Church – or Religious Social-Club?

It should have been an older Pastor’s ultimate “gravy-job“. It was a large church, in an affluent part of a major city, and they were looking for a Senior Pastor. The salary and benefits package would have done many corporate CEO’s proud. It really WAS a “plum-job“, for the right Pastor. Looking for a change in scenery, and hoping to retire in a few years, Pastor-Bob applied, along with a several other applicants.

A few weeks after Pastor-Bob applied, he got a cordial letter from the Pastor Search Committee of the church asking him to come candidate(preach) at the church. When he went there to candidate, the facilities were impressive, and the parking lot was full of late-model upscale cars, an obvious display of the affluence of the members, but when he went into the church, he sensed that all was not as it seemed. Many of the members were aloof, and there seemed to be quite a few cliques, because the members didn’t really mingle. They just huddled in small groups. He might have his work cut out for him if he went there, because it seemed more like a social-club than a church.

The Pastor Search Committee was impressed with his grasp of the Word, and his ability to articulate the great truths of Scripture, so they voted unanimously to call Pastor-Bob to be their Senior Pastor. That was when he began planning his “not-so-grand” entrance.

While some of the details are contrived or embellished, it is based on a true story from an American Pastor, and the church could really have been almost any church in the world.

When he walked into the church for his first Sunday as their new Pastor, his breath smelled of cheap whiskey and stale cigars. He had fished his tattered clothes and mismatched shoes out of a dumpster. His hair was long and unkempt, and he had a scraggly beard. He resembled a hobo, a vagabond, or one of the homeless people down by the bus station. He came in limping and leaning on his cane, not exactly what the church was looking for in a Senior Pastor. The only person who greeted him was the usher who shuffled him to the far-back corner of the sanctuary. Everyone else ignored him, looking away in disgust. Some even moved farther away from him when he sat down.

Only two people were in on this little skit, his wife, and the Clerk of Session. His wife dropped him off about a block from the church so that he could walk by himself into the church. She parked their older car in the back corner of the parking lot and slipped inside quietly, where she could observe what was going to happen.

As the service progressed, the congregation wondered who was going to preach, because the chair where their Pastor usually sat was empty. Finally, the only Elder who was “in the know” stood up, and said that it was his great honor and privilege to welcome their new Pastor, Pastor-Bob. As Pastor-Bob slowly made his way to the front of the church, the congregation let out a collective “gasp“. Who was THAT man? Certainly that wasn’t their new Pastor, was it? That wasn’t the man who had candidated there a few weeks before, or was it?

When Pastor Bob got to the pulpit, and shook the hand of the Elder, he faced the congregation and said “I’m not sure that I am in the right place. I thought that I was coming to Pastor a church, but what I see here is a social-club, masquerading as a church.” Then he opened his Bible and said, “Turn with me to James 2, beginning at verse 1:”

2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

After reading from James 2, he related both his experiences when he had been there before, and what he had just experienced, and asked “Do you want to be a church, or do you want to be a social-club, masquerading as a church? If all you want is a “feel-good” Chaplain for your social-club, I am the wrong man for the job, but if you want to truly be the church of Jesus Christ, we have some work to do, but God can do it.

How we treat those around us, and those who walk through our doors matters – to God, and it should matter to us. We show the genuineness of our salvation by how we treat others, and God WILL judge us by our actions, or inaction:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

How we treat those who walk through the doors of our churches matters – to God, and it should matter to us too. Having been a Deacon in a church, I know first-hand that occasionally someone will come to our churches seeking some kind of help. While it behooves us to be good stewards of the resources that God has provided to our mercy-ministries, we can’t treat every sob-story with suspicion, because where there ARE genuine-needs, needs we should meet to the best of our ability. Sometimes it will be best if one of the Deacons goes with the person to get what they need, rather than handing them money which may get used for drugs or alcohol instead.

If you drive the streets of any city in America, you WILL encounter people who are homeless, particularly here in Florida, where our moderate climate makes it easier for them to survive on the streets. They may be begging on a street-corner, or huddled in an alley, but they have no place to call “home“. Sadly, many of them are Veterans, men and women who have been used-up by our Armed Forces, and dumped back on our streets, with little or no support-system or training to reintegrate into our society.

The person in need may NOT be homeless, but may be your neighbor. It may be necessary to exercise the same level same level of prudence that churches must exercise when supplying needs. I used to have a neighbor who was frequently broke, but she would pay the satellite-TV bill and buy beer before she bought groceries, so I didn’t usually hand her money, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t sometimes take care of her needs. I did buy some of her medications and took her grocery-shopping when she was broke, not because she had mismanaged her money, but because she didn’t have any income due to illness or injury. There was a difference.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, WE are the church, and we bring our attitudes towards those who are less fortunate than us into that building we call the “church“. The problems that Pastor found in the church in the story were amplified-symptoms of the attitudes of its members. While there were homeless people on the streets trying to eke-out their existence, church members were well-fed, lived in virtual-mansions, and drove cars that cost more than many houses, and they didn’t care. After all, they HAD earned that “right“…

I don’t live in a mansion, eat steak and lobster every night or drive a luxury-vehicle, but I DO have a place to call “home“, eat well, and have a dependable vehicle, which is far more than homeless people can enjoy. Maybe I SHOULD keep some extra cash in my vehicle to give people in need, and take that giving-attitude to church with me. How about you?

Church – or Social-Club?

The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Do You Need Help?

Sometimes that question is music to my ears, but at other times, I hate that question with a purple-passion. Say what? Yes, there are times when I legitimately want and need help, but there are times when I could use some help, but am loath to admit it.

Thanks…

I wrote “Tired Of Being “Tough”” a little over a year ago about my struggles with handling all the losses I have had in the last several months. That is one time when I am very grateful that help IS available, because since I wrote and posted that piece, I have had several more traumatic-losses, which now brings the number of significant-losses to four. The most recent loss was in July, when I lost my brother. That is a LOT of losses for one person to process and handle at the same time. I am still seeing a mental-health counselor once a quarter, and I am thankful that he is there for me.

We have all been in stores when we can’t seem to find ANYTHING, at least not what we are looking for. WalMart is infamous for rearranging their stores in a seemingly-random manner, and even if we have been in that same store dozens of times, there is always something we can’t find, and only store employees know where it is. That is when I don’t mind asking, or getting asked, if I need help. I have even been known to ask another customer if they know where what I am looking for is. Sometimes it is almost right under my nose but I was too blind to see it.

I was in Staples recently looking for a new desktop computer, and one of the employees was there to explain the differences between the various models they have, and make recommendations about which one would best suit my needs. Thank you very much! A new computer will have to wait a while, because I have several more important issues to take care of first.

I called Tire Kingdom a few days ago about two tires for my vehicle. The store manager graciously helped me select the tires that would best suit my needs, based on his many years of experience in the tire business, and what he runs on his personal vehicles. His recommendations verified my own gut-feeling, so my new tires are being shipped in from their warehouse. Thank you very much!

Thanks, but no-thanks…

There are also times when I DO need help, but I am too stubborn to admit it. Maybe, it’s more like, too PROUD to admit it. I have needed those tires for several weeks, but haven’t had the money to buy them, so I have kept putting it off. Now, it is crunch-time, because I just don’t trust them, particularly on the highway, any more. I made the mistake of admitting to one of my church’s deacons that I need two new tires but don’t have the money for them, so he offered help from the deacon’s fund. I declined.

Last year was a different story. My refrigerator died suddenly last March, and I didn’t have any choice about accepting help to buy a new fridge because I didn’t have the money. I was able to maximize the help by getting my new fridge on sale. That helped me be a good steward of the resources God provided through my church.

Why is this year any different? I know that I wasn’t as frugal with my resources in the last year as I should have been, but, then again, I was counting on some income to help pay me extra expenses which never materialized. That left me in a bind as far as taking care of my own needs.

I have been taught to “own” and accept my choices and decisions, for better or for worse, and to deal, as best I can, with the outcomes. Maybe I am too stubborn, or maybe I am too proud, but I can’t accept financial-assistance to buy my tires. Thanks, but no-thanks!

That brings us to the story of a man who WASN’T shy about asking for help:

Bartimaeus Receives His Sight

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” 50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

Bartimaeus couldn’t have descended much lower of the social-scale. He was blind, and a beggar. Only lepers were “below” him, and even servants and slaves “ranked” higher than him because they could at least work for their living. When he heard that Jesus was coming, out of desperation, with nothing to lose, and potentially everything to gain, he called-out to Jesus; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus’ reputation had been spread far and wide, so Bartimaeus had probably heard many stories about His miraculous-healings. Would Jesus help him? Why did he throw aside his cloak when he was led to Jesus?

Do you detect a bit of “imagery” here?

50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!”

What did Bartimaeus call Jesus when he made his request? “Rabbi” was the typical title for religious leaders, but Bartimaeus called Jesus “Rabboni“. “Rabboni” is Hebrew for “my master“, a recognition of and submission to Jesus’ authority. Who else called Jesus “Rabboni“?

