God, Jonah, and the City (Part Two)

Jonah 1:1-3

God sent Jonah to preach against Nineveh, the leading city of the Assyrian Empire, because of its wickedness. This was a difficult mission, and the rest of the book presents Jonah’s reluctance and God’s perseverance in this task. God told Jonah to call out Nineveh for its sin. They were cruel, violent, and oppressive. They had made life miserable for God’s people. It was not something that would have been easy to do. It was not what Jonah wanted to do. We need to evaluate ourselves. Are we reluctant to fulfill our mission of making disciples of all nations? What are we currently doing?

Like Jonah, we can invent alternatives to what God wants us to do about the city. Jonah’s alternative was to run away from the mission God gave him. Here are some unhelpful alternatives that Christians take in our time.

  • We set up our own little sub-cultural fortress. We protect ourselves from the city because it is evil. Once every twenty years, we might go out on a mission trip, hurl our “gospel grenades” into the city, complain that they are hardened in sin because they don’t respond to unloving methods, and quickly retreat into our safe little Christian hiding places.
  • We can forget the wickedness of the city and become part of it. In trying to reach the city, some have become enamored by its ideas and practices. Only a life committed to the centrality of the cross of Christ can help you avoid this, if you venture into the city. Evil is powerful, and we need the expulsive power of a great desire to resist it. That greater desire is Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • We can use the city to satisfy our desires, avoiding its more repugnant evils, but forgetting what we’re supposed to be doing in the city.

The Lord wants us to live among the people of rebellious cities and preach against their wickedness. To do this, we must be living among them, so that we know how evil is ruining them, and being close to be able to give them hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:13-16).

Here are eight ways to start to influence the city:

  • Eat with non-Christians – invite them to your home or go out to dinner with them
  • Walk, don’t drive – walk around your neighborhood; be seen by people and talk to them as you have the opportunity
  • Be a regular – go to the same places and get to know people there
  • Share a hobby or activity with non-Christians – check your local library for information
  • Talk to your coworkers – how hard can this be?
  • Volunteer in non-profit organizations – this is a natural way to help people in need and partner with others at the same time
  • Participate in community activities – some communities have little happening, but perhaps yours does
  • Serve your neighbors – keep your eyes and ears open

Please think about the following. Jonah disobeyed the Lord by running in the opposite direction from Nineveh. In the process, he went away from the presence of the Lord (3:3 ESV). I boldly suggest that if we’re not doing one or more things on the above list, or activities like them, then we are running from “our Nineveh” just as Jonah did from his.

Grace and peace, David

Exploring Matthew 10

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 10:7 ESV).

In the Gospel of Matthew, we encounter five great discourses or teaching sections of Jesus. Each of these contains essential lessons from the Teacher to his learners (disciples). The first, third and last in the list below bear the names usually attached to them:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (5-7)
  • The Instructions for Mission (10)
  • The Kingdom Parables (13)
  • The Community of the King (18-20)
  • The Olivet Discourse (24-25)

If you want an easier list to remember, think: life (5-7), mission (10), kingdom (13), community (18-20), and outlook (24-25). Starting with your thumb, visualize a word written on each fingerprint and memorize the list. Now to chapter ten itself.

Matthew 10 is linked to the end of the previous chapter (9:35-38). In it we observe Jesus involved in the work the Father gave him to do and his prayer request for laborers for the harvest. Matthew 10:1-4 reveals a partial answer to that request. From his learners, Jesus chose twelve to form a special group in which they are also called apostles (“sent ones” – this is the only time that Matthew uses the term). These twelve disciples are listed in pairs, which is suggestive for the way others would be sent out to minister (cf. Luke 10:1).

