Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

We are all part of the “in” Crowd!

Isaiah 56:6 reads, “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant.”

The Israelite people had always believed that they had a special, unique relationship with God.  They also believed strongly that clear boundaries existed that stipulated who was “in” and who was “out”.

If you were born of the line of Abraham, you were one of the chosen people and belonged to that special “in” group.  Anyone who was foreign born didn’t quite measure up.

The book of Ruth shows us however, that God does not care about birth or ancestry as much as He cares about commitment and obedience.

Ruth is a foreigner, a poor widow from enemy land.   And yet, God uses her to change the course of history.  She becomes the mother of Obed, who is the grandfather of King David, and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

What do we learn from Ruth’s story?  We learn that God can use any one of us–no matter how weak, how poor, how insignificant we might look to the rest of the world.  God cares about all people, no matter where they were born or what color their skin might be.

We learn that we matter to God.  God’s hand is all over the events of this book and nothing in the lives of Ruth, Naomi, or Boaz escapes His notice.  God provides protection and provision of their daily needs to Ruth and Naomi.  And He does this for us too.  We need to be constantly watching for His hand touching our circumstances so that we can give Him the thanks and praise He is owed.

And we learn that God wants us to live selflessly–the way the characters in Ruth did.  Ruth cares for Naomi by putting her own needs aside.  Naomi cares for Ruth by ensuring her future protection.  Boaz cares for Ruth and Naomi by redeeming their property and by marrying the foreign widow whose future seems bleak at the beginning.

And God cares for us by giving them a child who would be the ancestor to Jesus Christ.

The book of Ruth begins with hopelessness.  But we see Ruth join with the people of God and turn her life completely around.  Isn’t this a picture of how we come to a faith as well?  We begin with no hope–outsiders, foreigners with no place in the family of God.  Ruth, the outsider from Moab,  laid herself and her pride down on the threshing floor before Boaz, and he became her kinsman-redeemer.  We too change our lives, when we lay down our pride and surrender to Jesus, our Redeemer.

 

 

 

Unexpected Detour

See related image detailWe had determined to do so many things this month and beyond; things like get-togethers, appointments, church, travel, even work and play. How quickly all that has changed. Many have been left with the question, now what do we do?

Jesus too had plans. He had determined a set route when He set His mind to go to Jerusalem for Passover, to go to the cross and to return to heaven. (Luke 9:51) In that resolute plan, to take the shortest route to Jerusalem, He experienced a detour that took Him and the disciples out of their way. Jesus used His detour to continue to teach His disciples, to prepare them further for what was to follow. He continued to work, to heal, to speak of the Kingdom and though detoured He still accomplished what He had set out to do.

When we face detours in life it can be difficult. While most detours do not confine us to staying at home, others do as in this time of self-isolation, and social distancing. For the introverts content with their own company or with a chosen few, this can be even a greater opportunity to hunker down more than usual doing those things they enjoy in isolation. For the extrovert who recharges by being with people this can be an incredibly frustrating time.

We must resist the opportunity to hunker down, to totally insulate ourselves from the world. How we, who claim to follow Jesus, react in this time will be telling to those who watch for inconsistencies with the talk vs the walk. There are still many things that we can do to show Jesus to those around us. What’s yours?

Ear Whisperer

See the source imageWe shake our heads, and tut tut at the pictures and stories we read about stripped store aisles of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and water, the long line-ups well before the stores open, the impatience of shoppers to buy those things they think they may need in this current crisis all because of fear, a fear that inclines some to panic. Where does this fear come from? Certain fears are healthy; other fears drive some to do things we would have thought unthinkable only a few weeks ago. We have an enemy that drives those fears.

An enemy is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “one that is antagonistic to another especially one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent, something harmful or deadly, a military adversary or a hostile unit or force”. The enemy described in parts of this definition we encounter occasionally but we also do have an enemy that assails us daily. How well do we know this enemy? Do we know his strengths, his weaknesses and his modus operandi? Are we aware that we can defeat him? Do we even believe that such an enemy exists?

He speaks with a language of his own since almost the beginning of time. He was present in the Garden of Eden, throughout history and speaks the same language at this very moment. He speaks in the language of lies and half truths. He is that voice that tells us that we are failures, that we are not loveable. In society he influences ideals, goals, education, commerce, false religion and thoughts. He is the ruler of this world even as God is Sovereign over it. Much of what is wrong in this world is a result of his rule. He influences every area of life if we allow him to. He accuses us through whispers in our ears and is bold enough to accuse us before our heavenly Father.

