The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 13

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The Trustworthy Nature of ‘Vox Dei’.

“By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23).

Taking refuge in Egypt had backfired. The famine in Canaan c.1500 B.C. was nothing compared to the cruel bondage the Hebrew people now experienced in Egypt. For four generations Pharaoh’s taskmasters had drowned out any sound of God’s call in the Israelites’ ears. The oppression had become unbearable. Then pharaoh published his decree: ‘All male Hebrew infants must be aborted—must perish in the river Nile.’

Perhaps it was the shocking nature of the edict that awoke the pregnant Jochebed and her husband Amram to the distant memory of God’s call upon their forefather and people, Israel. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring,” the LORD had promised. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you…” God had pledged.

So when their baby was born, Jochebed and Amram saw much more than a nameless, forbidden infant slated by the Egyptians for drowning. They saw a child of promise—one of the offspring of Israel, through whom God had vowed to bless all people. Defying Pharaoh’s command by hiding the baby was the natural response for two who valued God’s call over all others’.

We don’t know if any other Hebrew parents were also listening to God in the midst of their suffering. We don’t know if they, too, clung steadfastly to God’s promises or whether they had let the memory of His call slip quietly into obscurity through carelessness, bitterness or disbelief. Those who choose to follow God’s quiet leading often walk a lonely path.

We do know how prone we are to become deaf to God’s call when things don’t go as we had hoped or planned or felt God ought to allow. We know the argument: ‘It goes against reason to listen to a God who allows suffering to come into people’s lives.’ But there is a truer argument—one that Jochebed and Amram chose to believe and act upon, one that argues ‘God’s Word is faithful, even when everything seems to point against it and Him.’

Acting on this premise positioned Jochebed and Amram to make a creative decision. They hid their baby in the one place no soldier could ever look: the bathing pool of Pharaoh’s daughter. Washing led to finding, and—for the soft-hearted princess—finding led to adopting, naming and raising the baby Moses in the very household of the infanticidal Pharaoh. The word of Egypt’s most powerful leader was indeed no match for the call and purpose of God.

“ ‘Vox temporis’ (the voice of the times),” quotes Os Guinness of Thomas Oden, “is no more trustworthy than ‘vox populi’ (the voice of the people) when set against ‘vox dei’ (the voice of God).” Trustworthy, life-giving, loving and faithful is the call of God on every life, on yours and mine as it was on Moses’. The Scriptures are full of that call. The determining question is, will we be deaf and blind to it, following the edicts of the status quo, or will we step out in faith that God’s Word and call give life?

God’s Word over and over again reiterates the refrain that our lives are not ordinary; we are called by God to live extraordinary lives, lives led by God.

“Nothing will change your life,” observes author Tim Keller, “like hearing the voice of God through the Scripture(s).” Hear vox dei and live.

(Photo Credit: Retrieved from https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-mysterious-case-of-moses-parents/)

 

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The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 11

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To Hear is to Worship.

Jacob had been a schemer. As a young man he had blatantly deceived his own father in order to obtain the proverbial ‘blessing’, a divine endorsement he expected would ensure his health, wealth and tribal superiority. He had maneuvered a plan to purchase the girl of his dreams only to discover he had been out-schemed by his new father-in-law, Laban. An unexpected switch found him married to the weak-eyed sister of his intended bride. Jacob had schemed with regard to the wages he earned from the equally wily Laban, and then secretly escaped with Laban’s daughters, idols, and flocks in tow to make a break from the uncomfortable relational ties. He schemed for decades to save his own hide at the expense of family, friends, and the entourage who relied upon him. Jacob’s conniving nature seemed bent on achieving his name’s meaning. He was a ‘supplanter” and ‘heel-grasper’ to the nth degree.

But God would not abandon Jacob to his own miserable misanthropic ways. He would not stand by and watch Jacob dehumanize himself, lost in the downward spiral of his foolish pursuits. God would speak into Jacob’s life in a way that was completely unexpected and counterintuitive. God would call Jacob and rename him. No more was he to supplant those he envied. Never again was he to descend to relationship-destroying deception. Jacob must replace his identity as a manipulative, cunning heel-grasper with a new identity. No longer must he try to grab the world by the tail. Henceforward he must grasp only God. Now he would be called Israel (“he wrestles with God”).

