Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.

Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

Snapshots: Day 148

(We pick up again for the next week or so, our journey through the Bible, catching little glimpses or snapshots of what is there. We are now into the beautiful story of Ruth) 

Snapshots: Day 148

The Snapshot: “So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” (Ruth 1:1) We don’t often see the coming of a start of a story of anguish, for they tend to creep up on us quietly. Even more, the causes for such stories of anguish often elude us, or we just don’t realize what we are doing and find ourselves in circumstances that we would have preferred to avoid. This man, Elimelek, was an Israelite and his home was the land of Israel, and that’s where he should have stayed. Did he not know the story of Abram, who got into deep water trying to avoid a famine? (Gen 12:10) ‘Famines’ are best sat out as difficult as they may be. The alternatives are often worse. Cry to God for help sounds tough talk but it is the answer (1 Kings 17:1-6,16, 2 Kings 4:5)

Further Consideration: The circumstances of life sometimes seem to press on us and seem to require us to go down paths which, on a better day, we know are unwise. Famines occur a number of times in the Bible – before the days of refrigeration, and mass storage – as events that either naturally occurred or sometimes occurred as the disciplinary judgment of God. In one sense it doesn’t matter what the cause was, the big issue is how will we respond to it?

It doesn’t have to be a famine; it can be any trial or tribulation that appears on our horizon. It can be a multitude of different things but the common feature is that there is a threat to our future. How will we handle it, how will we act in the face of it?

It almost seems trite in such difficult times to quote scripture but the truth is there: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) Whatever the trial, whatever the pressure, whatever the mishap, the answer is the same – take it to the Lord. Hold on, cries the skeptic, I don’t just want, peace, I want answers, I want this situation changed! Yes, of course you do but IF you have prayed and the peace comes, it comes because as you prayed the awareness also came that you are in God’s hands and, as one who loves the Lord, you can know that “in all things God works for the good,” (Rom 8:28) your good!

Let’s not mutter about trite verses, these are the truth. We either learn to see they are the truth, or we will abandon our ‘land’ and end up in a foreign, hostile land where it goes even more wrong.  Stay where you are, seek God, receive His provision for your present circumstances and still be in the right place when the trial has passed. No, it’s not always easy, but it is right, until He tells you to move.

Snapshots: Day 132

Snapshots: Day 132

The Snapshot: “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors.” (Josh 21:43) An amazing – and very surprising description! Yes, the Land has been taken but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants still there. So, yes, the Lord’s will, described in those early days of Exodus to Moses has been fulfilled. But it is a challenging analogy. When we come to Christ there is a new ‘land’ to be taken, a new life to be lived, having left the old one (Egypt, the place of slavery) behind. And as we go in to take this new ‘land’ that Christ has earned for us and the Spirit empowers us to take, there is much from the past to be considered dead, much to be put to death (see Rom 6:11-13, Col 3:5,8,9, Eph 4:22-32), the battle for a godly & righteous ‘land’.

Further Consideration: This is God who, in this fallen world, tolerates imperfection in us. The fact that Israel had not cleared out every single Canaanite from the Land did not mean that the plan of God was thwarted, it just means (as we’ve seen again and again) He realistically works with the imperfect and incomplete.

It is an amazing challenge both for those atheists who foolishly say that God is harsh and vindictive, and those legalists who say that God is holy and therefore judges all wrongdoing. Well, for the latter group, that is true but He does it through the Cross; Jesus has taken the punishment for every wrong deed. If he hadn’t, not one of us could stand, everyone one of us would be living in fear, waiting for the hand of destruction to fall on us.

And so Israel ‘possess’ the land but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants around and the Lord knew this and said He would leave them as a challenge to Israel to test them. Every time Israel fell into disobedience, these enemies rose up and attacked them. It was a funny form of discipline, it wasn’t God hitting Israel with a big stick, but God allowing Israel to be disciplined by their own failure to deal with their enemies outright.

Now this is where it starts getting painful because this is what happens when we come to Christ. When we are saved, we are perfect in God’s eyes as far as our eternal destiny is concerned but the depth of our conversion, if I may put it like that, will determine the practicalities of our future lives here on earth. If we are half-hearted about our commitment, about our obedience, and do not put to death the deeds of self, they will eventually turn and bite us, they will cause us pain when they come out into the open and be seen for what they are. Unredeemed anger and its causes is a good example. If we don’t let the Lord work deeply in us, then anger (for whatever its unresolved cause) will flare up, cause upset, hurt and so on, and we will feel the pain. A Warning.

