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 4

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Communing with God and Escaping Death.

Community requires communing. That may seem obvious to most, but perhaps we need a reminder when it comes to our relationship with God. His existence is so vastly different from ours we may forget that a relationship of intimacy with Him is our life’s chief purpose. Communing with other people means talking and listening to each another, expressing hopes, dreams and core values, and seeking to understand each others’ perspectives. Communing means living life together, walking alongside one another. It’s what families and good friends do.

The author of Hebrews 11 had earlier reminded us of Adam’s son Abel, the first human to experience death. As if to swing the pendulum in the extreme other direction, he now tells us about Enoch, four generations after Abel’s time. “By faith Enoch was taken from this life,” he begins, “so that he did not experience death;” What? Is he sure? As if to explain it another way, the author adds, “he could not be found, because God had taken him away.”

To be sure this is strange. Enoch was what we might term ‘translated’ from his earthly life into eternity without having to experience the usually-essential process of human death. His experience was unprecedented. So what do we know about Enoch and what is God communicating to us about this man’s life that would be useful to people like you and me. Is it a how-to lesson on escaping death?

We have only tidbits of information about Enoch—a few verses in Genesis and a couple verses here in Hebrews. What we know about him is just a condensed, compact synopsis of his life, and that’s a handy thing to have. From it we learn six things about Enoch: he accepted God’s existence, he believed God rewards people who earnestly seek Him, he walked with God, he pleased God, and finally, he did not experience death.

What we are not explicitly told, but can surmise by these six descriptors, is that Enoch lived his life attuned to the voice of God. He had a heart attitude that was open to God, ears perked and piqued to hear anything about God or from God that could be heard by a mere man. He believed God’s promises and obeyed God’s counsel. Consequently he lived his life in such a way that he is described as walking with God. Does that sound like a relationship that would please the heart of God? Does it sound like the kind of life you and I could live?

Well, yes and no. No, it’s not possible for anyone to live a life pleasing to God—at least apart from faith in the work of Jesus. While Enoch live millennia before Jesus’ earthly life, we can safely surmise he believed God’s promise to send a Redeemer some day—a sinless offspring of sinful mankind—one who would crush the head of sin and eventually destroy death itself. Enoch’s predecessor Adam was still living in Enoch’s time, and had preserved the memory of this promise of God for Adam’s progeny.

But it’s not only no; it’s also yes, Enoch shows us that we can live for God and please Him if we will listen to Him and humbly come into a communal life with His Son Jesus. This kind of living relies completely on the life of Jesus living inside us, interpreting the truths of His Word so we can apply them, and ultimately providing eternal life for us after we die.

“…Enoch’s example,” explains Blue Letter Bible’s Don Stewart, “provides hope that believers will achieve an ultimate victory over death.” So in a way, Enoch’s life story is an instructional manual on dodging death and gaining life. Communing daily with God—seeking Him, listening attentively to everything He wants us to know about Himself and about ourselves—is the source of eternal God-present life.

The call of God inspires faith, and faith open hearts to the call of God. “Come near to God,” invites the Apostle James to all who will listen, “and he will come near to you.” Be part of the community.

(Photo Credit: Meghanbustardphotography)

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 6: John 14:8-26; Holy Community

Vs. 20 “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

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re·al·ize transitive verb \ˈrē-ə-ˌlīz\ become fully aware of (something) as a fact; understand clearly.

Have you ever woken from a dream only to gradually realize your dream was not real? What had seemed so vivid and logical now no longer makes sense? You might even laugh at the crazy incongruity of the events of the dream as you begin to compare them to your waking reality.

Little episodes like that remind us that while we are truly amazing creations, we humans are also rather frail in many ways, such as in discerning reality.  I think most of us would say, however, that we want to be aware of reality; we don’t like the idea of being self-deceived.

Jesus talks about a reality that is revealed to those who honestly seek relationship with Him. He has revealed truths of limitless power, indwelling counsel, spiritual vision, and eternal life (see previous four blog posts). Now He introduces a reality new to our experience, but not new to Him. He says we will realize that there is a holy community within the Godhead, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but more than that, He says we believers, disciples, praying people, are invited into that community.  He will later go on to describe it in terms of a body.  It’s like He is the head and we are all the parts (different forms, different functions) of His body. It’s an analogy to try to help us realize the kind of diverse oneness in which we were designed to partake with God.

It’s baffling really; it’s a mystery beyond comprehending. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I believe it’s true. I believe He is Truth and I’m just waking up to the reality of this truth. A wise follower of Jesus once put it very succinctly, ”Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  Christ in me?  I am awestruck.  This is hope and glory. This is the thrilling reality our culture tries to replicate with all its extreme endeavors, but cannot even remotely approach.

We previously talked about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling counsel, now we have the Father and the Son in whom we live and who live in us. This reality can get confusing if we are still thinking in terms of this material world. But it’s time to wake up. Get out of the bed of our superficial, here-and-now thinking. Shake off the mist of our sleepy, temporal mindset.  Yes, the movements of our daily living must happen: we wake to alarms, dress for our tasks, earn our living and try to live meaningful lives.  But let’s not be deceived into thinking that leaving the world a better place is all there is to life. Our purpose for living is in entering into this amazing holy community of God’s existence.

Let’s get on our knees and open ourselves to God living in us. Let’s get real.