The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 8

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Longing.

Sometimes the surest argument for the existence of something is to see the existence of its opposite, the twisted and distorted version. Suffering the discomfort of wearing poorly made shoes heightens our desire for well-fitting, high quality footwear. Ownership of a lemon of a car reminds us painfully that not all vehicles are equal. Obsessions and addictions remind us that healthy appetites can become deformed and contorted until they destroy us. Some enterprises derive their profit by deliberately twisting wholesome longings to create in their clients insatiable desires. If we are honest, we’ll recognize the dark side of desire—that when desire is corrupted it begins to rule us.

We all have desires. But by untwisting the distortion of consumer-mentality-gone-wild cravings, we can imagine that the capacity to desire in its purest form is something God gives us for our good. There are clues. Have you ever sensed a longing arrive like a mist and then disappear as suddenly, hinting of something good—really good—that you failed to fully grasp or realize? Sometimes it rides on the heels of a glance at a majestic mountain, or in the smell of spring, or in the sound of a child’s voice. Many have experienced it.

“We are homesick most,” muses author Carson McCullers, “for the places we have never known”;

“It is a longing for home,” adds poet and Nobel Prizewinner Hermann Hesse;

The author of Hebrews 11 recognizes this phenomenon in each of the women and men of faith who opened their hearts, minds and ears to the call of God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died,” narrates the first century author. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

God is not ashamed to be called their God. What an amazing thought. A longing for something and Someone much bigger than ourselves is exactly what God created us to pursue. That longing is God calling to each of us, “Come!” King Solomon once mused that God has “set eternity in (our) hearts;” it delights God when He sees people track that heart-deep longing to its supernatural end—eternity. It is obedience to God’s most primal call in its most essential form.

Obeying this call of God, this desire to be brought into community with Him, is not only delightful to Him, it is essential to our completeness as human beings. All these people were still living by faith when they died, narrates Hebrews. They died. The great and final disquiet that each of us must face is our own personal, physical death—we cannot escape it. We must face it from one of three perspectives: We can devise a story to camouflage the problem of death; we can own the problem of death, yet see no solution; or we can admit the problem of death and accept God’s solution.

The first perspective, says D.H. Lawrence, is a lie, “…which brings us to the real dilemma of man in his adventure with consciousness. He is a liar. Man is a liar unto himself.” Os Guinness adds “the folly of the modern mind is to make the precision of scientific thinking the model for all human thinking, so as to forget the bias, self-interest and moral defect at the heart of all thinking.” We tell ourselves the story that after death we will cease to exist, or reincarnate as a greater or lesser being, or become part of the vast ocean of divinity, or something like that—anything to still our restlessness.

The second perspective, although rarely held, leads to insanity. “God is dead,’ moaned Friedrich Nietzsche. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves…?’ Nietzsche spent the final 11 years of his life in a state of mental insanity—the only possible outcome for the problem of considering an existence devoid of God and morality.

The third perspective is to trust God and the revelation of His Word implicitly—to trust that God created us as His image-bearers; to believe the revelation that we all have hearts bent in rebellion against Him; to believe that our rebellion leads us to become godless, Hell-bent and Hell-bound; to trust that Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and unique resurrection is our only hope to regain community with God and a solution to our dis-ease with death and longing for eternity. This perspective alone relieves us from the restlessness of the death dilemma. This is the outcome of listening to God’s call. It gives us rest. The list of men and women of faith is a list of many who listened, longed, died, and are with God.

“You have made us for Yourself,” prays St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

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The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 7

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Enabled.

“By faith Abel…”; “By faith Enoch…”; By faith Noah…”; “By faith Abraham…” So launches the author of Hebrews into the historical examples of people who listened to God and let faith guide their lives. There is much to learn from these individuals’ lives. We’ve most recently looked at Abraham’s but we’re not done with him yet; twice more “By faith Abraham” is mentioned. His place in the ‘Hall of Faith’ has much to teach us about how a person actively heeds the call of God.

“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”

The key word here is promise. The promise was an oath God had made first to Adam and Eve and then expanded upon to Abraham. Adam and Eve heard it as a promise that God would crush the head of Satan’s venomous lies; Abraham heard it as a promise to bless all peoples through his family line; much later Isaiah would hear it as a promise that God would enter Abraham’s line as a God-in-the-flesh infant and be “pierced for our transgressions”.

Each individual who heard the promise, heard it in terms and language that spoke to his or her need. The promise always spoke of something grander, more incredible and incomprehensible than they could fully envision. But He also enabled them to believe it if they set aside their cognitive pride. So when Adam and Eve or Abraham believed the promise they heard, their faith was based more on God’s faithfulness than on their own comprehension. They had a seed of understanding of what God meant, but the greatest reason to believe God was that God is believable.

God recognizes this challenge for those of us who listen to Him. To Abraham He gave both a broad promise and then more specific commands to enable Abraham to enter into the partnership of realizing God’s promise. Listening carefully to the broad overview of God’s plan gave Abraham perspective; and then listening to God specifically spell out Abraham’s part in the grand scheme of things gave Abraham an opportunity to demonstrate his faith. He was to make a general habit of trusting God for his welfare, and then to take specific steps of obedience such as building a family line only through his wife Sarah. God was asking Abraham to show his faith by acting on what God had revealed to him—be it general or specific.