Snapshots: Day 131

Snapshots: Day 131

The Snapshot: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge.” (Josh 20:2) This is civilization in the making, the people of God in the making. This is the recognition of the Lord God of Israel that mankind struggles with sin in its various forms. The ‘cities of refuge’ were first a recognition that upsets happen and in the midst of upset things get said and then done that shouldn’t, even death, then regret. But that is only one side of the story. The other side is the onlookers, the family whose loved one has been killed. An eye of an eye, a life for a life!!!! Not when it was an accident. Killer, flee to a safe place to give them time to cool down! This is the God who seeks to cool tempers, bring peace, prevent further conflict, then and now.

Further Consideration: I am always amazed that the Law of God is not only full of practical care but also the grace and mercy of the Lord. It reveals to us a God who not only understands us but recognizes and provides for our failures. On Day 110 we considered Deut 21:1 “If someone is found slain…. and it is not known who the killer was…” which again was a recognition of sin in the people and yet which also provided a way for that to be recognised, acknowledged and dealt with appropriately.

The cities of refuge were a similar provision recognizing that in this fallen world, men act badly towards each other and if that wasn’t bad enough they might accidentally end up killing each other – but it was an accident, it was not intentional. But this provision cares for those on both sides of this. On the one side the family of the dead person are likely to be very upset, so much so that they seek revenge, they seek to take the law into their own hands, i.e. they seek the kill the other antagonist. But it was an accident and the Lord wants to both protect him and keep the other side from doing something that drags them down and become guilty of what would then be murder. Thus there were these cities of refuge.

When the fleeing man reached the city, he was to explain to the city elders what had happened and if they accept his story they are to give him protection (20:4) but then there is to be a trial in the city where the case is properly examined (20:6) and if found innocent he can stay on there. Thus both sides are saved from worse ongoing conflict and feud.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” (Mt 5:9) and that simple beatitude undergirds so much of the intent of God for His people. How many times in the epistles do we find in the opening, “Grace and peace to you”? Peace and harmony are to be foundation stones for our lives that flow from the grace and truth that Jesus brought (Jn 1:14) and which also go to make up that foundation. When we blow it and disharmony occurs, how can we heal the breach?

Snapshots: Day 125

Snapshots: Day 125

The Snapshot: “when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed.” (Josh 6:20) Obedience comes in various forms: “follow me” (Mt 4:19), “stretch out your hand” (Ex 7:19, Mt 12:13), “come” (Mt 14:29). Perhaps no instructions have ever been so bizarre for taking a city as Israel received here, a series of things they had to do culminated by a loud shout – and then the city would fall – and it did! God’s instructions sometimes seem to defy logic or common sense but then, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong, (1 Cor 1:27) which is why He chose you and me and we forget that at our peril. Why these things? “so that no one may boast before him.” (v.29) Right!

Further Consideration: In the previous study we started contemplating the wonder of the transformations that take place in us, physical, mental and emotional changes as we grow as human beings, and then changes in belief, understanding, and then behaviour, as the children of God that we came be as we turned to Christ.

But now we go even deeper into that as we face a vital truth, a double truth actually, that God knows far better than we do how life can work and, even more, He has the power to bring about things that are beyond our usual human capabilities.

And this is something more that chews at the human mind, at human pride, and that is how can God do miracles? Our old self aided and abetted by the enemy whispering into our minds, and sometimes helped along by those who belong to him, starts reasoning and rationalizing. Many years ago, in a church service, one of our people died. A nurse in the congregation confirmed her death. No pulse, no heartbeat, she knew what she was doing, she was dead. But we prayed and she came alive. The rational mind says the nurse was wrong; somehow it seems important to us to be able to explain it like that.

When I was a lot younger I had a non-believing friend and we used to talk stuff together. One day the subject of the taking of Jericho came up. “Oh, it’s easy,” he said, “When an army marches over a bridge they have to break step otherwise the rhythm of their marching will set up vibrations that shake the bridge to pieces. That’s what happened with Jericho.” “Amazing,” I replied, “Joshua had taken his men over so many bridges he knew this? Why is it so hard to believe God told him? And maybe, just maybe, it happened like that – but not so much on desert soil.” But it was that same thing, the need to explain it away. Why? Because a miracle demands accepting that God is on the scene and that has a load more repercussions!  So let’s stop listening to the enemy’s daft suggestions and just say, “Awesome, Lord, good one!”

