The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 10

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The Blessing

Now Isaac, Abraham’s son, had become old. His eyesight had faded, his joints were stiff, and he had by now passed off the day-to-day responsibility of the running of his estate to his middle-aged twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Aged as he was, there was one thing that had never left Isaac’s mind: The Blessing.

The oral teaching and tradition of this one particular call of God, passed along to Isaac at his mother’s knee and later at his father’s side, was a careful record of the Blessing. It would be another five hundred years before Moses would commit to writing the Blessing that provides the infrastructure to the book of Genesis. Isaac had heard about his ancestor Adam whom the LORD God had blessed with the ability to be “fruitful.” The Blessing had been imbedded into the curse upon the serpent through whom Adam and Eve had rebelled against God, vowing, “(Eve’s) offspring…will crush your head.” God had spoken the Blessing over Abraham, promising, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” and had reiterated it to Isaac word for word. The Blessing was tied inextricably to offspring—to one specific Offspring.

The Blessing was not the same sort which other peoples invoked or to which other people groups aspired. Isaac’s wife Rebekah had come from a family who had transacted her wedding to Isaac with the typical tribal blessing of “…may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” That sort of blessing was based on survival of the fittest, on having the top competitive edge, on producing the greatest number of progeny as an insurance policy for ethnic survival. It was a cutthroat ‘us over them’ mindset.

God’s Blessing was different in several ways. Firstly, the Blessing was to be carried through a select line of people within the larger ethnic group. Abraham heard God speak it and from him the lineage must begin. In time his younger son Isaac heard God speak it. Later Isaac’s unlikely son Jacob would hear God speak it. The Blessing insisted a particular family line must be the channel to reach the objective. God designated this lineage specifically and through unexpected individuals to transmit and convey the Blessing toward a specific end: One particular Offspring. It was this Offspring who would crush the head of the serpent who had invaded the Garden of Eden, and dissolve the curse the slippery devil had diverted onto earth’s inhabitants.

Secondly, it was designed to benefit all people—not a select ethnic, social or political group. God had promised, “All nations on earth will be blessed,” with an emphasis on the word ‘All’. Nothing like this had ever been considered before. Disparate peoples were fanning out over the globe, each bent on their own survival and, at times, dominance. In contrast God’s Blessing speaks of a unified human glory—a joy of which every human heart has heard the inner whisper, and for which some yet dare to hope. What did the angel bespeak to the shepherds on the holiest of nights this earth has beheld? “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The Blessing is offered to all.

Thirdly, the Blessing foreshadowed the arrival of God Himself entering human history as one of its own. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” the eyewitness John would one day recount.

And fourthly, the Blessing impacts and continues to transform all—without exception—who have submitted to its power. Passive and a little foolish in his favouritisms, Issac learned to love both his sons and was successful in moving the Blessing forward. “By faith Isaac,” the 11th chapter of Hebrews chronicles, “blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” While unknown confounding influences were at play as Isaac blessed his sons, the Blessing found its mark as determined by God. Forty-one generations down Isaac’s lineage, the Blessing would be fulfilled in the life of Jesus. The author of Hebrews records Isaac’s part as “by faith.” While he could not have imagined Jesus, he performed his part of the blessing as an act of faith that God has the future in His control.

And so it is with us. We see Jesus as the object through which the Blessing is realized, but we do not yet see our promised future Blessing, our eternity with Him. We too must walk by faith. As we daily open our ears and hearts to Him we step forward in faith into the Blessing as Isaac did. Confounding influences may seem to hold sway over events in our lives, but God is faithful. His Blessing will not be hindered. Come to the Blesser today.

 

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The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 6

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Is it Reasonable?

Our premise is that God speaks, that He is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us it seems is called—a conversation broad enough to include everyone ever conceived in human history, and specific enough to be heard as if you and I were the only ones here on planet Earth. In this series we are looking at the record in Hebrews 11 of men and women who listened intently to God’s voice and how in consequence the course of their lives changed. But were those changes necessary? Was it reasonable for those people to try to hear God? Did it make logical sense to go to such extremes? And most importantly, is it reasonable for us today to listen for the call of God?

“By faith Abraham,” begins verse 8, “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Imagine Abraham. The current phenomenon of leisure travel that we know today did not exist in Abraham’s era. There were virtually no resources out there to ensure anyone’s safety and survival when traveling. When Abraham heard the itinerary God had planned for him, he knew it would be anything but easy. Or safe. There were no consulates, prophylactic travel meds, or Fodor’s guides to the territory through which he would be traveling. God had not even told him the details of where he was going. Abraham would need to exchange security for uncertainty, community for loneliness, and the life of a landowner for that of a nomad in enemy territory. Listening to God would, within two generations, reduce his descendants to 400 years of slavery nowhere near the land God had promised to Abraham. Was it reasonable to hear and obey God’s call? And more to the point, is listening to God a logical, sensible course for any of us to adopt for our lives?

