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Rhythms of Faith
June 9, 2002
by Tony Grant
"Eastern Standard Tribe"
Let us talk about telemarketersone of the most despised professions on the face of the earth. They call you at the most inconvenient time to ask you to buy stuff that you have no intention of ever buying. Now I confess that like most people I have not had good thoughts about telemarketers. I know that Jesus said we are supposed to love everybody, but I wonder if there should not be a special exemption to that commandment for telemarketers.
But this week I learned something that put a little different slant on the telemarketing industry. That person on the other end of the line may not be in this country. I realize that this is not new information, and you may have already surmised this, but the reason that telemarketer may be calling you at suppertime is that where he or she is it is three oclock in the morning. The reason that they may be offering you stuff that you have no intention of buying is that they are from a different culture. All they are doing is reading a little spiel that someone told them to read. That is the way things are in the age of global communications. But think about the people who are doing this kind of workthe telemarketers. They are totally out of sync and out of rhythm with their own time and place.
Only a few generations ago, we lived by the rhythms and cycles of our particular location on planet earth. Before electricity, our day started with sunrise and ended with sunset. In the spring, when days were longer, people worked longer--plowing the fields, putting in crops, taking care of livestock. In the winter, when the days were shorter, the time we spent working was necessarily shorter. There was a seasonal and daily rhythm to life. Now all that is changed. We go shopping anytime. People may be at work anytime.
In November 2001, Wired Magazine ran an article called "Eastern Standard Tribe" that explored this problem. The article mentions Leslie "Sly" Arinto of Manila in the Philippines, a telemarketer for Immequire, a call center that peddles credit card processing services to merchants in the United States. Arinto is part of the "Eastern Standard Tribe," who live in a world where the ordinary rhythms of a time and place are ignored. When the sun rises on the East Coast of the USA. Arinto is ready and waiting at her Manila desk. She works "the graveyard shift" to sell to "the daylight shift" of American business.
Whatever Arinto gains by living this way, and whatever she loses, one thing is certain, she lives according to a new rhythm. Arinto is part of a new kind of international company made up of executives, bilingual customer services reps and all-night telemarketers who, in order to earn a living, set their clocks to Eastern Standard Time.
Take another example. A few months ago, I called a computer support company. It was an 800 number but I assumed that I was talking to a person somewhere in North America--bad assumption. They were from Bombay, India. Think about this, I called on a Tuesday, but in Bombay, it was already Wednesday. To keep time with his work, the computer support guy sleeps with the sun and rises with the stars. Simultaneously, it is day to me and night to him; he lives in my tomorrow; and I in his yesterday.
Eastern Standard Tribe members choose to set their clocks according a different standard. They live out of step with their culture, with an eye on a world out there, valuing what they cannot see--like Abraham or Abram. It may seem like a reach to compare Abraham to a telemarketer and certainly in most ways they have nothing at all in common, but in one way they do. I thought about calling this sermon "Abraham and the Telemarketer" but that seemed a little flippant. But Abraham has one thing in common with a telemarketer. Abraham lived with an eye on a world out there, valuing what he could not see. His rhythm of life was set according to a different clock, a higher time zone.
Abraham of course did not set his clock to Eastern Standard Time. He set it to DST (Divine Standard Time). Probably he did not suspect the disruption that change would cause in his life. He moved the entire clan away from their home, embarking on a perilous journey to an unknown destination, with sheep, tents and slaves. This happened not once, but twice. First, to Haran to settle there. Later, he moved on to Canaan. Living on DST, Abraham had to learn a new rhythm to life.
In biblical terms, this rhythm is described as covenant. In the Bible, God's revelation of himself is always through the v covenants that he made with his people. The Hebrew word for covenant is thireB "Berith." It may be that this word was derived from "Barah"--which means "to eat." It was customary in the ancient Middle East to ratify a covenant or contract by eating a meal together. This idea is carried over into the NT in that our participation in the Lord's Supper is a participation in the new covenant of Jesus Christ.
A covenant by definition is an agreement or contract, but a covenant with God is more than that. In the Bible, all accounts of covenant-making between God and God's people have three aspects: First the covenant flows from God. God initiates and establishes the covenant. Secondly, the covenant establishes a relationship between God and people. A covenant is a bond. To be in covenant with God is to be in communion with God. Thirdly, the covenant creates obligations. A covenant implies obedience. We see all three of these elements in the covenant that God gave to Abram. Further, we see that this covenant applies to us.
I. God's Action
V1 says, "Get thee out of thy country." God speaks to Abram. This is the first element of a biblical covenant. People do not decide that this and this and this would make a nice religion, and thus construct their own covenant; rather, the covenant flows from God. If the call was given to Abram earlier in Ur, this is a repetition of that call. This showed Abram that Haran was not the land of promise. Even so, the time comes for us all when we realize that this world is not the world of promise, for we must go on to another.
"Get thee out"--that is what God said. "Flee, run away, escape--for your own good." Abram has been raised as a pagan. He was surrounded by idolatry. He must be separated from that before he can turn to God. This commandment that God gave to Abram is much the same that we receive from Jesus. We must separate ourselves from our sins. We must separate ourselves from an ungodly lifestyle before we can turn to the God who offers himself to us in Christ.
II. The Relationship
Vs2-3 of Genesis 12 are the second part of the covenant. These verses show us the kind of relationship that God established with Abram. Six promises are listed:
1. the first promise is: "I will make of thee a great nation."
