Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 August 2017

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11, verse 21.

Jacob:   he is revered yet he is reviled.   I’ve heard Biblical critics savage the Scriptures because of Jacob.   He was a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel.  He was the radically imperfect vessel through whom God chose to display His grace.   Later there was Moses, and Ruth, and David, and the prophets, and Paul.   Much later came you and me.   Like it or not, got skin, got sin.   You, Jacob, and I are cut from the same cloth.

Yet you and I aren’t going to be remembered in the Bible whereas those other people are.   Jacob was an old man by the time the story of Joseph fully played out.   He had known the consequences of the sins of his youth as well as those perpetrated against him.   He married two sisters who quarreled.   Said two sisters hated their father, and this animosity carried over into the next two generations.   His wife had played favorites with their children, just as Jacob’s had; just as Jacob did himself.  Those children, twelve sons from multiple women, quarreled again and sold their youngest brother into slavery.   When Jacob was praying like this, he was in danger of losing both his life and his family.  Indeed, at the time Jacob praying while leaning on his staff, he and everyone around him was still in real danger of starving to death.

Through all of it, two things remained.   One, Jacob remained a cheeky fellow, and two, Jacob came to rely more and more on God.  God had sustained him when he journeyed in the desert to his uncle’s land.  The pillow, the ladder, the visions, the miracle food:  all God’s provision.  In return, Jacob worshipped and prayed, built altars, dug wells, and dedicated his life to God.  Through God’s woven plan, Jacob regained the son whom he thought had died.  When his life was nearly over, he blessed his sons and their future in the name of the God he had come to know well, the God who had sustained him physically and spiritually against long odds.

Do you know any Jacobs in the world today?  Better yet, do you know of any in your own life?   Are you one of them?

I’ll admit:   I have a soft spot for Jacob.   When I was a boy, I was quiet like he was; I would have rather stayed around the house than go out hunting in the open country.   I’m still that way.  I’ve done my share of deceiving to get what I wanted, and I’ve come to own the consequences of sins I wish I had never done.   Yet I also know God.   I rely on Him more and more, even as so many times I still rail against Him.   I’m not wealthy like Jacob, and I haven’t yet known real famine.   Yet I have been in real danger of destitution and death many times, many of them times of my own making.   In all of them, I grew closer to my Maker because He sustains me in the bad times and provides for me in everything.   Anything good I have known is from God and nobody else.

Sometimes I see Jacob in the mirror.   God hasn’t made me into an Israel yet, but there’s still time.  What He has done is bring me from long ago days that seem fearfully ancient into today, where I am unafraid to talk of God and talk about Him in this life.   Where there have been mixed blessings, the ‘mixed’ part has always been because of something I or someone else did.  The blessings overwhelmingly come from God.  There are people who revere and revile me equally; it’s all fair.   Put it on my tombstone that I wish for them to revere God instead and revile the bad choices they, too, have made.   I’m Jacob.   How about you?

For further reading:  Genesis 48-49.

My Lord, You and only You sustain me, just as You did Your servant, Jacob.   Thank You for this.

Practical Proverbial, from Ruth, 16 April 2014

“He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Ruth 4, verse 15.

“Daughter-in-law, who loves you:”   that’s quite an admission for the women of Bethlehem.   We really have to give them props, some serious kudos.   You see, I think it takes a big heart to see someone the way the women see Ruth.   Just the verse before, they were giving praise to God for the blessings He brought to Naomi; not the stranger: their friend.  Here, they do a roundabout acknowledgement that the blessing is given through Ruth.   Ruth isn’t mentioned by name.   They only see her as a blessing to Naomi, given by God.

Ham handed?   Not really.   Think about it.  It would have taken great courage to open one’s heart to a stranger, but that’s who Ruth initially was.   She was accepted in Bethlehem because she was with Naomi.  After a time there, she won the heart of (perhaps) the town’s most eligible bachelor, something that even the local women hadn’t been able to do.  In how she conducted herself, Ruth also won the admiration of the women who now complimented her and that isn’t easy to do, especially in a small town.   Especially in a place where you’re raised to be wary of, to mistrust, the foreigners around you.   Especially since the folks of that area still do.

Do you think we’re any different?  I’m reading a Duck Dynasty book, the one written by Willie and Korie Robertson.   Did you know that, years ago, they adopted a bi-racial child?   That they consider an Asian extension student who stayed with them to be another adopted child?  It takes some very real courage to see past the differences we all have and simply love another person for who they are:   as a blessing from God and someone who needs love and care.   That really takes guts in the deep South.  Recently, the Robertson’s have been, in pop culture and the media, popular punching bags as much for Phil Robertson’s comments as for their displays of Christian faith.   Detractors say it’s all staged for the TV, yet this is the family who doesn’t care what color or race you are.

