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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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 11

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Rejoices With the Truth.

“(It) is as temperamental as an opera singer,” complained John L. Smith, chemist and executive of Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company, regarding a new drug soon to be on the market. “The yields are low, the isolation is difficult, the extraction is murder, the purification invites disaster, and the assay is unsatisfactory.” But Smith and his retinue recognized and rejoiced in its unprecedented value: They were referring to penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. Infections up to that time had resulted in a multitude of unnecessary suffering and early deaths. Now they could be treated. World War II was producing untold casualties but now penicillin would save many of those lives.

The author of I Corinthians 13—the Bible’s Love Chapter—explains that love “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” We have observed that God designed our hearts to delight, to experience pleasure to such an extent that we become bound to what we delight in. We have agreed that delighting in evil puts us into a bondage that eventually results in our own disintegration. It also ultimately destroys all relationships with others, especially our relationship with God. So the author explains how we avoid that outcome. We rejoice with the truth.

To rejoice with the truth means three things. It requires accepting, it requires recognizing, and it requires submitting. Firstly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates that we accept the exclusive nature of truth. If something is true, then by necessity its opposite must be untrue. If it is nighttime in Paris, it cannot also be daytime there. If the sun is ninety million miles from earth, it is not also immeasurably distant from earth. If penicillin destroys bacteria, it does not also support those same bacteria. This is the nature of truth. Its exclusivity enables us to separate things that are true from things that are false, deceiving and erroneous. Think about it. The very fabric of our society is built on accepting truth—from the realms of law, science, research and education to engineering and construction—even down to assembling our IKEA furniture—we accept the existence and value of truth. Everything we absorb through our five senses or manipulate with our bodies we test to ensure what we are seeing and hearing is true.

Secondly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates recognizing truth when it appears. When data is measurable, it is relatively easy to recognize truth from error. We pay for a product with cash and immediately recognize if the change we are given is accurate—if the cashier’s accounting is true or false. Some truths, though, are more difficult to ascertain: when two individual’s claim exclusive ownership of the same object, or in the application of certain laws that are conflicting, truth must be recognized and discerned in order to know how to act in line with truth.

Thirdly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates submitting to truth’s demands. We cannot manipulate truth to satisfy our whims without the result of becoming dishonest and reaping its twisted harvest. “You cannot go against the grain of the universe,” advises C.S. Lewis, “and not expect to get splinters.” The concept of submitting to truth brings us to the pinnacle of our discussion of truth. Truth is bound up in a Person, Jesus Christ who called Himself “the truth.” Submitting to truth ultimately brings us to the necessity of submitting our intellect and worldview to God, the author and sustainer of all truth.

As we do these three difficult tasks we find something extraordinary beginning to happen. When we accept truth we accept Jesus (and vice versa). When we recognize truth for what it really is, we will recognize the deity and Lordship of Jesus. To fully submit to truth is to submit to Jesus. Jesus is the kingpin of Truth. To grasp Jesus is to fully grasp truth. As He Himself explained, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus brings expanding freedom for us, not the shackling restrictions and limitations we had feared when we were distant from truth and from Him.

And that is not all. When we come into community with Jesus, we find Him to be joy incarnate. He is the epitome of gladness and exultation, of true happiness and delight. This is why the author of I Corinthians 13 says that love “rejoices with the truth.” Rejoicing “with” is all about relationship. Christ’s unbounded joy as Maker of the Universe is only exceeded by His joy in ransoming those of us who were lost in the personal darkness of deception and rebellion to truth.

So come to Truth and rejoice with Him. This is what we were designed for. This is love.

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 9

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Part 9: ‘Zayin’

“Endurance,” explains Glaswegian minister William Barclay, “is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” Perhaps this thought is what lies at the foundation of the psalmist’s next stanza of Psalm 119. ‘Zayin’—or seventh Hebrew letter—is the ‘z’-sounding letter that is also a word meaning weapon or sword and food/nourishment. The psalmist seems to have used this letter to explore suffering as a theme for these eight zayin-headed verses. It’s a stanza of the paradoxical, though. In the face of suffering, of enduring mockery, of indignation against the apparent mastery of evil over good we hear of hope, of comfort and even of a song.

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. / My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. / The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. / I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. / Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. / Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. / In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. / This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (verses 49-56).