Since Bartimaeus was claiming Jesus as his master, he may have not wanted to appear before Jesus dressed as he was. That cloak may have been all he owned, and was probably little more than a rag. There was no shame attached to nakedness in the Bible, other than the shame associated with extreme-poverty or enslavement, so Bartimaeus’ only “shame” would have been his poverty, symbolized by his tattered cloak.

God commanded Isaiah, in Isaiah 20, to prophesy barefoot and naked for three years against Egypt and Cush. When they were conquered by the Assyrians, they would be led-away as slaves, barefoot and naked. Isaiah’s nakedness symbolized how they would be treated when they were conquered. It was also to serve as a warning to Israel, which had, contrary to God’s command, made a defense-pact with Egypt and Cush. It was not “shameful” for Isaiah to prophesy naked, but they would be shamed in their captivity.

After Bartimaues made his request to Jesus, Jesus healed him immediately, saying; “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.

Following Jesus, in gratitude for what He had done for him, was the natural-result of this incredible miracle. There are many other instances when Jesus healed people and they became His followers.

What about us?

We are constantly putting on a “show” for others, and ultimately for God, but why? We try to pretend that we have it all together, that we are self-sufficient, and that we have everything under control, and while we may fool the people around us, we can’t fool God. He sees us naked, as we are, stripped-bare of all of our pretenses, so why do we try to fool Him too?

Regardless of the resolution of my financial-situation, there is one person I, and you, need never be ashamed of asking for what we need – God. He already knows our needs before we ask Him, so why aren’t we willing to take our needs to Him? He won’t ever embarrass us, and He has far more resources than we can ever imagine. No, He probably won’t lead you to what you are looking for in that store, or get that item at the back of the top-shelf that you can’t reach, but He may just send someone who CAN help with what you need. Money probably won’t come raining-down from heaven, but some other provision may arrive unexpectedly. Yes, we need to be more like Bartimaeus, and less like stubborn-me.

Sola Deo Gloria!

 

Who Are The Religious “Elite”?

If you thought that the religious “elite“, which Jesus denounced in Matthew 23, the “scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the Law“, had gone extinct, you would be sadly-mistaken. As there were in the time of Christ, there are people who consider themselves the religious “elite“. They don’t call themselves by those titles anymore, but make no mistake about it, the religious “elite” is alive and well. They have just “re-branded” themselves. Rather than “scribe“, they are “DOCTOR“. Rather than “Pharisee“, they are “President” or “Dean“. Rather than “teachers of the Law“, they are “Professor” or “Fellow“.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)

From Jesus’ description of them, it is easy to imagine them as a bunch of Bantie Roosters strutting around with their noses in the air. Oh, but that couldn’t be describing any of the religious “elite” today, could it? Yes, and they are easy to find, particularly on Twitter. If a person knows where to look on Twitter, they can compile a list of the religious “who’s-who“, the “elite“, in just a few minutes.

That list will include who is racking-up more frequent-flier miles than an international business-mogul, who has just published their latest book and how many books they have written, who is appearing at what conferences, oh, and who just got their latest honorary doctorate degree. Their face will be plastered prominently on Twitter, as if we need reminding of who they are and what they look like, AND, they will always have DR. in front of their name, along with whatever titles they have accumulated. They tend to run in “packs” wherever they go, patting each other on the back and reminding everyone how “important” they are. If you REALLY want to be impressed, look for them in their pictures in their academic gowns. WOW!!! Color me impressed – NOT!

One such popular preacher, teacher and writer has almost a million “followers” on Twitter, many of whom hang on his every word. Unfortunately, not all of his “theology” is biblical or reliable. May the buyer-beware, because he has plastered a religious-veneer on some very man-centered “theology“. If this particular “theology” is SO “biblical“, as he claims, why haven’t more theologians, teachers and writers picked it up? I have Googled it before, and all links lead right back to him, because nobody else will touch it with a ten-foot pole. Maybe it isn’t so “biblical” after all.

It is easy to become “addicted” to the popularity, adoration and adulation, but Scripture would caution them to take themselves off of their pedestals, lest God do it for them, and they lose more than just their “good-name“.

Are they REALLY the religious “elite“, or are they really “legends in their own minds“? Sadly, we have also seen way too many of them fall, and fall HARD, and the higher their pedestal, the farther they fell. Whether it was gross sexual-misconduct or a DWI, they AND their pedestal came crashing to the ground. BUT, if they keep their noses clean, they may even get a “chair” named after them at some religious institution.

Note: I am NOT commenting on anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church. They are their own thing, with their own problems, beginning with their man-made religion.

If I was the only person who has noticed this, I might be dismissed as some “kook“, but I’m not. A friend, who is an Elder in the church I attended in Lake City, commented on this on Twitter quite recently. He gets around quite a bit too. There really are, within Evangelical Christianity, a LOT of “personality-cults” which have grown around some of the more visible religious “elite“.

I just have one question: Who are they pointing people to, themselves or Jesus Christ?

Sola Deo Gloria!

Ruth – From Macro to Micro

There are books in the Bible which are quite easy to pass-over or ignore, and Ruth is one of them. It is quite possible for a person to read the book of Ruth and think that it is little more than a cute romance-story, but they wouldn’t even have scratched the surface of its significance. They might even wonder why God bothered including Ruth in Scripture, but they would be missing those beautiful, juicy, tender, “Filet Mignon” gems hiding beneath the surface. So, with that in mind, I want to look at where the book of Ruth fits into the over-arching-narrative of the Bible, and then zoom-in on what we can learn from it.

The Bible…
The Bible is one grand story from beginning to end, which can be broken-up into three “acts“, encompassing many sub-stories. The story of the Bible is of God’s relationship with mankind, and how, after that relationship is broken, God set about to restore that relationship, and make it personal. The Bible both begins and ends in God’s Garden. When one fails to place the Bible events within the context of the Scripture’s meta-narrative, they will miss nuances that they should not miss, and will fail to appreciate the unity of scriptural teaching.

Act I…
Act I begins with creation, creation of the cosmos, creation of the plants and animals, and creation of mankind, Adam and Eve. Before the Fall, God and man had perfect fellowship, a perfect relationship, as God intended. Genesis 1 & 2 recount those events. Beginning in Genesis 3, we see the Fall, and how it destroyed that perfect relationship between God and mankind. After creating the cosmos by the Word of His power, God knelt in the dust of the ground to make His final and ultimate-creation – mankind (Genesis 2:7), and gave both mankind and animals all of the fruits and plants for food, with one exception; 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”(Genesis 2:16-17)

The penalty for disobedience was death. Period! When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden-fruit, God could have rightly struck them dead on the spot, but He didn’t. He set the stage for Act II in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

God could have abandoned or “rebooted” His human-project, but He didn’t. He set-about to redeem mankind which opens in Genesis 4.

Act II…
Act II tells the story from the promise of a Redeemer to its ultimate-fulfillment by Jesus Christ, on the Cross. While our English Bibles divide the Old Testament and the New Testament between Malachi and Matthew, the Gospels are really part of the Old Testament, because the “old-order” isn’t fulfilled and done-away-with until the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If you recall, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two, thus removing the veil that had always separated God and His people. Christ, on the Cross, inaugurated the “new-order

Ruth is part of Act II, and tells part of the story about how God used ordinary people to help fulfill the promise the Genesis 3:15, the coming of the Redeemer. Ruth looks forward to an ultimate-fulfillment, to come later, which the entire Old Testament, from Genesis 3:15 to the Cross, was pointing to.

Act III…
Act III tells the story of how God again used ordinary people in bringing into reality the ultimate-restoration of His relationship with His chosen people from mankind. Act III is about fulfilling God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3, that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Act III closes in the closing chapters of Revelation with God’s people being restored to perfect fellowship with God in His Garden, just as the story began in Genesis 1 & 2. The overarching-story has come full-circle.

Focusing in on Ruth…
From our long-lens view of the Bible, we will now start focusing-in on some of the important, but often-overlooked details in Ruth. We will start with the setting:

Setting…
Every human story has to have a setting, a discrete time and place. There are times when, as much as might like to be in more than one place at the same moment, it is physically and humanly impossible. God isn’t limited by time and place, because He is infinite. Man is finite.

TIme…
Ruth 1 begins by giving us a snapshot of its timeline:
Now it came about in the days when the judges governed (Ruth 1:1a)

When did the judges govern? The period of the judges was from just after the death of Joshua until the coming of Samuel. The judges ruled Israel for about 350 years, from about 1400 BC until 1050 BC. Thus, the children of Israel had mostly conquered the Promised Land, and were starting to settle-in. That time can be summed-up with; “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

Can we get closer than that, and where might we find that information? How about Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, in Matthew 1? Low and behold, we find another data-point in Matthew 1:5a: Salmon begat Boaz by Rahab;”

Who was Rahab? Rahab is introduced to us in Joshua 2:1-21. She was the innkeeper/prostitute who sheltered the spies in Jericho, and helped them escape safely. She asked for, a received a promise that she and her family would be spared when the Israelites conquered Jericho. That promise was fulfilled in Joshua 6:17-25. So what became of her after that? She disappeared off of the Old Testament “radar“, so we wouldn’t know “the rest of the story” without Matthew 1:5. She settled-down with Salmon, and they had Boaz. This helps us bracket our timeline even more precisely.

We will take a closer-look at Boaz’s genealogy when we look at “types” a bit later.

