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.

 

 

 

You May Be The Answer To Your Own Prayers!

answered prayers

Prayer.  One of the grand mysteries of life.  If you have ever prayed to God and seen him answer a prayer you know what I am talking about.  Just stop and think about that.  We, who are teeny tiny created specks in an unfathomably huge and expanding universe, are able to communicate with and relate to the King of that Universe!  Ridiculous!  And yet that is truth.

On Sunday mornings in July we are working our way through the book of Ruth.  At present we are 3/4 of the way through.  We are at the point where we can look back and see how things have developed and how plot lines relate to each other in bringing resolution to the grand conflict of the story.

One grand theme is Naomi’s emptiness and how God is going to fill her up (Ruth 1:21- “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty”).  Naomi tries to convince her daughters-in-law to return home and start over with new husbands so that they don’t experience the same emptiness of life that she is being beaten with.  She expresses that remarrying is the best route forward and that God will do this for them (Ruth 1:9-“May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.”).

Ruth was the only daughter-in-law who clung (1:14) to Naomi and accompanied her home to Bethlehem.  In chapter 2 God provided for the women by leading Ruth to the glean in the fields of a relative of Naomi’s, Boaz.  Boaz was generous in taking extra measures to provide abundantly for the women.  Fast forward to chapter 3.  Here we see that Naomi seizes upon a providentially given opportunity.  Naomi recognizes that the harvest is ending and the possibility of capitalizing on Boaz’s favour is fast disappearing. Her prayer in chapter 1 was that God would bless Ruth with the security of another marriage.  At that point her perspective was that God would accomplish this.  Now she sees that Boaz seems to be a good candidate.  And tonight he’ll be winnowing barley on the threshing floor, and sleeping out there alone.  In this scenario, God has provided the possibility for Naomi’s prayer to be answered; a marriage proposal can be made.  But stop and think about these circumstances.  Naomi wasn’t waiting for a mate to find Ruth; She took the initiative.

Does this have any spiritual application for our lives?  I think it does.  Naomi “models one way in which divine and human actions work together: believers are not to wait passively for events to happen; rather, they must seize the initiative when an opportunity presents itself”.  This is the tension of the life of faith.  We are instructed to wait upon the Lord.  But I don’t think that means waiting idly by for something to happen.  Waiting upon the Lord means having an internal posture of faith and trusting God and trying to listen and discern where he might be at work.  This means that we understand that sometimes God presents the opportunity but we must step out in obedience or faith to partner with him in being the answer to our own prayers.  In the book of Ruth we see that God acts IN Naomi’s actions.

Prayer is a mystery.  There is no formula for us to manipulate.  Sometimes prayer moves God.  Often it changes our hearts and minds without any change to the outward circumstance, but that makes all the difference.  Always prayer attunes our hearts and minds to God’s.  And this means that sometimes we will be able to see where God is moving and working and calling us to join him to be the answer to our own prayers.

Out Of Control?

Out of Control

If you’ve ever worked in kids ministry you know that it doesn’t take much for a whole group to get out of control!  A simple thing, such as a kid farting, will distract and disengage the whole group!  The laughter spreads like wildfire and curiousity on the far end needs to know what sparked the initial laughter.  It takes serious effort to bring the kids back to a listening and attentive state, or even for the leader to remember what they were talking about!
Well, it doesn’t take much for our lives to derail or seem like they are out of control. Things are going along just peachy, as we would like them to, and then something happens that is out of our control and we are reminded that the control we thought we had was just an illusion!

This past Sunday we began a new sermon series; we began our look at the book of Ruth. It starts out disastrous.  There is a famine in Israel.  A Hebrew household (Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion) makes the tough decision to seek refuge in a neighbouring nation instead of sticking it out and trusting God.  While in Moab, Naomi goes through the double tragedy of losing both husband and sons.  Left only with daughters-in-law, she is pretty much hopeless (being a foreigner and in a patriarchal society).

The world would tell us that impersonal forces of nature and chance are the cause of our problems.  Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that everything that happens does so under the watchful eye of the Creator.  God’s sovereignty can be an uncomfortable truth to hold on to when we are the ones going through tragedy.

The trouble we have is with the expectations that God’s goodness will soon rectify our loss.  Our perspective and desires often don’t match God’s timeline.  It was 10+ years from when Naomi and family left Bethlehem to when they returned.  Ruth 1:3 seems to imply that it was after Elimelech died that her sons took wives.  Those marriages lasted 10 years.  10 years of infertility and then death.  We can understand how Naomi’s natural conclusion would be that “the Almighty has made life very bitter for me…the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).  A decade is a long time.  But could God be using or even orchestrating these events for a greater good?  Our finite viewpoint is so small and narrow.  As we continue to study the book of Ruth we will get to see the whole picture of Naomi’s life.  We will be amazed at how the King of the Universe, in the administration of his Kingdom, often acts in compassion and HESED for his people through the trials and troubles.  (HESED is a Hebrew word that sums up all of God’s character.  It encompasses covenantal loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, mercy, love.  Too bad we don’t have one word like that in English!)  And it is really only through difficult times that the HESED of God’s people themselves is evidenced.  You can’t know true good without the bad!  “While God allows emptiness to come to Naomi, he does so in order to bring her fullness once again in an even more significant way and brings great glory to Yahweh.”

