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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Parable of a Costal Lifesaving Station

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station - The Coastal Cottage Company

On a dangerous seacoast notorious for shipwrecks, there was a crude little lifesaving station. Actually, the station was merely a hut with only one rugged boat . . . but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the turbulent sea. With little thought for themselves, they would go out day and night tirelessly searching for those in danger as well as the lost. Many, many lives were saved by this brave band of men who faithfully worked as a team in and out of the lifesaving station. By and by, it became a famous place. 

Some of those who had been saved as well as others along the seacoast wanted to become associated with this little station. They were willing to give their time and energy and money in support of its objectives. New boats were purchased. New crews were trained. The station that was once obscure and crude and virtually insignificant began to grow. Some of its members were unhappy that the hut was so unattractive and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided. Emergency cots were replaced with lovely furniture. Rough, hand-made equipment was discarded and sophisticated, classy systems were installed. The hut, of course, had to be torn down to make room for all the additional equipment, furniture, systems, and appointments. By its completion, the lifesaving station had become a popular gathering place, and its objectives had begun to shift. It was now used as a sort of clubhouse, an attractive building for public gatherings. Saving lives, feeding the hungry, strengthening the fearful, and calming the disturbed rarely occurred by now. 

Fewer and fewer members were interested in braving the sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired professional lifeboat crews to do this work. The original goal of the station wasn’t altogether forgotten, however. The lifesaving motifs still prevailed in the club’s decorations. In fact, there was a liturgical lifeboat preserved in the Room of Sweet Memories with soft, indirect lighting, which helped hide the layer of dust upon the once-used vessel. 

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the boat crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half-drowned, sick people. They were dirty, some terribly sick and lonely. Others were black and “different” from the majority of the club members. The beautiful new club suddenly became messy and cluttered. A special committee saw to it that a shower house was immediately built outside and away from the club so victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. 

At the next meeting there were strong words and angry feelings, which resulted in a division among the members. Most of the people wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities altogether and all involvements with shipwreck victims . . . (“It’s too unpleasant, it’s a hindrance to our social life, it’s opening the door to folks who are not our kind). As you’d expect, some still insisted upon saving lives, that this was their primary objective—that their only reason for existence was ministering to anyone needing help regardless of their club’s beauty or size or decorations. They were voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast! They did. 

As years passed, the new station experienced the same old changes. It evolved into another club . . . and yet another lifesaving station was begun. History continued to repeat itself . . . and if you visit the coast today you’ll find a large number of exclusive, impressive clubs along the shoreline owned and operated by slick professionals who have lost all involvement with the saving of lives. 

Shipwrecks still occur in those waters, but now, most of the victims are not saved. Every day they drown at sea, and so few seem to care . . . so very few.

Friday, October 20, 2017

We All Have Secrets...Shhhh!

....let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, .....Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

I’m no stranger to sin. It’s part of my human nature. I’ve sinned overtly and covertly. I’ve lead a sinful lifestyle. I’ve suffered and still suffer the consequences of my sins to this day. There were times I thought I was getting away with my sin. 

The Bible makes one thing clear, “...and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” - Numbers 32:23 (NIV)

Secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape. Any sin will do this. For example, a thief rarely steals very much at first. Then, as the pilfering becomes habitual, the thief must rationalize their sin in order to maintain some sense of dignity. Meanwhile, the cycle of compulsion and shame drives a wedge between their private thoughts and a carefully crafted public image, which they eventually accept as their true selves. When caught in their sin, thieves are almost always indignant, “how dare you!” Or they misdirect, “there are the real thieves!” Convinced that no one can see the true self they once chose to ignore and had long ago forgotten. We here statements like, “I’m really a good person.” 

The gaping chasm between a public persona and a private self—what may be called a double life—always begins as a tiny crack, a decision to conceal sin. Sin abhors the light of truth; it demands secrecy of the sinner.

Jesus didn’t mess around with people when it came to the truth. He said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.“

There are two responses on our part when we are exposed. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” - 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV)

Worldly sorrow is: we are sorry, however, it’s for what we've lost or about to loose, (our freedom, a blessing, our inability to hide our evil character) we are NOT sorry for what we have done. Then once we think no one is looking again we continue to do the same thing. 

Worldly minded people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because they are going to be punished. Worldly minded people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.

Godly sorrow on the other hand produces an inward earnestness, an eagerness to clear oneself, authentic indignation, genuine alarm, a real longing, earnest concern and a willing readiness to see justice done in ones own life. 

Godly sorrow wants to make a change. When God reminds us about items we have taken, taxes left unpaid, or ways we have wronged others, we can honor Him by making it right.

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” - John 3:21 (NIV)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Living For Jesus In Everyday Life.

My local church meets in a local YMCA. On Saturday night, after the Y closes, a team of people shows up to setup for Sunday service. I’m not part of this team. However, I decided to show up this time. It just so happened that only one person from the set up team showed up. He brought his dad with him, who happened to be visiting from out of town. So we had three people doing setting up. Things like this happen, no big deal just a little more time and effort. 