How old was Boaz when he met Ruth? We aren’t told, so we can’t be sure, but I think it is safe to say that an old, gray-headed man wouldn’t get too excited about marrying a twenty-something woman, but maybe a forty-something man might. This brackets our timeline to closer to the beginning of the period of the judges, within a few years of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land.

Place…
Ruth begins and ends in Bethlehem. The scene immediately transitions into Moab: And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.(Ruth 1:1c, 2)

Why the change in scenery? there was a famine in the land.(Ruth 1:1b) Why the famine? In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

As they frequently did in the wilderness, the Israelites again forgot which God they were supposed to serve, and as a result, God sent a famine to punish and remind them.

The journey back to Bethlehem takes place in Ruth 1:6-22. Bethlehem is the setting for the rest of this story.

Time-stamps…
An important time-stamp for this story is in Ruth 1:22b; And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Why is this particular time-stamp important? Barley has the shortest growing-season of the cereal grains, so it is the first to be harvested. It would give Ruth the opportunity to work for their sustenance, and there would be plenty of time to store away grains for winter.

Our next time-stamp comes in Ruth 3:2; 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Naomi has hatched a plan for Ruth to propose to Boaz that he become their kinsman-redeemer, and it doesn’t take long before that opportunity arises. How long have they been in Bethlehem? For the duration of the barley harvest, a few days to a couple of weeks. BTW, who is orchestrating these events? There are no “coincidences” in the Bible. I have known of other very-short courtships, but this one just about takes the cake.

Naomi and Ruth were redeemed, and Ruth was married before they had even been in Bethlehem a month. WOW!!!

I used to have a brother-in-law who remarried shortly after he lost his first wife, but he and his second wife had known each other since they were kids…literally.

Now that we know where it took place, and approximately when it took place, who are our main characters?

Characters…
Since Naomi’s husband and sons both appear and disappear within the first five verses of Ruth, while they helped set the stage, they aren’t integral to the continuation of story.

Naomi…
Naomi and her family were “Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah” (Ruth 1:2). When the Israelites settled the Promised Land, each Tribe got its allotted area, which was further broken-down by clans and families. Thus, the Ephrathites settled the area around Bethlehem. We find an interesting prophesy concerning the coming Redeemer in Micah 5:2;

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

Maybe Ephrathah wasn’t so “insignificant” after all.

Ruth…
Ruth was a Moabite, so who were the Moabites?

The Moabites were descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by one of his daughters (Genesis 19:33-37). It was an incestuous relationship, because his daughters feared that Lot’s family-line would die-out, since Lot had no sons and there were no available husbands for them in a cave in the wilderness.

The relationship between the Moabites and the Israelites waxed and waned, but it was at least “cordial” during the time of Naomi and Ruth.

Cultural note…
While we recoil in disgust at the mention of incest, there was no cultural-taboo against it during the days of the Patriarchs. God didn’t regulate the “degree-of-separation” for intra-family marriages until He gave the Law at Mt. Sinai. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. Abraham sent his servant back to “his brother’s family” to take a wife for Isaac, so Isaac and Rebekah were cousins. Likewise, Isaac sent Jacob back to “family” to find a wife, so Jacob, Rachael and Leah were cousins. Intra-family-marriage, incest, was a very common and accepted practice.

Think about it a moment; How did the earth get populated originally, since mankind began with one couple, Adam and Eve? How did the earth get repopulated after the Flood, since that re-population depended on three related couples? The purpose of this exercise is to help us wrap our heads around the cultures at the times when the Old Testament was recorded. We can’t judge what happened three-thousand years ago by our cultural-norms today.

Boaz…
Our last significant character is Boaz. Who was he?

Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)

Boaz was related to Elimelech, perhaps a cousin. Boaz was also well-known, well-respected and well-connected in the area, as we will see later when he goes to bat for Naomi and Ruth. He was one of the community’s “movers and shakers”.

As we have seen from Matthew 1:5, Boaz’s father was Salmon and his mother was Rahab. We will delve deeper into his family-history in the next section; Types.

Types…
God used “types” in the Old Testament to point forward to a greater fulfillment which was to come. For instance; God chose the children of Israel to be His special people, and yet, not all of the physical descendents of Israel were or will be saved. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time claimed Abraham as their “father“, but rejected Jesus, who was the promised-one who was to come to bless all the nations of the earth. The New Testament equates all believers with “spiritual Israel“, “Abraham’s spiritual seed“. All of “spiritual Israel” will be saved, but not all of physical Israel will be saved.

Ruth…
Ruth, in embracing Naomi’s God as her God (Ruth 1:16-17), became a “type” of all Gentiles who would come to God by faith. Yes, Ruth is, if you will, our “spiritual-mother“. She was also an industrious, hard-working woman who had no problem taking the initiative.

Boaz…
We see Boaz, in redeeming Naomi and Ruth, as the penultimate “type” of the Redeemer who was to come, Jesus Christ. All who come to faith in God through Jesus Christ become part of God’s redeemed family.

Slaves are still bought and sold in parts of the world today. What if a man went to a slave-market and found a young boy or girl who was being sold into slavery, but rather than buying them to be his slave, he bought (redeemed) them to be part of his family? Rather than taking that child home to be a slave, he took that child home, gave them a bath, dressed them in nice, clean clothes, and at dinner time, showed them their place at the family table, where there was plenty of food to eat, and then at bed time, showed them to their bedroom, where they have their own clean bed to sleep in? That child even bears the family-name, since they are a real part of the family.

That is a picture of our redemption and adoption into God’s family, which Jesus procured on the cross on our behalf.

Before we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, we are slaves to sin and Satan, but when we come by faith to God, Jesus Christ, through His shed-blood and finished-work on the Cross, redeems us, not to be slaves any longer, but to be sons and daughters of God. By redeeming Naomi and Ruth, Boaz made them part of his family. They weren’t poor widows any more. They had a place at Boaz’s table, and Ruth also had a place in his bedroom.

Boaz wasn’t the first kinsman-redeemer in the Old Testament, but he was the first to “get it right“. The kinsman-redeemer custom was well-established long before God enshrined it in His law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The importance of having a male heir in that society can not be overstated. When God didn’t keep His promise of an heir for Abraham soon enough, he tried to short-circuit the process by having Ishmael by Hagar (Genesis 16:3-16). As we saw earlier, Lot’s daughters had children by Lot through incest (Genesis 19:33-37). One of those sons became the father of the Moabites.

One thing we need to note from Deuteronomy 25:5-6:
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

Do you see something missing? There is no “marital-status” stipulation for the kinsman-redeemer, so it didn’t matter whether the kinsman-redeemer was single or already-married, or whether he already had an heir or not. Polygamy was not forbidden by God, so it was fairly-common during that time. Contrary to popular-opinion, God never outlawed polygamy in the Bible, with one exception, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13), who are only permitted one wife. Polygamy was still practiced in Israel during the time of Christ.

Redemption often meant more that just caring for the widow, particularly if land was involved. By the time of Ruth, the Israelites had settled most of the Promised Land, and each tribe clan and family got their allotted parcel of land. Thus, when Boaz redeemed Naomi and Ruth, he also redeemed their land, land he would farm to bring them income. Otherwise, that land would lay fallow. It would also pass on to Naomi/Ruth’s son(s). That land could not be sold outside of their family and tribe.

This didn’t matter to Boaz, but it sure mattered to the other potential kinsman-redeemer;
4 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”(Ruth 4:1-6)

Notice that he was all-ears when it came to buying the land, but he got cold-feet when Boaz mentioned him having to marry Ruth. Some commentators have speculated that the reason he got cold-feet was that Ruth was a Moabite, but that doesn’t square with what he said; “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance.” It is far more likely that he didn’t have his own heir yet, so Ruth’s son would become his heir also, and he didn’t want that to happen. Again, that didn’t matter to Boaz, even though we aren’t told anything about his prior status.

I am an only-child, and I only have one son, JD, so unless JD has a son, my family-lineage ends with him. Even though my daughters have sons, they carry their father’s family-name, not mine. It wouldn’t be a “tragedy” if JD doesn’t have a son in my 21st century culture, because nothing is riding on it, but it would have been in that culture. Newlywed men were even exempt from military service for the first year of their marriage, so he could hopefully produce an heir. (Deuteronomy 24:5)

While we are still on the topic of kinsman-redeemers, we need to look at one more historical-footnote from Boaz’s genealogy; “Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:3a)

Judah was the patriarch from whose line Boaz, David, and ultimately, Jesus Christ would come, but who was Tamar? Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Yes, you read that right. Here is the “condensedversion” of that story, which you can find in Genesis 38.

Judah married and had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Judah married-off Er to Tamar, but Er was a scumbag so God killed him.

Next in line was Onan, but when Onan had sex with Tamar, “he had the fun but didn’t finish the job“, so God killed him too. Kinsman-redeemer failure!!!

Shelah was still a kid, so Judah sent her back home to wait until Shelah was grown, but Hell was going to freeze-over before Judah gave Shelah to Tamar.

Seeing that Shelah was grown, but Judah hadn’t given him to her, she tricked Judah into having sex with her, and became pregnant with twins, Perez and Zerah.

