A Shelter for God’s Afflicted People (Part Three)

Isaiah 14:32

What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (NIV).

What will God’s afflicted people find in Zion? They will find refuge.

Tragically, Israel under the law covenant never found this. After Isaiah’s time, they experienced seventy long years of captivity after Jerusalem fell. Read Jeremiah’s wailings over the fallen city (the book of Lamentations) to sense their anguish. When they began to rebuild the temple, they wept (Ezra 3:12), and the walls of the city were still lying in ruins (Nehemiah 1). Even when Nehemiah led them to rebuild their walls, they were never free. By the time of Jesus, a dark deception clouded the minds of their leaders. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin (John 8:31-34 ESV). They failed to bow before the Lord who offered them the greatest refuge.

Finally, great destruction came to the earthly Jerusalem, as the Lord Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:1-3; 15-25) when the Romans destroyed their city under the command of General (later Emperor) Titus. The lament of Jesus over Jerusalem was fulfilled: Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:38-39 NIV). Weep for all those who try to find safety in an earthly Jerusalem.

Yet the church will surely receive this refuge. We are children of the Jerusalem that is from above (Galatians 4:26). We have come to the real Jerusalem. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22a NIV).

  • It will be a place of glory and joy. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwellingis with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4 CSB)
  • It will be a place of holiness. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27 ESV).

In this present age, the real church, a gathering of followers of Jesus Christ, imperfect as she still is, functions as this refuge for God’s people. The church is:

  • A place of acceptance. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7 NIV)
  • A place of encouragement. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 NLT).
  • A place of comfort. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too (2 Corinthians 1:5 ESV).
  • A place of peace. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15 NIV).

The task before us is to show to those not yet believers the glory of our Rock of Refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? It matters not where you are today. We are concerned about you, that you have the hope of glory in Jesus Christ. And we want you to know joy and peace as you trust in him now. We invite you to our Shelter, the confident expectation of sharing eternal life in Christ!

Grace and peace

Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part Two)

Luke 9:46-56

John responded, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you” (9:49-50 CSB).

Perhaps John, the one closest to Jesus, was troubled by what our Lord had just taught, as he remembered something that the apostles had done. So he asked the Lord about it. The second hindrance to a gospel attitude is a party-spirit (9:49-50).

John confessed a troubling occurrence of misplaced zeal. We should not miss the fact that John’s admission comes from those who are loyal to a cause or a group. In particular, John’s statement shows a concern for the honor of Christ’s name. That was good. We ought to be zealous for the Lord and his truth. May many more have a godly zeal!

However, joined with that was a misdirected concern for “our group”. There are a number of manifestations of this attitude. I’ll suggest three that continue to trouble us in our time.

  • There are those who are in a denomination, association, or fellowship of churches and who take pride in “our confession of faith” or “our missionary or ministry organizations or methods” or “our religious heritage”. They seem believe that the first ten rows in heaven are reserved for their group. If you don’t think this is so, attend a meeting or conference where one group has the majority. Don’t be surprised when after a few strained polite words that people walk away from you when they discover that you’re not part of their group. Christianity is supposed to be a brotherhood. This group type twists it into a secret society.
  • There are those who are in a growing church and who boast “there’s no place like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place”. (I’ve actually heard that said.) They are usually quick to point out that their church is “alive” while others are “dead”, or “they have the truth” and others “are in error”. Again, growing churches and experience-centered churches are prone to this error.
  • There are those who are in a siege mentality, valiantly “preserving the truth or standards of Christian living”. People with this mentality usually talk like Elijah at his worst. “We’re the only ones left!” They are intent on preserving traditions and group identity at all costs. Talk about loving others and inviting outsiders in is a threat to those in this kind of practical error. They also fear change that new participants in their group might request.  

Action Step: Let us never cut down other churches or Christians in a silly attempt to make ourselves look good. If we follow Christ faithfully, he will send his sheep to any gathering of believers.

The Lord Christ gave a sobering reply. It was a swift, direct put down. “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you.”. Stop it!

The Lord Jesus does not need our help as deputy sheriffs to keep his church in line. We might have the best of intentions, but we rarely have the discernment required to do more than to attend to our responsibilities. Jesus simply tells John, “Do not stop him.” You have probably seen some of the old Andy Griffith shows. Dear old Barney was eager to be a good deputy, but many times Andy had to ask him to hand over his bullet. Too many Christians, especially pastors and elders, including some prominent leaders, need to hand their “spiritual bullets” over to the Lord High Sheriff, Jesus.