To defeat this enemy we first need to believe that he exists. Jesus knew and knows he exists and teaches us to employ the same resources against him that He did. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness after His baptism, satan used only the parts of scripture that advanced his objective. Jesus countered with the whole of scripture. We can do the same but we do need to know the Word. We have the armour (Ephesians 6:10-18) and we need to put it on daily. We need to pray to recognize the lies that we are told by this enemy. We can defeat him but we do need to know who he is and how he operates. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. Because he is a spiritual enemy his defeat comes through the spiritual power of God’s Word.

He is a defeated enemy but continues to spread his snares to those who are unaware of how he works. Don’t fear the lies but know the truth. We have the armour, we have the One who has fought the battle for us. AND we have the Manual, His instructions on how to fight this war. There is God, and there is satan. We need to choose one or the other as there is no neutral ground. Choose wisely.

Outside Looking In

See the source image For the person who is single whether by choice, because of the death of a spouse, or just not having yet found a partner, there can be times when they feel that they are on the outside looking in. There are social situations where this is keenly felt. Singles can experience this even as they attend church. Churches, because of their congregational makeup will most times focus teaching, activities and programs aimed at the family dynamic leaving singles to believe that they are somehow not as relevant as a family, not cared for by the church or by God.

Scripture however tells a different story. Jesus embraced the family as well as the single. Examples include Mary Magdalene, Mary, Martha, Lydia, Lazarus, Saul (Paul), John the Baptist to name but a few. With the exceptions of Lydia, Saul and John the Baptist, these singles were close friends whom Jesus spent much time with and who became a part of His disciples. In the Old Testament we have the examples of the care that God showed Hagar, Naomi, the provision for the widow by the prophet Elisha.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being single. Singles run the risk of acquiescing to the moral freedom of today’s world through physical temptation, to potentially becoming self-centered as they focus on their own needs and to feeling lonely in their aloneness because they have no one to go places with. There are situations where it often difficult to go alone. However, singles can be spontaneous in responding to invitations because they have no others to consider before they can accept. Singles can be selfless and serve wherever, whenever not needing others’ input. There can be more freedom in being single.

Some think that to be single is to be lonely but anyone can experience loneliness. In the family of God there should be no loneliness for the single or the married. The family of God needs to include both singles and married but each need to respectful of each other’s time and to be thankful for where God has placed them. God will bless the singles as well as the married as each seeks peace and contentment in whatever situation they find themselves in. Marriage is a gift but so is being single. It’s what one does with each that is important. Singles do not have lesser value than married in God’s eyes; each needs to be embraced and lived out to bring glory to the Father.

 

Family Makeup

See the source imageThe Waltons, a popular tv show in its heyday with mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, and eight kids was based on the life of the Earl Hammer Jr. growing up during the depression. Who could forget the ending of each episode with, “Good night John Boy’? The show taught us about wholesome values, faith, the struggles of daily living and the challenges of growing old.

This was one kind of family, a family that included extended members but given cultural shifts, and how families are portrayed by media, by shows, things have changed as to what defines a family. We have moved from extended family living to individual nuclear family living in a way that has moved us further and further away from the biblical intent.

As the author of life, God created man to be relational with Him and with others. All that God created was declared as good except that “it was not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) He gave Eve to Adam so that he would not be alone. After the Fall, the family unit made it possible for the command to be fruitful and multiply to be carried out. From Genesis through to Revelation God works in the context of family going on mission. God cares about the family unit. He rescued Noah’s family from the flood, asked Abraham and his family to move to a land that He would show them and saved Lot’s family from Sodom. God’s methodology to save the world is always through family on mission.

In the time of Jesus, for protection people lived in joined buildings constructed as part of a walled courtyard with all openings facing the courtyard. Access to the outside/inside was through a door or gate. Within the walls lived mom, dad, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles and other extended family as necessary to carry on the family business. They ate together, lived life together. Jesus threw open the gate of the extended family that He lived life with and invited people in to share life with them. The apostles when they were on mission didn’t just stay anywhere. They stayed as extended members in people’s homes.

As believers we are a part of God’s family, the church family. Paul taught the Ephesians how the church family was to function. As the Church, our fellow believers are our family. We are to protect and to provide provision when needed. We are to live life together, to be on mission together, to throw open our doors as Jesus did. We are to live as extended family which is counter cultural to what society tells us. Society tells us to focus on ourselves when in truth we are to focus on Jesus. Satan has been very good at undermining what family should be. All families matter to God, but God’s family matters most. For those who love their privacy, to live as a family on mission is a great challenge.

Are You On The Right Road?

