The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 1

The Conversation.

How often do each of us think about life’s biggest questions, like: “Why is there something instead of nothing?”; “Does life have meaning?”; “Are there such things as right, wrong, and truth?”; and “Does God exist?”?

Folks at Google know how often we think those questions. It seems people use Google to try to find answers to them and Google has collected that data and mapped it—at least for those who live in the United States of America. On that map we can see the questions and terms related to life, morality and religion that each state of the union Googled more than any other in the past year.

Illinoisians predominantly pondered, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Floridians primarily wondered, “What is my purpose in life?” New Hampshirites chiefly inquired, “What happens when you die?” and Alabamans first and foremost asked, “What is love?”

Those are good questions, but googling is a superficial fix. If we want a bigger picture, the fullest, most expansive appreciation and understanding not only of the answers but of why we ask the questions in the first place, we need a higher authority than Google. We need to approach the ultimate authority on such things.

“Do not be scared by the word authority,” advises well-known author C.S. Lewis. “Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority…None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority” (Mere Christianity, p. 62).

An ultimate authority on life would have to be something or Someone who was around long before anything ever occurred here on earth or—let’s go bigger—in the universe itself. Let’s call the Great Being responsible for causing the universe to exist, for being the uncaused Cause, the One who truly knows the answer to our every question, God. And if God is the originator of our amazing but relatively puny minds that utilize language to ask deep existential questions, surely He is capable of answering them. God is the epitome of language. He is able to communicate far more to us than we have imagined—or even liked. It is not a case of René Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” but rather “God thinks, therefore I am.”

In fact, God is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us is called. It is from this point that we will spend a little time considering what has come to be known as ‘The call of God.’ The Bible proposes that God calls each and every individual on planet earth—including you and me—and we respond one way or another.

“What!” you exclaim. “I’ve never heard a peep from Him!”

Is that so? Perhaps it’s time to explore it. Let’s take a look at a list of individuals—“ancients” they were called—people free from the clamour of 21st century busy-ness, people who heard and in various ways answered God’s call. Let’s explore their experiences and try to tease out what they heard, what they didn’t hear, how they responded, and how that made a difference to their lives and to the lives of those around them.

Hebrews chapter 11 contains that list. It begins by defining the hearing of God’s call as an expectancy and certainty—a hope. It labels that hearing faith and explains, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Who commends them? God. What are they commended for? For seeing the invisible and hearing the inaudible; for setting aside the hesitations and skepticisms, the pride and rebellions that blind and deafen us to what God is communicating, to His call on every human life.

So join in the exploration. And if you are bold enough, come with an expectancy and certainty that delights God. Set aside the disappointments that have affected—maybe even soured—your idea of who God is. Ask God to open your ears, and then be open to a new kind of hearing, because we’re going in search of God’s call.


Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8


Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 20


First and Last.

“Grant,” requested the woman kneeling before Jesus, “that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” It was a bold request. Since the favour was not for herself surely she was justified in making her request known. Her sons, James and John, were two of Jesus’ closest companions. It was only reasonable they should reign with Jesus when He came into His glorious rule as Messiah. A mother knows best.

When the other ten disciples got wind of the discussion, we’re told, “they were indignant.” Why? Did they think it was an impertinent and audacious request to make of the Master? Or were they perturbed because they hadn’t thought to ask first? If roles of power were being handed out, perhaps, they worried, they were at the back of the line.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” explained Jesus in a tone that immediately caught His followers’ attention. They had begun to bicker in twos and threes over who had the best leadership potential. “Their high officials,” He continued, “exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The murmuring group became silent. Second to Jesus’ own prophesied death, this may have been the worst news the disciples had heard from this enigmatic man. Whoever wants to become great must be a servant, even a slave? This was not what they wanted to hear. What about power? What about being on the winning team? Let’s face it: we all want to make the most of the opportunity of our lives. What Jesus was suggesting sounded ludicrous then, and continues to irk us now, if we are honest enough to admit it. We don’t want to be anyone’s servant.

Jesus was describing a character trait that God not only values but also is mandatory in His economy. Jesus was modeling it, and every serious follower of His must accept and embrace it if we want to get on with Him. We must develop a heart and hands that serve others. Somehow it is easier to serve God than to serve other people. He deserves it, we reason, but other people do not. It’s an oxymoron; rather than focusing on achieving our own goals, we are called to assist others in theirs. We are being asked to set aside our own hopes and dreams to lift up others at our expense. It’s unthinkable!

Yet according to Jesus, servanthood is the key character trait for true greatness. God knows it takes this mindset and application to make us truly human. In lifting up others we somehow participate in fulfilling our God-given destiny. By giving up earthly power we position ourselves for eternal significance. .

