Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ruth 3 - Seeking a Husband

In today's culture, marriage has been attacked and many deceive themselves into believing that marriage is either a burden to be avoided or an unnecessary institution. In Ruth's time, they recognized that the man does more for the woman than merely provide children. The man provided for the woman a security and as a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz would also provide a service to Elimilech by standing in his place to carry on the family legacy. Boaz would provide lasting comfort and security for Naomi and Ruth. 

Naomi instructs Ruth on the customs of Israel and what to do. She goes to Boaz After he has bedded for the night and lays at his feet as a sign of submission. When he wakes in the middle of the night and notices her there, she informs him that he is her kinsman-redeemer and asks him to take her as his wife. Boaz is amazed at Ruth's submission to the customs of Israel. She could have sought a much younger man, but Ruth honored tradition and she demonstrated remarkable integrity. Ruth's character would make her attractive to the man. Boaz also had demonstrated piety and  grace to Ruth, traits that would make for an excellent husband. 

In seeking a mate, the character of the person should supersede appearances. Character lasts but looks can change or lose their influence. The character traits of the person will be the glue to keep the relationship successful. 

Our methods of finding a mate and entering into the covenant of marriage often don't prepare us for the commitment required or lead us to people of godly character. We are instructed to focus on character and our own development of the character of Christ in our lives. When Christ is in us and is allowed to be preeminent, our mate will have the confidence that he/she has someone who is of great worth in their lives. 

I believe that if we in our culture held marriage high and offered training for our young to know how to select a mate that we would certainly see a rise in contented couples but also a rise in security for families as parents demonstrate committed love for their children. We have far too many children who do not have the involvement of their fathers on their lives and far too many mothers working hard to provide what the father has not. It skews our view of marriage and of roles of the husband and wife. 

Ruth finds a man of godly character and we can help our children to recognize the value of character in every relationship they have. We too can be that model of godly character in each relationship we are in; mother, wife, employee, Christ member, sister, etc. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ruth 2 - Caring for the Poor

In our days, there is a lot of discussion and even contention about how to properly care for the poor in our society. People see abuses of the public provisions and draw conclusions that all receipients are fraudulent and lazy. Others see victims of a society that has not provided the same opportunities for the marginalized. 

Scripture gives us a picture of providing for the poor on Ruth 2. Ruth, a foreigner who has committed herself to Naomi a widow from Bethlehem finds that there is no provision from their immediate family (because they have all died) and now needs to look for provision through the social welfare system. 

At that time gleaning was a means of providing for the poor who had no other means to eat. The widows, the destitute, the ill and the handicapped would be provided for as not all the field's harvest would be gathered. The corners were left for the poor to gather for their provision. If I had no land to farm and had no ability to work, then the gleaning would assure that I didn't starve. 

Note that the poor were not robbed of dignity through hand outs but they gathered for themselves in the harvest. Boaz knowing that Ruth was associated with a relative of his was especially gracious toward Ruth and made sure she had both food and protection. 

While Ruth had to gather the grain, God was providing for her needs by ordering her steps and leading her to Boaz's field as He was about to unfold her story in a beautiful way. At the time, she may not have seen God's hand, but she was humble and hard working and respectful. Those qualities I am sure endeared her to Boaz. There was no sense of entitlement or victimization. Her circumstances were what they were and she just needed to do the next right thing to secure provision for herself and Naomi. 

If we are faced with a need for provision, we should look to the Lord to order our steps and to open opportunities to receive; either through employment or the generosity of others. When poverty comes through no fault of our own as it had to Ruth, the provision from the hands of those who have sufficient provisions is God's means of sustaining. There is no place in scripture where idleness is rewarded, they are expected to be about working for their provision. God's system relies on families to care for their own before relying on public charity. 

The church is also to provide for the poor both individually and corporately. The poor are part of our world and we demonstrate God's love when we reach out to a brother or a sister in need. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ruth 1 - Gloom & Despair Not the End

If God were to write your story, what would He say?  Some people who are struggling might think that God has abandoned them or that He is treating them harshly. As we open the book of Ruth we see poverty, emigration to a foreign land, intermarriage to women out of the nation of Israel, death and more death. The story has a grim start. Naomi even changes her name to Mara because she has become bitter against God. He has taken her husbands and her sons and her only means of security. She returns to Bethlehem a broken woman. 

When hard times come for us it is easy in the moment to think that God is punishing or perhaps has removed His blessing from our life. It is far too easy to allow circumstances to overwhelm and to make us bitter. We call out to God, but rather than relief we see another anguish coming our way. 

