The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 17

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A Heart That Responds to God’s Call.

Rahab gazed out her window across the valley. On the far side of the spring-flooding river thousands of people were camped. These, Rahab knew, were the people of the God whom she herself believed was “the LORD…God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She new she was alone among her people in her belief; their god was their stomach, their pleasures, and their power of trade. But Rahab had suffered under her peoples’ abuses. There was no reason for her to love their god.

Glancing back out her window Rahab felt the shaking of earth and heard the rumble of boulders tumbling upstream the river Jordan. Then, like a swarm of ants she saw the multitude of Israelites crossing the riverbed, moving westward across the valley. She checked the scarlet cord hanging out her window for the hundredth time. It was still there.

Rahab had staked her life and the lives of everyone she loved on hearing the still small voice in her heart that assured her that Yahweh—the LORD—was the One and Only God, the one worthy of worship the one to whom her allegiance was due. Having harboured the two Israelite spies days earlier, Rahab had made her loyalties known and was willing to face the consequences, come what may. The author of Hebrews 11 records these first steps of Rahab’s faith—of her bold scarlet cord flying like a flag in the face of her old way of life—for our benefit.

“By faith,” we read, “the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” There are some loaded words and ideas in that verse, and it’s worth sorting through them, but primarily we need to hear God’s message. In this one short verse God teaches us three things about Himself: Who He calls; What His call creates; and How His call changes lives.

WHO GOD CALLS: God calls prostitutes. He calls the weak, the poor, the failures, the lonely, the abused and the misunderstood. He calls you and me, because no matter how we present on the outside, we’re all prostitutes of a sort. We’ve found ourselves—by force or by choice—wasting the great gift of our lives. We have believed one lie or another that we are victims, trapped in our life situation, or that we are gods with the right to create whatever self-interested life situation we want to pursue. But we’ve found ourselves wounded because of those lies. God’s call is for the Rahabs of this world, for you and me. God’s call sees us as the holy creatures He designed us to be, rescues us from the bondage we’re in, and invites us to join His people on a journey to become holy and wholly His.

WHAT GOD’S CALL CREATES: God’s call creates faith. His voice, His Word, speaks uniquely, kindling within receptive hearts something unknown to the hard and skeptical hearts of this world. Rahab herself recognized the role of the heart to lead people to a place where they either seek out God for help, or fully and finally reject Him.

“We have heard,” explained Rahab to the spies, “how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…(and) when we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:10,11).

Hearts melted. The courage of everyone in Jericho failed—everyone but Rahab. For some reason Rahab, melted heart and all, reached out to ally herself with God. In that moment, Rahab’s faith was born. Rahab’s belief was a simple heart act of obedience to God’s call.

HOW GOD’S CALL CHANGES LIVES: Rahab’s simple trust that God is LORD of all not only produced obedience in her heart. The obedience moved outward to her choices. She chose to protect the spies from Jericho’s evil king and ruthless soldiers. She chose to hide the men on her rooftop, lower them down by a rope through the window, and direct them to the nearby hills for a safe escape. These choices were the acts of a very different Rahab than the Rahab she had been before hearing God’s call. Later, when the spies returned to rescue her from the tumultuous town, Rahab’s life was changed even more dramatically. She gave up her business of prostitution, entered Hebrew society first as an alien and then married to a Jewish man, bearing him a son who would become part of the lineage of Jesus.

God calls. We can be sure of that. But until you and I admit that He calls us, that He creates faith in us, and that He changes our lives, we will miss out. We will miss out on knowing the God who made us, the God who loves us, and the God who wants to give us a new life. It starts with our hearts—hearts ready to respond to God’s call. It’s time to hang our scarlet cords, to plant our flag. That’s  responding to God’s call.

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The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 16

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Sandals, Faith and Holiness.

Tell es-Sultan tells us a story. The jumble of bricks exposed by the archaeological dig reveals a fallen wall. It indicates an upper balustrade atop the surrounding city enclosure had fallen against its lower rocky ramparts. The remains of brick houses lie in tumbled and torched ruins—signs of an ancient earthquake followed by a great fire. Evidence of substantial stores of grain add to the story of a city suffering a quick and effective siege. Its inhabitants had not been starved into surrender but rather had found their defenses nullified when a freak earthquake coincided with the arrival of their enemies. Only one or two structures remain standing—simple apartments built into one section of the outer wall that remains standing.