Again, the disciples had missed a key point. The man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. (John had said that!) The man spoken of was not opposing the work of God through the apostles. So then, he wasn’t against them but for them.

Biblical separation from error or an ungodly way of life for the cause of God and truth is a constant duty of Christ’s church. But separation just because someone isn’t in our group or because they fail to dot their “Is” and cross their “Ts” as nicely as we do is very, very wrong.

Action Step: We should “walk as far on the right road as we can” with other believers. This is important for you on the job. You may need the help of that other believer in your stand for Christ. It is important right now in your neighborhood to show Christian love before a watching world. Many are in need and suffering and even dying. Help all as you are able and as you have the opportunity! It is important for every local body of believers. As someone once said, “Christians should hang together or we may all hang separately.”

We must learn to accept one another, though we may differ on some matters. Heated controversy attracts feisty people, but it rarely changes anyone’s minds according to the Scriptures. The apostle Paul, who was not reluctant to confront people for error also wrote, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7 NIV).

Grace and peace,

Redemption Accomplished

IMG_4130Ruth 4:9-12

The Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ. Our God has revealed himself through his word, the Bible, and we can listen to it, and be filled with worship, confidence, and joy, because of the greatness of our God. In this story, we are happily surprised that he includes people, including people that seemed ruined and forsaken like Ruth and Naomi, as well as an ordinary guy like Boaz, who trusted the Lord and tried to imitate his kindness. We are part of the great story or purpose that God is working out in life’s history. By the grace of God, we have significance; our lives are important; we are here for his purpose. And in this account of redemption accomplished, we view God move toward the fulfillment another part of his plan of redemption.

In previous articles, we saw that Naomi and Ruth needed to be redeemed, but their closest relative refused to do what was necessary for them. Therefore, he gave the right to redeem them to Boaz. Now we come to the great moment of this story.

Boaz kept his promise and redeemed (4:9-10). He redeemed the property that Naomi wanted to sell—what belonged to her husband Elimelech, and her sons Kilion and Mahlon.  Buying this much land must have been costly for Boaz, but by doing it Naomi had sufficient to live on, and Boaz was able to gain the crops that the land would produce. This transaction benefited both of them in different ways. Naomi got short term cash, and Boaz acquired long term profits. It was a fair deal in many ways.

Jesus Christ redeemed his people by dying on the cross. (To redeem means to set free by the payment of a price.) We were in bondage to sin and Satan and in this bondage had earned the hard wages of eternal death. But by his redeeming blood, Jesus set us free! We are free to live forever, and Jesus receives glory and joy by rescuing us. Here is the great deal. Trust in Jesus and he will set you free.

By buying Naomi’s land, it stayed in the family. They could keep what the Lord gave them as their inheritance. God’s gift and purpose are respected. Do you know what are God’s gifts and purpose for the church, Christ’s new assembly? Do you respect them in your approach to life?

Boaz redeemed Ruth. For the first time we learn that she was the widow of Mahlon, but now she will become the wife of Boaz. In this way, the names of both Elimelech and Mahlon would be maintained in Israel, since the first son born to Ruth and Boaz would inherit their land. This was important in old covenant Israel. The land would stay in the family, not just to the Year of Jubilee, but beyond—to him and his heirs. The end of the story tells who got this land.

Ruth also was redeemed from what had seemed a hopeless future. She became the wife of Boaz, and was provided for through his riches. In all this we should see a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we should live.

Jesus paid the very costly price of our redemption by shedding his blood on the cross. Ruth was desolate; she had neither husband nor children, but Boaz set her free to become his wife and the mother of his children. So also, we were spiritually desolate, but through Christ, we died to the law that we might belong to the resurrected Jesus, and so be able to bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4-6). Ruth was a foreigner, a stranger to the covenants of promise, but when Boaz married her, she had a place in the covenant nation. So in Christ, though we were far away, we are now brought near to God and have a place in God’s household and are fellow citizens with God’s people (Ephesians 2:11-22). The Spirit of God shows us in this story that as Boaz received Ruth the Moabite as his wife, so he receives people from all the people groups of the world.