Firstly, we must admit that all decisions have risks associated with them. We cannot guarantee outcomes. Sometimes our choices have wonderful results—intended and unintended ones. Relationships flourish; opportunities abound. Other times our choices spin and spiral back to bite and devour us. Wisdom teaches us that when we take carefully calculated risks based on the trustworthiness and reliability of a person or course of action, we put ourselves in the best position for good outcomes. Listening to God is no more a risk than refusing to hear Him or admit His right to our lives. What could be more logical than attending to the Creator and lover of our souls?

Secondly, while God rarely reveals to us the short-term implications of obeying His call on our lives, He does promise long-term blessing. While Abraham suffered many hardships as a result of obeying God, he gained something far greater: the friendship of God, a right standing in God’s sight based on his trust in God’s provision of a Redeemer, and a true home in eternity with the community of other God-followers. Each of these outcomes was not promised only to Abraham. God promises them to you and me too. Our vision for the distant future is part of the impetus that drives us to listen to God.

And thirdly, it is a self-evident truth that personal growth requires us to look and listen to wisdom outside of ourselves. We are not the source of knowledge. We admit the need to submit ourselves to instruction from others in every realm of life from arithmetic to zoology. How much greater is our need—and the associated benefits—of learning from the source of all life, from God. The more we open ourselves to God’s voice and message, the more we will be enabled to grasp it, absorb it, digest it and integrate it into our lives. And it is imperative that we do this because of God’s goal for our lives.

“(Y)ou must realize from the outset,” explains author C.S. Lewis, “that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.” “When troubles come along,” continues Lewis, “—illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation…God is forcing (us) on, or up, to a higher level; putting (us) into situations where (we) will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than (we) ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us” (Mere Christianity).

By all the laws of reason and logic, listening to God and obeying Him makes sense. It is reasonable. It is the best of risks, the surest of long-term investments, and is our only hope of becoming wholly complete people. It is not easy. It is not safe. But can you imagine anything truly better for us?

(Photo Credit: By Maria Ly – Flickr: rock climbing @ lei pi shan, yangshuo china, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16221809)

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 6

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 The Present and Eternity

We don’t commonly hear demons discussing us. But in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Lewis examines human reality through a contrived conversation between two of the fiends. Through the inverted lens of a demon, the character Screwtape discusses with his nephew Wormwood the devilish purpose of destroying humans. Keep in mind the literary device that finds the demons describing reality from their point of view, where God is referred to as the ‘Enemy’.

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Screwtape goes on to advise Wormwood how to impede that process.

God’s Ministry of Internal Human Affairs deals with that strange dichotomy, the connection between the present and eternity. Our present reality is visible and tangible, so it grabs our attention. But eternity is invisible to us earth-bound creatures. How do we connect with a reality we can’t see? So the Apostle Paul paints for us a picture; he illustrates the junction of the eternal with the present (in II Corinthians 5:1-10) by describing our present bodies as a tent, and our future, eternal bodies as a heavenly dwelling. Listen.

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Paul is pretty honest about our lives here on earth. He’s relevant. He observes that we are fragile; we feel pain, we know burdens, we fear and resent death. But he’s telling us why we feel this way. He is saying we feel uncomfortable with our own mortality because we were designed for real, immortal, eternal life. So he is helping us understand how we can live here and now in the present, while we wait and hope for our ultimate reality: eternity.

He says that God, who has designed us for eternity, has given His Spirit, like a deposit, as a promise and taste of the reality to come. It’s like getting a taste of eternity while still in time-bound present.

But who of us receives this unearthly and sacred Presence of God in their lives? Isn’t that just for the likes of Paul himself? No. It’s for “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.” God’s ministry of making Himself present in the lives of people is for all who trust in His Son Jesus. Simple belief. But somehow it’s not easy for everyone to believe without seeing. It’s easier to think about our earthly future or our past than about eternity.

C.S. Lewis describes this, too, in his Screwtape Letters. Screwtape explains to Wormwood how a demon’s job is to keep his human patient busily thinking about past injuries or future plans; never allow the creature to think about eternity in this present moment. Because when eternity touches the present, lives are changed. And demons don’t like that.

Paul summarizes the phenomenon by saying, “We live by faith, not by sight.” We choose to bring His Presence to mind in every moment of our day. Waking, we may whisper, “Good morning, God!” In a traffic jam we may pray, “Lord, how would You react if You were driving my car?” After dinner we may ask, “Jesus, how can I honour You this evening in my leisure time?” These are ways we catch a glimpse of eternity now. There are infinite other ways of bringing eternity into the present in our lives of faith. Let’s embrace them. It’s part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that God wants for each of us.

Father, thank you for your Spirit with us. Remind us in many ways today to think about Your Great Presence here in our daily lives.

(Photo Credit: Focus on the Family, Radio Theatre)