There was a penalty for refusing to perform the duty of a kinsman-redeemer. For Onan, it was death, and later in the Law, it was public-shaming. Boaz, ever the gentleman, didn’t shame the other kinsman-redeemer, we simply will never know who he was, because the writer of Ruth omitted that detail. Boaz happily married Ruth, they had a son, Obed, and the rest is history.

Other customs…
There is another custom we see in Ruth that we need to be aware of. There was no welfare, public assistance, or other social-safety-net for widows like Naomi and Ruth. Most women only had one skill-set – being a wife and mother, and had no “marketable” skills otherwise, so if they weren’t able to remarry, all they had left was their body – prostitution, but God hadn’t forgotten about them, and He didn’t want His people to forget them either.

God had commanded the children of Israel to care for the poor, the stranger and the alien by giving them the opportunity to glean in their fields. They had been commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields, nor were they allowed to go back and get anything they missed, but they were to leave it untouched so that those less-fortunate than them could have a place to get food. (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

Another interesting command goes along with this one: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Not only were they to provide for the needs of those who were poor and needy, they were also to make sure that the alien and orphan got the justice they deserved. They weren’t to be treated as “second-class citizens” in the courts of law. Did you notice the reason why God gave these commands?

Imagine the reaction of farmers today if they were told they couldn’t harvest all of their grain and produce, but that is exactly what God’s Law required. What was not harvested was to be available for those who had no other means of sustenance. It wasn’t “welfare“, because they had to work for it, by harvesting it themselves. That was known as “gleaning“, and we see it taking place in Ruth 2, when Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields. Even though it was her legal-right, she still asked permission first.

Something else we shouldn’t ignore: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

While the justice system today seems to be tilted in favor of the rich and well-connected, God didn’t allow that kind of favoritism with His people. That was why, when Boaz took Naomi and Ruth’s case to “court“, they got a fair hearing (Ruth 4:1-10). Ruth 4 also ends with a blessing on Ruth and Boaz’s union (Ruth 4:11-12).

Speaking of that blessing; Did you notice that curious reference to “the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah“? Knowing the back-story of Judah and Tamar, would WE ever admit that there had been that kind of chicanery in our ancestry? Probably not, but Perez WAS an important ancestor, not only to the family of Boaz, but as an ancestor of King David, and to his greater-son, Jesus Christ.

Maybe we shouldn’t have expected any better behavior from Judah, since in Genesis 37:12-36, Judah conspired with the rest of his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. If Judah had ever had any moral-compass, it was long-gone by the time Genesis 38 opens. He didn’t even pretend to “keep it in the family” when he got married, as did his father, Jacob, rather he married a Canaanite woman in Genesis 38:2. Ah, but he certainly came by some of his chicanery honestly, because Jacob was a shyster from the get-go. That apple certainly didn’t fall far from the family-tree, but we also need to remember that “bad company corrupts good morals“, even if his morals weren’t very good to begin with.

Another sharp-eyed writer brought something else to my attention recently, and it relates to Ruth’s “proposal” to Boaz. That, in and of itself, was highly-irregular, but beyond that, there was something else that I had missed from Ruth 3:1-5:

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

What I missed, is that “best” is always noted as an added-in word in all of the most accurate translations, including the NASB and NKJV. What if Ruth had been working naked, as was common in the day, because the work was hard, hot, dirty and sweaty, and clothing was hard to come-by and expensive? What if Naomi was telling Ruth that, unlike her work-days, when Boaz saw her working like a servant (naked), she needed to dress herself up so that she looked more like a wife, rather than like a servant? It would not have been improper for Ruth to have been working naked, because it is quite likely that Boaz’s workers, including his servant-girls, were also working naked.

That still hadn’t changed in Jesus’ time, because, when He spoke of the Great Tribulation, the fall of Jerusalem, in Matthew 24, He said “Let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” (Matthew 24:18) That the farm-worker would be working naked was simply assumed. It was also common for fishermen to work naked for that same reason, to not ruin their clothes. Remember Peter in John 21:7?

We, in our 21st century Western culture, can’t relate to only having one or two garments because clothes are so cheap and plentiful. Even though I prefer to be au naturel, I do have to get dressed to do some things and go some places. I have enough T-shirts to be able to wear a different one every day for a month and still not run out of clean T-shirts, but there are still parts of the world where people barely have one set of clothes, let alone a closet-full of clothes. My father ministered in parts of Eastern Europe that were that poor. Clothes were only washed when it was warm enough for everyone to take them off. Then, just about the whole village went naked, and nobody thought a thing about it.

FInal thoughts…
God had announced His plan of redemption back in Genesis 3:15, and He WAS going to accomplish it. Along the way, God used many seriously-flawed people to accomplish His purposes. Hebrews 11 recounts many “heroes of the faith“, and included in those heroes are people like Rahab, Samson and David, all people that nobody would regard as “saints“, and yet they are held up to us as faithful men and women whom God used. Many were “ordinary” people who were given extraordinary missions to fulfill.

Boaz didn’t have to turn-in his “man-card” in because of what he did. If anything, he showed us what a REAL man looks like. He begins as Ruth’s PROTECTOR, becomes her’s and Naomi’s PROVIDER, pleads their case in court as their DEFENDER, and willingly takes Ruth to be his wife as her LOVER. Come to think of it, isn’t that what Jesus has done, and is doing for us? Their similarities aren’t coincidental. Boaz, as Naomi and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Christ, and foreshadowed that ultimate kinsman-redeemer to come, Jesus Christ, our great kinsman-redeemer.

That, at the end of the day, is the story of Ruth. Three “ordinary” people whom God used to fulfill His promise of the coming Redeemer. May He use us as He used them.

Sola Deo Gloria!

The ‘Winter’ of Life

Have you felt the chill of that icy wind pierce your soul? Have you been through times when you thought that nothing else could possible go wrong, but it did? Have you wondered if you would ever see the last of it, but you hadn’t, that there was more that could and did go wrong than you could have ever imagined? Have you ever wondered if even God has abandoned you? Were there more questions than answers, and did most of those questions start with “WHY?” Those are the questions of someone going through one or more of life’s winters.

I have written previously about this topic, but with everything that has happened over the last several months, it is a topic worth revisiting.

I have been there, done that and got the T-shirt…many times, but this isn’t about me. Someone else both comforted those in the winter of life, and experienced it first-hand Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ met several people in the winter of life several times, and then experienced it Himself on the cross.

So, what IS a “winter-event“? Five things come immediately to mind; death, divorce, disease, disability and disaster. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but you get the general-idea. Trauma, in all its forms, also belongs on this list. A “winter-event” is anything that seriously-disturbs what should be the “norm“, something that turns your world upside-down.

In Matthew 9:18-34, Jesus met five people who badly-needed for Spring to come. One was dead, one was sick, two were blind, and one was mute and demon-possessed. Spring returned in a big-way as the dead girl was raised back to life, the sick woman was healed, two blind men received their sight, and the demon-possessed man was freed and his speech was restored.

In Matthew 15:29-31, after healing the daughter of a Gentile woman (15:21-28), a crowd gathered around Jesus, bring many who were sick, lame, blind, mute and maimed, and Jesus, the Bringer of Life, brought healing and Spring back to them. Then, to top it off, He fed the crowd (15:32-39).

In Luke 7: 11-17, Jesus met a funeral procession. A young man had died, and was being carried out to be buried. He was the only child of a woman who was also a widow. Everything dear to her had been stripped away. She was alone, and in mourning, but the story doesn’t end there. The Author and Giver of life stopped the funeral procession and raised the young man back to life. Jesus had met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here.

In John 4: 1-42, Jesus was traveling, and came to a town in Samaria. The relations between Israel and Samaria were frosty at best. While His disciples went into town to get lunch, Jesus sat by the well to rest a bit. As He was resting, a woman came to draw water, no doubt trailed by a gaggle of children. They were from several different daddies, as she had been married five times. Some of them may have been fathered by the man she was living with, but not married to. The Jews would have considered her a woman of ill-repute, but Jesus wasn’t put off by her bedraggled persona. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Kingdom of Heaven had come to earth in the person of the Messiah, and He touched her heart with healing and grace.

In Luke 8: 42-48, again as Jesus was traveling, a woman touched Him. She was extremely sick and penniless, because she had spent all of her meager income on doctors who couldn’t cure her of her problem. The Great Physician did what only He could do…heal her completely. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Creator and Giver of life is also the Great Physician.

They were a close family, and maybe even lived together. Two sisters and their brother were dear friends of Jesus, but that didn’t keep the unthinkable from happening. The brother fell ill and died. In John 11:1-44, we meet Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. When Lazarus fell ill, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, but He didn’t even make it back in time for the funeral. When Jesus did come back into town, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but He didn’t, but He did meet them in their Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. Grieving sisters met the Resurrection and the Life, and Lazarus rejoined his family.