Snapshots: Day 122

Snapshots: Day 122

The Snapshot: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” (Josh 3:6) The ark of the covenant usually dwelt in the heart of the Tabernacle, the place of God’s dwelling, but when Israel were on the move it always went ahead. When it came to entering the Promised Land and crossing the Jordan it was those carrying the ark who stepped into the water first and then it miraculously divided. Do we want to see miracles return to the life of the church (as Jesus’ instructed – Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12, Mt 28:20)? Then ensure Jesus goes first, ensure we are ‘following’ him, watching him and then doing what he wants to do (Jn 5:19). The Son is the head of the church (Eph 4:15) so let’s ensure we are a responsive body that follows.

Further Consideration: “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the most simple description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.

But I’m scared about what you might ask me to do. For example you asked Peter to walk on water. Child, realize there was only one Peter and only one instance of walking on the water. Peter could handle that so I told him to come and he did. None of the others asked and so I called none of them to do it. I know what you are capable of doing – yes, with my enabling – and I know the encouragement you personally need to step up and step out to do such things, but they will be things that are unique to you because I know what you and I can do together.

But I don’t know how to heal people, deliver demoniacs or perform miracles. No, but I do and all I ask of you is your heart and your voice when it comes to it; I will provide the power that brings the change. That’s what I did with my disciples, that’s what I will do with you if you want me to. But of course I want you to! Do you, do you really, do you really want to experience the uncertainties of stepping out in faith and possibly failing?

But, Lord, that’s just it, I’m afraid of failing, of not hearing you properly, of being presumptuous and going ahead of you. That’s all right, Peter often did, but he learned. I am pleased when you reach out in faith and if the time is not yet right, don’t worry, you are still learning and I am still pleased. The more you try, the more you will learn to be sensitive to me. Just trust me to turn up when the time is right, learn to let me go ahead and, yes, follow me.    

Snapshots: Day 108

Snapshots: Day 108

The Snapshot: “The king… is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law” (Deut 17:16,18) Deuteronomy is filled with remarkable gems. This chapter virtually prophesies what will happen in the days of Samuel (see Deut 17:14,15 and 1 Sam 8:4,5); the Lord knew what would happen, but look at the guidelines given for such a king: He is to write out the Law (v.18), read it all the days of his life (v.19a) and follow carefully all the words of this law (v.19b). This king is to establish his reign on the Law of God, ensuring that the design of God for His people is followed throughout the nation. If every king had done that, there was promise of God’s blessing. “One nation under God” so the US pledge of allegiance goes. If only it was, if only we were.

Further Consideration:  Psalm 2 comes as a complete contrast: “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psa 2:2,3) What folly, what misunderstanding! Instead of realizing that God’s Law given to Moses was His blueprint, His design for how He has designed us so we can work best, live in peace and harmony, people full of pride see this design as restrictive.

The trouble is that ‘rulers’ are so often prone to pride, feeling that they are all-important, not realizing that it just needs some form of sickness or illness to bring them down. Nebuchadnezzar (see Dan 4) had to have a bout of insanity before he came to his senses and then he worshiped the Lord.

In our starter verse above, Moses was prophesying what would happen in the days to come and gave express instructions how the king, whoever he was, was to keep on the right path before the Lord – but not only reading the Law but by writing out a copy for himself. He wasn’t just to rely on the copy that the priests had, he had to have his own copy and to make it more memorable, he wasn’t to delegate the job to a scribe, he was to write it out himself.  Now to my understanding Saul never did that and as a result he got in a mess!

In a day when fewer and fewer Christians, we are told, are reading the Bible, there is a challenge to the present generations to get the word of God under their belts, not just the Law found in the Pentateuch, but the whole of the New Testament especially. We don’t need to write it out like was being suggested here because today we have so many copies, so many versions available to us that we can find for free on the Internet. http://www.biblegateway.com have done us a great service putting the scriptures online and so accessible. No one has an excuse today that, “I couldn’t afford a Bible.” It is there free and easily accessible. Don’t make excuses Christian, read the book.

