The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 5


Heeding Warnings.

The call of God is attractive when it’s a message of love and grace, of forgiveness and mercy, of hope and acceptance. That kind of call is heartwarming. It lifts us up and encourages us when we are down and discouraged or weak and defenseless. But sometimes the call of God demands more of us, requires a degree of grunt work on our part to obey; it takes us the next step further in our process of spiritual growth and development. Sometimes God’s call entails warnings—even condemnations—and is designed to evoke in us a response of holy fear.

Introducing emotionally charged words like these is risky business; they are not culturally acceptable words these days. Warnings and condemnations brings to mind the ‘Hell, Fire and Brimstone’ sermons we cringe in recollection of hearing about in the post-enlightenment days of our Western culture—sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ address of the 1700s. Are harsh words and concepts like these really an aspect of the call of a loving God?

“By faith Noah,” the author of Hebrews continues in his eleventh chapter discourse, “when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

What was is that distinguished Noah from all the rest of his culture, that saved him and his family from peril while possibly millions perished? From what we read here in Hebrews and in the more detailed account in Genesis, Noah’s life was characterized by a “holy fear” of God. His worldview, his mental set point, his philosophy of life was distinguished by the acceptance of God as the rightful ruler of his life. He attended carefully to everything he had learned about God and applied that knowledge to his life. Genesis tells us that Noah “walked with God” and was both “righteous” and “blameless among the people of his time.” Those are terms used in the Bible to describe people who live with integrity the principles of God-honouring behaviour—whose day to day choices reflect their understanding of God’s character and His prerogative to set guidelines for human living, whose hearts admit God’s sovereignty.

In contrast, the culture around Noah was characterized by ideologies we currently call atheistic or agnostic. People had no fear of God. The Genesis account describes the situation from God’s perspective.

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Note how it is the heart attitude of both Noah and his contrasting culture that God observes and to which He speaks when His call is a warning.

Noah’s response to God’s warning call was the next thing that distinguished him from his surrounding culture. Noah listened. He heard the bad news, believed that God was serious, and then as Genesis records, “did everything just as God commanded him.” Now that took faith. Building an ark of enormous proportions was one thing. Passing on the warning call of God to his community was another, perhaps even more daunting task. It is quite possible he feared for his life and liberty among those who would have considered his message ‘hate speech.’

We know the rest of the story. Noah completed the ark and filled it with his family, land creatures of every kind, and enough food for a year of crazy confinement; his culture refused to accept the rescue and perished enmasse. Later, when the floodwaters had subsided, Noah and his entourage disembarked their floating quarters and were welcomed back on terra firma with a rainbow, symbolic of a promise of blessing.

Did you notice how the Hebrews account of this momentous event ends? It explains that Noah “became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” This phrase is crucial. We might even say it describes the essential core of the Bible’s message, of God’s call to each of us as individuals. It speaks of faith, of becoming an heir, and of righteousness. It is saying that when we by faith choose to hear God’s call—be it of grace and love or of warning and judgment—and heed it, we become heirs. And what do we inherit? We become recipients of Christ’s righteousness, of His perfect heart, and we are accepted into an eternity with God. This is the result of listening to God’s call.

The warnings, like the expounding of God’s love and grace, run throughout God’s word. So let’s take advantage of the opportunity to take them to heart. Let’s hear and humble ourselves and obey God’s directions. Then we will become people characterized by faith, by holy fear, and (O great mystery) by righteousness.


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)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 2


Love is Patient.

We’re asking, “How do we love the culture around us—co-workers, neighbours, friends, family, those who offend us, those who reject us, those who may even be changing our culture for the worse—how do we love them in a way that pleases God?”

We’ve seen what love is not. It is not big talk, brassy proofs, or bold campaigns—not that big, bold productions are necessarily bad. Look at God’s intrepid exhibition in creating the universe: stars, planets and moons flung into vast, meteoric order so that one small planet could sustain life. That’s mettle with infinite love at its core. But we’ve observed that when we humans try to replicate the show, it comes from a heart of fear: fear of being found out as frauds, fear of failing, fear of missing out, fear of not realizing our unique selves.

