Abraham's First Encounter
Close Encounters Of The God Kind
Abraham’s First Encounter
The whole world seems to be mesmerized with close encounters with aliens. Accounts of flying saucers and alien abductions have become as common place as air. Whether you believe these accounts or not, they are becoming far too common place to simply ignore. So, as I thought about the theme of “Encounters With God,” I began to notice some strong similarities between professed close encounters with aliens and close encounters with God. Consequently, I felt impressed to use the subject of “Alien Encounters” as a launching pad for our biblical discussion of “Encounters with God.”
We are presently involved in a series of messages entitled: “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.” This title is taken from one of the most spectacular UFO science fiction films of all times, entitled: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
In this series, we are studying close encounters with God, by likening them to close encounters with UFO’s.
Whether you believe in alien “Close Encounters” or not, you must admit that anyone who claims to have had one is changed forever!
Similarly, when a person has a close encounter with the Jehovah God, it is an experience that changes that person’s life forever.
In addition, when a person has a close encounter with a UFO, it cannot be totally explained.
Likewise, when a person truly encounters God, something happens that he/she cannot totally explain or rationalize. They cannot totally explain it, because it is a spiritual or metaphysical experience. Therefore, he/she is required to use his/her spirit to leap beyond the natural and begin to entertain the supernatural, the miraculous, the ineffable, the transcendent, the eternal.
In first three sermons in this series, we worked hard to develop a definition for a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.” That definition is
A “Close Encounter Of The God Kind” is a face-to-face meeting with God that cannot be totally explained, but which—when fully experienced—will bring about a response of genuine worship or celebration, which includes the remembrance of a redemptive past and/or the conviction of a liberated future that changes people forever; causing them to move and grow by over-recording the intuitive tapes of their core belief.
This definition is very intellectually and spiritually deep and probably will require some tapes.
In the fourth message in this series, we explored one of the major barriers to experiencing a close encounter with God. We called that barrier: “The Brain Barrier.” “The Brain Barrier” is the American, Greek influenced tendency to separate and exalt the intellect above the emotions. Likewise, this message will probably require a tape.
(Now for the next twelve messages, I want to take the definition that we have developed and use it to evaluate twelve encounters with God, to see what we can learn. The Bible is full of wonderful encounters with the true and living God, which facilitate a legitimate experience that engenders a response of worship!!! And people in this postmodern world want to genuinely encounter and experience God!
Before we go on, we had better define the term “postmodern?” In order to understand “postmodern,” we must understand “premodern” and “modern.”
In the premodern or traditional phase of Western civilization, people believed in the supernatural, God, biblical values, absolute truth, etc.
The premodern era of America extended from our declaration as a nation to somewhere in the 1700’s.
In the modern phase of Western civilization, also called the age of Enlightenment and Secular Humanism, people believed in human rationality and reason, science, technology, etc. Science and technology were supposed to bring us into a great utopian society.
The modern era of America extended from somewhere in the 1700’s to somewhere in the mid-1900’s.
In the present postmodern phase of Western civilization, people believe in nothing except their own perceptions. They have rejected God, the Bible, absolute truth, reason, etc., and replaced them with confusion, meaninglessness, and virtual reality.
The postmodern era of America started somewhere in the mid-1900’s to the present. Some scholars see 1968 as the beginning of postmodernism, because of the student unrest on campuses around the world!!!
So, I have chosen twelve encounters that are interesting to me and I think will be helpful to you. Notice with me please Genesis 12:1-5.)
In the passage of Scripture before us, we see Abraham’s first encounter with God. Even though we are terming this “Abraham’s First Encounter,” it is not Abraham who is initiating the encounter, but God. Much like UFO encounters, we generally do not initiate encounters with God. We can put ourselves in situations where encounters are more likely to happen, but generally it is God who decides and then initiates an encounter. Don’t let that bother you, because God is far more willing to initiate an encounter with us, than we are to receive and respond properly to that encounter. Did you hear that? God is far more willing to initiate an encounter with us, than we are to receive and respond properly to that encounter. It is important that we recognize the uniqueness of an encounter with God and be prepared to respond properly. If we respond improperly to an encounter with God, it is possible to short-circuit or miss properly experiencing the encounter.
This encounter before us is one that is easy to overlook. There are no spectacular words or manifestations to alert us to the fact that something very monumental is happening. Yet, before us is an encounter with the true and living God. That encounter is signified with these simple words,
“Now the Lord said to Abram...”
We are much more familiar with Abram’s changed name, so I will use that one—which is Abraham.
One of God’s most basic and important ways of encountering His servants, i.e. meeting them face-to-face, is through communicating to them through His Word. The phrase “The Word of The Lord” occurs repeatedly in the OT. In the Old Testament, this communication could have been through His audible voice, through a dream, a vision, a prophet, etc.
Likewise, one of the most basic and important ways that God uses to encounter us today is through His Word. The two primary ways that this occurs, in our dispensation, is through reading the Word of God and hearing the Word of God through a sermon.
