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.


Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 22



If there is one thing God has communicated to us humans, it is that we matter. The most relevant piece of information we will ever be able to grasp is that you and I are immeasurably loved and valued by Him.

“(Our) shared core hunger,” writes Tony Schwartz in an article for the New York Times, “is for value…We each want desperately to matter, to feel a sense of worthiness.” It’s what he calls ‘The enduring hunt for personal value’. James Gilligan, who authored “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic” after studying human violence for over 40 years, began to observe “the frequency with which I received the same answer when I asked prisoners…why they assaulted…someone. Time after time they would reply, ‘Because he disrespected me’.”

As the psalmist moves into the third-to-last stanza of the interminable one hundred and nineteenth psalm, his singular petition is that God—who has embedded an element of His own worth into each person—will express the ultimate act of valuing human life: to preserve it indefinitely.

“…Preserve my life according to your promise,” the psalmist appeals. “…Preserve my life according to your laws,” he adds, and “…Preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love.” What does he mean by promise, laws, and love as the mechanisms of preserving life—the psalmist’s life, or yours and mine for that matter?

Firstly, the promise the psalmist references goes back ages to the time of Abraham. Abraham was God’s handpicked individual to begin a nation and race of people to whom and through whom God would speak. At God’s chosen time some 1500 years later, when strange prophecies like a virgin birth came together with others in fulfillment, Jesus was born from that race. The promise made to Abraham was, in short, “You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The promise of blessing was fulfilled not at Jesus’ birth, but at His death and resurrection, because with that moral ransom paid, Jesus made the eternal preservation of human life available to every person on this planet. That was the promise. That is what is available to each of us who have accepted Jesus as our ‘ransom-payer’; we will find eternal life with Jesus on the other side of this life. That is how the promise preserves lives.

Secondly, the laws the psalmist references go back fewer ages to the time of Moses. Moses was God’s handpicked individual to lead the nation that Abraham had fathered into the Promised Land. On that journey, Moses was also given the daunting task of teaching the nation that God is a God of integrity, and that He can only be in relationship with people who respect God’s authority to require that integrity to be developed in them. The laws were commands God clarified through Moses, commands like: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not covet.” Those two commands alone were enough to make it pretty clear that every human on planet earth was incapable of obeying God completely. That was fine because it turns out that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). Consciousness of sin leads us to do one of two things: rebel further against God and make a grab for complete freedom from God’s presence, or submit to God in humble repentance, accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, and access to His presence for eternity. That is how the laws both condemn and preserve lives.

And finally, the psalmist references the LORD’s love which covers both the span of eternity and of creation, of which this planet is a mere blip in time. God, who is three persons in one—Father, Spirit, and Son—exists in a unity described by perfect love. He is completely fulfilled in the expressions of love that bind the Trinity unsparingly, perfectly, and completely together. Yet somehow—in the greatest mystery of the ages—as God created the universe, He made humankind the pinnacle of His loving creative expression. To be in loving relationship with Him was the purpose God embedded into every man, woman and child. We are created in such a way that our greatest joy and fulfillment comes only through loving Him in return.

The psalmist was right. The promise, the laws, and God’s love, are the essential components of God’s great gift to us: the preservation of our lives for eternity. He values us immeasurably. He wants us to be in continuing existence with Him—in future bodies created to last forever—long after these present shadows of bodies have ceased to be preserved. So dig out a Bible. Begin again to pour through its pages and find out how God valuing our person is tied to His intention to preserve us for eternity. Come to this sanctuary of preservation.


Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 19



There is a mantra, a cliché, a rumbling reaction whenever an ideological conflict arises between members of society. The most vocal insist their rivals are motivated by nothing less than ignorance and hatred along with a good dose of hypocrisy. Any expression in opposition to their voice is routinely termed harassment and is dealt with sternly. These are the current buzzwords. They are emotionally charged words intended to hijack and shut down all dialogue through the shaming of any dissenters. This is twenty-first century western society, and if you don’t agree, you must be one of the ignorant, hateful bullies out there.

It was not much different three millennia ago. The psalmist who wrote ‘Pe’, the seventeenth stanza of the longest Psalm, felt it. He understood that following the precepts of the eternal God—principles and standards for human flourishing—was not politically correct. He felt the oppression both from external sources and from his own internal bent toward selfish autonomy. But was he a perpetrator of ignorance, hatred, and harassment?