The remainder of the chapter develops the concept of mission in three ways:

  • The short-term mission of the Twelve (10:5-15) — The instructions to the twelve disciples are part of the narrative. In God’s plan, Jesus had work for them to do to extend the impact of Jesus’ earthly ministry. While some matters clearly for the Twelve on their first “mission trip” (like their restricted location and ability to perform miracles), there are general principles that apply to missional living for all disciples. We are to serve people in their need, trust God for provision, and look for a “person of peace” and extend a local ministry from that person. Notice that even on this short-term trip, there was the possibility of opposition (10:14-15).
  • The long-term mission to the whole world (10:16-23) — Developing the idea of opposition, Jesus wants us to be aware of several matters: He knows the dangerous situation that he sends us into; he tells us that danger will come because of our relationship to him and the witness we give for him; he provides the Spirit as our Helper; and tells us to persevere for him in spite of persecution, even from our own families.
  • The response of disciples to the world’s opposition (10:24-42) — First, the Lord knows our hearts and talks to us about fear. The idea is to replace fear with trust in the Father’s care (10:26-33). Second, he counsels us about his agenda. He does not intend to bring peace but a sword, and so we should not think that something has gone wrong. We must maintain a proper Christ-focus at all times (10:34-39). Third, the response of people to us depends on their response to Christ. He will reward those who care for his followers (10:40-42).

Hopefully, this will give you an overview as you explore this chapter. Read it many times, because it presents attitudes that we need as we join Christ on his mission. Take many notes. Hide this passage in your heart. How can we expect to follow Christ faithfully in this world unless we know his will?

Grace and peace, David

The Circus Is Closing

DSCN0617Luke 9:57-62

When I read the newspaper yesterday, I was surprised to hear that after 146 years Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus will close its show forever on May 21. A circus used to be a big deal in entertainment. I remember that a small Ringling circus used to travel through our area in Ohio, and I went to see it once. The only time I was ever at the greatest show on earth was when Sharon’s cousin took our family when our children were young. An era of entertainment has closed. My granddaughter will not be able to see a circus. She and others will not know the meaning of a phrase like “someone ran off to join the circus.”

Regardless of any sentimental regrets people might have about that circus closing, there is another circus that I wish would close as soon as possible. That is the circus held every Sunday in American churches. This past week I received a postcard that a new circus, oops, I mean “church”, is opening nearby. It proudly proclaimed that it would feature a really good band. If that won’t bring in religious consumers shopping for spiritual entertainment, then what will? Remove the bands and children’s programs from most churches and you will have removed the main reasons for the assumed success of those churches. Replace the inspirational talk by the “lead pastor” with sound, Biblical teaching, and most of the rest of the crowd will disappear also.

The worship and mission of churches in America is far removed from the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to how he interacted with some who wanted to be his disciples (learners). As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62 ESV).

The Lord Christ was not desperately gathering people. He did not seek a loose attachment to him. He certainly did not offer entertainment. Observe how he rebuffed certain types of supposed followers.

  • Jesus did not accept people who merely said that they would follow him, even if their words appeared to commit to him (9:57-58). He taught that the life of faith was not about personal convenience. It required sacrifice. The “circus church” allows people to attend when convenient; it strives to put on a good enough show that people won’t find it convenient to miss.
  • Jesus did not accept people who failed to commit to his supremacy (9:59-60). He demanded first place above other relationships. The “circus church” excuses people for activities with family and friends, but hopes that they can convince them to join the weekly shows, at least occasionally. Everyone wants high attendance for Christmas and Easter programs.
  • Jesus did not accept people who looked for other opportunities (9:61-62). He demanded firm commitment. The “circus church” lets people play around, trying to keep them interested in attending weekend programs, while giving them a pass on godly behavior and commitment to Christ.

Let me stress that I don’t want churches to close. But I pray that they will shut down the circus and return to Jesus Christ and his mission. I doubt this will happen, because they know that they will lose many who attend their weekly religious entertainment programs. The local leaders have counted the cost of their church following Christ and do not want to endure it, or they do not want to follow the Lord themselves.

Each one of us ought to examine ourselves. Do I really want to follow Christ on his mission of being a disciple myself and making disciples? Or do I merely want some weekend religious entertainment. It’s time to end the circus and to begin discipleship.

Grace and peace, David

A Reminder to All Disciples

img_0011-22 Timothy 1:13

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus (NIV).

Every believer is on a mission, which is to follow the Lord Jesus and learn how to fish for people (Mark 1:17). An immediate question is, “How does this happen?” From my experience in fishing for fish, I observed that you must be where the fish are: beside or on a body of water. I used to practice casting in my backyard, but there was no water, and there were no fish to catch. So then, we must be where people are to catch people. That should be obvious, but it seems many Christians expect to catch fish in a Sunday worship service. But few people care to jump into that pond to be caught.