See the source image   In the days before road maps and GPS finding the road to your destination could be quite adventuresome as you followed the rather vague instructions that were given. You depended on approximate distances before taking a fork to the right or to the left and visual cues like, “Go past the wheat field on your right about a quarter mile, turn on to the winding road on your left and when you’ve come to the house with blue trim hang a sharp right and continue on for about another mile.” Trying this for the first time, the distance stated seems longer than it is and you wonder more than once whether you are on the right road. It’s only when you’ve arrived at the destination that you know for sure. If it’s not, you backtrack to see where you’ve made an error.

Faced with an eternal destination the road that we take to God depends on whose directions we follow. Jesus tells us to follow the narrow road, one that is so narrow that few find it. He also tells us that many take the wide road but that road leads to destruction. The world tells us there are many ways, follow my directions and you’ll get there. When it’s time for the final arrival if we’ve taken the wrong road we can’t just turn around and try again.

When God called Abram to leave his country and go settle in the land that He would show him He promised that “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) Abram was blessed because he believed in God. The chosen people, the Jewish nation descended from Abram, later called Abraham. When Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, he stated that foreigners would hear of Israel’s God and come to pray, that God would hear their prayers and answer them. Throughout Scripture we are reminded that salvation would come to the Gentiles through Christ.

Jesus, a Jewish descendant of Abraham, commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Commission is inclusive of all people but exclusive in that His disciples are those who believe in Him and Him alone for salvation. Revelations 7:9 tells us that there will be a great crowd gathered from every nation and tribe and people and language before the throne and the Lamb showing that only God is God of all.

The narrow road that Jesus spoke of is the only road that leads to God and that that road is through Himself,  God’s Son, the world view Christians espouse. The wide road leading to destruction are all the other world views that claim to lead to God. Only one world view can be true and given that all of Scripture supports the view that God is interested in all nations, all people as evidenced in Jesus’ commission tells us that all roads do not lead to God.

The only question is, which world view’s road are you, am I, on?

What Is In Our Treasure Chest?

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What is the greatest thing that we treasure in life? Is it life itself, our children, the possessions that we own? What we treasure shows others what our priorities are.

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus describes the Kingdom of God being like a buried treasure, or a pearl of great value. If we discovered buried treasure or a pearl of great value what would our response be? We would most likely be very excited to have found it, dreaming of what it could do for us—-perhaps pay off our mortgage, send our kids to college, go on an extended vacation. After it’s all gone though, then what?

How excited are we that we can be a part of God’s Kingdom? It is a treasure that gives eternally but to gain this treasure we need to decide what to do about Jesus for without Jesus we cannot gain the greatest treasure there is, the God who promises an eternal life with Him.

For some God is a means to an end but to live a life worthy of Him we need to value Him above all else every day for the treasure that He is. Our greatest treasure is a God who desires a relationship with us, a God who loves us unconditionally, a God who sacrificed His Son so that we could have access to Him. A life with God lived this way is a life of love, a life where we need not be afraid, a life that is not controlling nor self-seeking. It is a life of forgiveness, of security and it is offered to us daily.

If we have not yet sought God as our greatest treasure to put into our treasure chest, what is stopping us? What needs to change in how we do life?

Working With or For

See the source image In the parable of the prodigal son we find two sons each seeking to receive something from the father. The younger sought inheritance and to be away from the father. The older sought approval for staying out of obedience even as his desire may have been to be somewhere else. This parable illustrates well how one can approach life; work in the family business or strike out on one’s own away from fatherly influence. Neither son was satisfied with his decision because they misunderstood the father’s desire for them.

The father desired that both would be with him not for the rewards that it brought them but rather for the joy that their relationship brought him in working with them. He wished the same joy for them. He loved his sons regardless of the paths that they took and when the younger came back he was received with open arms.

Our heavenly Father’s desire also is for relationship and that we work with Him. As His children we are invited to do so. We cannot prove our worth to Him by doing things for Him. He already knows what we are worth otherwise Christ would never had died for us. Our life needs to be defined by the relationship we have with Him and not the work that we do for Him. Relationship with the Father will result in going on mission with Him but to do that we need to experience Christ’s love and understand just how encompassing it is. His love reaches every corner of our experience. His love is for the whole of our life, reaching through the depths of our discouragement, despair and death. It rises with our celebration and elation. It is out of understanding that love that we go on mission ‘with’ and not ‘for’. We go because we want to experience joy as we serve. If we are not experiencing joy while on mission, we need to ask if we are serving to prove our worth and if so, like the younger son come to our senses and return to the Father’s open arms to serve with Him.

With or Around

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Pictured is a group of people but each is focused on themselves, on what the latest news is on whatever platform they are on—-twitter, facebook, snapchat etc. All are distracted from being with each other so are they really with each other or just around each other? Is relationship being nourished? We are invited to live with God. What does that look like to you, to me? Do we as this picture indicates treat Him as we often treat our friends?