Now I’d like to say that God spoke to me when I was in deep meditative prayer and I heard Him say, “Go to the Y tonight.” However, this didn’t happen. What did happen was I was just going about my day Saturday. I went to a men’s group that morning. I went to the grocery store. Kitty and I went to a dog festival in town. I watch some football. I did pray earlier that day but it was my usual prayers, asking God to watch over my family members, friends and neighbors. Things I pray for everyday. 

So when Kitty and I got back from the dog festival I thought I should go and help out at the Y. I didn’t think much of this thought other than it just became something I wanted to do more then watch football or tv or walk my dog for the evening. However, it is after the fact I could see God’s hand in my thoughts and actions.

I believe this is how God works 99.9% of the time in those who are followers of Jesus Christ. It is in the ordinary mundane things of our lives that God moves us to meet the needs of others and we really don’t see God’s hand in it until after the fact. I’ve always wanted those Burning Bush experiences with God however I believe those incidents are very rare. The average everyday person who is a follower of Jesus Christ will not experience anything like this in their life time.

This is were the hard part begins. When we do serve God by meeting peoples needs we must be mindful of not taking glory for ourselves. We must be careful, as followers of Jesus Christ, to not serve others to make our own conscience feel better. Jesus told his disciples, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Paul echos this sentiment by saying, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Living for Jesus by serving other and meeting needs is a means to an end and that end is about pointing people to Jesus so that they may see God’s love and hear the good news about God’s kingdom. This was Jesus example. He met peoples needs and shared the good news about the Kingdom of God. He told his disciples to follow His example, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What Is Redemption?

When we open the Bible, we find that the God of history has chosen to reveal himself through a specific human culture. This culture is the culture of Israel. However, God did not canonize Israel’s culture. He simply used that culture as a vehicle to communicate the eternal truth of His character and His will for humanity.

If we are going to understand the story of redemption as it is revealed to us in the Bible we need to understand the vehicle that transported this story to us.

The very word redemption is defined for us in the context of the culture that it was used in. What does the word redemption mean and where did the church get it? The first answer to that question is obvious; the term comes from the New Testament.

Luke  1:68(NIV)                                                                                                                                      Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.

1 Peter 1:18-19 (NIV)
[18] For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Galatians 3:13-14 (NIV)[13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” [14] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

However, from where did the New Testament writers get the word redemption? The New Testament writers got the word from the Old Testament writers.

Isaiah43:1(NIV)                                                                                                                                        [1] But now, this is what the LORD says he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Then the question becomes, where did the Old Testament writers get the word redemption? They got the word and the concepts associated with it from everyday life in the secular culture around ancient Israel. The Hebrew word for “to redeem” had nothing to do with theology but everything to do with the laws and social customs of the ancient cultural in everyday life that the Hebrews were a part of. Therefore, if we are to understand the term that the OT writers used in describing its relationship to Yahweh we need to understand the society that the word came from.

Ancient Israel culture was extremely different from our contemporary life today. Our modern Western culture is an urban bureaucratic society, where ancient Israel was a traditional tribal society. In this traditional tribal society family was the focus of community. An individual was linked legally and economically in their society through the family. Israel was a patriarchal tribal culture. Individuals were linked to the patriarch of a particular clan. It was the patriarch that was responsible for the well-being economically and legally of his family members and those attached to his family. The patriarch enforced the laws of the culture and took care of the well-being of those who are marginalized because of poverty, war or death. An individual in ancient Israel was identified by their father, their gender and their birth order. In Israel’s tribal culture the family was central. There were three distinct categories in this tribal culture: patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal.

The patriarchal category was centered around the oldest living male member of the family within the larger society. An individual would identify themselves within this culture to their household patriarch followed by their clan, then their tribe and finally the nation. When “family” in ancient Israel is mentioned it is referring to the centrality of the patriarch. The basic family union was identified as “the father’s house (hold)” or in Hebrew “bet ab”. This household would include the patriarch, his wife or wives, the unwed children and the married sons with their wives and children. When a man married he remained in the household however when a woman married she joined the household of her new husband. We see an example of this with Rebecca’s marriage to Isaac in Genesis. She left her father’s household in Haran and journey to Canaan to marry Isaac. Rebecca became a member of Abrahams “house or household”. Within the “father’s household” there may have been up to three generations and they lived in a family compound. They would collectively farm together and share in its produce and shepherd together. All that were a part of the “father’s household” would share their resources and their fate. Individuals that found themselves without a “father’s household” (orphans and widows) were also without the society’s normal circle of provision and protection. We see a constant reminder in the Old and New Testament to care for the orphans and widows. God was always concerned with those on the outside. He describes himself as:

Deuteronomy10:17-18(NIV)                                                                                                                    [17] For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. [18] He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

James 1:27 (NIV)                                                                                                                                      [27] Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It was the patriarch who was responsible for the legal and economic well-being of the household. In extreme circumstances, he decided who lived in who died, who was sold into slavery and who is retained within the family unit. We see example of this in the story of Judah and Tamar. (Genesis 38:6-26) Tamar had become a member of Judah’s “household” by marriage. She had become a widow. Since Judah did not fulfill his responsibilities as the patriarch of his household we find her living back with her biological father. However, she was still under Judah’s authority. When Tamar was found pregnant the townspeople reported her crime to Judah. Why did they report her to Judah? Because it was his responsibility to administer justice within his household and since she was still a part of that household she was subject to his authority. Judah sentence was for her to be burned. Judah’s words carried the power of life and death for this young woman.