Since our mission is not to make people religious but followers of Jesus Christ, we need to have the right kind of bait. You see, you cannot catch people to follow Christ, unless you follow him first. This also ought to be obvious, but many settle for trying to get people to sit in a church building, to participate in a church activity, and oh, to put money in the offering plates. After they pick up the lingo, get baptized, and join the church, the religious mission is accomplished. Hurray! But that is not what Christ or the Holy Spirit sets forth in our text. It tells us that we must keep or follow (ESV) or hold on to (HCSB) what we have heard. A follower is an attentive listener to Jesus and to those who teach his words. We must have the character of a Christ follower to catch people to follow Christ. Notice the brief reminder that Paul gave to Timothy and to all who read this letter.

  • We start with what we have been taught in God’s word. This is the pattern of sound teaching. The Bible, whether in its narrative or commentary sections, provides a formative pattern for us. It gives us a perspective on life and how to act as adult sons and daughters of God in life’s situations. For example, as God led the church through times of opposition (Acts 4 & 12), the Spirit made clear that the church responded to the opposition by prayer. Too often modern Christians respond by watching a movie about prayer, saying the movie was tremendous, and then not praying. But I digress…. First Peter was not written to give material for Christians to huddle in a living room and talk about their feelings about what Peter wrote. It was written to tell Christians scattered how to live for God’s glory through Christ. It is a formative pattern for us.
  • We keep the teaching with faith and love. Our Father in heaven does not wish our heads merely to be filled with a collection of facts. He wants them lived out in a specified way. Our life is to be a life of faith, of dependence, of commitment to God’s all-ability and promises. Faith often will not make sense in a self-centered world where people assume they are fixers. Love also is essential. I suppose every follower of Christ hears this early on (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). But we cannot fish for people unless we love people. Love makes us abandon our comfort, and faith our self-reliance. Neither option is palatable unless a person has truly repented and believed. The follower of Christ delights in being formed in faith and love.
  • These graces happen in Christ Jesus. Everything in life for the follower of Christ is focused on or built on the Lord. We believe in Christ and through him. We love because Christ first loved us and then love through his love. Faith and love happen by a dynamic relationship with the Lord. Then, when someone asks, “Why did you help me like you just did?” we have the right and humble response, “I did that because of Jesus Christ.”

Keep the pattern, and go fish for people!

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Seven)

dscn00411 Corinthians 12:3

To evangelize is one of the great purposes of the church. The Lord Jesus has sent us out on his mission. What is this mission? Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 HCSB). Since we are to make disciples or learners of Christ, our mission is to turn people from the pursuit of sinful desires to become fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our friends and families; in fact, this should be our great joy and desire. However, this message is unwanted and disliked by those who need to hear it. Rebellion against God and his ways, refusal to love God, and rejection of God as God, what the Bible means by sin, is deeply rooted in the ideas, attitudes, and desires of people who do not follow Christ.

It should be very clear to us, not only from the Bible but also from our evangelism experiences, that the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for anyone to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Since we are considering the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it is very appropriate to consider his work in salvation at this point. A correct understanding of the work of the Spirit of God is essential for evangelism and growth of the people of God. It is also important for us to grasp where the Spirit has brought us from, in order that we may understand what we now are in Jesus Christ.

The answers to three questions will help us see the need for the Spirit’s work in salvation. In this article, we will think about the first question. Let us begin with, “What is the difference between religious ritual and spiritual reality?”

Consider the context of verse three. From 7:1 through 16:4, the apostle Paul is answering a number of questions that the Corinthian church had asked him, questions about marriage, Christian liberty, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of the body, and collections for God’s people in need. The Corinthians were very excited about the subject of spiritual gifts, but they were also very confused, which is clear from the length of this section (chapters 12-14)! From my experience, it is hard to tell what subject will get professing Christians revved up the most. Is it prophecy, predestination or spiritual gifts, especially speaking in tongues?

