The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 2

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The Call to Be.

          Does God call people? We have said that God is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us is invited. That assumption alone may need to be explored further because for many people, ‘a conversation’ is the last descriptor we would apply to our experience of God. Let’s begin with something simpler then. Can and do people—normal people, people like you and me—hear God calling them?

We’re looking at what the writer to the Hebrews exposes in his eleventh chapter survey of historical characters who heard the call of God and responded. It begins with creation and spans several thousands of years pulling characters from the pages of the Old Testament who not only heard God’s call, but also responded. Why explore these examples of ancients who heard something they attributed to God? Firstly, if the same God who revealed Himself in the past reveals Himself today, you and I don’t want to miss out on the experience that makes earth-living worthwhile. Secondly—as will soon become apparent—those who heard God’s call and responded rightly became fortified by faith—a prerequisite for living beyond this life. And thirdly, hearing and responding to God’s call has an effect on God Himself—a mind-shattering connection we may never before have considered.

“By faith we understand,” begins the historical account, “that the universe was formed at God’s command so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Picture creation if you can as the singular germination of matter. All that we see today—from viruses to invertebrates, from subatomic particles to solar flares, from constellations to coronary arteries—all of it traces its emergence from nothing other than the energy of God’s voice. “Without Him (and before this moment) nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). He called and we fledglings of matter became. He commanded and we obeyed.

This is our historical beginning: God called all matter into existence—into being—and it was. From that first dawn of matter appearing from nothing but the rush of energy released by God’s call, we learn that God created humankind—called and breathed us into existence. It is the grandest and most personal example of Einstein’s formula. “So God created man in his own image,” explains the author of Genesis, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Vast amounts of intrinsic energy sustain our existence for one purpose: to exhibit His likeness. And in some mysterious way we please God by reflecting Him.

What do we make of this? How does this revelation inform the way we think about God’s call and how we ought to respond to it? We do not need to understand Einsteinian formulas to realize that God’s call is powerful; it has the potential to alter things. God’s call has the capacity to release into our lives hope and help, comfort, compassion and God-honouring living. Most of all, God’s call releases His own Spirit into our lives to make us the kind of people He first envisioned us to be. God’s call fortifies His hearers with Himself.

Don’t worry about not hearing that call with ears designed to catch the vibrations and sound waves of other created matter—God is not created matter, and His voice is much more than a collection of sound waves. His call must be heard primarily with the heart—a humble heart—with sympathies willing to shed every ear-numbing layer of pride that plagues our species. We have each heard His call to be—to exist—and obeyed it at our moment of conception. Now we must utilize faith to hear His call and live our lives in ways that exhibit God’s likeness.

And what is the epitome of God’s likeness in human form? Jesus. Jesus is God incarnated into human existence to enable us to visualize what a life perfectly responding to God’s call looks like. More than that, Jesus is God’s plan to rescue us from our foolish selves, to bring us back from the brink of self-destruction, and to give us ears to hear and hearts to respond to Him.

So let’s start with the baby step of faith that accepts that the universe was formed at God’s command—at God’s call. There will be more, but for now let’s begin to ‘hear’ that ancient call and commit our existence to our Great Creator for His good pleasure. Because nothing comes from nothing.

(Photo Credit: http://www.heartlight.org)

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 14

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Always Hopes.

“Hope,” wrote Victor Hugo, “is the word which God has written on the brow of Every Man.” That is a thought-provoking description of hope. Primarily, it explains hope as a gift from God imprinted upon each of us. Hope offers us clarity to see through the fog of the finite and of the distressing. It pictures hope blazing before us like a headlamp giving us purpose for the paths we take in life. Without hope, we wander in the dark, experiencing all manner of griefs. And without hope, the human spirit withers, disintegrates, and eventually dies.

Hope is a notion the Bible addresses frequently; it conveys the recurring motif of a unique and specific hope: not a groundless, useless or foolish hope, but one of certainty; not hope centred on wishful thinking or on anything arising from this world, but hope centred entirely upon God.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?” asks the prophet Isaiah, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Biblical hope is based entirely upon the self-revelation of God—what He has told us about Himself that impacts our existence. This hope is comprised of three things: God’s character, God’s creative works, and God’s vision for His creation.

To explore this hope, we begin by asking, ‘What has God revealed to us about His character that gives us hope?’ Several things. He is the eternal, uncreated, always-existing One, in whom is no caprice or fickleness, so we can rely fully upon Him; He has supreme power to accomplish all that He purposes, so He never makes a mistake; He is good and His acts toward humanity arise from this goodness, so we can trust Him; He is personal—fully accessible to us when we submit to an all-consuming relationship with Him, so we can interact with Him; and He is loving—gracious, compassionate, patient, comforting, strengthening and desiring of each of us to develop our eternal potential, so we can find fulfillment in Him.

Secondly, we must ask, ‘What has God revealed to us about His creative works that gives us hope?’ He created the universe out of nothing by His command—He spoke and it was; all energy and all matter arise from Him and He sustains all His creation by His own power; we humans are the apex of His creative work, designed to reflect such aspects of God that we alone of His creation are said to bear “the image of God” and thus are incredibly valuable to Him. He is in the midst of creating an unimaginable eternity for those who choose to be in relationship with Him.

And thirdly, we must ask, ‘What has God revealed to us about His vision for His creation?’ God created humans to have the gift of free will—we are not programmed robots doing God’s bidding without any choice in the matter. This is a difficult concept for us to understand, but perhaps it is because automatons cannot be in relationship with their Maker, cannot house the dignity that God designed us to contain. While each of us humans have misused our free will and rebelled in some way against Him (which He knew would happen even before making us), God set in motion a solution. He devised a ransoming rescue for humanity’s self-destructive rebellion: the dying and resurrecting Jesus. God’s vision is for a community tied so closely in relationship with Himself (as Father, as Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit) and with one another that we are to be called the “body of Christ.” And finally, God reveals to us His vision for an eternity in which we are completely unified in Him, accomplishing for Him and through Him glorious tasks as yet untold.

How does this all relate to love? We’ve been exploring the love chapter of I Corinthians 13 and we need to find the connection. How is it that “love always hopes”? It comes back to God (as everything ultimately does). God is love embodied, and God is the source of all hope. We cannot separate hope from love. A full understanding of God’s love for us is all-important—even non-negotiable—to experiencing real life-giving hope. Hoping in God is the only cure for the weariness that comes from disillusionment with this world. God’s promise to lovingly redeem even our worst situations to bring about ultimate good for those who love Him is the hope to which we must cling.

So let’s step into this day with a new reason for certain hope. Let’s be people who exude confidence because we are loved by the One who gives us the assurance that all will be well. So then, it is well, and it is well with our soul.

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 22

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‘Resh.’

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.