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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WHO IS JESUS? #6

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Above All.

“You are from below; I am from above,” claims Jesus. “You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23,24).

In order to understand who Jesus here claims to be, He gives His listeners some information about themselves. He explains that they are “from below” and “of this world.” It would be fair to include ourselves in that description—unless you know something about yourself that is ‘out of this world’!

You and I would probably never have described ourselves as “from below”, though, would we? That descriptor carries a vertical element that is just not normally used—unless we come from the Himalayas or some other elevation-above-sea-level-based society. We are more likely to say we are from such-and-such a city, or our family comes from so-and-so country and heritage. Did you notice how these expressions describe the horizontal plane? They presume that the surface of this earth is the environment we all arise from and occupy—that it is the status quo. Any comparisons we might make of our habitat or origins are anchored firmly within the boundaries of latitude and longitude. Not so Jesus.

In contrasting Himself with people of the world, Jesus reveals a perspective that goes far beyond the world. He says He is “not of this world”, but rather “from above.” Our immediate reaction might be to think of ‘above’ in terms of the physical universe—of moon, stars and planets—but from Jesus’ perspective that is not enough above. The elevation of every star of every galaxy in the universe is flattened into mere latitudes and longitudes in contrast to the above of which Jesus speaks. Jesus is claiming to be completely above anyone or anything in creation.

He is above reproach: Christ is claiming to be the all-wise and perfect One who always applies His eternal justice in a right and thoroughly authentic manner. John’s Revelation prophecy records a song to be sung by future peoples in honour of Jesus, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages” (Revelation 15:3).

He is above and beyond the creaturely constraints of earth: Jesus is the Source of all matter and life, who created the world and came into the world to impact His creatures for their eternal good. The only way He could lift us up into His realm is by being essentially above us.

He is above religion’s failings: Unlike the proponents of this world’s religions, Jesus is unremittingly constant and perfectly successful in doing the Father’s will. He claims access to God because He Himself is God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:6,7).

He is above all: Jesus is the Transcendent One whose thoughts and ways are immeasurably beyond ours. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9).

How should we respond to this claim of Jesus that He is above all? Firstly, we might look back at the warning He gives His listeners who were also His primary antagonists during His life on earth. Most of them chose not to believe His claims, and consequently Jesus had this to say about them: “(I)f you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” So firstly, our best response is to simply believe that He is who He claims to be. It is not only true, but it affects the very foundations of who we are and how we will spend eternity. Secondly, our lives ought to display a new focus intended to honour Him in everything we do—lip service is not enough. Our thought life ought to honour Him, allowing only thoughts that are true, noble and right to inhabit our minds. Our language ought to honour Him; words characterized by truth and love best befit those who honour Jesus above all. And our actions ought to honour Him; do we control our greed and selfishness, displaying patience and compassion as He enables us?

The closer we draw to the One who is Above All, the more His beauty is reflected upon our lives. We are changed and that brings Him joy. So let’s consider well His claim to be Above All. Let’s live as if our lives depend upon it, because they do.

(Photo Credit: By NASA – http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_detail.php?id=2429http://veimages.gsfc.nasa.gov//2429/globe_east_540.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=512571)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #29

Eternity Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 145)

I praise You, Sovereign and Almighty God. My words mix with the praises of Your worshipers from ages past to eons future in a symphony of eternal praise. Each day I lend my note to the throng of voices calling out to You. My prayers today are but the middle of a song that will continue forever and ever. Here are some of the verses:

You are Great. Your height and depth and breadth of existence and character are so great they are beyond comprehending. No one can fully fathom You. This is enough to warrant our unending praise.

You are Glorious. We’ve caught glimpses of Your splendor of majesty in Your creative works here in this universe: glorious mountains and majestic sunsets, intricate designs in nature and vast constellations, songs of birds in the morning and smells of the earth on the wind. We’ve heard tell of more in the descriptions told by men like Isaiah and Daniel and John, pictures of Your glorious visage. Some day we’ll see as much of Your glory as we can bear—what worship then will come from our hearts and lips!

You are Mighty. You are tirelessly involved in Your creative acts in our world. One generation after another has had ample opportunity to see You working for our good. Transforming hearts and minds—restoring lives broken by sin—is Your ongoing task among us. Your open hand satisfies the desires of every living thing.

You are More: faithful to Your promises, loving to all You have made, righteous, near to all who call on You, upholding those who fall, and lifting up the lowly. The list goes on.

So my voice is tuned to sing Your praises, LORD. Let every creature great and small praise Your holy name forever. And as our ears become attuned to the song of the ages, we’ll hear Your own voice, deep and rich and melodious singing from eternity. What joy is ours to sing with You for ever and ever.

(Photo Credits: By Astroval1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; By Mount_Everest_as_seen_from_Drukair2.jpg: shrimpo1967derivative work: Papa Lima Whiskey 2 (talk) – This file was derived fromMount Everest as seen from Drukair2.jpg:, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18262217; By Andrew – originally posted to Flickr as Rock wren, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4215694)

HOME

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The City of Vancouver has a problem. It’s ranked as the tenth cleanest city in the world, one of the most livable places in North America, and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful metropolitan reprieves, Stanley Park. That’s not the problem. The problem is homelessness. In spite of a goal to completely eradicate the dilemma by 2014, the number of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets is on the rise. But that’s not the worst of it. If we are honest and look deep enough, we have to admit every one of us has contributed to those numbers.

We have all left the safety of home and camped on skid row, figuratively speaking. We’ve cast away the restraints with which our consciences have tried to surround us. We’ve said to the Father of our souls in one way or another, “I’m out of here!” Perhaps we’ve only dared to slip out under cover of night and return before dawn to hide our forays. Or we’ve ignored the Father, while living under His roof, so that others in the household will think all is well. We have all left home one way or another. Away seemed like the answer to our penchant for happiness.

Dr. J. Begbie, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a theory[1] about this movement we all experience. He sees this trend as descriptive of the Bible’s story of our world. He calls it the “home-away-Home” progression, and he says music illustrates this same phenomenon. There is a beginning, followed by tension, followed by resolution. He says it is one of the fundamental patterns governing our lives. He describes it this way:

Home is “the equilibrium of the good earth and the Garden of Eden, with the first humans live in harmony with God and delight in each other.” That’s only a distant genetic memory for us, but we sense it, don’t we? We long for it in the quiet moments of our lives.

Away describes the tensions that have entered. “Humans rebel, they say no to God.” We’ve done that. We’ve wandered, explored places we should never have gone. We’ve been homeless.

 Home is God’s “work on a resolution, beginning with a character called Abraham, climaxing in Jesus, and finishing with what the last book of the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’…not simply a return to how things were but to a universe remade.” That’s the resolution we each need in our lives—souls remade.

Jesus describes a similar story about our problem of homelessness. He talks about His going home to the Father to prepare a place for those who turn to Him. It’s the Home our souls have longed for. It’s where the Father resolves the tension of our wayfaring souls.

We’re all at different places on the journey. Jesus says no one is so far away that they have to remain homeless; if they truly want to come Home He can bring them there. That’s what you and I need, isn’t it? Someone who can turn our hands and feet, heart and soul toward Home. He’s there for the asking.

Father of my soul, I’ve been away far too long. My wanderlust has led me places I never meant to go. Only You can make me fit for Your Home of homes. Let Your love bind me to Yourself so I will always be where You are. Thank you Jesus.

 

[1] Willard, D. ed., A Place for Truth, IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, p.217-219.

(Photo Credit: Ajith Rajeswari, Wikimedia Commons)