Highlighting the Corinthian problem:

  • They had a problem regarding a proper focus on Christ. This contributed to their fascination with things like spiritual gifts rather than Christ.
  • They had a problem with realizing and appreciating their unity in Christ. They pursued the individual rather than the community.
  • The Corinthians had a problem about spiritual discernment. They had trouble with testing every teaching or statement by the Scriptures, assuming that if someone manifested some kind of spiritual experience that it must have come form the Spirit of God. That is the reason for Paul’s statement in 12:3.

The Corinthian believers needed to learn that error is to be rejected, regardless of how spiritual it might seem. This is the issue of show versus substance. Also, truth only comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in a human heart. When the Spirit is at work, he glorifies Christ and produces the confession that Jesus is Lord (cf. Romans 10:9-10). Christ is both God and Ruler of the person who truly makes this confession. This is where spiritual reality is, not in loudness about personal experiences of spiritual gifts. The Spirit produces passion to follow Christ, not to glory in spiritual gifts that one claims to possess.

The Corinthians sound a lot like contemporary Christians, but that is not how we should be! A proper grasp of the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation will help us toward spiritual maturity.

Grace and peace, David

An Unexpected Meeting

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SAMSUNG

Luke 1:11-17

We are exploring the idea that the early verses of Luke provide the setting for the Christmas story and for the whole story of God’s glory in Christ that Luke publishes. In the previous article, we saw the historical setting and the old covenant setting. God worked out his message in real history and consistent with his covenant dealings with Israel. Next, we see that the narrative contains the unexpected ways of the Lord.

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him (Luke 1:11-12 ESV).

The angel of the Lord completely surprised Zechariah, by his appearance in the temple. Because of the relatively compact narrative on the Scriptures, we tend to think that meetings between angels and humans were common, supposing people in Bible met with angels once a month. That simply did not happen. Most people lived their lives and never met an angel. Hundreds of years might pass even in Israel without an angelic encounter. The nearest in time interaction between a human and an angel recorded in the Bible before this event was with Zechariah the prophet, who lived almost five hundred years before Zechariah the priest. When the angel of the Lord appeared in the temple, Zechariah had no previous experience with meeting and talking with an angel. This appearance prepares the stage for the unexpected appearances of angels to Mary (Luke 1:26-27) and to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). When you read through Luke, you will discover the Lord doing many unexpected actions. (I won’t list these in the hope that you will read them yourself. The joy of discovery is important in the learning process!) Notice also the true to life reaction to the sudden, unlooked for, appearance of the supernatural. Zechariah was troubled and afraid. Compare the like response to the angels and to the Lord in Luke’s account of Christ’s resurrection (24:4-5, 36-37).

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1:13-14 ESV).

The angel surprised Zechariah with good news. People who long for children will pray for them. God sent the angel to encourage the priest with answered prayer. We confess our dependence on the Lord when we pray. Joy happens when God answers our requests! Many times we have heard others rise to praise God for answered prayer. The angel also told the priest the gender of the child, apart from the need for an ultrasound. Their son was on the way. They would also be spared the effort of looking through lists of baby boy names, because God had named him. God also promised joy and gladness for the parents. Long years of waiting would end in joy.

“For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17 ESV).

His child had an unanticipated mission. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah! While they prayed for a child, they would not have dreamed that their son would be given this important spiritual task. John would be the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 40:3-5). By the Holy Spirit, he would have a part in turning many to the Lord. Luke will write about how the Lord would use many men and women in the Lord’s mission. God’s call of grace and power would come to them to do what they never expected to do. For example, read the stories of Philip, Barnabas, and Paul in the Acts.

For us, are ready to do unexpected things for the Lord? Perhaps you are middle aged or even old now. Your life seems to be moving on at a slow and unspectacular pace. But God can step into your life and call you to reach others for Christ and to spread the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in unexpected places. Are you ready?

Grace and peace, David

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World (Part Two)

img_3720Psalm 10:1-11

King David trusted God, through the complexities of life. He knew that the Lord reigns forever (9:7). Yet he acknowledged the prosperity of wicked, prideful people. Life throws such complications at us, and we need a mature faith to work through the anguish we can feel. David does that in this psalm. We resume the previous article as he sings the unhappy song of the characteristics of wicked people.

