The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 17

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A Heart That Responds to God’s Call.

Rahab gazed out her window across the valley. On the far side of the spring-flooding river thousands of people were camped. These, Rahab knew, were the people of the God whom she herself believed was “the LORD…God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She new she was alone among her people in her belief; their god was their stomach, their pleasures, and their power of trade. But Rahab had suffered under her peoples’ abuses. There was no reason for her to love their god.

Glancing back out her window Rahab felt the shaking of earth and heard the rumble of boulders tumbling upstream the river Jordan. Then, like a swarm of ants she saw the multitude of Israelites crossing the riverbed, moving westward across the valley. She checked the scarlet cord hanging out her window for the hundredth time. It was still there.

Rahab had staked her life and the lives of everyone she loved on hearing the still small voice in her heart that assured her that Yahweh—the LORD—was the One and Only God, the one worthy of worship the one to whom her allegiance was due. Having harboured the two Israelite spies days earlier, Rahab had made her loyalties known and was willing to face the consequences, come what may. The author of Hebrews 11 records these first steps of Rahab’s faith—of her bold scarlet cord flying like a flag in the face of her old way of life—for our benefit.

“By faith,” we read, “the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” There are some loaded words and ideas in that verse, and it’s worth sorting through them, but primarily we need to hear God’s message. In this one short verse God teaches us three things about Himself: Who He calls; What His call creates; and How His call changes lives.

WHO GOD CALLS: God calls prostitutes. He calls the weak, the poor, the failures, the lonely, the abused and the misunderstood. He calls you and me, because no matter how we present on the outside, we’re all prostitutes of a sort. We’ve found ourselves—by force or by choice—wasting the great gift of our lives. We have believed one lie or another that we are victims, trapped in our life situation, or that we are gods with the right to create whatever self-interested life situation we want to pursue. But we’ve found ourselves wounded because of those lies. God’s call is for the Rahabs of this world, for you and me. God’s call sees us as the holy creatures He designed us to be, rescues us from the bondage we’re in, and invites us to join His people on a journey to become holy and wholly His.

WHAT GOD’S CALL CREATES: God’s call creates faith. His voice, His Word, speaks uniquely, kindling within receptive hearts something unknown to the hard and skeptical hearts of this world. Rahab herself recognized the role of the heart to lead people to a place where they either seek out God for help, or fully and finally reject Him.

“We have heard,” explained Rahab to the spies, “how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…(and) when we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:10,11).

Hearts melted. The courage of everyone in Jericho failed—everyone but Rahab. For some reason Rahab, melted heart and all, reached out to ally herself with God. In that moment, Rahab’s faith was born. Rahab’s belief was a simple heart act of obedience to God’s call.

HOW GOD’S CALL CHANGES LIVES: Rahab’s simple trust that God is LORD of all not only produced obedience in her heart. The obedience moved outward to her choices. She chose to protect the spies from Jericho’s evil king and ruthless soldiers. She chose to hide the men on her rooftop, lower them down by a rope through the window, and direct them to the nearby hills for a safe escape. These choices were the acts of a very different Rahab than the Rahab she had been before hearing God’s call. Later, when the spies returned to rescue her from the tumultuous town, Rahab’s life was changed even more dramatically. She gave up her business of prostitution, entered Hebrew society first as an alien and then married to a Jewish man, bearing him a son who would become part of the lineage of Jesus.

God calls. We can be sure of that. But until you and I admit that He calls us, that He creates faith in us, and that He changes our lives, we will miss out. We will miss out on knowing the God who made us, the God who loves us, and the God who wants to give us a new life. It starts with our hearts—hearts ready to respond to God’s call. It’s time to hang our scarlet cords, to plant our flag. That’s  responding to God’s call.

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WHO IS JESUS? #7

Recognizable.

The list we have been amassing of Jesus’ claims about Himself in John 8 is extraordinary in the truest sense— Light of the world, Supreme and Valid Judge, the Way, Deity, Sinless One, Above All. He is not the mere man some have identified Him as being. And He is neither silent about His identity nor is He one who may safely be ignored.

As Jesus deepens His conversation with the antagonistic Jewish hierarchy of His day we observe a phrase He uses twice in close succession. This is significant because while the phrases are identical, they carry with them two diverging results depending on how individuals respond to Him.

“(I)f you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” asserts Jesus (John 8:24), and moments later, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be” (John 8:28).

In both cases, Jesus explains that the claims He makes about Himself are not merely fantastic: they are authentic and they demand a response—a response from every person in His contemporary culture, but also from each one of us. He recognizes that those who have observed His life, who have listened to His words and have recognized the uniqueness of His claims, must and will make a choice about Him. That choice—like all choices—will be one of personal volition. In other words, it will be considered by God to be a choice each of us has made to believe the evidence Jesus presents or to discount it, to accept its implications or to reject it.