If the patriarch died or the household became too large to sustain itself, the household would split into a new household. The new household would be headed by the next oldest living male family member. An example of this is seen in Abraham’s family. (Genesis 11:26-32) Terah had three sons of which one of those was Abraham. When Terah’s oldest son Haran died he moved to the city of Haran, taking his family which included Lot. When Terah died Abraham became the new head of household because he was the eldest son. When Abraham left Haran he took Lot with him into Canaan. While they were in Canaan their family units became so big they had to split. Therefore, Lot became a patriarchal head of household apart from Abraham.

The patrilineal category has to do with tracing ancestral descended through the male line. This is where you identify tribal affiliation and inheritance. In Israel, possessions were carefully passed down through the generations from one family to the next according to gender and birth order for the purpose of providing for family members to come and to preserve the family name.

Genealogies in the Old Testament make this legal structure obvious. Women were typically not name, however when women are named in genealogies, which is a rarity, it is usually because the biblical writer has something to say. In the genealogy we see in Matthew, in the New Testament, was significant to the first century Jewish audience because of the claims of the Messiah and his credentials as a son of promise. The Jews understood that the Messiah must be the offspring of Abraham and must be a son of David. This is the bloodline of the Messiah. However, if we notice there were four women listed in this genealogy, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Why are they listed here, which ought to be an exclusively male list? If we consider these women, one was a prostitute, another was a Gentile, one was an adulterous and we also understand the obvious choice of Mary. So why did the writer include these women, I believe it’s obvious. It has something to say about the nature of the plan of redemption that the Messiah was going to bring. That the gift of redemption is for all people, not just Jews. It included both sinners and foreigners.

We see in genealogies the privilege of position of the firstborn in the Jewish society. The firstborn male would replace his father in the role of patriarch upon the father’s death. Therefore, the firstborn took precedence over his brothers during his father’s lifetime and upon his father’s death he received a double portion of the family inheritance. The reason for this double portion in Israel’s tribal society was because the firstborn would become the next patriarch. The firstborn was expected to shadow the father in order to be an apprentice in all of his duties. More responsibility was given to the firstborn in the rest of the siblings. The firstborn would need adequate resources to ensure the survival of the family therefore the double portion.

What about the stories of Esau and Jacob, Ruben and Judah, and David and his seven brothers? The culture demanded that the firstborn male be the one who would receive the privilege of leading the family into the next generation. However, in these cases, God chose the younger to lead. These stories give us an example of how God’s ways of doing things often stand in opposition to the cultural norms of the time and how the redemption story is a critique on every human culture. In David’s case, as the eighth in line to Jesse, David’s inheritance would have fit into a backpack. However, God’s spokesman said no to David’s society and yes to the one least likely in the eyes of his own community.

In the patrilineal society the children belonged to their father’s tribe. When a female child came of age she was married into another “household”. She became a permanent member of that new “household” therefore, her tribal allegiance shifted with her marriage. This resulted in this woman’s identity being tracked through the men in her new family. That’s why in this society it was critical for a woman to marry and her children. A woman who was widowed before she gave birth to a son was in a crisis. A woman without a father, husband or son was basically destitute. If it wasn’t for the charity of strangers she would starve. In order to deal with these circumstances, the Israelite society had laws to protect women who found themselves in these situations. Let us consider the gleaning laws. These laws required landowners to reserve a portion of their produce for those among them that found themselves “on the margins”. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

There are also laws for the widow to preserve proper lines of inheritance within the tribes of the culture. These were called the levirate laws. These laws directed the behavior of the brother of a brother who died leaving a widow behind. For example, if a married man dies before he has produced a male heir his younger wife is not to be married off to someone outside of the household. It was the responsibility of a living brother to take the woman as his wife and to father a child with her. This first child would belong to the deceased brother. The child would be legally recognized as the deceased brother’s offspring and received his dead fathers’ inheritance. The law was intended to protect the widow from destitution and to protect her deceased husband’s inheritance. It would be a serious offense for a man to fail to fulfill his responsibility to his dead brother. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

What would seem strange to us in our Western thinking was essential for survival in the ancient Middle East cultures. When the inheritance was given to the first offspring the widow was secure within the household. Her needs of food and shelter would be met and her future needs would be met as she got older because her child would meet those needs.

Let’s look again to the story of Judah and Tamar. (Genesis 38) since Tamar was a member of Judah’s household through marriage it was Judah’s responsibility to administer justice as a result of her out of wedlock pregnancy. Because of societal norms Judah ordered her execution. Why? Tamar had married Judas firstborn, Er. He died without producing an heir therefore Judah told his second son Onan to fulfill the duties of a brother by marrying Tamar and fathering a child for his deceased brother. However, Onan did not want to fulfill his duties therefore God took his life. Now the law required Judah to give Tamar his third son. But he didn’t because he was afraid the same thing would happen to his third son. He lied to Tamar and told her to stay with her biological dad until his third son grew up. As time went on Tamar realized Judah was not going to fulfill his duty as the head of household. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into sleeping with her, which got her pregnant. Judah couldn’t pay her at the time so he left her with his seal, cord and staff as a pledge that he would return with payment. Judah never returned however her pregnancy could not be hidden so word was sent out to Judah in order to administer justice. So, when Judah ordered her to be burned she responded:

Genesis 38:25-26
[25] As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” [26] Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah. ” And he did not sleep with her again.