  • They are self-confident with no fear of coming adversity (10:5-6). Given the known weaknesses of old age and the certainty of death, it is surprising that they can have such overweening pride. The wicked are like the sports teams that have skilled offences, but forget that they need a defense capable of stopping their opponents. Since they have excluded God from their thoughts, they assume that justice can never touch them. In the name of living for all the gusto they can grab now, they ignore much of life in a broken world. They don’t want to think about it.
  • They are filled with corrupt communication (10:7). Jesus unveiled the source of evil speech. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Matthew 12:34 NIV). People can speak in malicious and spiteful ways. Their aim is to hurt by their words. Read this sad catalogue and know what you can expect to receive in a broken world. His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity (ESV).
  • They set ambushes to murder and oppress the helpless (10:8-10). We all can see and read about this evil every day. God desires people everywhere to care for their neighbors, and he grants people skill and strength to do so. The wicked do not love their neighbors as God commands; they abuse and kill them. Here we can clearly see the hideous nature of sin. We cannot see into the spiritual realm and see the nature of mankind’s rebellion against the living God, but we can see the havoc and ruin it causes in the human condition. Violence is a growing problem among our people. Racial and ethnic tensions continue to rise toward a boiling point. The brokenness of humanity is about to break us all, unless God sends a new great awakening.
  • They suppress the truth of God and his justice (10:11). If they think of the God they have no room for in their thoughts, it is only to mock him. Listen to their ridicule: He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (ESV). They portray God to themselves as oblivious, indifferent, and incapable.

So then, what should we learn as we live in this broken world?

  • We should avoid falling into the trap that supposes that God is far away and unconcerned. God is near us (Acts 17:27-28). We may not be able to discern God’s activity, but let us not think that he doesn’t care about us or suffering people. God will act in justice at his appointed day. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).
  • We should know that God understands our situation in this broken world. He realizes the opposition that the poor, the helpless, and his people face. Remember, this is a song that we need to sing in worship. It might be a very melancholy song, but it has a beneficial purpose. We do not want the Lord to stand far away from people in trouble. Neither should we. God works through people who live in this broken world to reach out to the helpless and the oppressed. We all ought to involve ourselves in his mission.

Certainly, it requires much more than our small efforts, and David will write more in this song about the need for God to act. For now, do not complain about life’s troubles. Use them as opportunities to love God and people.

Grace and peace, David

Praise in a Broken World

IMG_3174Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(ESV)

Psalms nine and ten are companion pieces, telling two sides of what God does in his world to bring about the ultimate victory of his plan in Jesus the Messiah. (In fact, some versions, following the ancient Septuagint, combine them into one Psalm.) Both sides are just as real, and we need to hear both to be spiritually balanced. David, who experienced suffering and triumph, was used by God to write these psalms and to teach us to sing about both sides of reality. The Lord Jesus walked this same path (Philippians 2: 6-11). Today, we’ll listen to how Psalm Nine opens.

Before David talks about God’s rule in the world, he presents four active attitudes that we express in our relationship with the Lord of all. That might sound a bit redundant, but we must realize our responsibility to God. To follow the Lord requires us to follow him with praise and worship. In a broken world this will not simply happen. Many times we will feel far from desiring to praise our God and Father. The brokenness around us, which we can see every day, will seem too horrible. But hope (confident anticipation in God’s promises) will enable us to see more than the immediate situation we and others we love are in. Then we can act and praise.