(Let’s deal briefly with these two different ways of dealing with the Word of God.)
· Have you ever been reading the Word of God and come face-to-face with the true and living God?
If you have, it is an experience that you will never forget! Unfortunately, most people have not had this experience often enough, and consequently, have quit reading the Word of God.
Now most of us ought to admit that we don’t get that much out of reading the Word of God. This probably has to do with approaching the Word of God from an intellectual perspective, rather than a relational and experiential perspective. The “paralysis of analysis” short-circuits an encounter with God.
Henry Blackaby, in his fresh new book and workbook Experiencing God, takes a good deal of time making this very point. Blackaby points out that if we want to experience God, we need to realize the fact that encountering the truth of the Word of God is an encounter with God. We don’t read the Word of God just because God commands it. We don’t read the Word of God just to develop religious discipline. We don’t read the Word of God just to be able to say that we do it, i.e. for religious pride. We read the Word of God to encounter and experience the true and living God!
Morton Kelsey said in his book Encounter with God, “The knowledge of this reality (i.e. spiritual reality)—like any other knowledge, scientific, mathematical, or religious—is given through experience. ...man’s reason, his logic and rational thought are essential in order to understand his experiences, ...but it is not our logic or rational thought that give us knowledge of any kind. If men are to know God, they must go back again and again to their experiences of the divine and find the knowledge that God gives to those who seek.”
As a matter of fact, one of the major Greek words for “knowledge,” ginosko, means to come to know by experience.
Therefore, every reading of the Word of God can be an experiential encounter with Jesus Christ.
But this is little understood, because we have not been taught and don’t understand that encountering the truth of the Word of God is more than an intellectual exercise. Encountering the truth of the Word of God does not lead to an encounter with God, but is an encounter with God! Why? Because God is truth, and Jesus Christ is the living incarnation of truth! The Bible says in
John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’”
· Have you ever been experiencing a sermon and come face-to-face with the true and living God?
I believe that most of us could say, “Yes!” and “Amen!” But, alas, once again, this does not happen often enough and sermons are endured rather than experienced. What is the problem? It is the same as when we read the Word of God—the “paralysis of analysis.”
We should not listen to sermons just because God commands it. We should not listen to sermons just because it is one of God’s primary ways of transmitting truth. We should not listen to sermons just because it is a tradition of most churches. We should listen to sermons because we want to encounter and experience Jesus Christ, Ho Logos, the living Word of Truth.
I deeply believe, and have struggled to transmit during this series, the belief that every sermon can and ought to be an encounter with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God has seen fit to come and meet us face-to-face through the reading and proclamation of His Word. We can’t make an encounter with God happen. It is His doing, but we can put ourselves in a more likely place to have an encounter with God by reverently and prayerfully reading His Word and by attending to a sermon with all of our faculties, while looking for God to speak to us. I open up my Bible every morning and I attend all services with my whole being and an expectation that God is going to speak to me—and He usually does!
(This brings up a very interesting question, “Why does God encounter us through His Word,” i.e. “for what reasons?” The answer to this question may help us to put ourselves in the proper position to respond properly to an encounter with God.)
It seems that God’s main reason for encountering Abraham is to give him a God-sized assignment. God changes people forever and causes them to grow, so that He might give them a God-sized assignment. This is not only true in Abraham’s case, but seems to be a biblical principle. One of the main reasons that God encounters His children is to give them an assignment, commission, or ministry!
This biblical principle is still true in our times. When God encounters us, through the truth of His Word, whether it is written or preached, it is because He wants to use us. This ought to generate joy in our hearts. The God of the universe, who is self-existent and needs no one, desires, for His own sovereign purposes to use us in the establishing of His kingdom. God encounters us with the truth of the Word of God to invite us to partner with Him in extending His kingdom. Tell somebody, “I’m in partnership with God!”
I said earlier that Abraham’s first encounter with God may be easy to overlook, but the tip-off that Abraham has had a genuine encounter with the true and living God is His response to the encounter. We know that Abraham’s has had an encounter with the true and living God, because what else could cause him to leave his family and hometown for a land that God had not even revealed to him yet? Only an encounter with God! Abraham’s encounter could not be totally explained. It did not make rational or logical sense. It was not illogical or irrational, but it was above human logic. It was super-logical, super-rational, or supernatural!
Nevertheless, when Abraham fully experienced His encounter it brought about a genuine response of worship. Now some of you have got to be saying to yourself, “Where do you see worship in this passage of Scripture?” Well, the worship in this case, was to obey God. Worship is giving God that which He is due. What God was due, in this case, was obedience. This is where many of us who have been thoroughly immersed in American theology miss the point. Worship is not just some protestation that one makes outwardly. Worship is giving God whatever He is due in each situation in our lives.
Worship should be our everyday response to everyday situations!
· When we praise God in the morning, after waking up and before we get out of the bed, we are worshipping God.