We are infatuated with the idea of love; we think expressions of passion and stagings of happy-ever-after romantic matches are love. We think love is something we fall into, something of which we are passive recipients, something we must release with open hands when we no longer feel its fire. We use the idea of love to justify actions that promote our own satisfaction regardless of the long-term consequences.

In what colours does the ‘Love Chapter ‘of the Bible paint love? If we still expect a pyrotechnic revelation of love, we’re in for a shock. Rather than love as the roar of a waterfall, we’re shown it as the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “Love is patient,” the Apostle Paul begins. The words painstakingly inked onto the original papyrus would have taken no small amount of determination to inscribe. The grain of the stripped, flattened and glued papyrus leaf would have tended to draw the ink in strange directions like bicycle wheels caught in a rut, careening off their intended path. It took resolution to write those words. It took patience.

But patient writing with ancient inscribing materials is nothing compared to patient loving. Patient loving, explains the Apostle, must persevere against the grain of our natural earth-bound inclinations. What is patience? How do we begin to grasp the facets of this complex and difficult-to-practice aspect of love?

Patience begins with looking at God, with recognizing the vast eternality of His existence. “Be still and know that I am God,” He commands through one of the psalmists. To be patient is to be stilled and silenced in awe of the One who is Supreme. He is. Inhale the thought of Him.

Next, patience grows through learning about the patience of God Himself—the perfect, ultimate form of patience. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” explains another psalmist. One of the breathtaking results of reading through Scripture is seeing examples of God’s great patience in the lives of ordinary folk—people like you and me. You and I are the Adams and Eves, the Abrahams, Sarahs, Rebeccas and John Marks of this century. Like them, we stumble along making messes that God patiently works through to align history with His great plan to bless this world. God never tires of taking us back into His arms after each of our breakaway attempts to do things our way. He patiently heals the wounds with which we’ve pierced ourselves, helping us understand the beauty of soul He desires to create in us.

And finally, perhaps most, difficult, patience matures when we step into the lives of others, when we treat them with the sort of patience God has shown us. Practicing patience means no one is beneath us because we recognize how far God has reached down to us time and time again to lift us up. Practicing patience is seeing all people as inherently valuable—nothing they say or do can change our mind that they are made in God’s image. No wound they inflict is unforgiveable. Practicing patience is…practicing. It is a trial-and-error sort of loving, recognizing we ourselves are imperfect, and that while our attempts to love are imperfect, we will keep on trying. For those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, there is the inside help of His Holy Spirit, counseling us, awakening our consciences, moving us into situations where patience is required. For those who have not His Spirit, patience is a much more difficult virtue to practice.

If we want to love we must grow patient. We must look at God and His great patience with us; we must turn outward to express that patience to those who need love: our families, friends, peers and co-workers, drivers on the roads of life, people online and off the political centre—none are immune to the loving effects of patience. God be with you.

(Photo Credit: By “Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0,

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 1


What Love is Not.

A plethora of ethical and moral causes pulls at our hearts and consciences. Social media is full of it. Attempts to rescue endangered species, stop pipeline expansions, damn intolerances, tax polluters, and challenge our passive disinterest inundate the news. How do we determine which petitions and persuasions should take hold of us and move us to act? Some sound far-fetched but many sound so good. There is something within us that wants to be part of goodness winning over vice, of justice prevailing, of culture being reinvigorated or reinvented. We may even feel deep inside that our justification for living will never be truly realized until we have impacted our culture in a noteworthy way.

It is here that the Apostle Paul speaks across two millennia to address this contemporary issue: How do we love the culture around us—amid its myriad of issues—in a way that pleases God?

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” begins Paul in his well-known chapter on love, “but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Why does this very famous ‘Love Chapter’ start with what love is not? Maybe because it is written specifically to Christians(!). Perhaps it is because one very subtle inclination is to make a spectacle of our love—an external statement for everyone around us to see. A motive of wanting to control others or be acclaimed by them replaces the motive of love. But the Apostle Paul is saying that these displays of ‘love’ are not really love. In fact, they are nothing more than a grating, irritating cacophony in God’s ears. God sees our hearts and He sees what’s going on deep inside. He recognizes that our sharp and loud voices, some of our bold projects, and many of our religious programmes have more to do with the opposite of love.