We need God’s Word and God’s people to remind us (especially in tough times) of God’s character, timing, track record, and sovereignty.  Our lives may evidently be out of our control at times but still God is always in control.

Come. Meet At The Table

dinner-table

The table is a gift of God.  It has special power to unite people and break down barriers!  It can be simply  reconnecting as a nuclear family at the dinner table, since life is busy and we’ve been running around in different directions all day.  Or it could be an extended family gathering; the joy of seeing family that geography has separated us from but for a few days we get to eat together and play together.  The unusually large gatherings around the table are always fun, exciting, and loud!  Or perhaps it’s solidifying friendships or acquaintances (neighbours?) by inviting them to join you for a meal.  We see the power of the table in Scripture too.  It’s not unusual to find Jesus in somebody’s home, sitting around a table and sharing a meal (i.e. Matthew 9:10).  He used that familiar place (dinner table) as a non-threatening way to build relationship and bring the Kingdom of God to people.  We see that the early church followed in the footsteps of Jesus and used the home and table as a primary base for ministry as well (i.e. Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7).

Two weeks ago in our Sunday gathering I preached on how we as the Family of God are called to live according to our Father’s mission and purpose.  As He sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to continue his ministry and mission (John 20:21).  How do we think we will best accomplish our commission to make disciples and be His witnesses?

I’m guessing your go-to answer (because it’s my natural default) is what we’ve been taught and inherited: #1) Events.  We’ll plan an event at the church building and invite people to it.  Hopefully they’ll ask a question, or want to come when they see how nice we are.  Strategy #2) Invite a friend to “church”; by that we mean Sunday service.  Come gather with a bunch of strangers in a big room, singing songs you don’t know, and hearing weird lingo.  Now I’m somewhat exaggerating, and it’s okay to invite friends to church in hopes they’ll hear the gospel from the pastor (who is a stranger to them), and maybe they’ll like our music; God has, and can use that to bring people into the church. But that sounds like a crazy game plan when I put it that way, eh?  Instead I would suggest we need to unlearn those ideas of mission.  I think, looking at the way Jesus did it and the practice the early church had of meeting in homes, that our go-to for mission should be inviting others to join us as we gather as Family of God in the home.

The table is an effective “door” into the church because it is a common experience for all humanity.  Whether you are a person of faith or not you regularly eat around a table.  As such it is a comfortable, familiar place to introduce people of no faith to people of faith. This is a safe and unimposing place to expose them to the DNA of the family of God. Here they will witness our interaction, treating one another according to God’s ways, and hear about what it “looks like” to include God in the everyday of life.

Yesterday was the first official, full day of summer.  Summer means fine weather and more leisure time for most.  Let me encourage us to make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Eph.5:16).  Don’t waste the summer away by spending it on yourself, but maximize the opportunities to invite people over for a bbq or a wiener roast.  Be in the driver’s seat and look for opportunities to testify to the difference God has made in your life.  And don’t be surprised when the Holy Spirit has sent you people who are open and hungry for the abundant life that can only be found in Christ.

 

 

Who Is Your Family?

church family

A number of years ago, Coca Cola and Walmart teamed up to produce a Christmas holiday commercial.  The theme was on sharing and that there is room enough for non-biological relations to be considered as part of our extended family.  In the ad the young man calls his judo coach, co-workers, and his allergist among some of the persons he considers “family”.  You can watch that commercial by clicking this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXXPIk4v6aw

Jesus scandalously redefined his family!

Mark 3:31-35 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.”

33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

His blood family were standing right outside!  They would have heard, at least through the grapevine, what he had just said!  Why did Jesus say that?  I don’t believe that Jesus minimizes them without reason.  He had given them a chance to be his Family on Mission when he first launched into ministry, but they rejected him.  They didn’t accept his mission or defend him when their hometown synagogue tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30)!  And so Jesus moved on to find a new “family” that would be conducive to accomplishing the Father’s purposes.  He went to Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum.  He went there because they had shown interest to be his followers earlier.  (John 1)

Jesus doesn’t make this matter of redefining family pertain just to him.  He brings the same challenge to those that wish to follow him.

Luke 14:25-27 Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, 26 “If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! 27 Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower. (ERV)  Other translations render verse 26 like this:

26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. (NLT)

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters (ESV)

What is Jesus communicating in all that, and does it mean anything for us?  Is Jesus declaring that those that follow him are no longer to give their blood family primary allegiance?  If I don’t leave family, I can’t follow Jesus?  Now granted, he doesn’t call all people everywhere to abandon family.  Being a hard-line literalist isn’t wise or productive.  But we shouldn’t so easily dismiss away the demands of Jesus either by simply spiritualizing them.  I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  I’m not one hundred percent sure what this all means, but I do know that it calls us to stop and think about our priorities and allegiances.  I’m certain this call of Jesus is a matter of the heart.

How dare Jesus make such demands upon my life you may ask yourself.  Who does he think he is?  Your Creator and King.  And we know he is good.  He wants us to have abundant life!  But that seems to only come with self-denial and particular allegiances. Jesus says there will be great reward for those who do put him #1.