There is no way I could get into the head of God, but I can look at how He has dealt with people from the pages of scripture and see that sometimes harshness is a result of correction for losing faith in God and placing it in ourselves or idols of the world. In the case of Naomi, I think that God is sustaining her through these hard times because he is in the middle of writing her story. It is a story where God will get the glory and be forever memorialized in the line of our Savior. They don't know it now, but Naomi and Ruth would become ancestors of David the King of Israel and the man after God's own heart. Through whom Messiah would come to save the nation. 

Our own trials and hardships may very well be the tools God uses to chisel us and to write His story in our lives. We are the clay, He is the Potter. In the middle of trials and hardship, don't give up and don't give into bitterness. We can't see the end, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Our greatest hope is for the day when we are completely one in Heaven with no pain and no sorrow. Today we have sorrow and it may just serve a purpose. 

I believe that if Naomi could have seen the end of her story, she would have found the courage to bear up bravely under her conditions anticipating better things to come. We don't know what lies at then end of our journey even today. Let's keep our hope and trust in God that He will write a wonderful story with our lives. He loves us so, and His story created in us gives the world a glimpse of the hope they can have if they will just look to the Lord for their salvation as well. 

If you are enduring hardship, keep the faith and look to the source of your hppe. If your life is going smoothly, it is then when we can be an encouragement to others. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Judges 21 - Foolish Promises

Have you ever made a vow or a promise and then found yourself not able to live up to the thing?  In this chapter we find the tribes of Israel having wiped out all but a few Benjamites struggling with what to do to provide brides so the tribe is not wiped out altogether. It is one thing to discipline bad behavior and another thing to wipe your brother off the planet. 

Here we see the result of a vow they made; to curse any man who gave their daughter in marriage to anyone in Benjamin. It wasn't a promise to God but a promise to each other and now they have ended the war and feel compassion toward their brother. Their hasty words had them in a bind. How could they not break their vow but yet provide Israelite wives for the tribe of Benjamin?  

Honestly, it would have been better for them to break the vow than to wipe out the town that didn't come to battle and then turn their heads as Benjamin "kidnapped" brides from among the dancing virgin daughters. If they had only has been as passionate about honoring God's  authority as their own. One poor choice led to another and another. But so it goes when you have no king and everyone does what is right in his own eyes. 

In fact they did have a King. It was God himself. God is our ultimately authority whether we acknowledge Him or not. We all stand or fall before God alone, believers and unbelievers. When we speak out foolish words we are bound by our integrity to honor them. When they are foolish, they will no doubt cause pain and strife in their fulfillment and perhaps create a worse situation than existed prior to the vow. 

We need to check outselves before God and consider our words. It is better to be quiet before God than to speak rashly and create an awkward vow that leads us to more foolishness. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Judges 20 - Civil War

The tribes of Israel after receiving the gruesome token sent by the Levite after his concubine had been raped and died from the violence at Gibeon were incensed and gathered to hear the story first hand from the Levite and to determine a course of action. The tribes determined that 1/10th of their men would be selected for battle and they would confront their brother tribe Benjamin at Gibeah. First, they asked for the men who committed the crime, but they would not turn over the men, so they came in attack. 

After the first unsuccessful attack they decided to ask the Lord if it was right to go against their brother tribe. The Lord confirmed their way and so they repeated the unsuccessful attack the next day. So the army returned to fast and pray again receiving word that their next day would end in success. That day they decimated the tribe, killing men, women, children and even the animals. Only about 600 men escaped to live at a rock in the desert. The tribe of Benjamin facing extinction all together. 

This was a sad day in the history of Israel that they would have to make war against their own people. That the tribe of Benjamin had strayed so far from the Lord and refused to accept the escape clause offered when the army asked for the guilty. 

When God's people pursue wickedness God must judge. We are reminded not to protect the sinner but bring him into the light so that his deeds may be exposed. If we harbor sin ourselves or protect those who have gone astray, we will be accountable to God.  If he brings fellow Christians to confront us He is right to do so. 

Israel found that unity does not trump righteousness. God brought all the tribes low in this battle recognizing that they had all compromised their faith. In the end the relationship with the tribe of Benjamin was severed and would never again be the same. Likewise, God tells the church to offer an opportunity for the one living in sin to repent and turn back to unity of the brotherhood of believers, but if they refuse we must let them go. Our first relationship is to God and not to men, but our goal should be to bring men back to God and restore fellowship. 

