The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 1

The Conversation.

How often do each of us think about life’s biggest questions, like: “Why is there something instead of nothing?”; “Does life have meaning?”; “Are there such things as right, wrong, and truth?”; and “Does God exist?”?

Folks at Google know how often we think those questions. It seems people use Google to try to find answers to them and Google has collected that data and mapped it—at least for those who live in the United States of America. On that map we can see the questions and terms related to life, morality and religion that each state of the union Googled more than any other in the past year.

Illinoisians predominantly pondered, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Floridians primarily wondered, “What is my purpose in life?” New Hampshirites chiefly inquired, “What happens when you die?” and Alabamans first and foremost asked, “What is love?”

Those are good questions, but googling is a superficial fix. If we want a bigger picture, the fullest, most expansive appreciation and understanding not only of the answers but of why we ask the questions in the first place, we need a higher authority than Google. We need to approach the ultimate authority on such things.

“Do not be scared by the word authority,” advises well-known author C.S. Lewis. “Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority…None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority” (Mere Christianity, p. 62).

An ultimate authority on life would have to be something or Someone who was around long before anything ever occurred here on earth or—let’s go bigger—in the universe itself. Let’s call the Great Being responsible for causing the universe to exist, for being the uncaused Cause, the One who truly knows the answer to our every question, God. And if God is the originator of our amazing but relatively puny minds that utilize language to ask deep existential questions, surely He is capable of answering them. God is the epitome of language. He is able to communicate far more to us than we have imagined—or even liked. It is not a case of René Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” but rather “God thinks, therefore I am.”

In fact, God is the initiator of a conversation into which each of us is called. It is from this point that we will spend a little time considering what has come to be known as ‘The call of God.’ The Bible proposes that God calls each and every individual on planet earth—including you and me—and we respond one way or another.

“What!” you exclaim. “I’ve never heard a peep from Him!”

Is that so? Perhaps it’s time to explore it. Let’s take a look at a list of individuals—“ancients” they were called—people free from the clamour of 21st century busy-ness, people who heard and in various ways answered God’s call. Let’s explore their experiences and try to tease out what they heard, what they didn’t hear, how they responded, and how that made a difference to their lives and to the lives of those around them.

Hebrews chapter 11 contains that list. It begins by defining the hearing of God’s call as an expectancy and certainty—a hope. It labels that hearing faith and explains, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Who commends them? God. What are they commended for? For seeing the invisible and hearing the inaudible; for setting aside the hesitations and skepticisms, the pride and rebellions that blind and deafen us to what God is communicating, to His call on every human life.

So join in the exploration. And if you are bold enough, come with an expectancy and certainty that delights God. Set aside the disappointments that have affected—maybe even soured—your idea of who God is. Ask God to open your ears, and then be open to a new kind of hearing, because we’re going in search of God’s call.

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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.

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 10

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Does Not Delight in Evil.

Love “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” claims the author of I Corinthians 13—the Bible’s love chapter. We innately know the essential component of love is its complete absence of evil. We affirm that statement so easily. Perhaps we can skip over this phrase, ticking off the little box as completed—accomplished!

But the words insist we stay a moment. We need to delve a little deeper. There is something here for us and we must not to sweep it away as peripheral, inconsequential and irrelevant. The inspired words are giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of the human heart—your heart and mine. By now we are aware that words inspired by God, if understood correctly, cut to the quick. They penetrate into hearts and have a habit of revealing thoughts and attitudes we thought were well hidden.

Surprisingly, the key word in this phrase is not evil. That comes eventually. First, the author wants us to look at delighting, at the human heart, its role and purpose and its set point. Our heart is not only capable of delighting; its primary task is to delight. It must absorb the glories of something outside itself that is good and expand with the resulting joy, or else be in bondage to something—even itself—that is not worthy of its worship, and finally shrivel and die.

To be delighted is to be entranced, enthralled and enchanted. It is to be riveted, transfixed and mesmerized. Look at those words again. Do you see what they are all doing? They are holding the heart in a sort of bondage. They do not offer the heart options; they demand the delight response. We become captivated by something and try as we might, we cannot escape. It may have started out as a first look, our attention caught by something interesting, but soon the attraction becomes irresistible. We have begun to delight in it.

Create a list of things that enthrall. The list is endless. To determine what it is that delights us, we simply need to ask ourselves, “What is it I cannot live without, or will be angry with God if it is taken away?” These things may not be evil in themselves, but they do hold sway over our thoughts, emotions, and even our actions.