Abraham did pretty well in living out his faith—that’s why he’s mentioned here in Hebrews 11. But he wasn’t perfect. He made several foolish mistakes in the realm of trusting God implicitly. One of Abraham’s errors led him into a scheme to produce a long-awaited son through a woman other than Sarah. But God’s promise entailed specifics in that case and the specifics included Sarah. Abraham’s attempts to steer and maneuver events outside of God’s commands led to marital tension and a social conflict that has festered for thousands of years between the Jewish and Muslim peoples. Abraham learned that attempts at self-enabling—manipulating either the generality or specifics of God’s call—lead not to improving upon God’s plans but only to complicating our own lives.

Eventually Abraham learned patience and trust, and God enabled him to participate in conceiving a child through Sarah. Hundreds of years later a great grand-descendant was born named Jesus and in every respect He was the complete fulfillment of The Promise. Abraham did not live to see that day, but his trust in the faithfulness of God to ensure that day would come enabled Abraham to become a recipient of his great grandson’s redemption.

God’s over-arching promise to bless anyone whose hope lies in Jesus, the Promised Redeemer, is for us too. The promise enables us to become humans capable of eternity. Like Abraham, we must listen to God’s words. We must admit God’s rights of sovereignty and accept His plan for our redemption. And we must live in submission to His call on our lives—a call clearly expressed in the letter to the Hebrews and in the rest of the Scriptures. It’s a promise with eternal potential where simple, life-changing listening is the means of access. Find a Bible and determine to listen. Then find yourself becoming enabled.

(Photo Credit: By Arches National Park – Delicate Arch at Night with HeadlampUploaded by AlbertHerring, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29670283)

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 6

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Is it Reasonable?

Our premise is that God speaks, that He is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us it seems is called—a conversation broad enough to include everyone ever conceived in human history, and specific enough to be heard as if you and I were the only ones here on planet Earth. In this series we are looking at the record in Hebrews 11 of men and women who listened intently to God’s voice and how in consequence the course of their lives changed. But were those changes necessary? Was it reasonable for those people to try to hear God? Did it make logical sense to go to such extremes? And most importantly, is it reasonable for us today to listen for the call of God?

“By faith Abraham,” begins verse 8, “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Imagine Abraham. The current phenomenon of leisure travel that we know today did not exist in Abraham’s era. There were virtually no resources out there to ensure anyone’s safety and survival when traveling. When Abraham heard the itinerary God had planned for him, he knew it would be anything but easy. Or safe. There were no consulates, prophylactic travel meds, or Fodor’s guides to the territory through which he would be traveling. God had not even told him the details of where he was going. Abraham would need to exchange security for uncertainty, community for loneliness, and the life of a landowner for that of a nomad in enemy territory. Listening to God would, within two generations, reduce his descendants to 400 years of slavery nowhere near the land God had promised to Abraham. Was it reasonable to hear and obey God’s call? And more to the point, is listening to God a logical, sensible course for any of us to adopt for our lives?

Firstly, we must admit that all decisions have risks associated with them. We cannot guarantee outcomes. Sometimes our choices have wonderful results—intended and unintended ones. Relationships flourish; opportunities abound. Other times our choices spin and spiral back to bite and devour us. Wisdom teaches us that when we take carefully calculated risks based on the trustworthiness and reliability of a person or course of action, we put ourselves in the best position for good outcomes. Listening to God is no more a risk than refusing to hear Him or admit His right to our lives. What could be more logical than attending to the Creator and lover of our souls?

Secondly, while God rarely reveals to us the short-term implications of obeying His call on our lives, He does promise long-term blessing. While Abraham suffered many hardships as a result of obeying God, he gained something far greater: the friendship of God, a right standing in God’s sight based on his trust in God’s provision of a Redeemer, and a true home in eternity with the community of other God-followers. Each of these outcomes was not promised only to Abraham. God promises them to you and me too. Our vision for the distant future is part of the impetus that drives us to listen to God.

And thirdly, it is a self-evident truth that personal growth requires us to look and listen to wisdom outside of ourselves. We are not the source of knowledge. We admit the need to submit ourselves to instruction from others in every realm of life from arithmetic to zoology. How much greater is our need—and the associated benefits—of learning from the source of all life, from God. The more we open ourselves to God’s voice and message, the more we will be enabled to grasp it, absorb it, digest it and integrate it into our lives. And it is imperative that we do this because of God’s goal for our lives.

“(Y)ou must realize from the outset,” explains author C.S. Lewis, “that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.” “When troubles come along,” continues Lewis, “—illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation…God is forcing (us) on, or up, to a higher level; putting (us) into situations where (we) will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than (we) ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us” (Mere Christianity).

By all the laws of reason and logic, listening to God and obeying Him makes sense. It is reasonable. It is the best of risks, the surest of long-term investments, and is our only hope of becoming wholly complete people. It is not easy. It is not safe. But can you imagine anything truly better for us?

(Photo Credit: By Maria Ly – Flickr: rock climbing @ lei pi shan, yangshuo china, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16221809)