Simon Peter was part of the inner-circle, one of Jesus’ closest associates. He was bold, brash, arrogant, and often mouthy. On that last journey to Jerusalem, he proclaimed his undying loyalty to his Lord. That was until Jesus was arrested, and he met a servant-girl. Then, he was faced with his most severe test, and failed. He denied his Lord, not just once, but three times. Heart-broken, he went back to fishing, his old occupation (Matthew 26:69-75), but the story doesn’t end there…

Jesus had met others in their Winter, and had proclaimed that Spring has come, but He still had to face His own Winter. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with His Father (John 1:1-5). Jesus took on our flesh and blood (John 1:14), so that He could experience our winter with us. When Jesus was crucified, He experienced His own winter (Matthew 27:45). The perfect, sinless, Son of God, who had not experienced separation from his Father for even a picosecond, was abandoned, forsaken. God turned His back on His own Son… Our Winter became His Winter… He experienced Winter first-hand…

Three days later, Spring returned in a big way, as Jesus was resurrected. Not only did Spring return, but He had purchased our Spring for us. Grieving friends were met by the risen Savior (Matthew 28:9-10) and (John 20:11-18). Jesus had conquered our worst enemy – death. He who was the Resurrection and the Life was alive and well.

Jesus had only been resurrected for a few hours when He met Mary at the tomb. The loss of a loved-one to death is certainly a “Winter” experience. She had seen Him crucified, but His prediction that He would be raised again on the third day had gone right over her head. The risen Lord, in speaking her name, proclaimed that Spring is here, and she was to share the good news with the rest of His disciples. (John 20:11-18)

A short time later, Jesus met two of His disciples on the dusty road to Emmaus. They had also seen Him crucified, and all their hopes and dreams were dashed. They imagined a conquering Messiah who would liberate Israel from Roman bondage. Instead, they experienced the Suffering Servant who Isaiah had foretold. When Jesus broke bread with those two broken-hearted disciples, their eyes were opened, Spring came in like a lightning-bolt, and their grief was turned to joy. Even though they had planned to stay in Emmaus that night, they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples. Good news can’t wait. (Luke 24:13-35)

After the resurrection, Jesus met Peter in his winter, and gave him a new commission. He was to tend His sheep…to be an under-shepherd to the Great Shepherd. (John 21:15-17). Peter was to proclaim to others that Spring has come…

Are you experiencing those icy winds of winter? If so, I invite you to come to the One who has experienced our winter, and has proclaimed that Spring is here. Do those memories of winters-past still haunt you? I invite you to lay them at the foot of the cross, and receive the healing which only He can give. We have a great High Priest; “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16), Who has experienced our winter, and stands ready to heal us, and proclaim that Spring IS here.

We often think that our problems are too tough, and our Winter is too bleak, but He who conquered sin and death also said; “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching the to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to even the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These “Winter” events in our lives remind us that we lost far more than our innocence in the Fall. Life itself became tenuous and fragile. We aren’t in Eden any more.

As a fellow-sojourner, who has experienced more than my “fair-share” of the winters in life, I am here to proclaim the Good News that spring IS here. As we look back on our Lord’s passion week and His resurrection, there is no better time to bring your Winter to find the Spring which only He can bring. The clinic is open, the Doctor is in, walk-ins are always welcome, and there is no waiting. The price is already paid. Come as you are… Will you come to Him for healing? I pray that you do, because you will be glad you did.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Do Firearms Belong In Churches?

Several high-profile church-massacres in recent years beg the question; “How should we protect our churches and their members?” While we expect that our homes and our churches will be “safe-spaces“, home-invasions occur every day, and church shootings are occurring all too frequently. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Fall drove this point home to me. The only thing that ended that carnage was a few well-placed shots made by a “good-guy-with-a-gun“. Are there really any “safe-spaces” left?

Any time there is a massacre in a place where we should be able to assume is a “safe-space“, there are always questions about what went wrong and how best to prevent similar incidents in the future. One thing we know for certain, is that bad-guys always select “soft-targets“, because the last thing the bad-guy wants is to become the victim of his own chicanery. “Soft-targets” are “easy-targets“, regardless of where and what they are, and a “No guns allowed” sign is like a “Welcome Mat” . One of the questions is “How “hard” is “hard-enough”?”

You can’t get into the capital building without passing a controlled entrance, metal detectors & capital police. How far would you get walking into any other government building, court house, major bank, sports or entertainment venue, media headquarters, or airport with a weapon? Disney, the “happiest place on earth“, uses metal detectors and has armed-security. If these places have been made into “hard-targets“, are they more “important” than the other places we go? Are they more “important” than our churches? Money is transported in armored trucks protected by armed-guards. Is money more “important” than human life?

The White House is protected with multiple-layers of security, controlled by the Secret Service – armed to the teeth. Our politicians are surrounded by an armed-web of security. Are they more “important” than the rest of us? What about our entertainers? The Oscars was crawling with armed-security, some of it visible, some of it hidden. Are the “stars” more “important” than us and our families? They would have us believe so…

While this is about churches, not schools, the recent wave of mass-murders in schools has many people asking how we can protect our children from harm. Some would-be killers have been intercepted by armed-security, limiting the impact of their intentions. Armed-security works. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Let’s end the gun control debate & just protect our children & schools like we do elected government officials.

As we have seen recently, not even restaurants are safe. There was a shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and a bombing at a restaurant in Canada. Can’t we at least eat in peace and safety? Apparently not. No place is immune…

NOTE: This is NOT about “gun-control” or “reasonable gun-laws“, because we already have way too many laws on the books and more won’t change a thing. Criminals don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be criminals, so more laws are worthless except to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some dear friends of mine belong to a church which has armed-security every time the doors are open. They have also restricted access to the main-entrance only, particularly during services. They live in a state where it is way too easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I well know from living there for several years. Yes, the threats are real. Does that mean that they don’t trust God to protect them? No, but they aren’t stupid either, and God sometimes uses “means” for self-protection.

There are two polar-opposite “camps” when it comes to “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions. On one side are those who have no qualms about “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions, including having armed-guards. Some even post signs indicating that there is armed-security on the premises. On the other side are those who believe that they are “honoring God” by refusing to protect themselves, thus “proving” that they are more “spiritual” than those who arm and protect themselves. My question for the latter group is “Are you courting martyrdom?” Do they even lock their doors? We can stick our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that churches require security from criminal assault just like every other organization.

When King David retrieved the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored after the Philistines returned it, it was escorted by thirty-thousand armed men – an army. (2 Samuel 6)

Even while Jesus was preparing to be arrested, He started preparing His disciples for their expanded-role in spreading the Gospel. While the Parable of the Good Samaritan was indeed a parable, it represented a real-life problem in that part of the world. There WERE thieves and robbers, and they would prey on anyone they could, particularly if they were defenseless. There was safety in numbers while they were all together, but that wouldn’t always be the case. They needed to be prepared.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Some commentators interpret “It is enough.” as “Enough of this nonsense“, as if Jesus didn’t REALLY just say “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”, but in this context, that interpretation is playing-off of their own cultural-hangups, not the clear-meaning and spirit of the text. Neither Jesus, nor the rest of the Bible, ever denies a person the right to lawful self-defense, and Jesus never told His disciples to leave their weapons at home. Evidently Peter wasn’t the only one “packing-heat”.

Maybe you are questioning the wisdom of having weapons in God’s house, but we haven’t always been this hesitant to protect what really matters – God’s house. The Gospels include many references to “temple guards” and “officers of the Chief Priest“.

When Jesus was buried, the Jewish religious leaders were afraid that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He was alive, so after getting Pilate’s approval, they set a guard over His tomb. (Matthew 27:62-66)

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the Jewish religious leaders paid-off the guards to lie about the resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Captains of the Temple” is mention during Jesus’ arrest. (Luke 22:52)

Officers sent to arrest Jesus failed in their mission. (John 7:32, 44-46)

Part of the mob that arrested Jesus included “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3)

In the 1st Century, Herod’s Temple was incredibly-ornate, not to mention, fabulously-wealthy. All of the articles used in worship were solid-gold, and there were hundreds of them. All temple-taxes and donations were in cash and there were no banks to deposit that money in, so it had to be kept in the temple-treasury. Thus, 24/7/365 armed-security was an absolute-necessity. The temple guards also kept order in the Temple and enforced the segregation-regulations.

Segregation-regulations“? Yes, there were three “courts” in the Temple. Only Jewish men were allowed in the inner-court, closest to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The second-court, or the “court of the women” was for Jewish women. The outer-court was known as the “court of the Gentiles“, so someone had to make sure that nobody went where they didn’t “belong“. The Jewish leaders weren’t beyond requiring a “robe-check” to make sure Gentiles didn’t get where they didn’t belong.

Do you remember where the first mention of an armed-guard is in the Bible? Would you believe Genesis 3:24, in the Garden of Eden? After God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He placed an angel with a flaming-sword at the entrance to the Garden. Because God met Adam and Eve in the Garden, it could rightfully be considered “God’s house“.

Yea, but… but they didn’t have firearms back then… No, they had swords, spears and bows – weapons. Firearms are simply updated-weapons. Weapons technology has come a long way in the past two-thousand years.

The Vatican, which is entirely-within the city of Rome, has its own security-force, and the Pope has his own personal body-guards, the Swiss Guards. The Pope is the most powerful religious-leader in the world, and his beliefs and opinions aren’t always popular.