But rejection does not make Jesus go away—that is a blurred view of reality. That is like the perspective of an infant for whom only those within her half-metre range of focused vision exist. Dismissing Jesus and assuming He has therefore disappeared ignores something fundamental about our humanity; it is a denial of the connection between our free will actions and the real effects they have. Part of the value God created within us means that our moral choices have real significance, and that eternity is the stage through which those choices will be displayed. Jesus here gives clues to the ramifications of disbelieving Him.

Of the Pharisees, Jesus describes an unbelief that would become the death of them (“…if you do not believe…you will die…”). This is not the petulant verbal assault of a charlatan who worries his influence is fading. It is the warning of an authentic and reliable expert who sees the ultimate consequences of that disbelief. It is the ringing of an alarm that clarifies an eternal matter; an issue to which every person is accountable.

Jesus is saying that He has made Himself recognizable to each of us—no excuses. He will ultimately be acknowledged as the one who I claim to be by every individual who has ever lived—no exceptions. “For since the creation of the world,” explains the Apostle Paul, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Jesus’ adds something more. He foreshadows something about the future. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man…” He says. What is this reference to being lifted up? Within that phrase He is layering two ideas. From a historical perspective, He is referring to the impending execution to which He would be subjected—the crucifixion that would lift Him up on a barbaric cross for all to see. He is speaking of His own imminent physical death—not a perishing/spiritual death such as His warning to the Pharisees, but a physical death all the same.

But His second meaning refers to a time much further into the future, a time of which even we have not yet seen the fulfillment. This lifting up of Jesus will be not one of derision but of exaltation. It is described also by Paul who writes as a hymn: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

What is our best response to Jesus’ insistence that He is the One—the Recognizable One? It all comes down to living out our belief in Him—to humbling ourselves and accepting Him; to trusting Him in the sometimes-messy situations of our lives. He power to impact us is not only for eternity but also for today. He wants us to lift up our eyes and recognize Him as the true and worthy One who is who He says He is. He wants us to open our eyes and see Him. Here and now.

Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus – To reach out and touch Him – And say that we love Him – Open our ears, Lord – And help us to listen – Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus. (Hymn by R. Cull).

A SEEKER’S STORY, Part 3

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Part 3: To Believe or Not To Believe (John 3:12-18)

“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe;” Jesus challenged His nighttime visitor. “How then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” In this third look at a seeker’s shrouded visit to interrogate Jesus, we see the tables have been turned; Jesus now questions his examiner. He uses a rhetorical question to shed light on the real problem behind Nicodemus’ confusion – it is his refusal to believe. It is a challenge that transcends the moment in which it was asked.

Every one of us, here and now, is a recipient of that same question: “If you live life as if visible evidence is valid but invisible influences on life are suspect, how do you imagine you will have the capacity to understand eternal things?” It’s a good question for our empirical scientifically-based generation. We tend to make the assumption that scientific evidence bypasses and even negates the need for belief. In reality, though, there is a point at which we give mental assent to evidence before embracing that information as part of our domain, is there not? We believe a fact before we are willing to act according to it. Belief is an essential part of learning. It is the mortar for the brick construction of our life story.

Famous atheists would like us to believe (irony intended) that belief is an antiquated, self-destructive tool used only by fools and tyrants to access power. They lead us to believe that real, authentic, critical thinking occurs without the need for belief. They want us to believe that their form of thinking is without beliefs. Must we believe them?

Nicodemus, in fact, had earlier admitted a belief he held. He said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God…” He was willing to believe Jesus was a good man and a good teacher. That was easy. It required no investment of soul on his part to admit that. So why was he coming to see and question Jesus under cover of darkness this night? Did he suspect there was more to Jesus than just ‘good teacher’?

Jesus responds to Nicodemus by offering an explanation so clear and succinct it has become the pièce de résistance, the capstone treatise of the entire New Testament, if not the Bible. He says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Think those words through carefully.

For God so loved the world’—God’s love and compassion is directed to every soul on planet earth: that’s not only Nicodemus: it’s you and me and billions of others.

that he gave his one and only Son’—Jesus is the unique Son of God, not merely a good man or teacher, but fully God and fully man, the only one capable of paying the terrible moral debt humanity owed.

that whoever believes in him’—yes, belief is rational, foundational, essential and individual.

shall not perish but have eternal life.’—the new ‘born again’ spiritual life has literally no end. There will be no perishing or cessation of life when the physical body dies.