The author of Hebrews 11 summarizes Joshua’s story in one line: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”

God had selected Joshua to lead the ancient Israelites into their Promised Land. He had spoken to Joshua earlier, commissioning him for the daunting task, three times encouraging Joshua to “be strong and courageous”. He had promised to be with Joshua, to never leave him or forsake him. It was no small thing to lead God’s twelve-tribed unruly band of Chosen People. God was preparing Joshua. Encouraging the fearful is something God takes seriously. But God knew there was something more Joshua needed in order to face the ordeal.

One day, as Joshua neared the iconic border city of Jericho, God revealed Himself to him. He appeared as a fear-inspiring, weapon-wielding commander and there was nothing Joshua could do but fall prostrate to the ground in reverence.

“Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy,” thundered the voice of the commanding God.

The message was clear: it is not enough for a follower of the LORD God to be strong and courageous. Neither is it enough to know He is near, ever-present and supportive. God’s followers must also be holy. They must be tenaciously persistent, adamant and committed to being nothing less than holy. And God knows our natural bent is to be anything but that. So God often speaks to us of specifics. He calls us to look at our normal daily activities, relationships and attitudes and apply holiness to them.

To Joshua God spoke about sandals. Joshua’s sandals had helped him in untold ways: they had protected his feet through forty years of desert wanderings; they had insulated him from the scorching daytime paths and the risks of nighttime scorpion stings. The sandals had provided him with a measure of self-respect and deportment—going barefoot was for the poor and marginalized. And sandals had given Joshua a Plan B of escape, a hope of fight or flight if any of God’s Plan A plans put Joshua in danger.

But God explained to Joshua that he was standing on holy ground, sacred and set apart for God’s glory. He was illustrating for Joshua that every place God’s servants stand is set apart by God as holy, and so they must become holy too. God Himself is holy—He is completely other than any one or thing in all creation. This otherness describes His unmixed and perfect goodness, justice and loving-kindness. To tread on holy ground is a calling to access God’s holy character. It is a command to set aside the destructive self-interest, self-protection, and self-satisfaction that we humans insist is our right. Selfishness has no place in holiness. Only as we remove self-centredness like kicking off shoes unfit for the task will holiness have a chance to grace our feet.

“How beautiful are the feet,” Scripture tells us, “of those who bring good news!”

Joshua was changed that day. God’s holiness dusted and baptized the feet and the person of Joshua. Joshua went back to the Israelites and in turn inspired them to be holy. He spoke to them of God’s goodness and of God’s call. He inspired them to grow in their faith. The landscape began to change for them that week. Their feet, too, began to stir up holy dust as they walked. Prison-like walls fell. People were rescued. God’s followers were enabled to enter their Promised Land.

What is God speaking to us about through this story? What are our ‘sandal issues’? Which of our activities, relationships or attitudes need to be doffed in favour of simple holiness? God’s plan for our journey always leads us to a process of becoming people characterized by the goodness of His character. He wants us to be other than our natural bent toward selfishness. He wants us to have faith in His Son Jesus and to step out to exercise that faith as He commands. He wants us to break down walls of injustice and bondage, freeing others to become holy too. He’s calling us. That’s holiness.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #18

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Prayer of Consecration (A Paraphrase of Psalm 132)

O God, I’m using the devotion of Your servant David as a pattern for my own life. His heart’s desire was for You, O Mighty One of Heaven, that You would have a dwelling-place on earth. It would be a place where You could be worshiped for all of Your splendor, where You would abide, where reminders of Your might would be housed. Your priests would be clothed in righteousness and Your saints would sing for joy.

Here I am discovering Your plan to fulfill David’s dream through people like me. You want my spirit to be Your dwelling place, my body to be Your holy temple. Your righteousness washes me and then clothes me so I may serve You in holiness. Your splendor and power is meant to flow through me in love and mercy toward others. How can this be?

Because of Your great sacrifice, Jesus, I am able to be part of this amazing and glorious plan. You are the King of Kings for whom David’s throne was prepared. You are the High Priest who makes my life a holy temple

So I consecrate myself to You again today, LORD, to be Your dwelling place. My body, heart and soul are in it. My life is a room cleansed by Your forgiving love, ransomed by Your death and dedicated for holy and eternal use by Your death-defying resurrection. My life belongs to You now. It is Your handiwork from start to finish. Be the Master of it, LORD. Reign here, rule forever here; be the rest I long for.

I’m looking to You, LORD, for every need to be met: my hunger with Your bread of life, my vulnerability with Your compassionate salvation, my deepest yearnings with rightful worship of You.

Jesus, help me stay true as I daily consecrate myself to participating with You in Your purposes for this life of mine and this world in which I live. Dwell in me and with me and through me. Help me to abide in You and with You and through You. You are the Anointed One—the Crowned One who rules my heart.