“After-action-review” or “Arm-chair-analysis”…

I don’t usually like to do “after-action-reviews” or “arm-chair-analysis” on recent events, but there are way too many obvious lessons to be learned from them. Let’s look at what we know about these recent shootings, notice what went wrong, and what could have been done better. Note: I don’t have any “insideinformation“, so everything I know is based on whatever information is publicly-available.

Louie’s Lakeside Restaurant – Oklahoma City

While this shooting was stopped fairly-promptly by two men with their own guns, they had to retrieve their guns from the trunks of their cars first. Neither one had a Concealed Carry Permit, and the Governor of Oklahoma had just vetoed a “Constitutional-Carry” Bill which had been passed by the State Legislature. The Governor had gone against the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature. Had their guns been immediately-available, the outcome might have been even better.

The shooter had exhibited bizarre-behavior and had come to the attention of the FBI, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a Licensed Security Guard with the right to carry a weapon. Why?

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – Parkland, Florida

A security-analysis of MSD High School had been done by a retired Secret Service agent two months prior to the event, but it was ignored, swept under the rug. The School Board had Grant Money available for school-security-upgrades, but hadn’t used that money for what it was intended for. Authorities at all levels, including the FBI, had ignored all the warning-signs that the shooter was a serious-threat… because he was a “minority“.

The Sheriff’s Deputy who was the School Resource Officer cowered outside while the carnage went on, as did three other Deputies. What happened to “Protect and Serve“?

First Baptist Church – Sutherland Springs, Texas

I spent many years in that part of the country, and in rural-areas, a gun-rack and hunting-rifle is pretty much “standard-equipment” in most pickup-trucks, and yet, regardless of how many hunting-rifles were in vehicles in the church parking-lot, they were worthless, because the shooter was BETWEEN those gun-owners and their guns. Those guns might as well have been at home in a gun-safe.

The shooter should have been ineligible to buy and own weapons due to his violent-past, but because he was in the Air Force when they happened, and the Air Force had neglected to enter his data into the FBI database, he never got “flagged“.

It took someone OUTSIDE the church, with immediate-access to a weapon and the skill to use it, to finally end that carnage. Texas has some of the most liberal handgun-carry laws in the nation, and yet nobody was armed. Why?

Your church – my church

Is YOUR church in a “safe-area“? Mine would seem to be, but the County Sheriff, who knows the “lay-of-the-land” far-better than I do, put out a video recently encouraging County residents to do whatever is necessary to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves. What does he know? Maybe there is only a “veneer” of safety…

The leadership of each church must analyze the level of risk, and decide how much risk is “acceptable”. As “under-shepherds” commissioned by our Lord, with the responsibility to care for the “flock”, not only spiritually, but physically while they are “on-campus”, they must decide wisely. Can they really AFFORD to not provide “sheep-dogs” (armed-security) to protect the “flock”?

Some of you may recoil in horror at the thought of even owning a gun, let alone carrying it to and in church, but there is nothing “unchristian” about protecting yourself and those you love from harm and violence. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

Steve

On Death-Row

I am a prisoner on death-row, convicted, not by some criminal court, but by the court of my own memories and the memories of the people I have wronged. While the bars that restrain me aren’t physical, they are far stronger than any physical bars will ever be, because no matter where I go, they are still there, invisible to you, but very real to me. There is no escaping this prison.

As surely as the triple-murderer will never breathe the fresh-air of freedom, some of our past actions have lasting-consequences. My dad had several diseases when he died, but the only one that wasn’t curable was syphilis. Had it been caught and treated at an early stage, it would have been treatable, but by the time it was discovered, it was long-past being effectively-treatable. His past actions were part of his ultimate-demise.

While I don’t have an incurable-disease, some of my past actions DO have enduring-consequences. Yes, I know that, in Christ, my past is forgiven, but God doesn’t always release us from the temporal-consequences of our past. That I wasn’t as good a husband and father to my first wife and children had consequences then, and it has ongoing-consequences now. I became a suicide-survivor and widower in 1997, and my own children also disowned me in 1997. I lost my whole family in one fell-swoop.

That STILL hasn’t been resolved. My two younger daughters blocked me on Facebook immediately after I messaged one of them to notify them that their grandmother had just died. No response, just BLOCKED.

Recently I discovered that I now have six grandkids, by looking through my oldest daughter’s pictures on Facebook (the only one who hasn’t blocked me – yet). When I mentioned this to my brother Steve, he told me that I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. Am I supposed to forget my own flesh and blood?

I wish that I could say that everything has been peachy since then, but it hasn’t been. I still don’t have this “marriage” thing figured out, that is, how to make it last, because I have been married three times since then, resulting in two divorces and one permanent-separation. Permanent-separation? Yes, my wife moved-out of my house over five years ago and moved-in with another man forty-one days after we got married, and she is living as if she is married to him, not to me. While she is living in adultery, my consequence is that I CAN’T “move-on“, because I am legally-bound to her “til death or divorce do us part“. Oh, I forgot that the “or divorce” wasn’t part of our marriage-vows, so that means “til death do us part“. Do you get the picture?

Numerous people, including my counselor at the VA, have told me that I just need to “move on“. Try telling that to a death-row inmate…

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that I am being a bit over-the-top dramatic, but you haven’t walked a mile, or two or five, in my moccasins. Every time I start to experience a sense of “normalcy“, the defecation-hits-the-rotating-blades (SHTF) – again.

Christians are fond of quoting Romans 8:28 to each other during times of trial and distress. I’ve done it to myself quite a few times, but is it REALLY the right thing to say in the moment?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This is wonderful theology for the long-haul, but poor comfort in the short-run. This verse has a decidedly futuristic-vision, a vision of glory in eternity that will make all of our earthly-troubles pale into insignificance, but it doesn’t deny that we still struggle.

Please, please, please, before you quote this verse to someone who is going through rough times, enter into their grief and pain for a while, be their comforter when they need one, and avoid pouring more gasoline on their fire, because, in the wrong context, Romans 8:28 can feel like a cruel, sadistic joke to someone who is going through hard times.

We are NOT promised that, in this life, we will ever breathe the sweet air of freedom. Many of us will die “on death-row“, never having experienced relationships restored, never having experienced a “good” marriage, never having experienced what most people consider “normal“.

If things are going fairly-well in your life, give thanks to God, and while you are thanking God that you have a good situation, pray for those of us who are still living “on death-row“. If you meet one of us, please be gentle with us. We need care, concern and understanding, rather than a theology-lecture.

In John 11, Jesus didn’t give Mary a theology-lecture. He entered into her pain, John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is loaded with meaning. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He took time – first – to enter into their grief.

Blessings
Steve

Ministry in Samaria

We are picking up where we left off last week, and to recap that study, Jesus, in traveling from Judea to Galilee, went the western-route through Samaria. He and His disciple had come into Sychar, where they stopped for a bite to eat and to rest awhile. It was there, at Jacob’s well, that He encountered a woman coming out to get some water. She had been married several times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She had met her long-awaited Messiah.

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”

28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. (John 4:27-45)
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Last time, we saw Jesus and His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As their conversation was just about to wrap up, His disciples who had gone into town to buy food came upon the pair; this is what followed…

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”

Upon their return, the disciples were a bit shocked to see Jesus speaking with this woman for the reasons recounted last time, but they did not insert themselves into the situation. It seems unlikely that they would question Jesus’ morality, but by now, they would certainly should have noticed that He didn’t observe all of the usual customs of the day; they waited for her to leave. The disciples’ attitude reflects both the Jew’s contempt for the Samaritans and the male chauvinism that regarded giving instruction to a woman as a waste of time.

28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.

She left her water jugs behind and rushed into town to tell the people to come and see this man who has told her everything about her life. These townsfolk would most likely be aware that there was much to tell, and her testimony has power in their eyes. Her conclusion that He was a prophet she freely gave, but notice that His statement that He is the Christ she is cautious about; “Could this be the Christ?” The people came to find out.

Why did she leave her waterpot behind? Had she forgotten why she went to the well? What if her message was more important than the water she went to get?

I can imagine her going into town and excitedly telling everyone who would listen about her encounter with Jesus, and even though He claimed to be the Messiah, she still wasn’t quite sure. She probably didn’t expect the Christ to show-up in her town, but He did. She, like many others, was expecting the Messiah to come as the ultimate “conquering-king” who would reunite all of Israel, but He was revealing a very different kind of kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. He was “Christus-Victor“, but in a dramatically-different kind of way.

She was also shocked that Jesus knew and revealed the intimate-secrets of her life. I doubt that we would be very comfortable either if Christ showed us our sin during a face-to-face encounter, and our reaction would probably be similar to Peter’s; “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8), but until we truly-understand the depths of our sin, we will never understand our desperate need for a Savior.

Based on her testimony, many people dropped what they were doing and headed out to meet Jesus. Would we?

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 

His disciples had brought food from town and wanted Jesus to eat something, but Jesus told them that He has food they know nothing about. As always seems to be the case, they take Him literally, wondering if somebody else has given Him food; maybe that woman?