Why would Judah make a statement, “she is more righteous than I”? After all she tricked her father-in-law into illicit sex. We must understand his statement in the context of the culture that he lived in at the time. It was Judah who had failed to honor the Jewish laws by not supporting an individual that was part of his household. Judah was the villain according to the Israelite culture. Tamar was the courageous one. Judah really had nothing to lose it was Tamar that had everything to lose.

In ancient Israel the populace lived on small family farms. The economy back then was a mixture of agriculture and livestock. The main goal of the economy was to ensure family survival. There were biblical laws that addressed the inheritance of land. These laws were to protect the “father’s house” because the land was an essential element of the family’s lifeline. In Israel the land actually belonged to Yahweh and had been distributed among the 12 tribes. The only legal transfer of this land was permitted to inheritance only. These lands were passed down from father to son in perpetuity. However, because of the circumstances of life some people were forced to sell portions of the land however the sale was not to be permanent. There were provisions for that land to go back to the original family line. This could be done to the nearest kinsman who could buy back the land or after a certain period of time there was a provision called the year of Jubilee for all lands were returned back to the original family line. (Leviticus 25)

The patrilocal idea had to do with the living space of the family unit that was built around the oldest living male. This living space would also include the extended family. Now this living space was typically a compound. The smaller family units of this “father’s house” would have individual units they would live in and they would be clustered together within a larger walled enclosure. Now when one of the sons was going to get married he would first build a house before he got his wife. He would marry his wife from another tribe than he would bring her home to the family compound and live in the house he built,  a separate unit within that compound for him and his wife and children.
This patrilocal arrangement was part of Israel’s culture during the time of Jesus. We see this in the gospel of John 14:1-3. Jesus is alone with his closest friends for one last meal together. Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving and there will be trouble. The disciples voice their concerns and Jesus responds.

John 14:1-3 (NIV)                                                                                                                                    [1] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. [2] In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Remember it was the husband that went and retrieved his bride and brought her back to the “fathers house” however before he brought her home he would build a place for him and his bride at his “fathers house”. In the West we have imposed our cultural lens upon this passage when we sing songs about “that mansion up over the hilltop” that is waiting for us in heaven. When the truth is Jesus was telling his disciples that all those who become his followers are now collectively his bride and that he is going to bring his bride to his father’s family compound. We are not redeemed to live in a marble mansion but to be reincorporated into the father’s family.

Israelite's earliest culture was tribal and the family was the most important and influential elements of that society. Within this system the oldest son or closest living male relative was the greatest authority in one’s life and the greatest responsibility for one’s well-being. This is the context of the redemption story.

Now with all of that said how does this help us understand the term redemption? Remember the New Testament writers adopted the word redemption from the Old Testament writers who in turn adopted the word from the secular world around them. What we have seen is the word redemption and the concepts behind that word entered the Bible through the laws and mores of Israel’s patriarchal, tribal culture. This idea of redemption was intrinsically linked to the family responsibilities of a patriarch and to his clan. We see some amazing examples of this in the Old Testament.

The story of Ruth and Boaz is one of the stories. A Jewish couple by the name of Naomi and Elimelech had two sons. In the culture of that day Naomi was set for life. However, a famine came and they had to leave their land and move to another country, Moab. While there the sons married however, Naomi’s husband died and then her two sons died leaving her destitute. Since her sons died without having children of their own she had to do something. In a foreign land with no laws to protect her there she decided to move back to Israel. Since the wives of her sons where from Moab she told them to go back to their original families so that they could be taken care of and she’d go back to the land of her ancestry. Here’s what Naomi said:

Ruth 1:11-13 (NIV)                                                                                                                                  [11] But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? [12] Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— [13] would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me! ”

When we look at what she said through the culture of patrilinealism we have a better understanding of what’s going on here. Naomi had no means to care for these women’s needs either then or in the future.

One of the daughter-in-law’s left while the other refused to go but insisted of staying by Naomi’s side.

Ruth 1:16-17 (NIV)                                                  
[16] But Ruth replied, “Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. [17] Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

This was a powerful statement from Ruth. Ruth was telling Naomi that her tribal affiliation will now be with her alone. Ruth chose Naomi as her kin and she was not leaving.

The women returned to Israel, specifically Bethlehem where Elimelech’s “Father household” or where his land and estate holdings located. Naomi knew what the laws of her culture were and had Ruth take advantage of the local cleaning laws in order to feed themselves. Ruth worked hard and took care of her widowed mother-in-law. This did not go unnoticed by a certain local landowner. Boaz was his name and he just so happen to be in the family lineage of Elimelech.

Ruth 2:8-12
[8] So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. [9] Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
[10] At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground.  She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me —a foreigner? ”
[11] Boaz replied, “I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law  since the death of your husband —how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know  before.  [12] May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD,  the God of Israel,  under whose wings  you have come to take refuge. ”

When Ruth came home that evening she told Naomi everything. Naomi understood that Boaz was one of her relatives and a very close relative. Naomi understanding the redemption laws, instructed Ruth what to do next. Ruth goes back to gleaning in the fields. After the sunset and the workers were relaxing for the evening Ruth goes to where Boaz was sleeping, somewhere out by the harvest fields and takes a place at the feet of Boaz while he slept. When Boaz noticed her he was pleased however, he didn’t take advantage of the situation because he knew Ruth was making herself available to Boaz for marriage. Asking for him to redeem her and Naomi. Boaz agrees and sends her home before sunrise in order to protect her safety and reputation and tells her he’ll take care of everything in the meantime.