Jesus wants us to set others free. There are so many people that need to be redeemed and set free! We live in a messed up world. Some are in misery because of addictions; they need people to bring the good news of the Redeemer to them. He alone is strong enough to break their chains. Some are ruined by poverty; they need people to befriend them and help them in their struggles. Some have had their family lives ruined by sexual immorality and abuse; they need someone to love and accept them. When we reach out to them, we can lead them to the Lord Jesus, who can bring about true restoration.

Your local assembly must be known as a place of love and acceptance. First, of course, you must accept one another as Christ as accepted us (Romans 15:7). But then each one needs to provide opportunities where people can experience the acceptance that the grace of Christ gives.

Grace and peace, David

Welcome to God’s People

IMG_1111Ruth 2:8-9

As we listen to the book of Ruth, it is clear that life had not been easy for this young Moabite woman. She married into an Israelite family, who had gone to live in her native country. But before they had been in Moab ten years, great tragedy struck. Ruth’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all died. Her mother-in-law, who is filled with bitterness, decided to return to Israel, when she heard that God had come to help his people. And Ruth made the wise and godly decision to go with her. Ruth threw in her lot with God’s people, but still her life did not seem promising. For to the casual onlooker, Ruth was an outsider from one of Israel’s enemies. She lacked financial support. Her mother-in-law could not or would not help, and so Ruth went out into the fields to gather leftover stalks of grain—alone.

However, Ruth was not really alone, because God was with her. As we saw last week, the Sovereign Lord directed her into the fields of one of her relatives by marriage. His name was Boaz, a well-off, influential landowner. In the story of Ruth, a dramatic moment has arrived. Ruth and Boaz talk for the first time. What will happen?

Boaz gave a kind answer to Ruth’s request. As this scene opens, all was not sweetness and light for Ruth. On the one hand, she gathered grain so that Naomi and she could eat. But on the other hand, this was hard work, and from the coming conversation with Boaz, we can gain hints that she felt threatened, perhaps because she was a Moabite. She may well have wondered how successful her endeavor might be. Suddenly, everything changed for her good! It was in the path of faith that Ruth found blessing.

Ruth found acceptance. His kind greeting (“my daughter”) was a message of welcome. Boaz didn’t address her as an enemy or even a foreigner but as a family member. His words conveyed a sense of inclusion and reassurance. They might well have been the first kind words she heard since she arrived in Israel. It was like saying, “We’re glad you’re here; please make yourself at home.” This sense of acceptance ought to permeate every situation in every assembly of Christ’s people. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7 NIV). In addition, his words were also an invitation. He told her to stay in his fields. From his emphasis, it seems that she might have been in the process of leaving. He quieted her fears. My brothers and sisters, we must realize that we need to make others feel very accepted. We might be familiar with handshakes and perhaps hugs in the local church we have attended for a while, but the hearts of guests can be very apprehensive. Perhaps they have never felt acceptance. Now certainly, you don’t rush up and give a guest a hug! But you can ask them if they’d like a cup of coffee, show them where to hang up their coats, or offer to sit near them.

Ruth received protection. Boaz gave Ruth a place in his community of workers. He did not offer to pay her, but he allowed her to support herself off his possessions. Yes, God’s law commanded this, but he let her know that he walked according to the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). He reassured Ruth that no one would abuse her verbally, physically or sexually in his fields. He sought to put Ruth at ease. She would not have to work looking over to her shoulder. She was in a secure place where she could enjoy gathering food. It is a man’s responsibility to make women and girls feel safe and secure (cf. 1 Timothy 5:2).

Ruth discovered compassion. Boaz gave Ruth permission to drink from the water jars used by his workers. This was very considerate care for a woman working hard under the near eastern sun; it would also save her time in getting her own water. This act of compassion reversed the usual social customs, because in that culture foreigners usually gave water to Israelites and women to men. So then, this would strike Ruth as very special treatment. He invited Ruth to take the first steps from outside the social circle of the community of Israel to inside at least the outer part of that circle.

Where are you in your fellowship of believers? If it is a gathering of true followers of Christ, you should feel welcome and being drawn closer. It can take people with little knowledge of community time to feel accepted, but the atmosphere of acceptance should be evident. Receive invitations to draw nearer as you perceive the grace of the good news of Christ in the assembly. If you are inside, reach out to people who are new to the group. Get out of your comfort zone to bring others into it. You are the messenger of Christ’s love to newcomers and to those who still linger on the fringes of your local church.

Grace and peace, David