Suffering becoming glory. It’s an enigma, a puzzle, and a conundrum. It goes against our intuition. We want to avoid pain and heartbreak, not endure through it to reach some distant joy. Yet there it is, both the sword and nourishment contained in Zayin, are laid out for us to help us triumph over our common dilemma. How can the psalmist—not to mention we—access this great paradoxical prescription so that he and we can weather the deepest difficulties of life with the confidence that God will preserve us?

The key is Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand” (sections of Isaiah 53).

Jesus stepped into the deepest crevasse of suffering known to humankind—the chaos of bearing God’s just wrath against humanity’s rebellion. We want a just God. Here He is, and here Jesus is made to die an exponential death for your rebellion and mine, times the billions who have and ever will live on this planet. But Jesus is God in flesh and so the sword, though it caused untold suffering for Him, could not extinguish His being.

That is the message of Easter. “He is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus’ body broken like crisp bread, and His blood draining from His wounds like spilled wine, become for us the nourishment after the suffering. Trusting in the work of Jesus to solve our troublesome dilemma is what the Spirit of God infused into the psalmist’s pen so many years ago.

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, helped two of His distraught and discouraged followers see that all of Scripture is about this amazing plan of rescue God devised for humanity. “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

There it is again: suffering then glory. Jesus, in His larger than life way, takes the greatest suffering so that we may be infused with His life and become able to bear our portion of this earth’s trouble. But the suffering is only a bothersome interlude—it has no lasting grip on us just as it had no ultimate hold on Christ. The hope of glory to come that God has promised was on the tip of the psalmist’s pen and is ours for the asking too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, sensing the end of his life was at hand, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).

Suffering’s grip is weak compared to the comfort of the Father’s hand. Let’s step into that great loving hand today, and as the lyrics of a current song say, “Just be held.”

(Photo Credit: By James Emery from Douglasville, United States – Bread and Wine (Cracker and Juice)_2048, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35135837)

WHO IS JESUS? #12

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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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28664411)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #23

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Prayer of Repentance and Return to Loyalty to God (Paraphrase of Psalm 137)

Hard as it is to bear, LORD, it is a good thing when we finally realize the bondage to sin we’re in. Only when we compare it to the freedom of life in Christ can we see the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Like finding ourselves captive to terrorists and required to entertain our tormentors with songs of joy, is the realization of the trouble sin has brought us.

As we begin to see there is no true joy in godless living, we are struck by waves of homesickness for your kingdom, LORD; we long for the joy of Your presence, Father. We’re in a foreign land and the songs we thought we could sing stick to the roof of our mouths.

May I never forget to bring You into every nuance of my day, Father. My highest joys come from living in close communion with You. Protect me from falling back into the clutches of sin.

Help me burn those bridges, LORD. Make haste to destroy the influence of evil, the source of so much sorrow in the lives of the proud and the wounded. You are our only hope.

(Photo Credit:Cell 18 of old city jail in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; By Tomas Castelazo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6634393

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)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #12

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Prayer of Joy (Paraphrase of Psalm 126)

Lord, when I think of how You rescued me from my own foolishness, I feel like a freed captive. I was mindlessly intent on achieving my own goals and didn’t notice the hole into which I had dug myself. It became a prison with walls of selfishness, hurt, bitterness and pride before I began to recognize my yearning for home, my longing for the clean fresh air of release.

One call of Your Name brought You here. You broke down the walls, lifted me up, and brought me out of my dark place. I looked around and found You had set me among a family—brothers and sisters rescued just like I had been.

It fills my mouth with laughter and my tongue with songs of joy to think of it. Not only do I partake in Your blessing in the corporate sense with the body of believers, but Your blessing, the good You bring, is directed to me individually too. It really fills me with the deepest joy.

It’s like irrigation spreading across fields, making everything it touches green. It’s like harvest time in those fields—the land You love—the hard work is all worth it to You. Even my tears become songs of joy under the influence of Your blessing.

Not that all is rosy now. There are still the temptations—but now I know You are with me and offer me an escape.

There are still the hurts—but now Your love and comfort heal me in ways I never knew before.

And there are still the questions—but now I trust You will one day answer every one of them for me.

So no matter how hard, how heavy or how daunting the day’s events seem to be, I’m going to envision it all as seed to sow in a land You irrigate. The harvest is Yours, God. Its abundance is Yours and I’m filled with joy at the thought of it. You do all things well.

(Photo Credit: By Herry Lawford – originally posted to Flickr as Harvest, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11269097)