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 14

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Who Are You?

Growing up as a prince of Egypt had its benefits. The young Moses had been raised with every asset the household of Pharaoh could supply. But Moses could not ignore the growing sense that he was an imposter. His birthmother had told him stories that rung true. Moses was not an Egyptian. He dressed like one, he was raised like one, but he knew deep down he was not one.

As he daily saw the overt cruelty of the Egyptian taskmasters toward the Hebrew slaves, Moses felt increasing angst. If he was descended from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, how long could he stand by and watch his people—the people of the true God—being mistreated?

“By faith,” summarizes the author of Hebrews 11, “Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the kings’ anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

Moses’ identity underwent a massive paradigm shift sometime in his early adulthood. His self-awareness as a prince of Egypt, entitled to all Egypt’s treasures, power and benefits, was as secure as the shifting sands of the Nile River delta at flood-time. Moses knew something had to change. So he did what any deep-thinking, ethically-conscious responsible person would do: he ran and hid.

For forty years he hid in the hills where no one—neither Egyptian nor Hebrew—could find him. For forty years he asked himself questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How could God be letting this happen to me?’ For forty years he heard nothing but silence.

Our lives can be like Moses’. Our identities fluctuate with every passing wind of social, emotional, and even political influence. ‘Who are we deep inside?’ we wonder. And who is God who allows life’s twists and traumas to occur?

Finally Moses’ heart was ready, and God spoke to him. Moses listened, but his first reply exposed the deep ache of his lifelong question.

“Who am I…?” cried Moses, prostrate and barefoot before the strange fiery epiphany of the LORD God.

God answered simply, “I will be with you.”

Then Moses countered, “Who are you?”

“I AM WHO I AM.” Period.

God’s replies to Moses’ bold questions were bedrock answers. God knows every person’s identity is satisfied only in Him. God is the inexhaustible identity from which we must gain our own. More than that, He promises to be with us. His presence, when fully appreciated by us, meets the broad spectrum of our needs. His presence enables us to know who we are because of who He is; to both accept God’s rescue and to rescue others; to rest without angst and to work wholeheartedly and with maximum impact; to live with God in the present and to live with Him for eternity.

Moses did not become perfect. But Moses became usable. He walked back into Egypt, confronted both Pharaoh and his own Hebrew people with God’s instructions, and watched the results. To the extent that Moses obeyed God implicitly throughout the final forty years of his life, Moses more and more realized and recognized who he was, and who God is.

That’s why the author of Hebrews 11 lists Moses among those who heard God’s call and stepped out in faith. Moses recognized God. That is the invitation for each of us who find ourselves asking the same questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who are you, God?’

God’s answer to us is the same as it was to Moses.

“I will be with you,” and “I AM WHO I AM.”

Period.

(Photo Credit: By LBM1948 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 13

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‘Kaph’

Hunger, yearning, longing, desire: these are all concepts God endorses. In contrast to Eastern religions, Christianity boldly advocates—even insists upon—desire. We’re not talking about desire as an end in itself, though; that would be discontent. Nor are we talking about desire for anything that attracts us; that would be greed. And we’re definitely not talking about desire for things that could in any way harm us or harm anyone or anything around us; that would be destruction. What Christianity embodies is a desiring for what God specifically promises us in His Word. We’re talking about desiring God. Some of His promises are accessible right now, but some of them are for the future, a distant but very real future. This is what the psalmist speaks of in the stanza labeled ‘Kaph’.

“My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. / My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’ / Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. / How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors? / The arrogant dig pitfalls for me, contrary to your law. / All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for men persecute me without cause. / They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. / Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth”(Psalm 119:81-88).

The psalmist is fairly bursting with desire. His soul faints with longing for God’s salvation. His eyes fail for looking for God’s promise. He bemoans how long he is being required to wait for comfort, for relief, for rescue. He desires these things so fully that it occupies his heart, his mind and his senses. This desire is essentially for God to make good on a promise He made centuries earlier. It was a promise initially wreathed in mystery with revelations by increments made through an array of God’s prophets. Yet as little as the psalmist knows of the promise’s vast extent, he is entirely consumed by hoping for it, because he knows it embodies God’s love for him. So the promise itself has been the cause of the desire that fills the psalmist.

Since Jesus incarnated as a man and accomplished His redeeming work on the cross a millennium after the psalmist lived, the bulk of the promise has been fulfilled. But rather than dulling the desire of the promise, He magnifies it. His vast expansive eternal being enlarges and expands our appetite for Him so we desire Him not less than the psalmist but more. It seems to be true that ‘the more you have the more you want’. Jesus’ unbounded, immeasurable, limitless love makes us hunger more for Him with each successive taste of Him we swallow.