In Jesus we see a beautiful blend of ‘earthly things’ and ‘heavenly things’. He is God-with-us, and His offer of life comes with the condition that we believe in Him – the entrusting kind of belief that requires we ‘put all our eggs in one basket’. It’s all or nothing with Jesus. Start believing Him and there is no end to the changes that will begin to happen in every aspect of our lives. Belief is not for the faint of heart, but it’s everything for those who believe God could love them. Do you believe it?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg)

UPSIDE-DOWN LIVING (Postscript to ‘Praying the Beatitudes’)

UPSIDE-DOWN LIVING

Postscript to Praying the Beatitudes

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Different. Radically different. That is what Jesus describes His followers as being from what the rituals of Judaism demanded. In the cool, fresh air of a mountainside retreat, Jesus sat among those who followed Him and taught His culturally strange message. He revealed to those who were serious about following Him the expectations of God for the people of God. He promised blessings and rewards for those who would dare to live the upside-down gospel Jesus Himself modeled.

Poor in spirit. Mourning. Meek. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Merciful. Pure in heart. Peacemaking. Persecuted.

The choice to embrace this strange way of living would make no sense unless there was a loving Father in heaven, a redeeming Son at His side, and an indwelling Holy Spirit, focused on transforming lives for eternal realms of glory. It makes the mind spin just thinking about the intense reality of things unseen. We can only enter into this strange reality by taking one of many subsequent deep, quavering breaths and whispering, “I believe”.

It must start with faith, because it’s all upside-down compared to this world’s ideas of how to live life.

It takes faith to embrace the mindset that present discomfort is an integral part of future joy. Let’s look at this world’s average person. Let’s call her Susan. Susan has a body, easily observable, a mind, a little less observable, and a spirit, more or less hidden.

Susan is wired to want to live. From infancy she knew instinctively that if anything impeded her likelihood of survival, she must react or fail to thrive. Hungry or thirsty? Cry. Abdominal cramping? Scream. Lonely? Tears of outrage. As she has matured and aged Susan has tempered her expressions of discomfort, but her basic reaction is unchanged: avoid discomfort to survive.

So when Jesus enters the scene, describing His ideas of embracing discomfort, Susan squirms. Is she to pursue an impoverished, submissive spirit, an other-focused mind, and a body that does not withdraw from persecutions? What about her own survival? Her first reaction to this unnatural anomaly is to recoil. She procrastinates applying the practices of the unseen kingdom. She agrees in principle but is loath to burn her bridges of comfort and materialism behind her. She prefers the perils of passivity to the embarrassment of extremism.

In His classic style of perfect timing, Jesus speaks up. He speaks into Susan’s life by turning black ink into red in the book of James, challenging her, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does: (James 1:22-25).

(to be continued…)

Psalm 15:5b Be and Do

Verse 5b  “He who does these things will never be shaken”.

We’ve come to the conclusion of the Psalm, the prayer.  It’s a call to action.  It’s a promise.  It’s a challenge.  The prayer has been a fathoming of the Sovereign, holy God whose core descriptor is His absolute existence. He is; and we have become aware of it.  A high view and fear of Him is the fitting response.  We have benefited from His attributes: become blameless by Christ’s Blamelessness, are enabled to speak truth and love others by His Truth and Love, embrace integrity through His Wholeness.  Now it is time to “go and do likewise”.  Enough root-bound pondering; it is time to move into action or “be shaken”.

Soren Kierkegaard observes, “Christianity understands what it is to act and what it is to keep love incessantly occupied in action”.  It takes faith to act, to be motivated by our beliefs to behave on the basis of those beliefs.  Everything we understand God to be, we must be and do to others.  He is Love – we must love others.  He is Just – we must be just to others.  He forgives – we must forgive others.  He is not asking us to be automatons:  every day, every moment, we have the choice to be and do as He is and does.  But that choice is the fulcrum on which our faith rests.  The only alternative is to “be shaken”.

Shakenness is the condition of grave danger to the soul.  It is quicksand.  It is being “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  It is a building whose foundation is sand when a great wind arises.  This is not a threat by some great cosmic dictator.  This is the reality of the universe of cause and effect; if we know a thing needs doing, we must do it.

“God”, said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”  This causality is seen in our inward prayer, and it is seen in our outward life of action.  This is Psalm 15.  Our communion with God is the energy behind our life of love, truth and integrity.  Let us embrace this causality with everything we are and have.  Let us be and do.

LORD, your holy hill is both far away and very near.
Yet, it is not the hill I want and need, after all, but only You.
High and lofty One, fill me with Your Spirit.
Help me see you in and behind everything I am and do.
Dwell with me that I may dwell with You.