It’s a hard lesson for those of us who think we deserve better. It is for me. There is something in each of us that wants the kind of greatness that rules, that has autonomy over oneself at least and perhaps some authority over others. That was what Friedrich Nietzsche envisioned in his Ubermuensch philosophy. The online Urban Dictionary states, “The Ubermuensch is an independent individual who has the power to banish herd instincts from his mind….The Ubermuensch is the opposite of Jesus Christ.” How true.

In Matthew 20, just before describing the servanthood of His followers, Jesus prophesied his own imminent path to greatness.

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” He explained, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” This was the calling by which Jesus was living, by which He would die, and by which He would be raised to His right place of eternal greatness.

While we are not called to die for the ransom of humanity nor to rise to Christ’s seat of honour, our calling is not dissimilar. Jesus explains we must, in a way, die each day of our lives: We must die to selfishness; we must reject “lording it” over anyone in a way that grasps power; we must find the joy in being last in line rather than in grasping for first and let God take care of the eternal rewards. This is true greatness. Ready to begin?

(Photo Credit: [[File:Feet washing, India, 1963 (16379126443).jpg|thumb|Feet washing, India, 1963 (16379126443)]]Mennonite Board of Missions Photographs, 1898-1967. IV-10-007.2 Box 4 Folder 14. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 15


Nature or Nurture?

There is a debate within psychology concerning you and me. Are we the product of our genetic/biological pre-wiring, some ask, or do our behaviours stem from external influences in our environment? Is it nature or nurture that makes us do what we do? Francis Galton (a contemporary and cousin of Charles Darwin) was convinced it was all nature, suggesting society could be improved by “better breeding.” Studies such as Bandura’s ‘Bobo Doll Experiment’ of the mid-twentieth century supported the theory that social behaviour is learned entirely through observation and imitation. Current thought is that neither heredity nor the environment act alone to make us behave the way we do—but rather they interact in a complex manner not yet fully understood.

In the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus faced a similar controversy. With clarity that was both unorthodox and unflinching, He challenged the Jewish teachers of the day who had come to Him with acrid criticism.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” demanded the Pharisees. “They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

This may sound anything but significant to us, but to theses Jews tradition was everything (Remember Tevye in ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’?). Jewish life was orchestrated around a complex regimen of rituals known as the kashrut or kosher law, including symbolic washing of hands before eating. The Jewish teachers were censuring Jesus for allowing—perhaps even leading—His followers to violate what was most sacred to them: tradition.

“And why do you break the command of God,” countered Jesus, “for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus went on to give them an example of their hypocrisy and injustice. He quoted the fifth commandment given to the people by God—“honour your father and mother,” a clear, straightforward command. Yet, he observed, you ‘teachers of the law’ have twisted your expectations of the people so that they must support you financially rather than supporting their aged and needy parents. What kind of tradition is that?

But He was not done with them yet. He wanted to help them escape from the corruption and delusion to which their external traditions had bound them. Without internal transformation tradition was only lip service.

“Listen and understand,” Jesus articulated carefully. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”

We may not understand at first how shocking and offensive this comment would have been to the Jews—to any Jew. He was saying that all the Jewish traditions that require cleanliness—the kosher and traditional cleansing rituals—are misused and misunderstood if people think by observing them they become ‘righteous.’ The core problem of humanity is not dirty hands or germs ingested when eating pork. It is a foundational problem of the heart.

“Don’t you see,” added Jesus, “that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus is making a very clear statement about humanity’s condition in relationship to God. He’s saying that the nature of each of us is to reject God’s authority over our lives. All of us have deep within us a core of rebellion against God. Do you see that in your heart? I see it in mine. God is more concerned with that inner bent of heart than clean or dirty hands, good or evil deeds. The only solution—if we want to have that core problem corrected—is what Jesus offers. He offers the great exchange: we give up our autonomy, and He takes the rap for our sin. The kind of freedom we need comes at a cost.

But lives lived by that reality do begin to notice something: autonomy becomes increasing dependence upon God; selfishness gradually gives way to compassion for others; emotional chaos and confusion are more and more replaced by peace that passes understanding; internal commitment becomes authentic outward expressions of truth and goodness.

So we’re left with a choice. We can ride with the easy idea that if we do a few good deeds we can be ‘good enough’ for God. Or we can admit and accept what Jesus offers: a new heart. What do we want—external or internal?