· When we give God the first part of our day in prayer and Bible readying, we are worshipping God.
· When we refuse to get angry with crazy drivers on our way to work, but thank God for His peace—we are worshipping God.
· When the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are traveling above the speed limit and we slow down in obedience to the Word of God, we are worshipping God.
· When we are tempted to lie on our timesheet at work and we refuse to do it, we are worshipping God.
· When we have plans to do something we want to do, but we acquiesce in brotherly love to another person, we are worshipping God.
· When we are tired on the weekend, but come to church anyway to honor God, we are worshipping God.
(All right, let’s talk about the specific response of worship that changed Abraham forever.)
The celebration, in this case, was the conviction of a liberated future that transformed the events immediately experienced—or that changed Abraham forever. In that moment, in which Abraham fully experienced his conviction of a liberated future, the immediate events of leaving home were transformed into an experience that would change his life forever.
(Now exactly how were the immediate events being transformed, i.e. how was Abraham being changed forever?)
Well, this genuine response of worship was overwriting the intuitive tapes of his core belief. Because we have recently studied Abraham, we can guess what is recorded on the intuitive tapes of his core belief. His core belief, from dealing with his idol-worshipping father in an idol-worshipping country, is that God is not trustworthy. His intuitive tapes were probably playing something to the effect of,
“Are you crazy? Are you going to leave your family and home, not knowing where you are going? Are you going to trust this Jehovah God? How do you know you can trust Him? You can’t trust Him? You couldn’t trust your father? You couldn’t trust the gods of Babylon? And you can’t trust this God!”
But, we know that Abraham’s core belief and intuitive tapes were overwritten, because Abraham became the “Father of Faith.” Abraham was changed forever. The intuitive tapes now played a new message, perhaps,
“God is proving Himself to be trustworthy! God is giving me some fantastic promises! I will take my chances with God!”
(There is much application for us here, but we only have time for a few points.)
When we encounter Biblical truth, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are encountering, i.e. coming face-to-face with God! Whether we are reading the Word of God or experiencing the proclamation of the Word of God, we cannot totally explain the miraculous encounter that is facilitated.
Nevertheless, we want to fully experience this encounter, so that it might bring about a genuine response of worship. We must enter into the encounter with all of our bodies, souls, and spirits, i.e. all that we are!
When we fully experience the conviction of a liberated future, the immediate events of our lives will be transformed. What we are facing won’t seem so bad. What we are facing will be transformed. We will be changed forever. The intuitive tapes of our core beliefs will be overwritten with biblical truth!
· Tapes of fear, distrust, self-contempt, etc., playing in our minds…
· Will be over-recorded with tapes of biblical truth, boldness, faith, and self-confidence play in our minds, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Now there is some bad news in the text.)
The bad news in the text is that encounters with God are costly. Abraham would have to sacrifice his homeland, his relatives, and his home of origin and his comfort, if he was going to obey God!
The same is true for us. When God gets ready to encounter us for the purpose of giving us a God-sized assignment, He often requires us to leave our homeland, our home of origin, and our homies.
· He separates us from familiar surroundings, so that we will be encountered with new surroundings and a new situation. This will require us to depend upon Him.
· He separates us from our homes of origin, so that we have to grow up and get to know Him as “Abba” Father.
· He separates us from our homies, so that our fellowship is with Him and Him alone.
When God encounters us with truth, there is a high cost to pay if we are going to respond in obedience. The cost is often relational, because our relationship and fellowship with God are more important than with any other person on this planet.
And keep in mind, “What we do says more about what we believe than what we say we believe.” American Christians know how to put their Christianity in doctrinal statements that are often different than their experience! Christianity is more than memorized doctrinal statements. Christianity is an encounter with the true and living God!
(So what? So what should we finally do with all of this? How do we finally apply all of this? Information without application leads to stagnation!)
I believe we should celebrate the fact that God is willing and able to encounter us for the purpose of partnering with us in the extending of His kingdom. Furthermore, I believe we should celebrate every encounter with God, whether through reading His Word or listening to His preached Word through obedience.
I celebrate God’s encountering me on various occasions through the truth of His written Word. I celebrate God’s encounter with me through the truth of
Ezekiel 2:1-7, “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!’ And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. And I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children; and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” As for them, whether they listen or not-- for they are a rebellious house-- they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.’”
This encounter with God continues to give me courage in the face of those of you who believe I am going in the wrong direction—even now! My encounter with God, through fully experiencing the living Truth of God in this passage, has over-recorded the intuitive tapes of my core belief and enabled me to preach through many difficult circumstances!
I celebrate God’s continually encountering me through the truth of His Word, both read and proclaimed, and I celebrate in anticipation of the future encounters that God has planned for me through His Word!
I trust that you will do the same!
(Now is the day of Salvation. Come to Jesus, Now!)
Call to Discipleship
 Morton Kelsey, Encounter With God, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1972, p. 239.