Mt 19:29- And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.

I don’t think that this repayment and abundant life he promised just refers to heaven; I firmly believes it begins now!  The richness of relationship, and experience, and growth in relationship with Christ is something a person cannot experience if they don’t deny themselves and come to live in dependence upon Christ as their all in all (instead of their blood family).  This is part of my personal story and experience.  We would never have attained such richness of relationship with the Family of God, and growth and depth of relationship with Christ if we weren’t willing to prioritize the Family of God over our blood family and move out West to pastor in Saskatoon.

Blood family doesn’t last forever, but the Family of God does.  Who is your family?  Have you wrestled through that question and settled it in your heart?  How do you understand these words that Jesus speaks to you: “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”?

 

Family Matters

Family

Family has been the foundation of communities and societies from the beginning of time. That is how humanity has organized itself.  But the truth is, family was God’s idea.  God invented the family.  Before He called together a faith community, before there was the church, God used family to accomplish his purposes.  And I believe family is still the primary vehicle that God uses to accomplish his purposes.  Therefore, family matters.

As we troll through the first book in the Bible it traces a family line that will be used to bless “all the peoples on earth” (Gen12:3).  From Abraham’s household, to Isaac’s family, to Jacob’s tree branch, and then on his deathbed Jacob prophetically declares that out of Judah’s tribe (one of his 12 sons) would come the Messiah (Gen.49:10).

And here’s another thing: the good news is that God can use imperfect families!  Whew! That means that none of us are beyond hope for usefulness to God!  As you read through the stories of the families God worked through towards the end of blessing all peoples on earth, you will shake your head at the dysfunction you see!  From incest to rape to deception to favouritism to murder, only God in his Sovereignty could still work through that to accomplish his purposes!  Incredible!

In the New Testament we read a lot of family language that is applied to the people of God.  For example, Eph.2:9- “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. ” Everybody has a standing invitation to become part of the family of God through belief and obedience to Jesus Christ.  Can you imagine being part of a better family than a family whose head is the Creator and King of the Universe!  Our Heavenly Father loves us and desires to lead and guide and care for us, if we would just allow him to!  He has plans and purposes for us.  His family is found in every country of the world and is ever expanding.  It spans every culture and there is room for you!

One last thought on God and family.  You may belong to what you consider a great biological family.  Thank God for that.  However, don’t let your biological family exclude you from the family of God.  God created and designed you for relationship with Him.  As a result you cannot experience true and complete fulfillment apart from your Heavenly Father and your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Think on that and how it plays out in your life.

This month at Riverbend we are preaching through the theme of “Family Of God” and we will take 3 more weeks to further explore what that entails, the privileges and the responsibilities.

 

 

 

Slow down and rest

Last Sunday, Pastor Chris preached about slowing down the busyness of life so that we can take full advantage of the Sabbath blessing that God wisely provided for us.  In households where parents are raising children, where people are working, going to school, heading out each day to face the daily grind–a scheduled and intentional Sabbath rest is important.  How can you stop and get recharged to face the next week if you haven’t had a chance to catch your breath from the week you just skated through!

When I was working, I appreciated the concept of Sabbath because it was a chance to justify the pause in my life.  I could order in take out food, relax on the sofa with a good book or a movie, or spend time with friends, not feeling guilty that I wasn’t tackling my housework or laundry or other projects that were energy stealing rather than restoring.

But what about now?  Now that I have joined the ranks of the retired, what does Sabbath look like for us?  When you have more control over every day, is it easier or harder to schedule in true Sabbath time?

Curiously, I have found it a bit more of a challenge!  I don’t know if other retired, or non-employed people find this to be true as well and I’d love to chat with you about your experiences.  For me, because there is a different feel to the rhythm of the day, it is harder to set one day aside that is purely my Sabbath.  And what that says to me is that I was not really doing a good job of Sabbath before I stopped working!  If I had been I think that would have continued without interruption.  What I was doing was collapsing in exhaustion out of necessity instead of out of intention to honor God with a specific day, and to rest so that I could serve him more ably.

As Pastor Chris said, “Jesus lived his life with enough margin that he had room to be compassionate to the crowds.  He rested and retreated regularly so that he could respond to need.”

We need that margin in our lives as well and that does not end when we are retired.  A Sabbath rest is what keeps us in the race for the long run.  This is not a sprint Paul tells us, rather a marathon.  As we age, we need to protect our spiritual legs so that we don’t falter toward the end of our race.

Our Sabbath practice is an  expression of our dependence upon God.  It says to anyone watching that we acknowledge and profess that we need God, we can’t do it all on our own and that we are not indispensable to anyone.  As older Christians, we have a spiritual duty to teach well, the younger believers who are coming up behind us.  They need to see us leading the way in solid “holy habits”.  The observance of a Sabbath is one of these.

So I am making a commitment to build in a protected time of Sabbath to my week.  I will include things that I like to do and that restore me when I feel tired and empty.  If you don’t already do this, join me!  As Pastor Chris also said, “Jesus rested.  We can rest.”