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

Jesus explains His meaning: His food (nourishment) is to do His Father’s work. Jesus put kingdom-work ahead of physical-sustenance. When it came to the kingdom of God, Jesus had tunnel-vision. He knew His mission, and as we saw last week, nothing was going to get in His way. Then He proceeds to change the subject to the harvest of souls. His main device in explaining this to them is to point out that it isn’t always the same person who sows the seed and also reaps the harvest. In their case, they have gone into town to buy the food that someone else planted, worked and harvested. They did no work, they just paid for it; someone else did the actual work. The harvest of souls is near; Jesus wants His disciples to see that the time has come to reap this harvest. Of course all of this sowing and reaping is analogous to the Gospel; First the Word of God will be planted in the people, in fact it has already been done; the people expect the Messiah to appear. It is for Jesus and especially for His disciples to bring in the harvest of those who will believe that they might turn to God and receive eternal life.

Jesus took that opportunity to give His disciples more instruction in kingdom-work. Certainly Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that they were to bring in the harvest of the crop that was ready for harvest, and to plant the seed for the harvest that would follow later: Maybe we can learn from this.

They would become “sowers” and “reapers“. Some would do more “sowing“, and some would do more “reaping“, but both are equally-important. Thus it is with all kingdom-work. We may see some of the fruits of our labors, but not always, and another laborer may get to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We have entered into the labors which Jesus and His disciples began two-thousand years ago, and even though they aren’t here to see it, the disciples would be blown-away by how fruitful their ministry was. Those labors had, and continue to have eternal-significance.

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Because of the woman’s testimony about Jesus, many of the townsfolk believed in Him. As a result they asked Him to stay in with them. so He did so for two days. During this time, even more believed because of His teachings. Now, not only did they believe because of the woman’s testimony, they also had the opportunity to see and hear Jesus for themselves: The harvest in that small town had been reaped. The people there understood that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

As mind-blowing as her testimony was, those who saw and heard Jesus for themselves became even more convinced that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world.

Isn’t it interesting that when we share our testimony about Jesus, some people respond right away in faith while others resist and refuse to accept it? Could it be that those who respond easily have had the seed of faith planted by someone else, maybe years before? Could it be that those who refuse our plea may respond easily to someone else weeks or years later?

Had Jesus been a typical Jewish Rabbi, He wouldn’t have gone through Samaria, let alone spend a couple of days there, but Jesus was anything BUT typical. I can imagine that His disciples got a bit antsy when He stayed because they would have been eager to get back into “Jewish” territory. Rubbing shoulders with Samaritans wasn’t comfortable, let alone eating and staying with them, but there may be a lesson for us also.

Jesus’ ministry, both in Samaria, and later in several Gentile regions (Mark 5:1-20, 6:24-37), was the embodiment of the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). He didn’t command His disciples to go anywhere He hadn’t already gone first. Why did it take persecution in Jerusalem for the Apostles to start ministering beyond their “home-turf” (Acts 8–12)?

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.

Even though Jesus and His disciples were “delayed” in getting to Galilee, His stay in Samaria was just another part of His kingdom-ministry. Jesus hadn’t been well-received in Jerusalem, and as a “local-boy“, He wasn’t well-received in Judea either, but that wasn’t the case in Galilee. Many of the Galileans had gone to Jerusalem for Passover and had heard His teaching and seen His miracles, so their hearts were already prepared to hear and receive His message when He got to Galilee. We need to note also that Galileans weren’t well thought-of by Judeans either, particularly by the religious-elite.

Is there any group of people you would be uncomfortable associating with? We are “Samaritans” to the vast-majority of the church because we live a lifestyle that they refuse to understand, and can’t fathom trying, so they don’t have a clue how to ministry to us in our environment. That is why I, as a fellow “Samaritan“, am ministering to you.

In Christ,
Steve

 

 

A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah

Most Jews detoured around Samaria when traveling from Judea to Galilee by crossing the Jordan River twice, but Jesus took the western route through Samaria. The Samaritans were much more lax about their ritual-purification so the Jews considered them “unclean“. The Samaritans had also intermarried more with the heathens around them during their captivities, so many Jews also considered them “half-breeds“. This is NOT to say that the Jews were really any more “racially-pure” than the Samaritans, because they weren’t. Even Jesus had four Gentile women in His ancestry, Tamar, Rahab Ruth and Bathsheba. To make matters worse, there was a running-dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans about where to worship God, Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. All of this gave rise to the “bad-blood” between them. That was why most Jews refused to go through Samaria for any reason. That background brings us to today’s passage.

4 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”. (John 4:1-27
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Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.

Jesus’ authority had already been question in Jerusalem several times during Passover, and since the Pharisees had confronted John the Baptist about his baptisms, they may have confronted Jesus also, so, maybe to escape all the controversy in Judea, He decided to go to Galilee where He could minister more freely.

The first four verses of this passage set the background for the story; John the Baptist has been arrested (3:24; Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). Opposition was brewing among the Pharisees in Jerusalem because Jesus’ reputation was growing and He was gaining followers and Jesus decided that this was the time to move back to Galilee. It seems that the arrest of John had the affect of freeing Jesus from John’s ministry; John was decreasing, Jesus was increasing. Jesus takes the mountain road that goes through Samaria that He would later send His disciples on (Acts 1:8). When Jesus arrives in Samaria our story begins.

4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

The children of Israel had occupied this part of Palestine before their departure into Egypt, and everywhere they went, they dug new wells. This was semi-arid, mountainous terrain far from any natural sources of water, so Jacob had dug a well close to what became Sychar. We see Jesus’ true-humanity on display, because after traveling in that rough countryside, He was tired and thirsty. It was 30 miles from Jerusalem to Sychar as the crow flies, but much farther on foot. It was also about noon when they arrived at Sychar. The plot of ground referred to here is referred to in Gen. 48:22 and is roughly a half mile from Jacob’s well (see also Josh. 24:32). Jacob’s well was certainly a well-known location, famous for the spring of bubbling water that it created access to. Jesus arrived there that day at about noon, tired and thirsty.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Why did she come to the well at noon, rather than in the cool of the day? There is no definitive-answer given, but it could have been to avoid the not-so-nice looks and comments because, even in that society, she was a social-outcast. Did other Samaritans cross the street to avoid her? How many children tagged-along with her? How many different daddies did they have?

Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) How did she know that Jesus was a Jew? Did His accent or mode of dress give Him away? Was it that He was a stranger, so He had to be a Jew? John doesn’t give us any clues, so to speculate is futile.

Approaching a woman at the well He asked for a drink, and the woman’s response is interesting in that she seems to have assumed a quizzical tone; you are a Jew and yet you ask me for a drink? Jews did not associate with Samaritans; in fact the Jewish teaching of the time said that associating with Samaritans would cause a Jew to be defiled. If that were not enough, Jewish men did not speak to women in public; not even their own wives and here is Jesus boldly walking up to a Samaritan woman and asking for water.

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As was His custom, Jesus went directly to the lesson He was going to teach, ignoring the customs and traditions of men. The ‘gift of God’ and His identity are the real topics they would discuss: Jesus could provide ‘living water’ and if she understood this she would be asking Him for a drink. Taking Him literally, she notes that Jesus has no means by which to draw water and asks him if He is greater than Jacob whose water isn’t so effective.

Yes, Jesus WAS greater than Jacob, WAY greater!

Of course when Jesus mentions water that would quench a thirst for a lifetime, the woman is interested so that she wouldn’t have to draw water anymore which was very hard work. Notice that in v. 14 Jesus refers to a “spring of water welling up” which is a direct reference to the reputation of Jacob’s well. The water that Jesus was talking about here is a metaphor for eternal life that was the ultimate gift of God; accomplished by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Himself.

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”Living-water” was the water which was deep underground, flowing, and the purest, however, Jesus’ usage of “living-water” referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was offering eternal-life in the the kingdom of God, but she thought He was offering her an unending source of physical-water from deep underground, such as she would get if Jesus somehow installed indoor-plumbing…

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

In verses 16-19, an interesting thing happens: In response to Jesus directive to go and get her husband, the woman tells a falsehood with a half-truth. Jesus knows the whole story, to her amazement and this insight on His part is the probable reason for why she is drawing water at high noon instead of in the cool of the morning with all of the other women. Apparently shocked, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet.

She had had five husbands, but we are not told whether they had died or whether they had divorced her. If she had been widowed each time, she was totally-free to remarry each time, but divorce was a different story in that culture. That she had been married five times is almost a side-issue compared to the fact that she was living with a man she wasn’t married to, because according to Old Testament Law, both of them could and should be stoned. Yes, adultery was a capitol-offense. Before we are too hard on her, a single woman had no means of support, and that was even worse if she still had kids at home. Women were wives and mothers – period. There were no “working-women“, and if her kids couldn’t support her, she and her family went hungry. Like it or not, a woman’s only “assets” were her usefulness to her husband. That was why the custom of kinsman-redeemer came into being, which is one of the core-themes in the book of Ruth.

Simply-put, the kinsman-redeemer custom required that if a woman’s husband died before leaving her an heir to support her, his brother or another close-relative was required to marry her and give her a son. Their first-born became the heir of the deceased-husband’s estate, and if the husband didn’t already have an heir, of his estate also. None of this assumed that the kinsman-redeemer was single, because plural-marriage wasn’t forbidden in the Old Testament. Refusal was seriously frowned-on and brought public-disdain. While this custom doesn’t resonate with us today, it does emphasize the importance God places on family and caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

A few more pieces of background information:
1) The firstborn son received a double-portion of his father’s inheritance so he could support his parents when they became unable to support themselves.

