Archive for June, 2012
After an unusual week, I searched my files for something ready-made to post, and I found a rambling discourse. Even though it fails to express my appreciation, it seems almost appropriate because today we celebrated my husband’s birthday (I think he knows I appreciate him) and because this Wednesday we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July. So, with a few last-minute changes, here’s a new twist: something from the files.
Jesus said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mk. 12:30)
I love my family more than life. I really do. They even define who I am.
Yet I’ve loved God more than them for many years—all the while loving them more deeply because I loved God first. I simply know that apart from God, raising children and rejoicing in grandchildren would be meaningless. I believe a person needs to belong to something bigger than their earthly family.
I believe people need to find and understand their place in the family of God.
The family of God, identified in Scripture as the Church, is not a closed, limited group of people. It’s people bonded by relationship through their relationship with Jesus. It’s always growing, adding numbers as it includes new Christians who seek God’s grace.
So what’s my place in this family? How does my place change as I grow in grace or mature in the family of God?
I love my country and hope I’d be willing to die for it. I really do. My country even defines who I am.
Yet I love God more than country—and believe my citizenship is more productive because I love God first. To be an effective citizen, I need to belong to something bigger than an earthly kingdom.
I believe people need to find and understand their place of service as citizens in their country.
This bigger kingdom, identified in Scripture as the Kingdom of God, is more than a static group following rigid rules. It includes people bonded together under the authority of Christ, our Head. The authority of Jesus and His Kingdom is expanding as people respond to Christ and live the life of grace He offers.
So what’s my place in my earthly country? How does it change as I grow in grace and mature so I find my place in God’s kingdom?
I love my God and I get a bit frightened at times when I think I might not be willing to die for Him. More than anyone or anything, He defines who I am.
I turn to Him daily for strength and support. Although I’m a better wife and mother and a better citizen because of Him, that isn’t why I love Him. On a realistic but admittedly selfish level, I love Him because He loves me, and I need the daily reassurance that it is so.
I believe people need to find and walk in God’s love because He makes us better people.
But God is bigger than my need. Bigger than the needs of all people put together. And He’s willing to listen to the smallest prayers.
My focus changes when I turn to God apart rather than to family and country. I seek Him for selfish reasons, but He lifts me above my selfish desires. With Him, it’s not about finding my place, or fulfilling my obligations, or striving to serveas I want to serve.
This God of the universe reveals Himself and visits me. He’s made my life rich as I’ve struggled with heart-rending disappointments. He’s all about grace—and walking with Him is about His ability to establish a foundations of grace when I feel bereft. He gives and gives and gives some more.
Understanding this God is an impossible quest. Especially during a strange week when I have trouble thinking straight. But He’s bigger than my fatigue. Bigger than my quest, even. And the search—the journey towards understanding—fulfilles my deepest longing. He is worth everything.
In the second chapter of Ruth, Boaz saw Ruth working in his field and he wondered who the young woman was. In verses 5-16, when his hired men identified her, he approaches the young stranger and reveals the nature of his character.
First, he spoke to Ruth as an actual human being. The workers referred to her as the Moabite or as an outsider, but he addressed her as “daughter.”
Second, he let her know she could remain under his protection from possible abuse by young men. Not all the men working in the fields shared his concern for others.
And then he offered cool water to drink during the heat if the day. She could refresh herself by receiving from his provision for his workers, even though she worked for herself rather than for him.
Boaz did have a reason to be interested in Ruth: he was one of several possible kinsman-redeemers. Meanwhile, Ruth didn’t know what a kinsman-redeemer was.
This message identifies the purpose, obligations, and qualifications of a kinsman-redeemer. It also links Boaz to Jesus, because Jesus came to earth to become the kinsman-redeemer for all people.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:36)
So, if God is the creator, and if we’re created in His image, we can conclude that we have the ability to create!
This week, Ken and I visited my brother and his wife.
It was a good trip and a hard trip because he is not well. And that means she also faces major difficulties. But we so enjoyed viewing Betty’s beautiful garden—watching birds visit the feeders and birdbaths. And, of course, the glorious array of flowers.
Because we did quite a bit of driving and because we used up quite a bit of emotional energy, I’m posting something simple.
But there is a theme. And I’ve already clearly laid it out. It’s this: We’re created in God’s image and He is a creator. So we are creative beings.
Yes, we’re created to create.
Creativity has many forms. Over the years I learned to create by preparing meals, sewing clothes, keeping up a home, etc. Then I learned to write news articles, write papers about literature, and eventually write lesson plans.
Other people create things beyond my scope. They might design machines or, equally important, make repairs necessary to keep them running. When I kept having trouble connecting to the internet, Ken discovered I could press a single key to solve the problem. Talk about creativity! The possibilities are endless—and they impact every activity of life.
To relate this focus on creativity to our week, let me explain that our sister-in-law Betty is creative in ways I can only admire from a distance. She’s painted pictures. And I think some of the photographs she’s taken of her grandchildren rival those of professionals.
I’m drawn to gardens because they offer color and beauty. Compared to Betty’s perspective, that’s a limited viewpoint. She chooses varieties she finds interesting. And she works with our master creator—the first gardener. Her flowers are more than window dressing—although they serve that function well.
And your personal creativity in particular.
Have you thought about your ability to create? Thought deeply about desires and how to fulfill them? Have you discovered creative potential that surprised you?
I don’t think anyone ever explores all God has placed within them, so even if you are finding creative outlets, be open to explore new avenues of expression. We just don’t know all God might have for us down the road.