What is the opposite of love? Read it between the lines of the first three verses of I Corinthians 13. The opposite of love is fear—fear that moves us to try to control people and manipulate situations, our own selves, and sometimes even God. We can try to control others by speaking eloquently, by spouting all the most recent scientific, psychological, or social information on a subject. We can try to control others by launching campaigns, or by parading in front of others how compassionate we are. We can try to control ourselves by hiding the fear we have deep inside that we might not be of any worth. We can even try to control God with our good works, by thinking we can put Him in debt to us—to cause Him to do for us what we demand of Him. But it is all about fear.

One option is to demolish what many feel is the source of fear. Slogans like ‘No Fear’ champion the supremacy of human ability and achievement. The problem with this method of dealing with our innate fear is that in order to claim human supremacy, we must, by necessity, reject the supremacy of God. There is something connecting our fears with our ideas of a God who demands certain things. The basis for our morality then shifts from “God says…” to “I say…” in order to dismantle fear this way. But is this way of thinking consistent and livable?

The other option is to accept God for who He is and watch that create a change within us from the inside out. “God is love,” explains the Apostle John. “Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:16-18).

When we accept the truth that our innate fear is based on our intuitive knowledge of having sinned against God, we begin to step out of the shadow of fear; and when we remember Jesus’ debt-paying death on our behalf, we move from fear into the light of God’s expansive love. This is the necessary preamble to loving others. We must first accept God’s love for us God’s way: Jesus’ personal goodness projected onto us is the sole basis for God’s loving acceptance of us. Returning to this truth again and again is what drives fear away from its hold on our hearts. It is what restrains us from our gong-sounding, cymbal-clanging tendencies to be in control.

So when the tendency to be ruled by fear returns, when we are tempted to silence it by taking control of the situation and of others, let’s choose to rest in God instead. Kay Bruner, counselor and author, savors: “Fear says, ‘Don’t do it! You’ll be powerless!’ Love says, ‘You’re Beloved.’



Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 10



People and their perspectives change. Our favourite story characters are those whose names begin as synonyms of fear, or sorrow, or selfishness, but are transformed to become heartwarmingly brave, or joyful, or generous. Much Afraid, the main character in the somewhat obscure allegorical novel ‘Hind’s Feet on High Places’ embodies this type of character. She must travel with her unchosen companions Sorrow and Suffering, rejecting the insinuations of her daunting enemy Craven Fear, as she follows the call of the Shepherd. Eventually she receives her new name, Grace and Glory as do her companions, now renamed Joy and Peace. These are no euphemisms. Each transformation of character represents a complete shift in perspective. Each person becomes as unlike his or her earlier self as an awakening is from a dream.

In Heth, the eighth stanza of Psalm 119, something similar, perhaps even grander is happening. Centred in the middle of the stanza, the phrase “Though the wicked bind me with ropes…” gives us a picture of our natural lives. Conflict, tension, fear, perhaps even hatred and revenge are our natural reactions when we have any sense of bondage in life. This is why as children we each learned to use the word “No!” so powerfully. But the psalmist sees something astounding happening in his life when he invites God into it: everything becomes grace and glory.

“You are my portion, O LORD; I have promised to obey your words. / I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. / I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. / I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. / Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. / At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws. / I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts. / The earth is filled with your love, O LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:57-64).

Questions help us get to the heart of any exploration of God’s Word—help us focus on discovering what is going on. Three questions arise after reading this section of the psalm, questions about the psalmist, about God, and about us: What is happening here to the psalmist, in what way is God central to what is happening, and why is it relevant to us?

Firstly, we see the psalmist is speaking directly to God. It’s a prayer of sorts, a prayer in which the psalmist is reiterating a covenant in which he and God are involved. He reminds God of His promise (“to be gracious to me”), and he pairs it with his own promise back to God (“to obey your words…(to) consider my ways and (to) tur(n) my steps….(to) not forget your law”). We notice that the psalmist is not being mercenary here; he’s not saying, ‘Look here, God, I’ll obey your rules but in return you have to give me something.’ No, it’s very different than that. The psalmist is observing that God is the initiator of a relationship described by love: “The earth is filled with your love, O LORD;” the psalmist is doing nothing more nor less than responding to that love. It’s not the psalmist saying, ‘I’ve worked for you all these years, now I want my pay, my inheritance.’ Rather, he is affirming—as loving relationships do—‘It’s you that I love; not what you can do for me, just you.’ We hear that in the very first verse (“You are my portion, O LORD”).