Not only is Christ the source of “the mystery of God…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), but He is “this mystery…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Christ living in the lives of those who invite Him within is both the source of and solution to our deepest desiring. ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ was Bach’s name for Him. All other desires are cheap imitations of Him our true desire.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,” invites Jesus through the prophet Isaiah, “come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!…Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?…Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3). If we want our desiring satisfied, it’s Jesus to whom we must come.

(Photo Credit: By Deepak Vallamsetti – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52197985)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #28

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Island of God’s Goodness (Paraphrase of Psalm 142)

Help me, Father, by Your great mercy; attend to my call. I appeal to You because You are good, and because I know only You can help me. When my spirit grows faint within me and all my other supports fall away, then I begin to realize that only You understand what I am experiencing and are able to turn it into good for me.

You see the snares hidden in my path—traps waiting to trip me up, sea storms threatening to capsize, capture and destroy me. Some appear at first glance to hold fortunes, illicit treasures mine for the taking, yet they will be nothing but trouble if I turn toward them. They are all opiates, tranquilizers that remove me from the reality of Your goodness. The evil one is willing to destroy my faith by overt attacks or by subtle temptations—whatever means are within his control to imprison me.

But with You, Father, I have discovered a true path, a refuge and a rescue, freedom for my soul. With You I am freed from the prison of fears and inconsistencies, rebellions and selfishness, these dreadful enemies of mine.

Your connection with me fulfills my deepest yearning—my need for an island of goodness. It’s an oasis of love and compassion where You offer me the deepest of relationships for my good.

So here I come again, desperately in need of Your protection. Give me safe passage to Your Island of Goodness where all that pursues me is blocked from entering. Here I am safe. I am freed to praise Your Name.

I praise You, God of goodness, who does good to me and to all that come willingly to Your island. You surround us with Your faithfulness and grace for eternity.

(Photo Credit: By en:User:Mwanner – en:Image:Small Island in Lower Saranac Lake.jpg (photographer: en:User:Mwanner), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4703476)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #4

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Goodness Prayer (A Paraphrase of Psalm 116)

God, You are so good. Imprisoned by trouble I would never have escaped, I discovered You coming to my rescue; You heard my cry and came in answer to it in a way that perfectly balanced grace—Your free gift, and righteousness—what justice required, and compassion—love for the unlovely. That is so good.

What it takes from me is an admission of my own need, my own lack of goodness. I must reject the pride that is my inborn habit, coming to You in faith—simple-hearted, open-faced and unadorned trust in You. My soul finds rest, time and time again, when I admit that You are good for me.

You deliver me from the dark influence of evil so that I may walk with You; this is Paradise found in the truest sense. And my role? You ask me to trust You, to believe in what I cannot see, to admit that You are completely good and all-powerful, and that I am anything but that. That is the covenant You call salvation and offer me—a cup of wine deep and fragrant and sparkling.

This imagery, of course, reminds me of You, Jesus, body broken for me, blood spilled for my eternal good. Because of You the death of every one of us who trust in You will be the precious reuniting of children with good Father, servants with good Master and the rescued with good Redeemer.

So I rejoice in being Your servant. I will take every opportunity to thank You for Your goodness and love, to praise Your name before others, and to live my life as a thank offering to You.

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus, Day 4

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OBEDIENT.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit,” documents Matthew in his fourth chapter of the gospel named after him. We’ve encountered Jesus a chapter earlier explaining His life purpose to the sage, John, that He must “fulfill all righteousness.” There He was active and intentional. The integrity that would come to characterize everything we know about this amazing Man was first revealed there.

But now we see Jesus allowing Himself to be led. This is an important concept, and Matthew does not flinch from recording it. To be led is to follow the direction and orders of another. It is to deliberately put oneself at the mercy of another’s plans, to fulfill their purposes for you. This is what Jesus did.

Now, we ought to take note that His obedience was not a weak passivity that allowed Himself to be used by any and all. His obedience was focused wholly on the Father’s will as communicated to Him by the Holy Spirit. He was purposing to accomplish the task that He, as one of the three members of the triune God, had determined before time needed to be accomplished.

But His role of Immanuel, God with us in the flesh, meant that this determination to fulfill what He intended would come crashing head first against a barrier. He would need to personally experience the daunting interference of the devil—fallen angel, disobedient messenger and tempter of humans.

The ‘temptation of Jesus’, as recorded here in Matthew’s account is famous. We know the devil presents to Jesus three opportunities for a quick fix for Jesus’ situation as earthbound God-man: the tempter points out that stones could become warm bread at a word from the fasting Jesus—why should the Son of God (said with a sneer) be hungry? He then challenges Jesus to fling Himself off the peak of the temple of Jerusalem whereupon obedient angels would surely rescue Him—why should His minions not serve the Son of God? Satan’s grand finale is to offer Jesus the wealth and splendor of the world’s kingdoms if only Jesus would worship him for a moment—why should the creator of all not enjoy the wealth of His creation?