(Photo Credit: Eastern Wall of Jerusalem, By Yaakov Shoham – Own work (own picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1894985)

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus; Day 3

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INTEGRITY

First impressions stay with us. They persist as a sort of foundation for everything else we come to know about a person, a place or a thing. They become the backdrop and milieu upon which we build all new information we learn.

When the author of the gospel of Matthew describes the first scenario involving Jesus as an adult, quoting the first of Jesus’ words he chose to record of Him, it makes an impression. It should. Here in the third chapter of Matthew—our Day 3 of twenty-eight days exploring the life of Jesus—we learn something foundational about Jesus. A character trait emerges that means everything to our understanding of this unique man.

We are also introduced to the religious leaders of the day. We first see them arriving at a remote desert location to ferret out the source of a grassroots movement. They are concerned an ascetic in the desert might dilute their power over the local people. There, on the banks of the Jordan River where it snakes its way through dry and dusty hills, they find an earthy hermit-like character called John. He’s performing a ritual of cleansing that had started a millennium and a half earlier as a result of an understanding of God’s great holiness.

“You brood of vipers!” challenges the baptizer, honing in on the Jewish leaders with his piercing eyes and voice as they descend the hill. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He turns his back on them in blatant disgust. The crowds that had come to the waters in humbleness look on in disbelief.

“I baptize you with water for repentance,” explains the camel-hair-robed sage, turning to those who had come with sincerity to the water’s edge. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.”

Perhaps this very day, or at the least not too many days later—we’re not told which—Jesus arrives at John’s river-baptismal. Perhaps he takes his place in the queue or maybe he is there earlier than any of the others at dawn’s break, the desert night’s chill still on the sand.

John tries to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Why should the sinless Son of God submit Himself to a rite of cleansing?

Jesus answers, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” So, we’re told, John consented. He baptized the Holy One and was one of those who heard a Voice from heaven thunder, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

There is a theme in this chapter that runs like a golden thread through the characters to whom we are introduced. It’s about integrity. The unorthodox John who understands his role as one who would “in the desert prepare the way for the LORD”—we see his integrity in his humble admission of need for purity in contrast to Jesus at the river’s edge; the proud Pharisees and Sadducees, arriving to quash this upstart revival of people tired of living meaningless lives—we see the leaders’ lack of integrity in their deficiency of what John calls ‘fruit’, evidence of humility toward God, compassion and mercy toward their followers; the crowds, ‘sheep without a shepherd’, people like you and me who realize that God is holy and we are not—people who are willing to open their hearts to be changed so that their outward lives will be transformed; and we see Jesus—the One whose primary goal was to “fulfill all righteousness”, to live a perfect, sinless, obedient to-the-Father life of integrity in the keeping of a promise made millennia earlier. That promise was to be the seed that would develop fruit to bless all people everywhere.

The perfectly complete integrity of Jesus is the only hope for humankind. By it we may accept God’s forgiveness. By it we may enter into a new life and hope. And by it we may resource integrity growing from the inside out of our own lives day by day.

This ‘Day 3’ message calls out to us from Matthew’s gospel with piercing clarity and truth. We know deep inside we fail miserably every day in our attempts to live with integrity, when we try it on our own. Yet, as Matthew tells us, there is One who is for us, will live in us and through us if we are willing. Let’s come to Jesus, the completely righteous Son who longs to live His integrity through us with only a word from us—yes.

(Photo Credit: “ArugotRiver” by Maglanist at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArugotRiver.jpg#/media/File:ArugotRiver.jpg)

Who Are You, Really? (Part 1)

 

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/

 The Child in You.

Sooner or later we all must face our identity. Simplistically speaking, identity describes who we are, but if we delve a little deeper we may discover that identity actually controls and governs how we think, speak and even act. When identity is manipulated or twisted by outside forces, individuals suffer great angst and confusion.

The era of the residential schools in Canada for first nation children illustrates the phenomenon. Instituted in order to aid the assimilation and integration of aboriginal culture into the growing Euro-Canadian dominating culture, residential schools were an identity experiment. The Canadian government was hoping that education would make future generations of aboriginal youth think like Euro-Canadians, become economically self-sufficient, and weigh less of a burden on the public purse. The experiment proved to be a dismal failure. Disruption of the family and lack of cultural anchoring left individuals deeply wounded. Recent governmental compensation for survivors of the residential schools experiment raises awareness of the complex nature of identity.