  • Thankfulness heads the four active attitudes. When we do not thank the Lord for the many blessings he continually gives, it is a sign that our part of our relationship with God is faltering. One of the core issues of those in rebellion against God is a lack of thankfulness to the Creator (Romans 1:21, 25). Those who delight in God and his mercies willingly thank him for who he is and what he does for his people. Thanksgiving should be more than an item from a list about how to pray. It ought to flow from our hearts, the core of who we are.
  • Testimony follows thankfulness. When we appreciate God’s blessings from our hearts, we will want others to know. We will tell or recount them to others. “Wonderful deeds” translates a Hebrew word that is frequently used for the redemptive miracles that the Lord did for his people. For the people of God before Christ came, they would recount all God to make a people, including the events of the exodus and the giving of the Promised Land. For new covenant people, we can recount not only Christ’s miracles but the four core events of the good news: Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. All four transform us, and so we should tell others about them.
  • Next is joy in the Lord. While it is easy to rejoice in circumstances, David sings about being glad because of the Lord himself. This is part of any healthy relationship. If you are in a friendship, you do not merely rejoice in the benefits of that friendship, but also in your friend. You enjoy being with your friend simply because he or she is your friend. If your joy is only in the pleasant circumstances God sends you, what will you do when your situation is suffering? Since David’s joy was in the Lord himself, he could exult in the Lord at all times.
  • Finally, David encourages artistic expression in praise. Specifically, he tells the Lord that he will sing praise to God’s name (a frequent way of speaking of God personally). Some people have been given beautiful voices, which are nice for the rest of us to listen to. And we ought to try to sing our best. But the point is to sing to the Lord. This is becoming a lost art in many churches, where people are entertained by a “praise team”. Surely, there is no problem with having people with skill lead others in singing, but today many are silent while a few up front sing. But the Lord desires to hear your voice joining in the overflowing joy of all he is and has done in our Lord and Savior.

Praise does not make the ugliness of a broken world disappear. It does not lessen suffering. But it is a very important part of our relationship with the Lord of all. May we all praise the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Answering Questions

IMG_0975Ruth 2:1-7

When the Lord calls us by the gospel (good news) of Christ to salvation, he places us in his people, his family, his new gathering, the church. When we repent and believe, we become partners in the good news. God equips each gospel partner to function in the church, and he expects us to fulfill our function, as we saw in earlier articles on 1 Corinthians 12. This requires cooperation with other members. We must all receive direction from the Lord (what is written in his word) and help one another in the mission that the Lord has given us; namely, to fish for people. Christ is in charge of the church and we all will answer to him.

In the story of Ruth, we read of a man entrusted with a task. We are not told his name, but he was a foreman under the direction of Boaz. Boaz wanted to know more information about Ruth, and so he asked his foreman, who made plain observations. He told Boaz what he knew about Ruth’s identity. He said that she was a Moabite woman. The foreman did not hesitate to point this out twice. We must remember that the law covenant separated Israel from the nations, though there is one human race. (The Bible recognizes absolutely nothing about different races among people. Racial prejudice and hatred come from non-Biblical and non-Christian ideas.) God had separated Israel from the nations out of love for Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) and from Israel to send Christ and his people to all people groups (Romans 9:4-5; 15:7-13). Whatever thoughts the foreman may have had about a Moabite gleaning in the fields, clearly Boaz was not troubled at all.

Christ’s new people the church consists of those saved by grace from all people groups. Through Christ we all have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). Therefore, we must reach out to people from all ethnic groups, in order to show God’s glory in saving people from all nations in the Lord Jesus. Are you involved in this part of the mission?

The foreman also told Boaz that Ruth came back (same word as returned in 1:22) with Naomi. When we connect this with the information about Boaz in verse one, the story gets interesting! The God who is in control of everything has his hand on both their lives to bring them together.

The foreman informed Boaz about Ruth’s conduct and request. Ruth was diligent in her work. She worked steadily from the moment she arrived in the field. She was intent on her purpose. If she wanted food to eat, she had to glean. Ruth was bold in her request—to gather among the harvesters. Why would she ask this? In Bible times a reaper grasped the stalk with his left hand and cut the grain with the sickle in his right. As he did this, he would accumulate an armload of stalks, which he would lay in rows for women to tie in bundles. If the workers were skilled, little would be left in the field, except at the corners of the field. If the workers carelessly allowed too much to drop, they might be looking for work the next day in someone else’s field. So Ruth wanted to increase her probability of harvesting a good amount of grain. She is going beyond the law; she is asking for kindness.

How do you need to exercise bold faith where Christ has placed you? Your life is probably less than perfect; don’t be depressed or discouraged. Life was not easy for Ruth on this day of her life. But she lived by faith on God’s word. You and I must life by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, too, regardless of our circumstances. Instead of viewing your life as filled with problems, look at things differently. The Lord is giving you opportunities to rely on him, because when you are weak, he still is strong (2 Cor 12:10). He has promised to be with you always, which includes the trying and taxing times you endure. Rely on his presence and his power.