Now we need to come to the word evil. How do we determine whether the things that delight us are evil or good? The Bible often uses words like wicked to describe people captivated by evil, and like righteous to describe those captivated by good. Even the terms righteous and wicked, though, come with some baggage, some incomplete or faulty impressions. The author of the very first Psalm gives us some insight on how we can determine good and evil, where our heart’s delight lies, and how to rectify the situation if the news is bad.

“…(Y)ou thrill to God’s Word,” explains the author of Psalm 1, describing those captivated by God and everything about Him, “you chew on Scripture day and night. You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, never dropping a leaf, always in blossom. You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust—”

Author Timothy Keller looks at it from another angle. “The righteous,” he explains, “are by definition those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the community while the wicked are those who put their economic, social, and personal needs ahead of the needs of the community.” Good and evil, Keller continues, “is inevitably ‘social’, because it is all about relationships.”

Relationship with God is number one. Growing within that relationship requires absorbing everything He reveals about Himself in His Word, communicating with Him in prayer and living in line with that truth. Relationship with the people He created in His image is number two. Reaching out to them with as if we are the hands and feet of Jesus keeps those relationships in perspective. When we focus our primary delight on God and our secondary delight on people, we will find ourselves protected from being in bondage to the delight of evil. We will be safeguarded from the shriveling, minimizing effects of placing our delight in lesser things and becoming like them—nothing more than windblown dust.

The stakes are high. We can ride the wave of any delight that rolls our way and discover that love escapes us in the end, or we can delight in God Himself and in His magnificent love for us. One deceives and the other is truth. One destroys, while the other recreates ever-expanding truly human beings. One is loneliness and one is true community. Come and delight in the God who is love.

(Photo Credit: Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/search?safe=strict&biw=1920&bih=868&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=PNU_WvT6F-Oe0wLDv4mgDw&q=apple+trees&oq=apple+trees&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0i67k1j0l2j0i67k1j0l6.3443.4452.0.6727.5.5.0.0.0.0.73.324.5.5.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.322…0i7i30k1j0i13k1.0.HDgX1M7A0OU#imgrc=Ld7j-xZD1ckMrM:)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 6

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Is Not Rude.

A lump of clay is rudimentary. It is the raw material of something more. When it had been part of the riverbank, its form had fit its function. It was a wall against spring rains swelling the creek into a riotous rush, threatening to overrun the edges of field, forest, and even city. But as a lump, washed from the bank and carried downstream, clay no longer assumes its natural function. Clay smears, smudges and muddens everything it touches. It stains clothing, clumps annoyingly on boot soles, and gets wedged under fingernails. It is rude.

When the Apostle Paul addends his list in I Corinthians 13 to include what love is not, he declares, “it is not rude.” What does this mean? Is it just another ‘thou shalt not’ that adds to the negative impression many have of what it means to be a person of faith? If it’s just about tiptoeing around other people’s compulsive sensitivities, surely we are culturally beyond that sanctimonious Victorian-era of priggishness, are we not?

Yet there it stands: “Love…is not rude.” No apology or explanation. What did Paul mean? Firstly, Paul didn’t actually use the word rude, because the international language of trade was not, of course, English. The word he used was a word with a negative prefix added to it—the way we add prefixes to words to make them mean the opposite—like: a-symmetry, mis-understanding, and il-logical. The word he negativized was from the verb ‘to form.’ He made it into something like de-form.

“Love,” Paul writes to the new believers in Corinth, “does not deform.” Love does not deform, twist, warp, disfigure or besmirch others—either in actions or with words. It does not muddy the waters of truth, smear others’ reputations, or stain the purity of others’ minds with its clinging insinuations.

“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” Paul elaborates to another budding group of Christ-followers, “but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” Unwholesome talk is a part of rudeness. It must go. But as with many aspects of being formed with the character of Jesus and living with integrity, the void it leaves must be filled with something Christlike. It’s like taking that messy, muddy, clay and bringing it into the craftsman’s studio. It must be dealt with on the potter’s wheel. It must be thrown, centred, pushed, pulled, squeezed, pressured, collared, shaped, raised, smoothed and inspected (my potter friends can confirm if these actions will make something of usefulness and value in the process of their craft).

“Finally,” Paul expands in an epistle to a third young assembly of believers, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Bringing love into the workrooms of our minds is where rudeness is reshaped into grace, disrespect is molded into consideration, and impropriety is transformed into high and noble conduct. Love is applying the beauty and grace of Christ to the raw material of our hearts and minds so it can work its way out through our mouths and hands and feet. It is centering our worldview upon the eternal truths of God’s Word. It is submitting ourselves to the hands of the Great Potter to see what He will create.