Do you have a troubled relationship in your circle?  Begin as the Israelited did by fasting and praying for wisdom and then be courageous enough to confront sin, but where possible restore unity. If unity cannot be achieved it is better to break fellowship than to abide with division. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Judges 19 - Depravity of Man

If ever there was a chapter in scripture I would want to unread it is this one. It is a history of Israel most vile and one man is prone to repeat if our faith is placed in our own worth. Here we have a Levite, one of God's own, taking for himself a concubine. While there are a number of instances in scripture where concubines were taken, marriage has always been preferable and is blessed of God. 

We find out early on that the concubine has been unfaithful. Without the commitment of marriage there is no constraint and no commitment before God in the relationship. An unmarried couple is creating for themselves a dynamic of lust over sacrificial love. This dynamic leaves God out of the equation and the measure of success is left to the indicator to determine. Rarely will both in the relationship use the same measure.  This Levite raised my hopes however when he pursued her after her infidelity to her father's home and was welcomed. Persuaded by her father he linger there beyond the time he planned to leave with his "wife". 

Ultimately, he made a stand on the fifth day and left in the afternoon. Not willing to stay in an alien city they pressed on to a city in the territory of Benjamin and arrived at sunset. When no one offered them a place to stay they sat in the city square. Finally, an old man comes in from the fields and offers them lodging. He offers them food and shelter for them and their animals. 

As in the story of Lot living in Sodom, wicked men came and demanded that the Levite be given to them so they might abuse him sexually. The owner of the house negotiated for the Levites safety by offering one of his own virgin daughters and the Levite's concubine, saying they could take them and do as they wished. So the men raped and abused the Levite's concubine until sunrise and then abandoned her at the door. He tried to rouse her but she had died. The Levite cut her in pieces and sent a piece to each tribe of Israel to call attention to the injustice that had taken place. The Levite wanted the people of the land to consider the violence that had taken place. 

When events like this take place today, you hear cries of why was God not helping them. In reality it shows just how vile we humans can be when we do not stay in right relationship to God. This Levite was called of God but was willing to compromise for his pleasure and for his safety. He could have been the victim of violence, but he sent in a substitute to take the abuse meant for him. 

We are all in the same position at that concubine. We are doomed to suffering, terror and destruction. Ours comes as a result of our sin. We have no hope; our fate is sealed. But then Jesus steps into our story and offers to take our place and endure the suffering on our behalf so that we can have the hope of Heaven and escape from judgement we were due. Jesus doesn't sell us out for his security, but willingly takes on the judgment we deserve out of love and devotion to fallen man. God is active though the depravity of man continues to spiral downward. Mankind is doomed without the intervention of God. We have a great hope of life infused into our hardened hearts and the hope of eternity spent in heaven. 

Please if you must read his chapter, heed the warnings for us and for all who live without a relationship to the Savior. Seek the Lord and don't be deceived by sin. The Lord could return at any moment. Will we be ready?  

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Judges 18 - Self-Deception

In the last chapter we were introduced to Micah who was sure that creating idols with stolen funds would gain for him God's favor. Wealth combined with spiritual ignorance can lead our lives into ruin without our recognizing it. 

Now in Chapter 18, some bullies from the tribe of Dan are seeking out land for themselves. They didn't want to battle the inhabitants of the land apportioned to them so they come over to Ephriam to see if there is territory easily conquered. There they encounter the Levite hired by Micah and ask him to inquire of God regarding the success of their venture. Clearly the Levite didn't have discretion enough to know that what he himself was doing was an affront to God, so now he will ask God if they will be successful in conquering land that was not appointed to them. The Levite assures these men that their journey has the Lord's approval. 

So it is with our world. Sinful people seek God's endorsement of their lifestyle rather than allowing God to direct their life choices. Throughout our lives we battle the tendency we have to take control of our affairs and ask for God's blessing after we have already made our choices when God asks us to become living sacrifices at His disposal. God apportions for us an allotment and we demonstrate our dissatisfaction with what we have been given by longings for more and using debt to get what we want now rather than waiting for God's good time. The men of Dan longed for God to approve of their use of might to take what was not theirs to have. 

Later, the men return to the house of Micah and woo away his Levite with the promise of greater influence by serving them (this Levite already had demonstrated that he would tell them what they want to hear). They also steal the idols and the ephod from Micah so they can set up for themselves a type of religiousity. Micah was left without his possessions and returned home knowing he didn't have the might to overtake these bullies. 