Snapshots: Day 101

Snapshots: Day 101

The Snapshot: “you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” (Deut 7:6) This verse follows an exhortation to not be like the pagans that the Lord will drive out of the Land. God had called Israel to be an utterly different people, a unique people, His people who have been redeemed from the fallen ways of the world and given a new blueprint as to how to live – and it is different from everyone else in this fallen world. That is also our calling (1 Pet 2:9), to live in relationship with the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth  (Gen 14:19,22) and be a different people, not in a super-pious,  arrogant way, but as a cleansed and purified and humbled people, full of love and goodness, a people utterly reliant on their God. May it be so.

Further Consideration:  When I was younger there was a time when Christians seemed to get themselves in a twist about holiness and in retrospect those who focused on holiness mostly seemed to demonstrate a distinct lack of it. In the Hebrew the original word from which we get holiness seems to express ‘separation’, while the equivalent Greek word in the New Testament seems to signify ‘pure’. Put together the idea seems to be separation to God, consecration to God. When this applies to God, it suggests separation of a perfect (pure) Being from material creation, and especially from mankind!

When there is a relationship between a person and God, that person takes on the holy nature of God. Holiness we might suggest, rubs off (see Ex 30:29, Lev 16:18). The fact is that when we came to Christ we entered into close relationship with God, and the reality of that was the presence of His Holy Spirit who now indwells us. The fact that the New Testament refers to us being “in Christ” also suggests the closeness which Jesus himself spoke about when he spoke of the vine (him) and the branches (us) – see Jn 15:4,5 and so again and again we see this unity that perhaps we take for granted, a unity that makes us holy.

Initially it was seen in Israel: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2) so when Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity,” (Jn 17:23) we cannot but infer that within this oneness comes this holiness. So, when Peter calls us “a holy nation,” (1 Pet 2:9) he knows we are this separate, distinct, pure, consecrated-to-God people. Whether we like it not, understand it or not, we ARE holy because He is holy.

It isn’t because we now follow the Law of Moses but because we have this living relationship with God the Father, earned by God the Son and administered by God the Holy Spirit, a holy Godhead who have worked to create a holy people out of the devastation of this Fallen World.

Snapshots: Day 98

Snapshots: Day 98

The Snapshot: “the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert.” (Deut 1:1) On the plains of Moab (1:5 & 34:1,8) Moses paused up. He’s near the end of his journey. The people will shortly enter the Land but he won’t. It is a significant time. Deuteronomy is the long record of his instructions to Israel there on the plains (except for ch.34 added by another recorder). At the end of it, he declared to them, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” A book full of exhortations to obey the Lord, reject idol worship, and live for God. They could never say they weren’t told.  A blueprint for a nation blessed by God, but the trouble is blueprints get lost and forgotten. Israel forgot that. We have our New Testament; may we never forget this blueprint for blessing.

Further Consideration:  In some ways Deuteronomy is quite repetitious with similar sounding calls to obedience coming and calls to keep from idol worship, and so on, but we need repetition if we are to remember things. I teach a group about strengthening memory and of course the use of repetition is one such way, so don’t be put off by reading the same things more than once – we need that!

I wonder how Moses felt on the plains of Moab as he taught Israel over a number of days. His memory clearly went back to the times of their failures because we see him reminding Israel of them in the early chapters.  We need reminding of such times, if for no other reason than to remind us what not to do again. It also reminds us how gracious God is for putting up with us. Yet in the midst of that there is the warning of being held accountable. Many lessons.

So perhaps Moses is very much aware of how vulnerable Israel are to getting it wrong and so he keeps on saying the same thing to try to get them to get the message to obey God in the new land. But at that point he has the recognition that he will not be going in with them. He has a date with God in heaven, so they will be going in without him. Mixed emotions surely. Regret at having blown it at the rock? Regret at not going in, perhaps? Or maybe relief that he’s come to the end of his road with Israel. It has often been a tough time and he’s now 120, it’s now time to go home. I wonder if he felt like the apostle Paul felt centuries later: “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:6,7)

Yes, probably a mixed bag of emotions, but whatever they were he remained faithful to his task of shepherding and guiding Israel so that there on the plains as his time draws near to leave, he pours his heart out for this people to remain faithful. What an example!