We don’t need to imagine what this new identity did for Jacob/Israel. We’re told. Genesis 35 tells us that following this mid-life christening, Israel immediately put a halt to his travels and worshiped God. And not only then, but also from then on, worship would become the modus operandi, the defining practice, of the renamed patriarch. Some time later, after exacting a promise from his son that upon his death his bones would be transported back to Canaan—the land promised by God in connection with the Covenant—Israel again is recorded as commemorating the moment with reverential worship of God. So when in Hebrews 11 the author summarizes Israel’s life, it comes as no surprise to hear that, “By faith Jacob (sic), when he was dying…worshiped…” Hearing God’s call transformed Jacob’s identity, gave him a new lease on life, a new hope after death, and a new faith in the identity-giver.

The amazing story of how God spoke words of truth and hope into Jacob’s life are relevant to us today. God doesn’t call merely one man. He is not limited to one historical setting or one unique people group. God calls all whose hearts are soft toward him. He calls us and we find ourselves being changed into worshipers. He calls us and our new identity is as His workmanship, His children, His friends, His beloved, His heirs, members of one body, sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus, overcomers, the faithful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, sons of God, the persecuted, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the sanctified, the forgiven and the forgiving, seekers of God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, storers of heavenly treasures, loved by God and enabled in turn to love others. Read that again and worship Him.

His call to each of us is recorded throughout the pages of Scripture. His words are life and light, identity-giving and worship-producing. Today, God calls us to live by faith, but one day our faith will be made sight.

And in eternity, each of those who have faithfully listened to God’s call will be given a new name. They will be names upon which our identity in Christ will call us to higher and truer deeds of worship that bring ever-expanding glory to the One who gave everything for us. As a result, our worship of Jesus will be transformed into something far more thrilling, effective and productive than any of our feeble heel-grasping ventures came close to approaching on curse-bound earth. The new earth will be a place where our mother-tongue will be worship.

For now, we open our hearts to listen to God and to worship Him as we are able. That is enough for now. That is faith.

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.”

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 3

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Agreeing with God.

Do some hear the call of God better than others? “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did,” the author of Hebrews 11 explains, launching into the list of the first of those named as having heard and responded to the call of God. “By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).

We’ve been exploring the theme of God calling to people, and are given Abel as our first personal example. What we know from this verse and from the early chapters of Genesis where the story is originally recorded is that Cain and Abel were the first offspring of Adam and Eve following their expulsion from Eden. They symbolize all of humanity that would follow, blazing the two moral paths from which each of us may choose.

One day, Cain and Abel brought to God each of their respective offerings from the products of their labour. One brought the best of what he had. The other brought some of what he had. Each product was good, but it was obvious to God that the hearts of the two young men were quite different. Abel the younger had listened to God’s call and embraced the opportunity to offer God his best. Cain the elder had hardened his heart to God’s call and refused to respond with much more than lip service. God accepted the one but rejected the other. Cain was incensed by God’s rejection. Giving free reign to his growing anger and jealousy, Cain murdered his brother Abel and defended his action by arguing, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

How could such a seemingly innocent practice as presenting an honorarium to the Creator have such disastrous repercussions? The anecdote condenses for us in one concise account the state of affairs each of our lives mirror. God speaks to each of us—calls to us—in ways that allow us the opportunity to agree with Him or not. It all depends on our willingness to listen. Those who choose by degrees to listen to God’s call, to agree with what He says about the human heart, find faith growing. They believe that He is telling the truth when He says that no one can find peace with Father God except through Jesus. In contrast, those who refuse to listen, who choose to ignore or blatantly reject God’s call on their lives begin a downward spiral of hurting themselves and others. Abel himself still speaks of this great dichotomy of choices.

Those who have been willing to listen to God’s call and agree with Him have looked back over their lives and discovered God’s transforming power and goodness runs parallel to His voice. When God speaks sparks fly. Lives are given wings, darkness is dissolved by light, and death is swallowed up by life. This recollection of humankind’s early history on earth teaches us that when God speaks to us, it is because He has our ultimate good in mind. God’s call is always for the purpose of protecting us from our own tendencies toward selfward and otherward destruction.

What about Abel? Suffering an early and turbulent death hardly seems a fitting reward for one who listened and responded well to God. Where’s the fairness in that? Where was the good God seems to promise? Look again. It’s there in the middle of the Hebrews verse; “By faith,” we’re told, “he was commended as a righteous man when God spoke well of his offerings.” God commends Abel. He makes a judgment call on Abel, taking everything He knows about Abel into account: his heart attitude, his willingness to listen to God, his convictions put into practice even when it cost him dearly. All these aspects describe true faith. As a result, God judges Abel righteous.