This chapter underscores how society disintegrates when there is no leader who will stand for God and lead people in righteousness. Much of the disintegration we can see in our culture today can be directly tied to a disregard for God. On a personal level we can say the same for our lives when left unto else's to God will end in strife and chaos. In God's care there is peace even when the world around is in chaos. We can choose our leaders; will we go our own way or will we choose God's?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Judges 17 - The Way of the Wayward

Micah demonstrates how character displays itself in the absence of leadership. He has stolen his mother's money (a lifetimes wages) but confesses and returns it. Judges 17:6 says, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit". Micah had no issue robbing from his own dear mother. 

His mother applauds him for his character when he returns the ill-gotten gain and returns it as a consecration to the Lord for her son to cast an idol. You can see his mother is even confused on her role as mother and as a child of God. God specifically warns against idols; it does not honor God to consecrate the idol to the Lord. She had an opportunity to influence her son for good but she chose to let him have his way instead. 

Micah not only casts idols and builds a shrine, but he then installs his son as priest making him a priestly ephod. He now leads the next generation into idolatry and away from serving God. The terrible thing is - in his mind he believes he is doing right. 

Now a young Levite comes by and Micah offers him a job as priest for a salary. Even the elite in God's service were able to be influenced against God. Swayed by the offer of security, the Levite accepts and Micah convinces himself that the Lord has blessed him by sending a Levite to be his priest. 

When people refuse the Lordship of God Almighty, they too go down a path where their estimation of right and wrong trump anyone else's. We too can lead ourselves to believe that sin is not so bad and even raise it up in our minds to count it good. God however, tells us that His ways are higher than our ways as high as the heavens are above the earth. That is how much separation there is between our ways and God's. Without regular worship, study and prayer we fall prey to our own ways. All around us we see people who do not know God's ways and how morality and justice become skewed when God is not at the center. 

Micah sat himself up against God and showed the life of the wayward in their character, influence on others and their defamation of God. Idols don't have to be formed out of silver. Anything that directs your heart from God is an idol. We have lots of them today...fame, power, leisure, sex, alcohol, drugs, games, movies, television and more. What idol has the potential of keeping you from serving God with everything?  Say goodbye to it while you can - otherwise it may deceive you into believing it is OK. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Judges 16 - Deception of Sin

Have you ever had to confront some besetting sin in your life?  If you haven't, you probably aren't walking closely with the Lord. Our sin is upon us from birth. Even as we recognize our sin and turn to the Lord, sin does not abandon us. In this chapter we see Samson, a man set apart for God's purpose, given supernatural strength fall victim to the lure of sin. 

Samson was God's chosen man to confront the Philistines, yet over and over he finds the women alluring. He literally sleeps with his enemy. We too may find ourselves way too comfortable with things of the world. Perhaps it isn't sex, maybe it is career, wealth, power, family that takes the seat of your heart and usurps God's rightful place. Compromise with sin may not always be clear, but compromise almost certainly leads us down the path to blatant sin as was the case with Samson. 

Samson had married a Philistine woman in chapter 14. His vengeance against the Philistines led to the death of her and her family. While I believe he was attracted to her, I don't believe their love ran particularly deep. He was looking to gratify himself with a beautiful woman. Though his ties to the women were deep enough that he would lose his senses and give into their pleadings. 

We begin this chapter with Samson visiting the home of a prostitute. The Philistines believe they have him trapped and plan to capture him, but he cleverly escapes taking the city gate with him. Next he falls for Delilah. There is no record that he is married to this woman. He lives with her as she makes no pretense that she wants to learn the secret if his strength so that he can be overcome. At first Samson plays along with the game and feeds her false information. After Delilah escalates her desire to dominate him, he gives the information she desires. Samson so desired the company of a woman that he would betray God giving the secret to God's mark of separation. Sin will always lead us away from God; eventually God left him. What a sad condition for any person of God. 

We too should be careful to guard our heart and not take God's gifts for granted. We have a treasure within us that we should never fritter away. Samson's sin ultimately led to the end of his life. God did grant him one last stand against the Philistines. When you look at his life you think of all that could have been if only. Dear Christian, we bear the name of our Lord, let us fully live for him and carefully seek our opportunity to demonstrate our allegiance. 

We too may fall prey to sin if we treat it lightly and do not repent from it. The world is steeped in sin, but we, like Samson, are called to live apart from the world to accomplish God's purposes here. Let's be intentional about that as we go about our day today. Our Lord has already done so much to save us, how could we give him less than our best?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him.