In order for Boaz “to redeem” he needed to marry Ruth and buy back the patrimony of her deceased husband, the son of a Elimelech. Boaz would bring both Ruth and Naomi into his household, father a child in the name of Ruth’s dead husband thereby keeping Elimelech’s family inheritance in the family line. However, there was one relative closer in relation then Boaz. This closer relative did not want to fulfill his duties as the law required because if he married Ruth his own inheritance might be jeopardized. He didn’t want to put his resources on the line in order to redeem. Boaz understood that what he was about to do with Ruth could be very costly to him also. His actions would put his own resources on the line. However, Boaz was a man of integrity and chose to embrace the responsibility of the patriarch and become Ruth’s “Kinsman-redeemer”.

This story teaches us about the tribal law of redemption and the patriarchs responsibility to rescue a family member because of devastating life circumstances. The law demanded the patriarch to protect the individual’s legal rights and financial obligations. This story shows us the reconciliation of family ties would cost the redeemer. And this was done by the closest male relative that was looked to for help and hope.

Let’s look at Lot and Abraham. In Genesis 14 we have another great story about the expectations of tribal laws. Lot and Abraham are now two separate “father’s household” or “bet ab”. Lot was settled in the Jordan Valley near Sodom and Gomorrah. There was a league of Kings that invaded the area. They captured Lot and his household, must likely to make them slaves. Someone escaped and reported what happened to Abraham, that his relative Lot had been captured. Abraham gathered together some of the local “bet abs” plus his own to go after the invaders. They headed north towards Syria, found the invaders and defeated them, rescued his family members and the possessions. Why did Abraham do this? Because of the characteristic customs and conventions of the community, their mores. The patriarch had responsibilities in this culture. If a family member of his lineage was in need of ransom or rescue the patriarch was expected to do something. Here we have Abraham putting his own household on the line, his life on the line, in order to rescue his nephew from an enemy Lot couldn’t defeat. This is a story of redemption in ancient Israel. Abraham was a “Kinsman-Redeemer”.
Finally, there’s the story of Hosea and Gomer. Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel. God called him to live his life as an example of what Israel’s relationship with God looked like. Hosea was to take a wife who was an adulteress.

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” - Hosea 1:2 (NIV)

So he married Gomer. Here we have a holy man going to the bad side of town to find a wife. These towns were not that big so everyone knew everyone. People saw who went where and like today people talked. Here was a holy man who married a woman who made herself available to other men. You can imagine the emotional twisting of his soul.

If we considered Gomer, I don’t think any 10-year-old girl from any culture at any time says to herself one day “I want to grow up to be a harlot.” However, Gomer’s history was probably replete with agony from family environment to neighborhood conditions. Gomer had no “bet ab” or a responsible patriarch. Because of her sexual past she would never have a husband in her culture. If she did have a child, that child would have been shunned by the community. Gomer’s fate was to be a marginalized woman in a patriarchal culture without a patriarch. Then a miracle came her way. Hosea, a man of means and status asked her to be his wife. This woman who had a past which dictated her future was now given a different future. Not only did she get a “patriarch” she also soon had a child that was a son. This followed with her giving birth to two more children. Her life was transformed and filled with good things.

However, as the story goes on we see that although outwardly all seem great yet, inwardly her soul was not fixed. She goes back to her old ways. We can just imagine the anger and humiliation of Hosea. The good things she received were not enough. Her promiscuity was more important to her then a secure and stable future. She hits rock bottom by becoming a slave to be sold.
God then tells Hosea, “go and buy her back.” Remember Hosea is a holy man, a prophet of God in a small town. Gomer was given a home, children, a better future. We have Hosea in the public square, in front of his neighbors, bidding for his own wife, the mother of his children. For fifteen shekels and a homer and ½ of barley he buys back his wife. This is “redemption”.

So, what is redemption? In the OT we can understand why the OT writers used this word to describe God’s relationship with His chosen people. In the tribal cultures of the times redemption was an act of a patriarch who would put his resources on the line to rescue his family members who had succumb to the circumstances of life that marginalized them, who were captured by enemies that they could not defend themselves against, who suffered from the consequences of an unfaithful life. Redemption was the means by which a lost family member was restored to a place of security within the family circle. This was a patriarch’s responsibility. This was the safety net of Israel’s culture. This is the backdrop of what the New Testament believers find themselves back then and today.