“Your statues are wonderful;” the psalmist begins, “therefore I obey them. / The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. / I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. / Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. / Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. / Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. / Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. / Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”

Firstly, the psalmist recognizes that his faith is based on understanding—on reasoning and on thinking rightly about God, himself and the world around him. “The Bible,” explains theologian Timothy Keller, “teaches that faith is not only compatible with reason, but that it consists of, requires, and even stimulates profound thinking, reasoning, and rationality.” Christians are deeply committed to truth. So while Christians may need to discern the nuances and applications of truth in difficult areas, they are more likely to be committed to embracing truth than to hide in ignorance. All truth is God’s truth, and “exists,” explains John Piper, “to display more of God and awaken more love for God.”

This brings us to the second challenge. Are Christians defined by hatred? The psalmist describes people of faith as “those who love (Yahweh’s) name.” Jesus expands on that by summarizing God’s Law as “Love the LORD your God…and love your neighbour as yourself.” And the evening before His death Jesus reiterated His foundational command to His followers to “Love each other.” So, just as with ignorance, the accusation of hatred is neither founded nor representative of people who live by faith. A Christ-follower’s life and beliefs may be different from and unpopular with that of the culture around her, but it is not a result of hatred.

And thirdly, how does the psalmist address the accusation of hypocrisy? “Direct my footsteps,” submits the psalmist, “according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” The psalmist recognizes that integrity occurs when understanding and love inform action. Authentic living is the result of ceding God’s authority over our lives and then making choices that are in alignment with His sovereignty over us. Hypocrisy is either the result of saying ‘God is in charge’—but then living as if we are, or else of saying ‘There is no God and no basis for morality’—but then expecting others to abide by our subjective beliefs about ‘rights’. Both worldviews are foreign to Christianity.

The psalmist verbalizes for us that faith is the kingpin for right living. By faith we are given understanding, by faith we are enabled to truly love, and by faith we walk according to the light. These are not in, or by, or of ourselves, but as a result of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus who epitomizes truth, love, and authenticity. The more seriously we embrace faith, the less prone we will be to engage in ignorance or hatred or hypocrisy.

Photo Credit: MeghanBustardphotography

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus; Day 3

ArugotRiver (1)


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 –




Fast forward to the past’s future. Now in his seventies, Daniel has spent his life serving in the Babylonian palace. Many of his contemporaries have gone, and Daniel is living in relative obscurity. Nebuchadnezzar is dead.  The king’s grandson, Belshazzar, has been slain in a military coup by the Medes and Persians, and Cyrus has placed Darius king over Babylon. It hasn’t taken Darius long to observe Daniel’s exceptional qualities of integrity, courage and reliability. The king plans to promote Daniel to CEO status, but envious administrators scheme a plot to discredit the Jewish exile. Daniel, aged man of prayer, is about to face his darkest night at the hands of the enemy of his soul. His adversaries will stop at nothing to destroy his influence.

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe not the empire, the coup and the plot, but maybe you have felt like you are living in obscurity. Maybe you’ve tried to live a life of integrity, but your colleagues haven’t appreciated the contrast to their own work ethic. Maybe you can’t put your finger on the cause, but you sense you are in your own ‘dark night of the soul’.

Daniel has been modeling for us what a life of earnest, resolute prayer looks like. There is no room here for whimsy. The man or woman who chooses to live out prayer has determined to be characterized by RESOLVE, AWE, ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, TRUST and HUMILITY. We now observe Daniel adding STEADFASTNESS to the formidable list.

Daniel is steadfast in maintaining a routine that puts God first. This routine puts Daniel on his knees praying to God three set times each day. His knees have become calloused, maybe even arthritic, but that doesn’t stop him. His window opens south toward distant Jerusalem, beloved city he will never again see, yet somehow his prayers include thanksgiving to God. He perseveres even when he knows his kneeling posture will earn him the death penalty.

Ironically it is king Darius who is unnerved. It is he who is distressed with the unalterable edict, he who spends a sleepless night fretting over his impotency to save Daniel. Daniel remains steadfast. He is snatched from his knees by delighted adversaries, and thrown into a pit from which none have ever escaped. Those knees have served him well in the past, and no doubt he lands in the dark pit in prayer-ready posture.

Do we? When we are thrown into life’s upsetting pitfalls do we land on our knees? Is our first reaction to bow before the One who holds our lives in His hands, and pray? Are our eyes open to the Eternal Father’s presence when the night is long and dark and cold?

