The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 15


The Highs and Lows of Obedience.

The chronicler of Hebrews eleven is not yet done with Moses. “By faith,” he goes on to relate, “(Moses) kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.”

If these verses are characterized by anything, it would be by skillful understatement. They summarize the culmination and turning point of 400 years of Hebrew slavery under the iron fist of the Egyptians. They chronicle God’s plan communicated to Moses and the Hebrew people through specific commands and the miraculous outcomes Moses’ obedience released. God’s call expressed through God’s commands becomes a game-changer for God’s people. What we are told in less than 50 words is not meant to tell us the whole breath-taking story, but to plant in us the seed of the idea that obedience to God’s call puts people on God’s path. A later writer would call it “a highway”, “the Way of Holiness”, and a way not for “wicked fools” but for “the redeemed…and the ransomed of the LORD” (Isaiah 35).

There is a pattern here, a rhythm of contrasting opposites that is not meant to strip the complexity of relationship with God into easy platitudes; rather, it is meant to paint us a picture showing us two things. It shows us that obedience to God brings people out of death into new life. And it shows us that God fills that new life with a complexity of experiences, like a spectrum of colours with a myriad of tints and shades of those colours.

In the first case, God Himself determines who will escape the culture and cycle of death enslaving all humans. His determination is not based on deific fancy, but on His perfect knowledge of each person’s choice to obey Him or not. For Moses and the Hebrews, the direction to obey the unprecedented command of bloody doorway-smearing was beyond the paradigms of either Hebrew or Egyptian culture. The Hebrews obeyed God and lived. The Egyptians hardened their hearts to the command and experienced heart-wrenching death. God is the God of life. Only as we submit to Him do we find we are released from death into eternal life.

Secondly, we see that obedience to God is a path of many tints and shades—of highs and lows—of apparent successes and of seeming failures, of soul-deep wounds and breathless joys. The Hebrews’ victorious escape from Egypt’s oppression was an unimagined high. They travelled and camped for several days, boldly rejoicing in their good fortune of escape, following God’s cloud-and-fire leading. Then suddenly they found themselves huddled enmasse at the shore of the Red Sea, hemmed in by Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Hebrew hearts plummeted in fear and disbelief as they watched a hopeful situation deteriorate and go south. Yet God was present and working through this dark hour. God sent a storm that churned and divided the sea, and commanded the Hebrews to cross the dry seabed throughout the dark and stormy night. They obeyed and the crossing of the Red Sea, followed by the flood-water repulsion of the Egyptian pursuers, became a faith-builder for the Hebrew people for generations to come. It, more than any other single event, would remind the people in later dark hours that God is faithful. He delights to create a spectrum of colour out of shades of darkness for those who follow Him.

God’s call into fullness of life for all people is always and without exception embedded within the paradigm of command-and-obedience. The Hebrew experience becomes a picture for all God-followers; like the Hebrews’ first Passover event, we must daily stand behind the protection of a doorway marked with blood-stains—those of Christ whose obedience paid the redemption price for our sins. Then we must step out and obey His overarching command to live lives of love and holiness in order to access God’s path for us. His path will take us safely through every obstacle and dark night, through every high and low of human experience.

Obedience is essential. Only as we trust Him and obey Him will we recognize that His call brings us blessing. So listen to God’s call and obey Him. Then include yourself in the song of Moses who sang, “O LORD…In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The LORD will reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 13:15,17,18).

(Photo Credit: By Ben Njeri [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons)

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 10


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.




Promised Blessing.

Looking out at the religious figures that surrounded Him now, Jesus saw livid faces. He saw irritation and annoyance, indignance and outrage. His claims about Himself had been more than they could take; He had called Himself everything from Light of the World, to Out of this World. His claims had not enamoured Him to these men whose religious dictatorship of the community had not before been questioned.

They were an obstinate and thickheaded group. They simply could not understand Jesus because they would not understand Him. Referring to God as His Father had gotten Jesus nowhere—perhaps it was too abstract a concept for them—so He returns to the subject of Abraham. Earlier they had crowed, “Abraham is our father,” and Jesus now uses that notion to reveal His next claim about Himself

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day,” announces Jesus; “he saw it and was glad.” His opponents were incredulous.

“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

The air was thick with their incredulity and cynical skepticism.

Jesus had gone further than hard hearts could follow. He was explaining the motivation that had inspired Abraham’s life from the time he left his idolatrous roots in Mesopotamia, the ‘cradle of civilization,’ was a promise. More than a promise, it was a covenant made by Yahweh to the then-named Abram. It was a covenant promising that Abraham would become a great nation quite separate from civilization, as it was then known, a covenant whose purpose was to bless all peoples on earth—eternally. The covenant had come with the stipulation that Abraham leave his own country, people group, and father’s household and go to the land God Himself would show him (Genesis 12:1-3).

The author of Hebrews comments on the kind of faith required to follow a promise like that. He lists Abraham as one of several historical characters whose lives revolved around that kind of faith, who “considered Him (God) faithful who had made the promise.”

“All these people,” writes Hebrew’s unknown author, “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…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” (Hebrews 11:11,13-16).

Jesus is saying, ‘I am the personification of that promise. I am the Object of Abraham’s faith; I am the One that embedded in Abraham’s heart the joy of knowing Yahweh’s covenant would one day be realized; I am the One whose task is to bless every people group on this planet; I am the Promised Blessing; I am.’

To this very claim each of us must personally respond. The mark of a response that is authentic and truly receptive of everything offered in God’s covenant is that it will be accompanied by two things: it will be focused on Jesus, and it will be attended by an inner joy.