What was lost in Eden, we now see God presenting himself as the patriarch of all of humanity announcing His intent to redeem His lost family members. Not only has he agreed to pay the ransom required. He sent the most cherished member of His household to accomplish this task. His one and only Son. Not only did he come to seek and save the lost, he also came to share his inheritance, even though humanity squandered everything He gave them. He still desired to restore the lost family to the “bet ab”, to the “Fathers house” in order for us to be where He is. That’s why we call each other brother and sister. That’s why we know God as “Father”, “Abba”. Therefore, we are of the “household of faith”. God is beyond human gender and our relationship with Him is beyond bloodline. Redemptive history comes to us in a language of OT patriarchal society. Our Father who is in heaven is buying back his lost children by sending his firstborn to “give his life as a ransom for many”, so that we the alienated might be “adopted” and share forever in the inheritance of the Son.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. – Col 1:13-15

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. – 1 Peter 1:18-19

Thanks to Sandra Richter

Friday, September 15, 2017

What's The Heart Of The Matter?

Proverbs 4:23-27 (NIV)
[23]  Above all else, guard your heart, 
for it is the wellspring of life. 
[24] Put away perversity from your mouth; 
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
[25] Let your eyes look straight ahead, 
fix your gaze directly before you.
[26] Make level paths for your feet 
and take only ways that are firm.
[27] Do not swerve to the right or the left; 
keep your foot from evil.

These verses are crucial to understanding life. In them God informs us that people and situations are not the controlling factor in our words and actions. God informs us that our heart directs our behavior whether in word or deed. In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:43-45) Jesus speaks to the truth of Proverbs 4:23 by using the metaphor of trees and fruit.

Luke 6:43-46 (NIV)
[43] “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. [44] Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. [45]  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Just as there’s a systemic and organic relationship between a tree and it’s fruit — there is a systemic and organic relationship between my heart and my life; my heart and my behavior! Sin is not rooted outside of me. Circumstances and relationships are merely the location that the sin in my heart is revealed.

What should we do? If the heart is the source of sinful behavior, any genuine and lasting change must begin with my heart and work its way out into the fruit of my life. If my heart isn’t changed, any change in my words and actions will only be the result of some external pressure (If I don’t change I’ll lose my marriage, my girlfriend or my job). That kind of change is only temporary. When the external pressure is gone, or if my incentive to change goes away (the spouse leaves, the job is terminated) the apparent change vanishes.

That’s why any transformation of behavior passes through the heart.

This is the core difference between religion and authentic Christianity. Religion imposes a set of external religious/moral demands upon men and women that are supposed to change the heart. Christianity is all about Jesus radically transforming the hearts of men and women — God giving to us new life — God working in us a desire to do His will and the power to do it — producing the fruit of a radical new set of values and way of living.

The hard truth — If you’re careless with your heart, your life will get messy. We see time and time again throughout the Bible that the relationship between a person's heart and their words, their actions and their life are examined. 

Paul tells the believers in Corinth, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)

What is he asking us to examine? It's our heart. I need to make sure that Jesus is still at the center of my heart therefore of my words and deeds.

Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
[17]  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Money and the Church?

The whole meaning of community of believers has been lost, especially in today's commercialized church system. Or another name institutionalized religion done in Jesus name. If we survey the New Testament all giving was to only meet the needs of fellow believers. Now, the money received in church offering today goes for mostly pastoral staff salaries, church buildings and its infrastructure, electronic equipment, security guards, fingerprinting, cell phones and many other things that are NOT needs as spelled out in the New Testament. A thing unheard of in the first two centuries of church history. We are to take up offerings to benefit the poor and needy and widows in the community of believers (see Acts 4:32-37). Plus, they never charged for the Word or try to profit off sermons or instruction (i.e. book, music or video sales) or to council fellow believers for money.

Anyone who has ever had a relationship with the living Christ must ask, "Since when has Jesus become dependent on worldly business methods and technology to promote the gospel of the kingdom of God to grow His Church?" Is this the rock He told Peter that He would build His church on--common worldly business model practices? Where once the Lord added to the Church daily as many as should be saved, now we see a church growing itself by appealing to the world's senses. Where once the Spirit of God drew people, now people are enticed with sensationalism and entertainment, an appeal to the eyes and ears.

Jesus prophesied that before the coming judgment it would once again be as it was in the days of Noah, when the earth was filled with the feasting, drinking and hedonism. It would be as it was in the corrupted society of Sodom where it was business as usual, "They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built."(see Luke 17:26-32). Can anyone look around western culture and its churches and not see this prophecy fulfilled?

Perhaps a more telling question might be, "Are we willing to live on bread in order to preach the glorious gospel of the kingdom of God in Jesus name?" Did Jesus pay the price and live in poverty so that the apostles and believers that followed didn't have to? Did they live lives of ease and opulence in order to leave a legacy of established kingdoms in this world? Did they build great institutions, naming great churches, universities and seminaries after themselves as is the practice today?

Let Paul's words suffice: “But sometimes I think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor's parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world--to people and angels alike. Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you are so wise! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are well thought of, but we are laughed at. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, without enough clothes to keep us warm. We have endured many beatings, and we have no homes of our own. We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody’s trash--right up to the present moment.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13, NLT)

These men served the kingdom of God and cared nothing for worldly gain. They didn’t push people to give in order to meet the churches annual budget of salaries and utilities. You wouldn’t see an overseer standing in line to buy the finest clothing from the Roman Empire while the people he shepherds stand in line for their next meal. I remember seeing a local pastor standing in line for the next iPhone while people in the congregation had to stand in line to get food stamps from the state.
The apostles supported themselves and often went without. They had no homes of their own, much less any house worth six figures or annual six figure salaries. They heeded Jesus' words and did not seek to find their lives. They had tasted the heavenly gift and found it good. Their only legacy was to live and die just as their Forerunner, the very Son of God, promoting the eternal kingdom of God. They did not consider their service to be a vocation or livelihood but were witnesses, appointed unto death. It was not a living but a dying; a life laid down and never an excuse to gather wealth to themselves.