2) Daughters didn’t receive an inheritance because they were expected to marry and their husband would support them. They also married young, usually between 12 and 14.

3) Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son but he assigned her care to John, one of His disciples, rather than to one of His brothers.

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Notice how quickly she changed the subject and goes on to religious matters…after all Jesus must be a prophet. This goes back to one of the age-old disputes between the Jews and the Samaritans. During the time of the divided-kingdom, the Samaritans were not able to go to Jerusalem to worship, so they established their own worship-center. They still weren’t welcome in Jerusalem.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus pointed her to the fact that worship isn’t about a “location“, as significant as that location might be. He tells her that God isn’t really interested in where a person worships; God cares HOW a person worships. In God’s sight, what is important is that a person worships in ‘spirit and in truth’: The time has come for this epochal change. From the coming of Christ forward the old regulations and traditions are set aside and replaced with reality.

Worship is about God, plain and simple, and we don’t need “special-place” to worship God. God is not restricted to a specific-place, and He is just a delighted in the praises and worship of our small family of believers here as He is from those gathered in the grandest cathedral. He has also promised to be in our midst.

She says that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all about this (not you, a mere prophet). Jesus’ reply reveals to her who He really is, for He is the Messiah. (v. 26)

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” This is the only time Jesus claimed the Messianic-title before His trial leading up to His crucifixion. The Samaritan woman, whose name is known only to God, met her long-awaited Messiah.

Isn’t it interesting how much like this woman we are!

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” For a man to talk to a woman he wasn’t related to was a huge cultural “NO-NO“, and that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman was an even-bigger shock, yet Jesus came to Earth for a purpose and He wasn’t going to let cultural-convention get in His way.

Even today, we are constrained by cultural-norms in our social interactions with one another, but they were even stricter then because women were not only second-class-citizens, they were the property of their husband. A man didn’t even speak to his own wife in public, let alone a woman he didn’t even know, but that didn’t stop Jesus from having a conversation with this unnamed woman.

Next time, we will pick up from here with Ministry in Samaria…

Blessings!
Steve

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

Passover in Jerusalem had been a hectic time for Jesus and His disciples, so they left Jerusalem after Passover and went back out into the countryside. The crowds had been a constant reminder of how many people needed Jesus and His attention. He may not even have gotten a “night-off”, as Nicodemus, and who knows how many others came to see Him at night. I doubt, however, that Jesus really got a break, because people always managed to find Him. John the Baptist and his disciples were also in the area, preaching and baptizing. John affirms his role in preparing the way for the Lord while exalting Christ.

22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:22-36)

Jesus took some time with His disciples to train them for their part in His ministry. Even though Jesus took the lead, He probably allowed His disciples to do the actual baptisms, because as we see in John 4:1-2, (Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were.), even though baptisms were attributed to Jesus, He wasn’t actually performing them. I suspect that Jesus did the preaching and His disciples did the baptizing.

24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. John is giving us a time-line reference.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. We shouldn’t be surprised about a discussion regarding Jewish purification-customs coming up because many Jews were meticulous about their purification-rituals. What might have been practical in an urban-setting wasn’t always practical in the wilderness. Jesus also got into many disputes with the Pharisees about ritual-purification, because as we have seen in the past, if God hadn’t given enough purification-rules to suit the Pharisees, they made up more of their own. Jesus wasn’t meticulous about ritual-purification and I doubt that John and his disciples were either.

What is interesting is that somehow this debate prompted John the Baptist’s disciples to complain that the ministry of Jesus and His disciples was receiving acclaim: all were “going to Him” (v. 26). These disciples of John evidently saw Jesus and His followers as rivals and were disturbed by their success.

26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” Were John’s disciples jealous of Jesus, and did they expect John to be jealous of Him too? That certainly appears to be the case, but as John’s answer reveals, he was not only NOT jealous of Jesus, he was elated.

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John knew the source of his authority to minister, but he also understood the limits of his ministry. As if to pop his disciples “bubble“, he reiterated that he was NOT the Christ, merely a forerunner. Then he compares Jesus to the bridegroom who alone gets the bride.

I have been “best-man” twice for a close friend of mine, when he married Patricia, and when he married Phyllis, and he was my “best-man’ when I married Sandy D. As “best-man“, we were there for reach other and to support each other.

This marriage-metaphor is used throughout Scripture for “God and His people” or “Christ and His church“, God or Christ being the “bridegroom” and God’s people or the church being the “bride“. John was a friend of Jesus, the bridegroom, and he was elated at the upcoming “marriage“, that is, that many people were coming to Christ. John also knew that his tenure would be short, and even though he had been a “starter” for a while, he was already being relegated to the status of “bench-warmer“. John was, at-most, Jesus’ “best-man“. John knew his place in God’s kingdom, and we should too.

30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

As we will see, the reason for Jesus’ increase was not merely because He held a higher office than John. It is not that John the Baptist and Jesus were both merely men holding offices or roles that differed in rank, although Jesus’ office as Messiah was indeed greater than John’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner. Instead, Jesus had to increase in the eyes of others because He is God incarnate.

Even though John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and his coming had been anticipated for hundreds of years, as we see from the passage, he didn’t have a big-head. In fact, he could have written “Humility 101“. He knew that, in the grand scheme of things, compared to Jesus, he was a “nobody“.

That lesson has been lost on many of today’s high-powered teachers and preachers. It seems that they have even taken “Self-Promotion 101” in seminary. As I peruse the Twitter-verse, I can easily trace the journeys of several of the big-name teachers and preachers by their announcements about where they are going to be teaching or preaching next. Some of them are racking-up more frequent-flier miles than many businessmen. Maybe it is just my perception, but who are they promoting, themselves, or Jesus?

Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t have an agent or promoter, didn’t advertise, had no advance-team, and He rarely planned His next move in advance. As He moved about the countryside, He responded to ministry-opportunities as they appeared. Sometimes He moved in response to the actions of others.

My calling is to be a servant-leader, and I am elated when someone comes to know our Lord or to know Him better. It wasn’t about John, as this Bible study isn’t about me. Jesus Christ was his primary-focus as He is mine also.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John the Baptist and Jesus were not merely two God-empowered human-messengers, there was a fundamental-difference between them. While they WERE both human, Jesus was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, so His origin was from Heaven.

John then goes on to speak about the sources of their respective messages. While John’s message was from above, as was his commission, he only had limited knowledge. Jesus, who originated in heaven, spoke with divine-authority. Jesus was fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, so His message was much broader and more expansive than John’s.

Consider verse 31, which contrasts the one who is “of the earth” with the One “who comes from Heaven“. Here, being “of the earth” refers to those who have a strictly earthly origin, those who are only human and do not come from the presence of God Himself. It is not inherently bad or wrong to be simply human; indeed, it is a great privilege to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Nevertheless, human beings are limited creatures. They are finite in their understanding. Despite having been called to be a prophet by the Lord, John the Baptist was limited in what he knew and could proclaim. This was true of all of the prophets.

The same doesn’t apply to Jesus, the One “who comes from above“. While He was fully-human, with all of humanity’s non-sinful limitations, as God incarnate, He also possesses a divine nature. His origin is heavenly; that is, He comes from the presence of God. That which He reveals is not merely a testimony that He received from God, and then passes on to others; rather, the things of which Jesus speaks are things He has heard and seen as the second person of the Godhead (v. 32). As the second person of the Godhead, He possesses the Spirit without measure (v. 34). All other prophets has a gifting of the Spirit in a limited way; none of them possessed the fullness of the Spirit. However, Jesus is all that the Holy Spirit is in His deity and nothing is hidden from Him, according to His divine nature. The other prophets of God were not told everything, only what they needed to know. Sometimes they had to work to figure certain things out, and even then they didn’t know everything (1 Peter 1:10-11).

We see another interesting statement: “for He gives the Spirit without measure.” I believe that this statement was looking forward to the time when God would pour His Holy Spirit out on all believers, not just an “anointed-few“. Jesus was, at that time, the only person fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, but that was going to change, and soon.

35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. This statement points forward to the day when Jesus will be enthroned as “King of kings and Lord of lords”, but He must go to the cross first. While, in a sense, Jesus, in His deity, was God and Lord over all, it would not be fully-realized until after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back into heaven.

This statement also points forward to when Jesus would give the Great Commission: 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)Go” isn’t merely a suggestion, it is a command, and the authority we go in comes from Christ. As we go, we are to make disciples, and our message is to be the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John then reiterates this Gospel-message: 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The Gospel is incomplete without both the Good-News; “He who believes in the Son has eternal life;“, AND the Bad-News; “but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Without understanding the bad-news, we don’t know that we need the Good-News. We can’t add-to or subtract-from that Gospel-message, even though many Christians like to add to it. Salvation is by grace through faith, NOT grace through faith-plus, the “plus” usually being “works“. Jesus and John didn’t tolerate legalism then, and we shouldn’t tolerate it now.

Do YOU believe in Jesus?

In Christ,
Steve