“Therefore,” Hebrews continues, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1,2).

So today we have this before us: we have Jesus and we have joy. These are the anchor points of the covenant God made so many millennia ago in which He even then intended us to be included. Jesus is the Promised Blessing. Let’s embrace Him today and be blessed.

(PHoto Credit: By Till Krech from Berlin, Germany – ghost shipUploaded by perumalism, CC BY 2.0,


Work It and Rest It

Rhythm — We thrive on it. The toe-tapping beat of a tune is the rhythm of music; the inhaling and exhaling of air through our lungs is the rhythm of breathing; and the daily cycle of waking and sleeping is the circadian rhythm of living. Without the contrast that rhythm provides, we would be unable to benefit from the essential strengths of each rhythmic extreme. The rests and pauses between the notes of a song call attention to the musical sounds that follow each moment of silence.

As we look at the Church – the people of God that have been portrayed as the Body of Christ – we see a particular and important rhythm it is designed to practice: the rhythm of work and rest.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of this rhythm as a primary distinguishing mark in the lives of believers and their community in the Body. He is not referring to the nine-to-five employment of labour followed by evenings and weekends of leisure. He’s talking about a different work-rest rhythm the Body of Christ is called to adopt. It is the working and resting rhythm of faith.

RESTING. “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:3). “There remains then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb.4: 9,10). The author is speaking to cultural Jewish people who understood the work-rest rhythm of the historical account of creation. God worked for six days, then rested. He uses this rhythm to picture a contrast between the striving, do-it-yourself labour of those who have tried to gain peace with God through their own good works. To rest is to relinquish our self-made attempts and accept by faith the saving work of Jesus. He alone was able to work to secure for us a recovered relationship with God. We must rest in that.

We members of the Body of Christ are called to rest in the saving work of Jesus, and also to encourage the other members of the Body to remember this rest. It is so easy to forget. It is so easy to begin thinking our church-going routines, our devoted study of the Bible, and our feverish acts of charity in the community are securing for us a relationship with God. We can help each other remember to rest in Christ with an encouraging word, by recalling the truths in God’s Word that speak to this rest, and by promoting spiritual retreat.

WORKING. “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” (Heb. 6:7). The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate the Body’s role of work by picturing agricultural land. He is saying that the Church acts as an environment for producing rich resources. The Apostle Paul describes those resources as fruit produced in and through the lives of believers: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus also uses the same working analogy of our lives as crop-producing fields in a parable called the Sower and the Seed (Luke 7:4-15). He summarizes, “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” The work of the Body of Christ is to absorb Christ’s words and persevere in obeying them. Every member of the Church knows that only the indwelling Spirit can accomplish this work. It is He who waters the soil of our lives with His love, nourishes us with the nutrients of His truth, and produces a great crop of blessing with His grace.

It’s all about rhythm. We rest and we work; Christ somehow takes this motley mixture of introverts and extroverts, musicians and theologians, men and women, and makes us His Church – a living, breathing, organic Body of believers. Who needs Church? All who rest in Christ’s work, and work by His Spirit. It’s rhythm.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Bob Embleton)


                                                     BEING MADE PERFECT

Hebrews 11:13,39,40


“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

When Jacquie threw a lump of smooth clay onto the wheel head and started the wheel spinning, a miracle began to unfold. With jiggering and jolleying the clay began to take symmetric shape. It widened. It rose. It narrowed and flared gracefully. To me it looked perfect. Jacquie, hands muddied and shirt splattered with grey clay, knew better. She explained the series of steps still necessary for her work of art and function to be complete.

The writer of Hebrews describes a similar process in God’s plan of making His people complete, of followers being made perfect. Unlike clay, those of us who choose to follow God are not merely passive, though. We must somehow apply our God-given faculty of choice to embrace everything God’s hands press into our lives. We call this faith.

Faith submits. Faith sees the invisible. Faith understands, builds, goes, and speaks. Faith prays.

Twice the writer admits that the ancient men and women of faith did not receive what had been promised. But it’s not an embarrassed admission. It’s more of an explanation of a process, a God-ordained business. While we see God’s muddied hands, He sees the final result. He sees His people being made absolutely perfect. Somehow, when His people experience difficult situations yet resist the temptation to reject Him, they are being shaped into something beautiful. Somehow when they find their prayers are not being answered, yet leave the outcome to Him, something truly amazing happens. They are becoming exactly who they were envisioned by God to be.

Prayer is essentially the verbal expression of faith. It’s the means by which we communicate with God our commitment to Him. And perhaps the greatest, most valuable conversations we can have with God are those that surround our unanswered prayers. Here we feel the weight of being clay in the hands of a much greater Being. We feel jiggered and jolleyed, hard-pressed on every side, painfully disappointed at times. God’s plans are good plans, but He never promised they would be easy plans. When, by faith, we ask Him to move in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones, He will do exactly that. But His ways are not our ways. His wisdom surpasses ours more than a potter’s mind exceeds the mind of a wad of clay. Take comfort, though. He is working. He is molding and shaping. He will not rest until we are made perfect. His promise will be fulfilled.

On a cold evening when I sit down with a cup of sweet herbal tea, I most often choose one particular mug. It is tall and slender. It flares at the lip. The handle is smooth and slim. The glaze is a mixture of earthy tones of blue and beige like waves at the seashore. It’s one of Jacquie’s works of art. It’s truly perfect and I am reminded of the process of being made perfect and complete. God, make me the work of art and function You envision.