Without doubt, the prevailing conditions on the earth today are identical to what existed before the judgment of the flood and the judgment of Sodom. Hedonism has infected the whole world, and the church has been tainted by it in its evangelism of the unbeliever. It goes forth converting men to its corrupt ways, especially in America, convincing all that this is true Christianity. The lust for wealth has not only been found a home in the gospel of prosperity but also in nearly every local church and denomination in America, and gain is preached as godliness is commonplace (see1 Timothy 6:1-11).

Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; - Revelation 18:4 (NIV)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville, VA, Should We Judge?

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NIV)
[12] What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? [13] God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” 

In resent days a deadly protest broke out in Charlottesville, VA. White supremacists  groups and those that oppose them clashed over ideology. One of the white supremacists used a car as a weapon to run over those that opposed them. Killing one and injuring others. Another sad day for humanity. 

The reason why this is being written in because over the past few days many reports have been coming out about this event. In one of those reports the label Christian was attached to these white supremacist. This is what will be addressed.

Jesus came to tell humanity about the kingdom of God. That one day God was going to return and restore what was lost in the garden of Eden. Where only one nation will govern the earth and that's God's kingdom. A place where there will be no more pain, suffering or death. Where perfect justice will rule. Where all hatred, greed, malice, injustice and every other evil that lives in the hearts of humanity will be no more. 

Now for humanity to be apart of this new nation they must look to the Son for entry. If you enter you must adopt the living principles and authority of the leader of this nation, which is Jesus the Christ. One of those principles is spelled out for the citizens of this new nation in a letter from Paul an apostle. He says to those who are followers of Jesus we must live a certain way, 

Colossians 3:10-11 (NIV)
[10]  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. [11] Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

As citizens of God's kingdom, which is what you are if you claim Christianity, there are no more racial divisions, ethnic divisions, social status divisions among it's citizenry. Because since Jesus doesn't look at humanity in this way we shouldn't either. Therefore, believers are to adopt this biblical view. As ambassadors of Christ we represent God's kingdom who's leader is Jesus. Jesus informed us to go out into every nation of the world and invite all to be apart of His Kingdom. Now He didn't tell His disciples to go out and make the nations of the world into Christian nations. Because His nation was not of this world. It's from another place. We are to go out and tell the down trodden, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the out cast of society within all nations that there is a better nation coming. There is good news about the Kingdom of God and all can be apart of it, however you must adopt Jesus' ways and become aliens in the nations we dwell. 

However, are we, as ambassadors of Christ, to wade into the cultures of the world and tell them that must adopt Christ's principles apart from becoming a citizen of His kingdom? 

As followers of Jesus Christ we should speak out against racism of all kinds, but, as Paul said to the Corinthians it needs to be directed to the body of Christ as a whole. People are coming into the kingdom all the time but they bring the baggage of their old life with them. As new citizens of God's kingdom we must put on new clothes. 

Paul understood that those outside the church are in darkness, as he once was and as we were once. He said to the Ephesians, 

Ephesians 5:8 (ESV)
[8] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

The nations of the world resist the light of Jesus, as we once did. They can't be judged by us to adopt Christ principles as His citizens because they are not His citizens. The citizens of the nations of the world are blinded to the gospel of the Kingdom of God by the devil. John tell us, 

1 John 5:19 (NIV)
[19]  We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 

We adopt this principle of no racism not to make ourselves feel better about ourselves or look good in the eyes of the world but to point to the One who showed us the way, Jesus.  However, if you take the label of Christian, Paul says you will be judged by those who belong to the body of Christ. Since racism is not part of the citizenry of God's kingdom therefore, those who claim Christianity must remove all racism from their lives. It is not God's will and must be soundly condemned within the body of Christ.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Modern Areopagus Message

Humanity is religious by nature. People have desired to connect to something greater and outside themselves throughout human history.  There is a pantheon of gods throughout human history. However, in almost every culture a god with no name is acknowledged. This is usually the result of people becoming disillusioned about their gods and the religious official that represent these gods.

This un-named God has a name. He is the God that created this world and all that is in it. He is the Lord of all that is in heaven and on earth. He doesn't dwell in buildings of stone or wood. He doesn't live on some plot of land on the earth. He doesn't need our money or help in any way. He needs nothing because He has provided the life that animates us as people. With a Word He created the lands and the seas and all the living creatures and plants.

Through Adam and Eve he started the human race. We were meant to have dominion over the entire earth. We were to live in harmony with one another and our environment. We were to live in the unveiled presence of God as He guided humanity through the journey of a life untainted, without pain or sorrow or death. It was going to be the perfect kingdom that covered the earth. He made a covenant with us for this perfect life. The only thing we couldn't do was to unilaterally determine what was right and wrong or good and evil. However, humanity decided to break the covenant because they wanted to be like God and determine what was good and what was evil. This breached resulted to humanity being removed from God's presence. A metaphorical veil was erected between humanity and God. Not only where we removed from paradise on earth, we would now become familiar with pain, suffering and ultimately death.