Yet Jesus is not daunted. He walks through barriers with an ease that belies the strength it takes to remain obedient to a true cause when every voice seems to point the other way. His answers to the tempter reflect His commitment to obey His Father, Truth itself. He points back to the Word of God, truths and commands recorded in Scriptures. And with that, the devil sullenly leaves Him.

C.S. Lewis offers us a useful thought on what this temptation would have meant for Jesus: “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”

So as we observe Jesus in this record of the devil’s attempt to tempt Him, we may recognize the epiphany we’ve been given. It’s a two-fold revelation. It’s an epiphany in terms of it revealing a moment when ‘you suddenly feel you understand or become conscious of something that is very important to you’ (credit to Cambridge Dictionaries Online for this definition). We realize that even when we are weakened by the strongest reasons tempting us to disown Him, the strength to remain true to God is accessible to us through Jesus’ own strength living in us. There is no temptation that is beyond Christ’s ability to help us spurn. Because of His obedience, we can be obedient too.

And secondly, it’s an epiphany in the more literal sense: a manifestation of the divine nature of Christ there in the dust and dirt of life on troubled planet earth. It wasn’t the end of the story, though. The writer of another segment of Scripture tells us about the attitude of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That is what obedience results in when rightly placed. This is Jesus. And this is what God wants for us.

(Photo Credit: “Jules Guérin. The Wilderness of Judea . 1910” by Jules Guérin (1866-1946)Book author: Robert Smythe Hichens – Robert Smythe Hichens, The Holy Land, 1910 p.175. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jules_Gu%C3%A9rin._The_Wilderness_of_Judea_._1910.jpg#/media/File:Jules_Gu%C3%A9rin._The_Wilderness_of_Judea_._1910.jpg)

News That Moves Us

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Terrorist attacks on Paris. Syrian refugees. Lufthansa pilot-forced airliner crash. The top news stories of 2015 have been about tragedies. When we hear about calamities and catastrophes, we are shocked; we are shaken out of our own comfortable routines and forced to pay attention to the hardships and extremities of others. The response of many countries to help resettle Syrian refugees forced from their own war-torn country shows that some news moves us enough to cause us to act.

It’s worth taking a look at this phenomenon—not necessarily of the refugee situation, or of attacks of some people against others—but of news that moves us. What is it about certain news that causes us to be willing to change our routines, our norms, and even our foundational goals for the sake of others? What is it that causes us to make a paradigm shift in our thinking and behaviour as a result of some news?

I believe news only changes us when we see its relevance to our own lives. When we see or hear news that rings true and that strikes a resonating chord with us, we are changed. Our thinking changes, our emotions often express that change, and our behaviours change.

The Bible talks about this same phenomenon.

God made a promise thousands of years ago to the human race. It was spoken specifically to Abraham but it referred to every one of us who would ever live. That promise was the epitome of news. The bottom line of what God said to Abraham was, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

This wasn’t a vague blessing bestowed by a benevolent but somewhat passive divine being upon His vast creation. It was news that God had begun a series of intricately timed occurrences that would culminate in an outrageous event: His own incarnation as one of us—for the express purpose of rescue. Why rescue? Think hard and deep.

Think about life. Think about the times you’ve messed up—we all have. Think about what it could be like if it was perfect. God designed life to be perfect for us, but we are a rebellious lot, to be truthful. We need someone to rescue us from ourselves, and Jesus is that Someone.

If that news strikes home, if it pierces to your very soul and is more relevant to you than anything else on this planet, then you’ve heard news that will move you. It will move you to entrust the remainder of your days and your eternity to Him. It will move you admit daily that you fall short of His hopes for you, but it will allow you to submit yourself to His gracious work changing your character to become like His—true and honest and good. It will move you to love God and love your neighbour in ever-expanding ways.

Sadly, not every one of us will benefit from this news. Like the many who ignore the plight of Syrian refugees, turn a blind eye to the hurting in the world, or give nothing more than a passing glance at the real cause of this world’s turmoil, the good news of Jesus will not take root in everyone’s lives. God gives us a choice. He presents it as news in the best way each of us can understand and leaves the response to us.

Honestly, our worst response is to reject the offer, to ignore it, to try some other means of finding relief from our troubles or to hide them altogether. But our best response is just to simply trust Him—to say it, to think on it and to act on it. That’s when God’s good news moves us the way it was intended to.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s amazing news.

(Photo Credit: “International newspaper, Rome May 2005”. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:International_newspaper,_Rome_May_2005.jpg#/media/File:International_newspaper,_Rome_May_2005.jpg)