Secondly, we see Jesus mirrored—or better yet hologrammed—into the psalm as the Great Psalmist Himself. Who more than Jesus considers the Father His portion, who commits Himself to obeying the Father’s will with such complete success? Who alone can truly say, “I have sought (the Father’s) face with all my heart”? And who is the greatest “friend to all who fear (God)”? Which leads us to our third consideration.

How is this all relevant to us? The psalmist has tried his best, but really, he couldn’t obey God as fully as he wanted to. The old sin nature was too ingrained in him to be as perfect a promise-keeper as he would have hoped. But Jesus is the perfect promise-keeper; He is the truly wholehearted One; He is the friend of sinners; His perfect sacrifice made the way to deal with our sin nature in a way that frees us to truly turn our hearts and steps toward following God’s heart and will and covenant with us. As Timothy Keller says, in Jesus we go from “fighting a war we cannot win to fighting a war we cannot lose.”

Only through Jesus can we find the transformation of our lives that renames us from Much Afraid (or Much Unreliable, or Much Hurt, or whatever other identity with which we have struggled) to Grace and Glory. God’s grace and glory works itself into and out through our lives in a way the psalmist could only imagine. Thank God we are on this side of Christ’s great redeeming work.

(Illustration Credit: Painting by Daniel Gerhartz)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #24

Prayer Acknowledging God’s Character-building Work in my Life

(Paraphrase of Psalm 138)

You are worthy of praise, God. In Your love and faithfulness You are changing me for good; You are reforming my heart from the cold, hard, fractured thing it was into a steady, focused core of purpose that moves my life. Instead of chasing every zephyr of this world’s fleeting promises, I’m becoming wholehearted in singing Your praise. The more I acknowledge Your greatness, the more I find You making me strong from the inside out.

In moments of despair or discouragement I call to You for help. You answer me by assuring me You are near and by making me stouthearted and peaceful within. I am beginning to see that You want me to look at troubles differently than as distressing inconveniences; when my focus is on You, LORD, troubles are reminders of Your steady intention to remake me.

I wish we all would turn to You, God. I wish we would turn off the blaring cacophony of this world’s propaganda and listen instead to the life-transforming words You speak. Rather than building a flimsy scaffolding of self-esteem through proud monologues, we would join with the throng of the faithful, singing Your praises. Bowing to Your claim on our lives, we would find You endowing us with strength to stand.

As I walk in the midst of trouble, preserve the inner core of my being, LORD. Make it impervious to my foes. Cause fear and doubt to flee. Replace reckless abandon and selfish striving with self-control and kindness.

I see that with one hand You protect me from my old enemies, and with the other You create in me character. In speechless wonder I know You have envisioned good things for me. You will be faithful to complete and fulfill Your purposes for me, developing in me the character of Your own precious Son, Jesus.

Your workmanship, LORD, is good. Continue Your creative work in me until I am everything You want me to be. Your love, O LORD, endures forever.

(Photo Credits: By NN – Töpfer woodcut from year 1641, Public Domain,;

By Milartino – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,;

By Mcnultyc1 – Own work, Public Domain,



Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #14


Prayer of Blessing (Paraphrasing Psalm 128)

The only blessing worth having comes from You, Lord-from fearing You, from holding You in highest esteem, and from living the nitty-gritty of our lives by Your principles and power.

For one thing, our labour, when it is focused on Your kingdom, results in a grand spiritual harvest; we benefit both now and for eternity. We become more Christ-like and we see others join in on the journey toward holiness.

For another thing, our families produce a social harvest of loving relationships, husbands, wives, sons and daughters complementing and caring for one another with uncommon compassion. It’s like a feast at a dinner table, abundant, nourishing and comforting.

We truly reap what we sow. Fear of You, Lord, produces all this blessing and more. I want this blessing for others too, Lord. I want to say to them:

‘May the Lord bless you with His presence all the days of your life; may you have eyes to see His kingdom come in your life now and for eternity; may you find that life with God is life to the fullest; and may you bless future generations by passing on to them the great inheritance of the gift of Jesus.’