We are told little of Daniel’s dark night other than that he survived. The presence of God was palpable to Daniel, and his leonine adversaries could not touch him. Not this time. Other God-followers would someday fall to the death-grip of ferocious beasts, but that would be their story. Their steadfastness would protect them in other, equally meaningful ways. So it is with us. We are given the opportunity to choose to add steadfastness to our soul’s development. It might start today. Have we knees upon which to bow today, and commit to do so until our final day?




Matthew 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”


English writer Samuel Johnson once observed, “A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.”  We might add to that breakfast and lunch! When Jesus describes spiritual earnestness in the allegorical terms of hunger and thirst, He successfully captures our attention. We know what it is to hunger and thirst in the physical sense. We have spent years developing the feeding of that life-sustaining habit. In His classic understated style, Jesus uses this fourth axiom to portray another aspect of kingdom living.  He emphasizes here righteousness. Righteousness is God’s character trait that demands He maintain absolute integrity to goodness and justice. It is moral perfection. God is eternally consistent in maintaining His own righteousness. Not only that, but He has big plans for us too. Jesus Himself came to earth to catalyze the plan in His atonement-by-sacrifice endeavor. The result?  We earthly offspring of God may be considered as having the same righteousness as His one and only heavenly Son, Jesus, if we accept the offer. But we must seize the opportunity. No dilly-dallying passivity will suffice. While we cannot earn this estate, we must demonstrate our desire for it.

Not surprisingly, prayer comes into the process again. Jesus advises us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Maybe He means breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I have a hunch it’s more than that. I think He’s pointing us to this hunger and thirst for righteousness. He’s reminding us that we not only find our physical needs supplied by our Maker, but more importantly, our spiritual needs. Not only that, but our spiritual sensitivity can be honed by the very act of petitioning God.

Saint Augustine observed the connection between spiritual earnestness and prayer, advising, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Scripture repeatedly points to spiritual earnestness, a hunger and thirst for relationship with God, as the crucial mindset of a true follower of Christ.

The author of Hebrews observes that God ‘rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb.11:6). Like the previous three axioms, number four has its reward too: “They will be filled”. The hungry will be satisfied. The thirsty will find their dryness quenched. We are enabled to “participate in the divine nature and escape corruption” (II Pet.1:4). As if that were not enough, the promise is that we will be filled with the Spirit of Christ Himself. Jesus lives in us, through us, with us and for us.

We need to take a deep breath and ponder this. It feels like we’ve just feasted on an amazing banquet of truths. Our full, thankful, restful spirits absorb the nutrients that will sustain our souls. Jesus’ beatitudes are everything and more. We are blessed.

Psalm 15:5b Be and Do

Verse 5b  “He who does these things will never be shaken”.

We’ve come to the conclusion of the Psalm, the prayer.  It’s a call to action.  It’s a promise.  It’s a challenge.  The prayer has been a fathoming of the Sovereign, holy God whose core descriptor is His absolute existence. He is; and we have become aware of it.  A high view and fear of Him is the fitting response.  We have benefited from His attributes: become blameless by Christ’s Blamelessness, are enabled to speak truth and love others by His Truth and Love, embrace integrity through His Wholeness.  Now it is time to “go and do likewise”.  Enough root-bound pondering; it is time to move into action or “be shaken”.

Soren Kierkegaard observes, “Christianity understands what it is to act and what it is to keep love incessantly occupied in action”.  It takes faith to act, to be motivated by our beliefs to behave on the basis of those beliefs.  Everything we understand God to be, we must be and do to others.  He is Love – we must love others.  He is Just – we must be just to others.  He forgives – we must forgive others.  He is not asking us to be automatons:  every day, every moment, we have the choice to be and do as He is and does.  But that choice is the fulcrum on which our faith rests.  The only alternative is to “be shaken”.

Shakenness is the condition of grave danger to the soul.  It is quicksand.  It is being “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  It is a building whose foundation is sand when a great wind arises.  This is not a threat by some great cosmic dictator.  This is the reality of the universe of cause and effect; if we know a thing needs doing, we must do it.

“God”, said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”  This causality is seen in our inward prayer, and it is seen in our outward life of action.  This is Psalm 15.  Our communion with God is the energy behind our life of love, truth and integrity.  Let us embrace this causality with everything we are and have.  Let us be and do.

LORD, your holy hill is both far away and very near.
Yet, it is not the hill I want and need, after all, but only You.
High and lofty One, fill me with Your Spirit.
Help me see you in and behind everything I am and do.
Dwell with me that I may dwell with You.