The Apostle Peter seems to be intrigued by identity. Perhaps his interest was first piqued when the extraordinary man named Jesus, whom he had come to follow, changed his name from ‘Simon’ (hears/listens) to ‘Peter’ (little stone). As a result of embracing this new identity, Peter began to recognize references to Christ in ancient prophecies where Christ is called the ‘stone’ (lithos), ‘cornerstone’ (gonia + kephale) and ‘massive rock’ (petra) (Isaiah 28:16; 8:14). Peter was beginning to see his identity in terms of following the Rock of Ages incarnated before him.

Thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter used a letter we call ‘First Peter’ to write to people scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Much of what he describes is about identity. In portions of the first and second chapter he will observe four elements of identity followers of Christ begin to develop as they become more ‘Christ-like’. Peter begins by calling followers of Christ to think of themselves as children.

“As obedient children,” Peter explains, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

True followers of Christ have been given a fresh start in God’s eyes, called the “new birth”; they are to be “obedient children” in relationship to this Heavenly Father with whom they are now connected by family ties. In fact, they are called to exercise their new God-given ability to be “holy”, pictured in the fresh innocence of a newborn infant. Peter instructs, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Pure spiritual milk is the truth of God found in the Scriptures that feeds our souls and helps us mature into Christlike children of God.

Unlike external identities imposed on us by the agendas of culture around us, the identity of child of God is internal and integral to our being. It is what we were created by God to be. It not only defines who we are, it establishes whose we are. We belong to a loving, compassionate Father who has gifted us with an amazing inheritance: His own godly characteristics implanted within us. It is His nature in us that allows us to develop faith in Him, goodness from Him, knowledge of Him, self-control by Him, perseverance through Him, godliness like Him, brotherly kindness to those created by Him, and love for Him.

There is no angst or confusion in this identity. There is no moral law that is broken by this identity. To be God’s child is the beginning of an eternity of growth and development, of usefulness and challenge, of knowing we are the beloved of the Father. Join with me in thanking the Father that we can leave all other identities behind when we become children again—children of God.

(Photo Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/)

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 5: Eternal Life

Eternal Life: John 14:8-26              Vs.19 “Because I live, you also will live”.

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C.S. Lewis observes, “…You won’t get eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”  He goes on to say,

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die.

Jesus tells us in verse 19 that our access to life is contingent upon His life.  Knowing He was about to die, it’s an interesting comment He makes.  In fact, He’s revealing to His disciples (and us, by extension) the promise every person longs for.  He’s promising eternal life.

He’s showing us how life becomes Life; how the temporal becomes eternal; how creatures of God become children of God.  Tell me this earthly life is enough (that it’s a fluke of chance, and we must make the most of it) and I’ll ask you to explain why we are so bothered by death.

Lewis has understood something core to the concept of this eternal life.  It’s not obtained by talking oneself into the idea that peace and beauty bestow the Life. Eternal life is borne out of the eternal One. It is not an impersonal aura transposed from some cosmic source of energy. Jesus claims it can only be procured through Him.  He is Life.  His resurrection displays what we will someday experience.

But wait a minute.  Who is the ‘we’ that will experience this eternal life?

Jesus is very clear about the extension of His Life to people.  While it is freely given, it was purchased at a dear price (a costly ransom of forgiveness), and is not automatically dispensed at birth or any other time; it is available to those who want it badly enough.  It cannot be bought by money, good works, church attendance, knowing the who’s who of Christendom or any of this world’s religions.  But it will cost me giving up my own plans.  I must give up my own ideas for procuring eternal life and accept His.  I must give up my own ideas of what is sin and what is right. I must give up any hope of self-righteousness and accept that it is only Jesus’ life, given for me, that makes me righteous in the sight of an eternally holy God.

Unending existence is something every human soul is granted by God, but eternal life is His gift only a few will consent to accept.  He promises to give it.  It really is the keynote promise for the praying person.  By prayer we step into the realm of faith that says, “I’m trusting You, God, to make good on your promise. I want to be part of the Life that exudes from You, and I’m willing to give up my pride and independence in order to receive it”.

Amazing Life, this God-borne thing, held out to me, O gift of love. My every thirst and hunger deep, I see is but a symptom of my want of this Eternal Life. Because You Live, I also live, O Christ of God, O Life of life.  And as I take this gift You give, my soul is held in loving grip within Your Self, O Mystery!  Eternal Life, how broad and deep, I would but drown beneath its depth, except You breathe Eternal Breath in me. My Life’s first cry, “O God, I live!” will echo on eternally.