Tell me:   when did you or I last open up our hearts and homes to strangers who are different from us but just might be a blessing?

Maybe the women of Bethlehem would have accepted the Robertson’s more readily than some of the people in America.  “Daughter-in-law, who loves you;” may we each be so blessed to meet people who see us in that light.

Lord help me to love people more the way You love them.

 

Read Ruth 4.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Ruth, 9 April 2014

Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”  Ruth 4, verses 11-12.

Be careful what you wish for…you just might get…the Messiah.

If you’ve jumped ahead in our story, you know that Boaz married Ruth, and Ruth bore him children.   One of those children had a son, who had a son, who had another son named David.   David became the greatest king Israel ever had.   His descendants also continued for centuries all the way down to Jesus of Nazareth, the forever King of Kings. 

How ironic is it that the Jews, who even today deny the Messiah who is Jesus Christ, blessed Jesus’ ancestor that He might be born.  I suppose you could be skeptical and say, “that’s not the case at all.  They were simply doing a customary thing.   They were just blessing Boaz on his marriage.”   True, but, you know there’s more.   The Jews of way back then had no way of knowing that King David would become one of Boaz’s descendants…or that Jesus would as well.   And God did it anyway.

A lesson for us is, then, is to remember our blessings.   To realize that Jesus is hard at work in EVERYTHING we do, in every minute, in ways we don’t always – or maybe ever – recognize.  I think of the analogy of a ripple in a pond.   A pebble drops in the water causing ripples that, eventually, roll all across a much larger body.   So it is with how God is working in our lives. 

Last night, I was looking at old pictures, some of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.   They were pictures of when my parents graduated from college, and ancient (I mean that) family photos, and pictures of people who have been gone for decades.   At points in time long ago, someone took photos of them; many years later, they blessed me.

Consider, then, that there are 7 billion of us on the third rock at this moment in time, and many billions more who came before us.   All we say and do affects others, and in all we think, say, and do, Jesus is hard at work in all 7 billion lives, touching each other, laying the ground for future blessings.   Some of those will be tough, and some will be outrageously loving.  Just like the Jews of Boaz’s day, how we bless others now may just be the catalyst through which the God-man Jesus blesses so many others in the time to come.

Lord, thank you for Your blessings, Your actions, in our lives here.   Let them be a blessing to others.

 

Read Ruth 4.

 

How does what you do bless others you know right now?

What are some ways you see Jesus working in your life?

How can you help that along?

Practical Proverbial, from Ruth, 8 April 2014

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”   Ruth 4, verses 9-10.

  1. Let’s not get all wrapped around the axle about words that don’t easily translate or old customs that don’t fit in our so-called modern world.   Our definition of marriage is changing.   The idea of someone ‘acquiring’ someone else seems antiquated to us.   In fact, in the context of today’s verses, where Ruth is lumped into all the other property Boaz acquires from the estate of Naomi’s husband and sons, the use of the word seems almost savage.

Like I said, don’t get wrapped around the axle.  First, notice the subtleties of language.   Boaz buys physical property, but ‘acquires’ Ruth as his wife.   It’s one thing to buy but a completely different thing to somehow acquire.   And acquisition does not necessarily mean a derogatory thing.   It certainly doesn’t in the context of these verses.

Things and possessions are inanimate.   They have no life; they are just objects, things, property, and, in the large scheme of things, worthless; yes, I said worthless.   Sure, they can carry great monetary and sentimental value for now.   You and I each own things that are valuable, or meaningful.   My house is full of things I have bought or been given; heirlooms, family treasures, and things I enjoy and would like to share with others.  They don’t mean a thing.   When I die, someone else will acquire or buy them.   Just this week, in fact, I’m in Oklahoma, readying my mom’s house for a large garage sale that will sell most of her remaining posessions.   It’s just stuff.   It means something, but it doesn’t mean everything.   If it did, then please tell me when was the last time you heard of, saw, or touched any bit of property that Boaz purchased from Elimelek’s estate?   Yeah, I thought so.

People mean something, though.  People were created to reflect God’s image, to share Him and His amazing love.   We pass on memories, stories, and that divine love as a way to keep alive the people who came before us.   Boaz didn’t marry a piece of land or a table:  he married Ruth.  How we interact with each other matters.   How we interact with each other should mirror our relationship with God.   Boaz knew this, and he knew that, by marrying Ruth, he would preserve both his name AND the name of her first husband (and his family) longer than just his own years.   In this way, when he ‘acquired’ Ruth, he also acquired a future for her past.