People began to multiply and nations formed. These nations covered the earth. He knows which ones would come into existence. It was Him who orchestrated their boundaries. It was in these diverse cultures that God knew some would reach out to that unknown God.

Some might think He's too far to reach but He's not. We were created in His image. He is ever present, ready to welcome us back into His kingdom.

Since we were created in His image, God cannot be reduced to a statue of stone or gold or anything created by the hands of men. He is not confined to a building or a plot of land. He doesn't listen a little more because of money.

But humanity has been in the dark and as a result we didn't know God or what God wanted from us. However, ignorance is no longer an excuse. Because God has revealed Himself and is calling of all humanity to turn from their ignorance, to step out of the darkness and into the light, to commit to changing their ways. Why? Because a time is coming when He will judge the entire world with perfect justice. This will be done through Jesus Christ. The evidence for this claim is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The first perfect man Adam plunged all of humanity into darkness and death. This resulted in God's perfect justice coming to bear because Adam broke God's covenant. Jesus on the hand came to start a new covenant on behalf of all humanity. However, before he could accomplish this he had to satisfy the requirements of the old covenant on behalf of all humanity. He was the second perfect man. He never once disobeyed God. Since a perfect life was require in God's perfect justice when we disobeyed we could never pay that price, which would result in our being separated from God for all eternity in outer darkness. However, that was the reason Jesus came. On behalf of all humanity he could offer that perfect life to God. That’s what happened. Jesus entered a new covenant with God on behalf of all humanity. This covenant will never be broken. We can become citizens of Gods kingdom right now if we are willing to agree to the new covenant. It's the only way to know the unnamed God. Why? Because of the resurrection.  All the nations of the world are coming to an end and if you're not a part of Jesus's nation then you will perish with the rest of humanity that rejects the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus revealed.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ambassador of Christ?

I am a Christian. Which means I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth said. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."

An ambassador represents the nation they come from. They represent the interests of that nation. They don't go into another nation and tell them how they should live. They would be out of place. As an ambassador of Christ, we represent His interests alone.

I'm not an ambassador of Christ the Republican.
I'm not an ambassador of Christ the Democrat.
I'm not an ambassador of Christ the Conservative.
I'm not an ambassador of Christ the Liberal.
I'm not an ambassador of Christ the Socialist.
I'm not an ambassador of Christ for any nation on this planet except one and that’s the Kingdom of God.

So as a citizen of God's nation, within the nations of the world, I must remain apolitical. It would be idolatrous for me to yoke Christ with any nation of the worlds political ideologies. What inevitably happen is Christ becomes recreated in the image of those ideologies. For example, I was given this cross one day as I enter church.

I gave it back. Could you imagine this kind of thing happening in the 1st century church? 

Imagine you're in Ephesus. It's evening and you're on your way to brother Caius' house for fellowship. Paul the apostle is there. As you approach the home Paul is out front greeting people. As he is greeting people he hands each person a small cross and in the middle of the cross is a little Roman iron eagle symbol. 

I hope you are saying to yourself. "No I don't see that happening." Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. Its from another place." I can't find anywhere in the NT were the disciples were instructed to go and make the nations of this world into Christian nations. He sent them out into all nations of the world to invite all people into the Kingdom of God, God’s nation and become a citizen of His nation. This in turn will make us aliens and strangers to the nations the body of believers live in.

In the end Jesus gathers the nations together and he takes out his chosen people from among them. We see the results of this in Matthew.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

The nations of this world are under the influence of the Evil One and that includes the USA.

And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. – Luke 4:6

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. -       1 John 5:19 (NIV)

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ there is only one nation that is Christian on this planet and it belongs to Jesus. It is His bride. It is a nation without borders. It is the body of believers throughout the entire world, within every nation.

The NT instructs us to pray for civil authorities not bad mouth them. You can’t pray for their souls one minute and then the next minute bad mouth them. Plus, the politician you bad mouth today may come to rule over you tomorrow. Paul said do everything within your power to live at peace within the nations of the world. Not for our sake but for the sake of message of the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Peter calls us a holy nation. In modern day American evangelical Christianity, the moto is God and Country. However, Jesus tells us its Him alone and His kingdom. It's His kingdom we live for and it alone. When someone is saved they become citizens of a new nation, a new kingdom who's king is Jesus. It is His rule we follow. It is His interest we serve. We are to follow his lead no matter what the cost.

A brother in Christ from Russia visited the USA. When he entered his first American church, he saw on the stage a Christian flag and a US flag. He said in his country they would never put a Russian flag on the stage with a Christian flag. He loved his country but he knew the consequence of a Russianized Christianity. It would be an unequally yoking of two nations.

When God makes a covenant with His people He didn’t want them to be entering covenants with the nations around them. Why? Because they were His representative to the nations of the world around them. God knew if they yoked themselves with the nations around them they would compromise His covenant. 

Revelation 18:4 (NIV) Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.”

God’s chosen people throughout the bible looked to another nation that was to come not built by human hands therefore they didn’t long for the nations of the world.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” - John 18:36 (NIV)

The Futility Of Thinking There Are Only Atoms

  Authentic Christian apologetics is not about defending a generic theism but instead defending Christian theism which is solely grounded in...