At this time Abram had no children so this promise was great relief to him. It was also a trial of his faith. God promised him children, and he had none. Will he believe the promise of God? He did, and the promise was fulfilled. Actually, this was not fulfilled in the way Abram might have expected. Though Abram had physical children, they were not a great nation. It is rather his spiritual children who have become the greatest nation the world has ever seen.
Abram was the spiritual father of all who believe, Gentile as well as Jew. Thus, Romans 4:16: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all." This is symbolized in the birth of Isaac. As Isaac was born from the dead and barren womb of aged Sarah, so countless spiritual children of Abram have been brought alive from the dead through the power of that God who raised up Jesus from the grave. How was this miracle worked? By the power of faith. That is why the Apostle Paul can say in Galatians 4:28 "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." Paul said we are all Isaac. We are all children of the promise--by our faith.
2. The second promise of Genesis 12 is: "I will bless thee."
Many different kinds of blessings exist. I read somewhere that "blessed is the one who has a thick skin for she can be happy in spite of friends and enemies"--which tells us the kind of person that we think of as blessed, namely someone who is happy. Thus, what God is saying to Abram is, "I will be with you, and my presence will make you happy, no matter what your situation may be." If we walk in the way of Abram's faith, then we are Abram's spiritual children, and the promise is that Gods presence is the happiness of our lives.
3. The third promise is: "I will make thy name great."
In the previous chapter, Genesis 11, the builders of the Tower of Babel wanted a name. In their pride, they wanted a monument that would make them seem great to all the generations of man. That pride led to their fall. Thus, they got for themselves not a name of greatness but the name of Babel--which means confusion and failure. This is always the name that worldly pride gets for itself, but God shows us how to have a better name. God said to Abram, "Get out of your country and lose your name in your country, and I will make a greater name for you"--which tells us that the way to be great in the things of God is to have no desire for human greatness, but to desire only God. Abram does have a name. This covenant is fulfilled. Abram's name is the father of all those who come to God in faith.
4. The fourth promise of Genesis 12 is "Thou shalt be a blessing."
Abram is a blessing to us in that when we strive to be like him, to be faithful as he was, we are blessed.
5. the fifth promise is: "I will bless those that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee."
Abram is with God; therefore, God is with Abram. God is Abram's friend, and a friend to those who are Abram's friends. The opposite is also true. God is the enemy of those who are the enemies of Abram. This has a direct application to us. Will we have God for friend or enemy? God tells us how to have him for a friend. We should be on Abram''s side. That is, we should be on the side of faith.
6. The sixth promise is: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
This promise points forward to the Messiah. Jesus Christ is the greatest blessing that the world has ever had. He was the physical descendant of Abram. He was also the spiritual descendant of Abram in that he walked the way of faith when he was among us, and now we come to him in that same way. Thus, all that are blessed are blessed in Christ.
That does not necessarily mean that we are blessed because we do a lot of talking about Christ. Some commentators who view the Bible in a crude way divide up salvation into various dispensations. They say that different people were saved in different ways at different times. The Bible says however that no one was ever saved except through Jesus Christ. You might ask: "What about those who lived before Jesus? How were they saved?" Paul addresses that question in I Cor. 10:3-4. Speaking of the ancient Israelites, he said, they "did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." What Paul is saying is that the Israelites were never saved by keeping the law of Moses. They were saved by Christ. Again, in John 6:31-35, Jesus says that he was the manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness. Christ is, and was, the covenant of God through which the faithful people of the OT were made acceptable to God. We are not to think of Christ as limited by time or space. He is not confined to the rhythm of Eastern Standard Time. He operates on DST. Thus, those who have called upon God--wherever or whenever that might be--have the spiritual gift of faith, and turn to the power they know as God and are saved by Christ.
III. Our Obligation
In Genesis 12:4-5, we come to the third part of the covenant--our obligation. V4 says, "So Abram departed." He obeyed God.
God's command was that Abram would go to "a land that I will show thee." Abram does not know where he will go yet. He follows God and takes God's word for it--which shows us that when we deal with God, we deal in faith. We quit the things that are seen for the things that are not seen. The only way we can do this, the only way that we can learn about the spiritual realm of the unseen, is through the personal experience of faith. Ultimately a covenant with God takes place in the individual mind and heart. Real religion is always personal religion--because personal faith is the essential thing in all our dealings with God. This is true both in the OT and NT. In both Romans and Galatians, the Apostle Paul emphasizes that Abraham himself, the forefather of Israel, was saved not by his works of righteousness, but by his faith in God's promise. Thus, Rom. 4:3 "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." (cf GL3:6).
When Abram started toward Canaan, he took his family with him: Sarai, and his nephew Lot. He took everything he had, all his worldly goods, indicating that he would not return. He cast all upon God. He risked everything for God. This tells us something about Abram's faith. It was an action faith. It was a practical, working faith. This puts to rest that old argument about whether we are saved by faith or works. The answer is that it is not faith or works, but a faith that works. Real faith always has works. Abram had real faith. How do we know that? V4 tells us how we know--"so Abram departed." He obeyed God. If we have faith in God, we obey God.
Let us conclude then: the covenant of Abram began with God and contained six promises that established a relationship between God and Abram. It was based upon Abram's obedient faith. We can be part of that same covenant if we come to God in the same way, in Abram's way. We can be part of Abram's nation. We can be blessed and a blessing--if we have an obedient faith. Amen.
Doctorow, Cory. "Eastern Standard Tribe." Wired, November 2001, 155ff).
Stockman, Steve. "The command and the promise about our youth." Rhythms of Redemption. stocki.ni.org/caress/com-mand.phtml. Retrieved November 26, 2001.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 8/13/02