In our consumeristic society there is a tendency to view life as being all about us. We believe that God exists to supply our desires. What this does is put us in the center and has God revolving around us. When we see God in this way we are not required to change. It allows fear to reign in our lives, lives where we wish to be distracted rather than experience the deliverance that God has promised. In our pursuit of comfort we ignore the redemptive deliverance that is taught in Old and New Testament, the whole of Scripture.

To fit God into our me-centered world do we live in a position of trying to appease Him when we recognize that He has a will for us but we don’t know what it is? Do we live knowing that there are divine laws but that we don’t need Him because we believe we can control what He has made when we understand how He has made them? He provides many things for us including the very breath that we breathe. Life itself is a gift.

To truly live with God requires valuing who God is and not what He can do for us. He is with us 24/7 and desires relationship. When He looks at me, at you, He sees a child, His child created in His image, a child whom He loves. We cannot establish relationship if we occupy the place where He should be.

What do we cherish? The gift or the giver? Are we with Him, fully engaged, or are we around Him, distracted without relationship?

Who Are We, Really?

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What makes you, you and me, me? What identifies us? Is it the logo on our shirts, the tattoos on our arms, the clothes that we wear? Is it the things that we have, the work that we do? Is our identity, who we are, more than skin deep?

Our identity comes from within and does not always match what is seen on the outside by others. More importantly our identity as believers in God comes from Him. It is this identity that matters and what should determine our success in life. When we see ourselves as God sees us we take our focus off of what others say we are to who we really are. We are the beloved of God, His children, His kingdom kids.

Christ dwells inside us and what that means is that we have the power to live life differently, to live as He did. Christ was able to accomplish what He did in his earthly life because He was secure in His identity as the Son of God. If we claim to have Christ within us it means that we have died to self, we have died to all that He died to on the Cross. It is not what we do that determines who we are but rather that what we do is determined by who we believe we are, what we believe our identify to be.

Scripture tell us that we are new creations. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come.” 2 Cor. 5:17 As new creations we find our identity as God’s children putting aside believing all that the world says we are and need to be. When we forget who we are, we struggle to live a victorious life falling into old patterns that have caused us failure and pain. When we remember who we truly are, God’s beloved, and that Christ dwells in us we can do all things because with Him all things are possible.

Henry Nouwen has said, “You’re not what you do. You’re not what you have. You’re not what people say about you. You are the beloved of God.” It’s not the job you have, the possessions you own, nor the opinions of others that make you who you truly are. It’s who God says you are. As believers, who we truly are changes everything—how we feel about ourselves, how we treat others and how we live. So fellow believer, never forget who you truly are.

Blindfolds and Blinders

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In his role as guide of the sheep the shepherd guides in three different ways. He guides with tenderness, straight ahead, or from the back. When we read about Jesus as a Shepherd we can see that He employed all of these with His disciples. When they were new to the fold, He tenderly taught them, and showed them the ropes through the things that He did. As He sent them out to the surrounding towns, He would have stood behind them urging them forward to the task He had given them.

As leaders and lay we are shepherds and sheep. As the sheep of His fold we need the guidance that a shepherd offers. As leaders we are shepherds to those whom we lead but we cannot lead effectively if we are not willing to be led ourselves. As Jesus’ disciples we are not one or the other but both. We can say that we are not leaders in the true sense of the word but that is not true because being a leader does not mean always being up in front. We are all leaders to somebody whether it is our children or with those with whom we work or play. We often muddle through aspects of this kind of leadership but imagine how much more effective we could be if we asked the Architect of this universe and all that is in it to help us? God alone is sovereign and His leadership perfect. How can we not go to the Master?

There are many things that can prevents us from gaining a full understanding of situations placed before us daily. Distractions bombard us from every side vying for attention. Voices clamour to be heard. Just like a shepherd who uses his crook to bring a sheep’s attention back to where it needs to go, we too need help to focus our attention on those things that will keep our eyes firmly fixed on the goal of walking as a disciple is called to do. We require spiritual blindfolds or blinders to block out the distractions.

The helmet most pictured in the suit of armour of Ephesians 6 is a full-face helmet with an opening for the eyes in such a way that the wearer’s vision cannot be anything but straight forward. Because we cannot run around with these physical helmets, we turn to what the helmet represents. Firstly salvation, followed by immersion in God’s word seeking understanding through prayer along with regular retreat into quietness with God that brings revelation and rest. God’s voice is most often heard in the quietness.

Safety of the sheep depended on the shepherd’s guiding as did the rest that they took in the quiet of the night. In scripture we are likened to sheep. Should we not then take lessons from the Shepherd, to be guided as the sheep are guided? What better place to start than with the Creator of the universe, the true Master Shepherd?