Grace and peace, David

Unnormal Provision

IMG_4249Ezra 1:1-11

We anticipate that people will act according to their character and their worldview. Moms are supposed to be tender and affirming; judges are supposed to uphold justice; servers in restaurants are supposed to be happy and considerate (at least if they want a generous tip). When we meet people, we tend to classify them immediately. We may or may not approve of their actions and personality, but we assume that they act consistently. Then we make adjustments when they are in our immediate world. Think of the grouchy boss or the snoopy person on Facebook. We learn how to adapt our interactions with such people.

Israel had been in exile from the Promised Land for seventy years. During that times they suffered at times and thrived at others. This happens. Some live in misery and bitterness, while others profit from the situations. One reality that all the exiles in Babylon and then Persia endured was that they were not free. They had been taken out of the land by the will of the Lord, and they had lost the old covenant way to worship and to draw near to God (at the temple offering sacrifices through the priests). Oppression and separation had become the “normal” for them after seventy years. There wasn’t any reason to look for change, as long as they were under the heel of the world’s superpower of their time. Or was there?

The Lord teaches us in his word that he is able to change the normal situation and to provide unnormal provision for his people. Yet we are so accustomed to the normal that we feel that the normal we are in now will always be normal. The post-exilic books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are unfamiliar territory to most readers, with the exception of Daniel. We ought to read them, since the Lord God has much material in them which will build hope (Romans 15:4). Since the new covenant people are “scattered exiles” in this world (study 1 Peter), there are many lessons in these writings for our profit.

  • God acted in conformity with the purpose of his will: “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (1:1; cf. Ephesians 1:11). God acts according to his plans, which he sometimes makes known to his people. We saw previously that God acted in the exodus according to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here, God did what he told Jeremiah he was going to do (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14). God will always do what he has promised, but we should never expect him to do what people speculating about “Bible prophecy” have taught. For this reason, we need to know the word, and we learn it by carefully reading it.
  • God acted directly on the heart of Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, in order that he might make a proclamation (1:1). He was going to speak in a manner very unnormal for an emperor, most of whom have been very oppressive in the history of the world. The Lord can act directly on the hearts of the rulers of nations to turn them to do what he chooses (Proverbs 21:1). He is sovereign over the affairs of kingdoms. For a man in his high position who led an empire that followed other gods, this was very unnormal.
  • God revealed to Cyrus a mission for him to accomplish (1:2). The Lord taught him that he and not Cyrus was the true ruler of the world and its nations and so Cyrus received his position from the Lord. With this idea of his purpose in God’s world, Cyrus was faithful to the mission that God gave him. We must remember our mission (Matthew 28:19-20). Let us ask ourselves who is more faithful: a pagan emperor or us? Cyrus knew that this was a specific mission. He was to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. We are to help build a temple for the Lord from all nations.
  • God instilled a spirit for the mission in Cyrus (1:3-4). He became a coach to help God’s people participate in the fulfillment of the mission. He encouraged them to return to Jerusalem and to build his temple. He told people to contribute to the task. This is very unnormal, especially when you read today’s news and see how opposed human governments are to God’s people today.
  • God changed the hearts of his people to become involved in the mission (1:5-6). God stirred up some to return to Jerusalem. He moved others to give to help them on their way. From the unnormal of captivity (which they had got used to as normal), the Lord led them to return to the normal for the old covenant people: life in the Promised Land.
  • God induced Cyrus to return the articles of worship that had been taken from the temple (1:7-11). Everything in old covenant worship had to be done according to the pattern that the Lord gave Moses (Exodus 40:16-33). The people needed those articles to reestablish worship of the living God. Therefore, the Lord made sure that they received them. These articles were worth a large amount of money, and for Cyrus to part with them was truly unnormal provision.

The Lord God who acted in Cyrus’ life is the same Almighty God today. The Lord Jesus, who rules over everything for the good of his church, knows what we need for the mission he gave us. He can change human governments, in order that we might be able to reach people. Or he can give us Holy Spirit boldness to act during opposition and adversity. May we be encouraged that the Lord is able to give whatever “unnormal provision” we need.

Grace and peace, David