(Photo credit: By T.K. Naliaka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 8



Jesus had finished His thought-provoking Sermon on the Mount. At the end of Matthew chapter seven we’re told that the crowds of people who had come to hear Him “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority”—in distinct contrast to the weak and waffling speeches they were used to hearing from their religious leaders. They sensed the challenging message of Jesus was more than the charisma of a gifted orator. There was something deeper. His words pierced their hearts, speaking truth and demanding a response from His listeners. They sensed that Jesus not only spoke authoritatively—He embodied authority. Authority like this could get a person into trouble with the ruling establishment, though—the Jewish leaders were not known for being tolerant of any competition, and Rome itself was not about to share its power. This alone was enough to attract more than a few onlookers to follow Jesus. Perhaps this amazing man would use His authority to gain political power. Who would want to miss that?

As Jesus descended the mountain, the crowd following Him began to see what divine authority in action looks like. Not only did Jesus teach unlike anyone else, He displayed power unlike anything they had ever seen. Matthew chapter eight records eight interactions Jesus had as He moved through the lakeside town of Capernaum, crossed the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee by boat, and visited the remote region known as the Gadarenes.

First, Jesus met a social outcast; a man with nerve-numbing, limb-killing leprosy fell at Jesus’ feet asking to be made ‘clean’, a term referring to the complete absence of the disease. “Be clean!” Jesus commanded the outcast’s body—and it obeyed; the man’s nerves, blood vessels, soft tissue, lymphatic system and skin were completely healed and regenerated. Jesus sent the man joyfully on his way to present himself to the religious establishment to have his social banishment revoked.

Then, as Jesus entered the streets of Capernaum a Roman military figure moved purposefully toward Him—a commander of a division of one hundred soldiers. Perhaps the crowd following Jesus wondered if Jesus’ authority would find its match here. But the centurion, like the leper, had come for help. His attendant lay at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering. The centurion asked Jesus to use His authority to “just say the word” that would heal the suffering man without having even seen him. Jesus, delighted at the centurion’s faith, replied, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would,” and the servant was healed at that very hour.

Each interaction is the same. Jesus, confronted by diverse challenges, displays His authority over every aspect of the physical world. The sick and suffering find release from their captivity. Storms are stilled. Madmen find themselves back in their right minds. Nothing confounds or perplexes Jesus.

Why is this? The only plausible answer is that Jesus, through His display of authority over any obstacle or predicament, is earth’s Creator and Redeemer. Placing Himself in situations where God the Father leads Him, He, God the Son, reveals Himself by what He says and what He does. Nothing confounds or defeats the One who has all authority. And when the time was right, Jesus would submit Himself to being hung on an instrument of Roman torture, dying and returning to life, to display an aspect of His authority that has perplexed many: He has authority to take upon Himself the moral debt of every person on this planet; He has authority over death and over life; and those who accept His authority finds themselves recipients of an amazing gift of forgiveness and relationship with God.

What is the take-home message for us living here today? Check out the evidence. Read the record of Jesus’ life and ministry in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible. See if the authority of Jesus doesn’t strike you true. Then do what any sane person ought to do: bow before the author of life, accept His gift of salvation and hope, and draw close to the lover of our souls. As we submit to Jesus daily, we find that Jesus uses His authority to lead us and to bless us, and will continue to do so through eternity.

(Photo Credit: “כפר נחום תצלום אויר” by AVRAM GRAICER – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –



Limits of Tolerance

We in the West are a culture of tolerance. We love to hold undefined tolerance in the highest regard as a value of the utmost good. At least, we Canadians do. Tolerance is the epitome of twenty-first century political correctness. Any display of the lack of it is definitely not tolerated. Even our Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds it, doesn’t it?

Jesus has sent messages to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum in the book we call Revelation. We have seen how we can learn some truths from those messages. Now He adds Thyatira to His list of recipients, and He has a few thoughts on tolerance He wants to express. Listen to His opening words:

“These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” That’s a powerful self-description. Those blazing eyes are able to burn through superficial appearances, into the depths of our motives and core beliefs. Those solid feet are set as an immovable foundation of truth and authority. That is His brand.

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Jesus knows everything going on in everyone’s lives. You and I are not faceless, nameless beings in a sea of humanity. He knows and notices everything going on in our lives, above and below the surface. He recognizes our feeble attempts at faithfulness as of eternal value. That is His way.

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”

Jesus is not duped by deception. He is not fooled by flattery or misled by monikers. He is not bound by some mindless code of behavior that demands tolerance toward those whose schemes are at cross-purposes to His intents. In fact, He is distressed when people are willing to tolerate those who mislead others into godless behavior. This is no new twist on tolerance; we have it inbred in us. What child tolerates his toys being snatched away by another? What student tolerates a teacher who unjustly awards low marks? What parent tolerates a sexual offender abducting her child? What employee tolerates his contract being deliberately ignored or broken? We all have an inherent intolerance toward these injustices, because we understand they are abuses of power, dangers to lives, or work against the common good of society.