Previous messages focused on Ruth 1 which established the time and setting for Naomi and Ruth’s big journey from Moab to Bethlehem. We also observed much about the two women’s backgrounds, motivations, personal integrity, and ability to make faith-based decisions..
This message looks at Ruth 2:1-4. It also provides information on how the people of the era brought in the harvest because those details are key to understanding later developments.
In chapter 2, Ruth takes center stage, and she realizes she must help provide for the physical needs both Naomi and herself while she adjusts to an unfamiliar culture. Nevertheless, even after she has a plan, she submit it to her mother-in-law for approval. Naomi knows things Ruth does not, and Ruth seeks the older woman’s counsel.
Chapter 2 also introduces Boaz, the third major character. The seeds of a plot are in place.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (I Jn. 1:8,9 NLT)
I’d been saved several years when I went through a season I did not understand. God wasn’t speaking through His Word. I read it every morning, but nothing came to life. I felt bereft of spiritual insight. I wondered if I’d really been walking with God. Had my salvation been just an emotional gig? A literary adventure?
At the time, the possibility seemed plausible and frightening.
Then one morning, during my usual time in the Word, I read the verses above.
I read them differently than I’d read them before. Read them as a revelation. And I didn’t like the message. He somehow let me know He hadn’t shut the door on me.
No, I’d shut the door on Him when He asked me to forgive someone—and I’d ignored Him.
Of course, with my conscious mind I knew all along that I should love this difficult woman in our church. But it hadn’t become part of my inner response when He sent the gentle nudge my way.
And I hadn’t expected Him to be so sensitive. He hadn’t been in the past.
That morning God set a new standard for a new season: Love Me—Love my children. The two go together.
And as a mother, I understood. It’s so obvious, so simple. Why had I ignored His voice?
Something happened that day that’s happened more than once—or twice—or three times—or many times since. God seemed changed, different.
But He hadn’t changed and He wasn’t different.
I was changed and I was different. He had opened my heart to receive Him as I hadn’t received Him before.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to love, so the call to follow Him in love was and is ongoing. But that’s another post on another day. Suffice it to say here that if I truly understand His love for me—and His love for others—I can truly walk in love.
I know. It really makes no sense at all. I think, perhaps, that after salvation, loving others is one of God’s greatest miracles.
The point, however, is hearing Him when He reminds us to love. He’s the One who lets us know when we’re falling short.
The final verse of Ruth 1 sets the stage for the action to come.
Meanwhile, the four titles given Ruth each reveal something important about her. (I call them identifiers because they identify her in the text.) Three of Ruth’s titles are general. She’s a Moabite, a daughter-in-law, and Naomi calls her “my daughter.”
Ruth’s fourth identifier or title is her name. God inspired the writer of the book to provide her name early in the first chapter, even though some acknowledged her only by her status and function. God made it clear from the beginning that she is unique and that she has value.
I’ve been reading Deuteronomy—something I don’t do often. And I’ve been blessed in the reading. God made a covenant with His people and the benefits of walking in it were astounding. Moses laid it out:
God is brining you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…. (Deut. 8:7-9 ESV)
Food was a major issue for people at that time in history; God promised abundance.
But there was one condition:
[W]hat does the Lord require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statues of the Lord….(Deut, 10:12,13)
I could quote pages of God’s promises to His people—and pages of the judgment that would follow if they fail to fulfill His condition.
How many know it isn’t easy to obey when obedience conflicts with personal desires? The Israelites demonstrated that they would not—could not—obey, and so they experienced judgment.
I have an issue, a problem. Can’t expose it here because that would betray a confidence. Suffice it to say it concerns no one in our family. But I’m quite sure that if I walked away forever, people who know me would understand and bless me in the process.
But my reality is more complicated. I feel God is asking me to walk with Him through the problem.
And I don’t know how to do it. A solution can’t be discerned by following an obvious principle, and I’m feeling more than a little rebellious.
During our nightly devotions, when Ken read Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two fish, God opened up a reality I don’t especially like—one which I’ve understood mentally and even experienced on a limited scale.
This miracle was not an instantaneous event. Not like when a woman was instantly healed after reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. (Mt. 9:20-22) Or when he healed a sick girl after her mother made a profession of faith. (Mt. 13:21-28)
No, it happened little by little over a period of time. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to the disciples, and the disciples gave it to the crowds.
The disciples could not have carried all the bread necessary to feed 5,000 people. Never.
So the miracle had to happen repeatedly. After Jesus divided bread and fish between them, they divided it for the crowd. Over and over and over and over the bread and fish multiplied.
Jesus had to walk the miracle out—and His disciples had to walk it out with HIm.
And then I had another thought.
Most of my life I’ve heard or read the stories of Jesus in bite-size pieces. An isolated event or story, a segment of Scripture.
But that’s not how Jesus lived His life.
Jesus walked out the directions of His Father—over and over and over and over. And He didn’t always know what was coming.
He said, [T]he Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Jn. 5:19 ESV)
And He transferred this to the disciples. Thomas asked, How can we know the way?
Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (Jn. 14:6)
A few verses later, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (Jn. 14:15)
Ouch. More of that obedience stuff.
Now, there isn’t time for an explanation of salvation in this post. Through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, my sins are covered. I am free from condemnation.
But Jesus promises something else. He said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…. (Jn. 14:15,16)
I can’t follow through on this. I simply am not able to commit to long-term obedience on the issue.
But God can. Furthermore, his Spirit within me can and he will help me.
I’m just not there. But because God’s Spirit is within me, He has given me the right heart.
Yes, I’d kinda like to run.
But I won’t.
I’ll follow His still, small voice within me. I’ll stand in faith, believing he can do it. Over and over and over and over.