Paul was right. Love is not rude. It is too vast and inclusive to be bound by the sorry restrictions of rudeness. The Holy Spirit, the one Jesus designated to counsel and supply wisdom to His true followers, is present and perfectly qualified to do His recreative work in us, so let’s work with Him. We have love to become.

(Photo Credit By Siim Sepp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=328890)

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 24 (Conclusion)

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‘Taw’

“How Should We Then Live?’ asks the provoking title of Francis Schaeffer’s documentary which bears the sub-title ‘The Rise and Fall of Western Thought and Culture.’ The documentary is an expression of Schaeffer’s defense of Presuppositional Apologetics—the view that Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. Remove that basis and rational thought decays. It’s a bold presupposition, isn’t it?

We all make sense of our experiences from presuppositions we hold. That is why two observers seeing the same thing can come away with two very different impressions. These suppositions, inferences, even hunches create the worldviews through which we make sense of everything we observe. Christian faith, explains Presuppositional Apologetics, presupposes the universe, the Bible, and Jesus, the Son of God are divine revelations without which every other worldview is lacking essential information for rational human life. There are no neutral assumptions from which reason can arise. Only the assumptions that arise from God’s revelation provide us with full rational thought that leads to full flourishing life.

As the psalmist brings us to his concluding stanza of Psalm 119, he summarizes Scripture’s teaching on the personal nature of God. He connects his experience of God with the rational basis of human thought: the Scriptural revelation that God alone is worthy of worship, that God’s precepts alone are faithful guideposts for life, and that God has created one salvation, the ultimate solution to every human problem.

“May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word. / May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. / May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. / May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. / May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. / I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. / Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. / I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psalm 19:169-176).

“Give me understanding according to your word,” pleads the psalmist. He is convinced that the wealth of wisdom (rational thought and the behaviours that arise from it) for the present, and hope for the future come from God. As modern thinkers, we may be tempted to think social consensus or political charters make Scriptural revelation obsolete. But can charters of rights and freedoms really trump the noble virtue God’s character and principles express? What about when society or nature and their current cohort of ‘freedoms’ and restrictions fail us?

The psalmist’s hope is in the Lord. “May your hand be ready to help me,” he prays, and “I long for your salvation…” So the psalmist guides us to look to the Hope of the Nations, the Lord’s salvation—Jesus—who alone offers a rational basis for believing that there is hope for us.

How ought we live each day in order to reflect the rational foundation of our faith? By coming to the Shepherd of our souls admitting we are “strayed…lost sheep” and “servant(s)”, and asking for His help to live lives of integrity, lives aligned with the truth of His revealed will. That is the message the psalmist has painstakingly taken 176 verses in twenty-two stanzas to communicate. Without God we are nothing. With His salvation we become everything He imagined. That’s more than epic. That’s rational.

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 23

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‘Sin and Shin’

The Vulcan hand salute is well known by Star Trek lovers. What few might know, though, is that Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock) borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish priestly blessing, a blessing he had seen as a child performed in an orthodox synagogue. The blessing shapes both hands to represent the Hebrew letter Sin/Shin representing the initiating letter of God’s name, El Shaddai—Almighty God. It recognizes God’s omnipresence and His genius for affecting the lives of people.

“Always, everywhere, God is present,” observes A.W. Tozer, “and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” How does El Shaddai, the Almighty God, affect people’s lives—your life and mine? How does He discover Himself to each one? These are the questions the psalmist explores as he pens the stanza he entitles with the Hebrew letter ‘Sin and Shin’,

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. / I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. / I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. / Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. / Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. / I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. / I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. / I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you”(Psalm 119:161-168).

Worldly regimes, observes the psalmist, tend to be fundamentally opposed to faith. Eventually, all ideologies—even those founded on rights and freedoms—degenerate into special, privileged interest groups using government power for opportunistic reasons. The God-centred worldview and practice of believers becomes abhorrent to worldly regimes, whose laws, bemoans the psalmist, “persecute me without cause.”

Yet something unexpected occurs within the man or woman of faith, something that has happened throughout history, regardless of the believer’s age, race, sex, or socioeconomic status when faced with persecution for their faith. They stand and rejoice in the Promise of God.

For one thing, God’s intentions for people are not to persecute them but to bring them good. God doesn’t rule by external pressure but by internally transforming people who joyfully submit to Him. His plans are to give us hope and an eternal future. This, says the psalmist, is the source of the believer’s joy. Persecution takes on as much importance as a tiresome insect.

