’ll talk about that over the next four weeks.  But I want to throw this out for you to chew on over the next few days.  Far before we have a church, God has a mission!  A lot of times we’ll wrestle with what is our mission as a church.  That’s a good question to ask, as long as we understand that in the end the church does not have a mission!  The mission has a church!  That shapes the way we understand why we’re here, does it not?  It’s not so much God, what do you want us to do in order to achieve the mission.  It’s: God, what mission are you on?  Why have you brought us together?  We’re not creating the wave….we’re just riding it!  Before He had a church, He had a mission and His mission has been going for all time, through all generations for all the families of the earth, the whole world is His desire to bless.  And not just people, but the cosmos that they might be redeemed.  The ground….buried in thorns…thistles….cries out for His redemption.  The story includes even the world.  Wow!  It’s bigger than a love letter.  It’s bigger than a road map.  It’s better than a guiding ethic.  It’s a puzzle piece of your 80 or so years……to look at it and say, “God, how do I fit in the story you’re telling?”  We’re not creating the mission.  The mission created us.  We’re not trying to dream up what we should do.  That’s not our goal.  We have our marching orders.  Be a blessing!!!  How about we don’t make it any more complicated than that?!  You can do that in your family, can’t you?  You can do that in your workplace.  You can do that in whatever job, field you find yourself in. You don’t need to be a missionary to be missional!  To live on purpose with this God who’s actively, in his creation, restoring, redeeming and renewing, not some things but all things.  THIS. IS. THE. STORY.  He is at work.  In all of our rebellion and all of our sin, He is at work to restore, to redeem and to bless His creation.  That’s awesome!

Here’s a little bit of missional math for you.  PURSUIT + PROMISE + PURPOSE = MISSION    God’s pursuit of you and me and the rest of humanity PLUS God’s promise that He culminates in the work of Jesus on the cross, paying for sin, offering redemption, being the first fruits according to the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15)…..the first fruits of His new creation PLUS His purpose in the world EQUALS His mission.  Now, is God’s love for you a part of that?  Absolutely, amen.  It’s just not the end.  His end is His love for all the nations and His desire to bless them.  God’s pursuing you, be receptive.  God still has a promise for you, be confident and live in it.  God still has a desire to bless the world through you, be engaged.  When you go to work tomorrow, go embracing and riding the wave of God started in Genesis 1 and coming to form in Genesis 12 and eventually breaking and blessing all the nations.  You see, friends, knowing that mission is at the heart of God allows us to see God’s heart.  His desire to bless not some, but all.  So in the past, maybe you drove your car up to the top.  Had your cup of coffee and donut.  Said wow! what a view!  You’re right, it is.  But over the next few weeks I’m going to invite you to maybe see it differently if we start at the trailhead and take a walk together.  Maybe we get a view of all that God is and has been up to in the world.  When we know what God is and has been up to in the world, we see His heart in a different way.

And you see His heart no better than in the table we’re going to come and celebrate today.  For 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been reminded of God’s pursuit of them.  His pursuit of them of giving His body and shedding His blood that they might be invited back into His story.  When you come to partake this morning, know you’re stepping into a stream that for 2000 years has been flowing.  But it started far before that…the declaration of God’s goodness…His desire to bless all the nations and His promise carried to the cross by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  Come and receive from this God.  Your puzzle piece fits in the narrative He’s doing.