The menace of this self-proclaimed ‘prophetess’ Jezebel was in her influence over others. Her behaviors directly or indirectly taught others godless behaviors. Godless behaviors lead to godless mindsets, and godless mindsets to self-destructive lives. Jesus wanted the lives of His followers in Thyatira to be marked by sexual purity, spiritual health, and emotional joy; He wants as much for our lives too. Only He knows what is truly good for us. He engineered us; surely He knows what will bring us ultimate fulfillment.

“I am he who searches hearts and minds”, Jesus reminds us. There is no hiding from Him. That’s good news, knowing he will not misunderstand our motives – if they are good. But it’s bad news if we have been tolerating unsound beliefs, unwise teachings, or ungodly behaviours.

This news should be no stranger to us. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes limitations on certain rights. We don’t mention it often, but it’s there in black and white: the principles of fundamental justice prevail over individual rights. We are not to tolerate behaviors that obstruct fundamental justice. (See Part 1, Section 7: Tolerance has its boundaries.

So let’s be tolerant when it involves the good of others. But let’s not forget Jesus’ warning to stand up against the people and practices that obstruct principles of fundamental justice and human goodness. Jesus loves individuals, not propagandist hype. May we not use the concept of tolerance to disguise disrespect for the high and noble standards to which our Creator calls us.

(Photo Credit: Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons)



Time, Truth, and Human Existence (Rev.2:8-11)

The second letter Jesus dictates is written to a church called Smyrna. He speaks with an air of authority to these believers that rings true to our experience too. He describes Himself as having authority over time, truth and human existence. The letter to Smyrna is a letter to each of us, because, admit it, we all have issues with letting someone else, even God, have authority over us.

“These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell, you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”

Jesus is the Time Authority. He calls Himself, “The First and the Last” in the realm of time; He brought time into being, sustains the world within the parameters of time, redeems time for His glory, and is the host who will usher us out of time and into eternity one day.

At its root, Smyrna’s problem is time-related. The church is suffering, and the suffering seems to be endless. The believers in Smyrna are in constant pain, dire poverty, and their very lives are at stake because of their faith. The political climate is not a healthy one for these faithful few; the social stigma and price to pay for their faith is high and is not about to end soon. Jesus admits it. So if Jesus is the authority over time, why does He allow these trials to go on and on?

We know how the Smyrnans felt. Some of us have suffered interminably too: we’ve lost friendships, educational opportunities and job prospects because our faith has called us to be people of integrity. Time hasn’t changed. Pop culture has always attempted to silence those who speak of God’s authority. Jesus encourages us to “not be afraid”, but to “be faithful”. We mustn’t quit. He has time and us in His hands, and it will all come out right in the end. Jesus promises.

Jesus is also the Truth Authority. He calls Himself “The First and the Last” Word. He created the world with the first of words and he has the last say in everything. He knows truth so intimately, nothing and no one can deceive Him: not Satan nor his demons, not those who hide their evil behind facades of false piety, not even the lie that tempts us to think all roads to truth are equal. He alone is Truth. Allowing His Spirit to reveal truths to us through His Word, the Bible, is His exclusive right; the slander of those who seek to destroy is nothing but lies. As we suffer the corruption of truth in our culture of relativism, he who has the authority of truth calls us to endure. Hold fast to truth. His ways are right and one day all will be made right. We have His word on it.

And thirdly, Jesus is the Human Existence Authority. He is the “one who died and came to life again”. He has experienced everything the Smyrnans or we can ever experience, but without sin. He has lived the gamut of life and death experiences; there is nothing in living that surprises Him. Do we have pain? He did too. Have we been disappointed? He knew it deeply. Have we felt joys? Deeper still are His. Again, Jesus says don’t quit: don’t quit believing Him, don’t quit finding identity in Him, and don’t quit living life fully for Him. Jesus, the authority on life, has more life to give us than we can imagine.

Time, truth and life are all under the authority of Jesus. That’s what Revelation 2:8-11 reveals. While culture likes to intimate that there is no ultimate authority, that it’s all relative, Jesus speaks a different message. Don’t be intimidated, He says. I am there for you through all of life and truth and even beyond time into eternity. I give you authority to overcome every obstacle if you are faithful. I am with you. Our response to this challenge determines our outcome. Let’s take the risk, submit ourselves entirely to Him and see what He will do. Isn’t it high time we truly start living?