For another thing, a relationship with God is based on reality, on deep, enduring truths, rather than on the falsehood, corruption, folly and situational ethics to which earthly rulers fall prey. God is the author of truly righteous laws because He made us and understands the core of our being.

More than that, God’s law is a law that produces in its adherents a deep, penetrating peace because it brings people into alignment with God’s ways—that which C.S. Lewis terms, ‘the grain of the universe.’ “Nothing,” insists the psalmist, “can make th(ose who love God’s law) stumble.” “Nothing,” concurs the Apostle Paul, “shall separate us from the love of God.”

How does a person access this uncommon relationship with God? By pursuing human law, by depending on personal rights, freedoms and identity? No. The psalmist says he waits; he follows, he obeys, and he loves everything about God. His confidence is not in his own devotion; it is in God’s devotion to him. God creates, God initiates the human-divine relationship, God loves, and God provides the salvation believers all come to recognize we need.

Which brings us always back to Jesus Christ, God-fully-contained-in-a-man, the One who personifies the “law” about which the psalmist cannot stop praising. Hearts that tremble before Jesus, who rejoice in Him, who love the core truth of Him and take Him as their sure salvation are hearts fully at peace. Come to Him and find the peace that breathes, “…all my ways are known to you.”

 

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 17

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‘Samekh’

Kim Peek could read two pages of an open book at one time by splitting his vision. Using his unique savant skill, Peek was able to memorize more than 9,000 books while he had an IQ rated at only 87. It seems that the prenatal development of his corpus callosum—the tissue normally connecting the two hemispheres of a brain—had somehow been arrested, leaving him with a condition known as ‘split-brain’. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy, and is used to reduce epileptic seizures. It seems to accomplish its purpose, but it comes with the strange side effect of dis-integrated actions. In one instance, a split-brain individual was documented as finding himself pulling down one pant leg with his left hand while pulling up the other pant leg with his right because of dueling desires to undress and dress. There are difficulties with being double-minded.

In ‘Samekh’, the fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, the Psalmist tackles the dilemma of double-minded thinking. He is appealing to God with deep intensity a prayer borne out of experience. He has felt the sting of opponents whose double-minded treachery has traumatized him. Perhaps he has even felt the influence of succumbing to their faithless double-dealing deceptions. The old King James version begins by translating his words as, “I hate vain thoughts…” Actions begin with thoughts, and none of us are immune to surrendering our minds to moments of low and ignoble imaginings in the hidden arena of our thoughts. Hatred against this most base indication of human degradation is appropriate. There is something in each of us—the vestige of a memory—that knows we were created for true and noble thoughts; we cringe when we recognize how far and how easily we can slip from the single-minded, undivided loyalty to our Creator and His calling.

With this caveat in mind, we read a newer version/translation of the stanza to say, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Why does the psalmist contrast double-mindedness with loving/hoping in God’s word? It sounds like he’s comparing apples to obelisks. We might need to begin by exploring and defining double-minded thinking.

Double-mindedness is a mindset of dualism that separates life into disconnected categories. Relationships, work, leisure, goals, desires, character and behaviour all stand apart from one another, and may be manipulated to achieve whatever an individual desires. There is no regard for any integrated whole to the sum of the parts of that individual’s life. If one were to investigate this kind of life more thoroughly, one would find inconsistencies and illogical, indefensible reasoning, a foundation crumbling from within. Double-minded thinking causes people to reject truths that annoy them and imprecate “Ignorant!” to deflect reality from piercing their souls.

Whereas, loving God’s revealed truths—His principles for living, His solution for our rebellion and His goals for our future—is the epitome of single-minded wholehearted thinking. It provides an integrity for our lives. It gives cohesion and logical coherence to everything we think, say and do. Only God can provide true single-mindedness. He does it by directing us to “Fix (your) eyes on Jesus,” to “Set your minds on things above…with Christ,” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves…(but to) do what it says(!)”

This is why Jesus is quoted so many times as prefacing His remarks with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” It is because He intends us to pay close attention to His words, to mull over them, to discuss them with other people and wrestle with the concepts until we can incorporate them fully into our lives. His words make us people of integrity and are the only remedy for double-mindedness.

“I will give them singleness of heart and action” promises God to the body of people He considers His children. What a promise! Let’s reach out and embrace Jesus, accept the gift, and embody the trueness He longs to impart deep into our being.