This word ‘righteous’ is a key word in God’s economy. In means God has transferred, by the highest standard of justice that characterizes Himself, the guilt of that individual onto Jesus. In exchange, the perfect right-ness of Jesus is transferred to that individual’s account and God sees that person as right with Him. Abel—like his brother Cain—was intrinsically sinful. But Abel chose to listen to God’s call and respond. It was an act of faith, of agreement. And God respects that heart attitude so highly—not only in Abel but also in each of us who make a similar choice—that He offers eternal life to those who have listened to Him.

So we have before us a choice and a fine example in Abel who lives in eternity’s grand glory with His Lord. Softening our hearts to God’s voice is the first call of God. Then listening to and agreeing with what He tells us about Himself through His Word, the Bible, is next. And then obeying what He commands through His Word is the natural by-product that will mark our lives. Do you hear Him calling you?

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 2

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The Call to Be.

          Does God call people? We have said that God is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us is invited. That assumption alone may need to be explored further because for many people, ‘a conversation’ is the last descriptor we would apply to our experience of God. Let’s begin with something simpler then. Can and do people—normal people, people like you and me—hear God calling them?

We’re looking at what the writer to the Hebrews exposes in his eleventh chapter survey of historical characters who heard the call of God and responded. It begins with creation and spans several thousands of years pulling characters from the pages of the Old Testament who not only heard God’s call, but also responded. Why explore these examples of ancients who heard something they attributed to God? Firstly, if the same God who revealed Himself in the past reveals Himself today, you and I don’t want to miss out on the experience that makes earth-living worthwhile. Secondly—as will soon become apparent—those who heard God’s call and responded rightly became fortified by faith—a prerequisite for living beyond this life. And thirdly, hearing and responding to God’s call has an effect on God Himself—a mind-shattering connection we may never before have considered.

“By faith we understand,” begins the historical account, “that the universe was formed at God’s command so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Picture creation if you can as the singular germination of matter. All that we see today—from viruses to invertebrates, from subatomic particles to solar flares, from constellations to coronary arteries—all of it traces its emergence from nothing other than the energy of God’s voice. “Without Him (and before this moment) nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). He called and we fledglings of matter became. He commanded and we obeyed.

This is our historical beginning: God called all matter into existence—into being—and it was. From that first dawn of matter appearing from nothing but the rush of energy released by God’s call, we learn that God created humankind—called and breathed us into existence. It is the grandest and most personal example of Einstein’s formula. “So God created man in his own image,” explains the author of Genesis, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Vast amounts of intrinsic energy sustain our existence for one purpose: to exhibit His likeness. And in some mysterious way we please God by reflecting Him.

What do we make of this? How does this revelation inform the way we think about God’s call and how we ought to respond to it? We do not need to understand Einsteinian formulas to realize that God’s call is powerful; it has the potential to alter things. God’s call has the capacity to release into our lives hope and help, comfort, compassion and God-honouring living. Most of all, God’s call releases His own Spirit into our lives to make us the kind of people He first envisioned us to be. God’s call fortifies His hearers with Himself.

Don’t worry about not hearing that call with ears designed to catch the vibrations and sound waves of other created matter—God is not created matter, and His voice is much more than a collection of sound waves. His call must be heard primarily with the heart—a humble heart—with sympathies willing to shed every ear-numbing layer of pride that plagues our species. We have each heard His call to be—to exist—and obeyed it at our moment of conception. Now we must utilize faith to hear His call and live our lives in ways that exhibit God’s likeness.

And what is the epitome of God’s likeness in human form? Jesus. Jesus is God incarnated into human existence to enable us to visualize what a life perfectly responding to God’s call looks like. More than that, Jesus is God’s plan to rescue us from our foolish selves, to bring us back from the brink of self-destruction, and to give us ears to hear and hearts to respond to Him.

So let’s start with the baby step of faith that accepts that the universe was formed at God’s command—at God’s call. There will be more, but for now let’s begin to ‘hear’ that ancient call and commit our existence to our Great Creator for His good pleasure. Because nothing comes from nothing.

(Photo Credit: http://www.heartlight.org)

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.