Lord, help me to better reflect You in how I live.

 

Read Ruth 4.

 

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 21 March 2014

“Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.” Ruth 3, verses 12-13.

Obligations.  Is it just me or does our society today sometimes seem obsessed with finding ways to skirt our obligations?   It makes me long for simpler times.   Just the other day we talked about how Boaz’ words (in verse 12) showed selflessness.   Now he adds to that quality a good dose of showing that he’s willing to fulfill his obligations.  Boaz is willing to accept his culture’s guardian-redeemer norm, and he does so in the context of staying between the white lines of his faith walk.   He’s not just going through the motions:   he’s willingly submitting to traditions that reaffirm his relationship with God as well as his duties to his fellow man.

But notice that fulfilling one’s obligation comes with several catches.   One is renewing a vow.   “As surely as the LORD lives” isn’t a phrase you turn on a whim.   It’s a pretty strong vow, and it’s a phrase you hear in various places throughout the Old Testament when those who invoked it wanted to really make a point of affirming their vows.   I’m pretty sure I’ve never said those words in reaffirming my word to people at work, or in my personal words even as I have renewed my vows.  Perhaps I should.

Another catch is accepting choices.   Boaz demonstrates he’s willing to go along with choices other people make that affect him.   He doesn’t whine about it, or try to deflect responsibility.   He accepts what is, and replies to Ruth based on that.   “I’m falling for you, but you may not be mine to fall for.”   It’s a Godly thing, and a kindness to her to deal so honestly with her heart.

Finally, Boaz brings us back to faith.  Boaz has faith in this system.   He conforms his behavior to the kinsman-redeemer tradition, and lives within the norms of his society.  He has faith that these norms are the best way to live in giving God His due.  He lives out that faith in what he says and does.

All this to fulfill obligations.   Boaz had obligations.   So do you and I.  Every day I’m reminded of my obligations just by looking at my Outlook calendar.  Or my wedding ring.   Or family pictures, the clothes I wear, and the list of friends on my Facebook page.   These are obligations of the law and obligations of the heart, which means they are the obligations God Himself sets before me.   I don’t HAVE TO abide by them.   Like Boaz, I get to…just like you.

Lord, thank You for my obligations, choices, and faith.

 

Read Ruth 3.

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 12 March 2014

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a homefor you, where you will be well provided for.”  Ruth 3, verse 1.

I must make a confession:  I’m harboring some resentment.   Right now, I’m in the middle of cleaning out my parents’ house.  This isn’t unusual; millions of people do it every year.   Dad is gone and Mom is now living in an assisted living home.  Their house sits full of possessions that someone has to get rid of.  Being ‘that someone’ has logically fallen to me because there’s really nobody else who can at the moment.  

That’s not the part I resent.   What I resent is that there is so much of it and so little time.  Mom is a collector, and has spent 70 years collecting all kinds of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not.  All of it needs to be sorted and either given away or trashed.   I resent having, for years, implored my mom to rid herself of the clutter.   On the other end of those years, the clutter is still here so someone has to unload all of it.  It’s a big order, and I find myself talking more with God and others about it, venting my frustrations and hoping for guidance.

Notice how Naomi didn’t do any of that?

She didn’t fart around whining about all the work she had to do.   She didn’t fuss about details that didn’t matter.   She didn’t build up resentment over what she had to do, or about her responsibilities, or about how it was so unreasonable to expect one person to do all this stuff.   Naomi simply got down to business, namely the business of survival.

Naomi realized that her she needed to find a new home for Ruth.   Ruth was her daughter in law and Naomi saw how it wasn’t fitting for a beautiful young single woman to be constrained by an unwed future with a middle aged widow who would likely not remarry.  Ruth could have a family of her own; Ruth could have children, and a home, and a husband, and a life beyond what Naomi could provide.

More than that, Naomi reflected her duty to God, understanding how she must entrust Ruth’s future to Him AND that she,

I need to focus on that.   We’re working to put the house up for sale by May, and to make that happen there is much work.   I’ve already spent days getting rid of trash and there are more days of that ahead.   It’s going to take lots of faith, but I know that God provides what I’ll need to get the work done.   Now I need to do a better job expressing that faith and letting go of the resentment that doesn’t really matter.

Father, forgive my failures and accept my apology.   I believe in You and that You will provide all I need.

 

Read Ruth 2.

 

Are you holding on to any resentment?

What kinds of things are clouding your heart?

What can you let go of to grow your faith?