Ruth

I’ve heard the story of Ruth many times.  The commentary given along side the story usually describes her as a loyal and committed friend.  Yes, those are good traits, but they don’t fully explain her motivation.  After reading Ruth 1 today, I am wondering again, why did Ruth stay with Naomi?  Even Naomi saw that Ruth’s life could be more full if she stayed in Moab. After-all, Naomi would not be having any more kids, nor will she marry again.  These would severely limit Ruth’s opportunities.  But, something in Ruth told her otherwise. She saw something that was bigger than being married and having kids. She saw something better than mere loyalty. She saw God. Ruth knew that God was with Naomi. She also knew that God was not found in Moab.  The only logical conclusion for Ruth was to choose God, which meant staying with Naomi.

Ruth is not the only person in the Bible that chose God over other, seemingly bigger, opportunities.  Consider for a moment Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in John 6:66-69.  After being deserted by many disciples, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?.”  The response that Peter gave reminds me of Ruth.  Peter responded to Jesus saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  Do you hear it?  Peter knows that the biggest and best opportunity available to him is to be near Jesus.  Nothing will distract him from it.  Isn’t Ruth’s response the same?  She knows that husbands and children are second to God.  She, like Peter, chooses God first.  The rest, will follow (Matthew 6:33).

If you choose to keep reading through the book of Ruth, you are going to see that she made the right choice. God honored her choice. What are you choosing today? Just like Ruth, God is the bigger and better opportunity for us. Find a place that God is working and follow him there.

The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20

Like many Bible stories, the 10 commandments have become something we don’t think much about.  Maybe we have just heard them too many times, or maybe we think we have them mastered.  Some even argue that the 10 Commandments are no longer relevant.  I found my answer as I read through them, preparing for today’s post.  They are indeed relevant. They are each necessary and, in fact, while they all work together. As I studied, one that stood out to me more than the others.  There is one, that if we sincerely focus on it, will make all the others easier.  Unfortunately, it is the hardest one for me to keep.  It is found in verse 8 and is seemingly simple.  It reads, “remember to keep the Sabbath, and keep it holy.”

What is the Sabbath?  It’s a day of rest.  We’ve all been taught that.   That’s the easy part.   I mean, we are all in for a day of rest.  Who doesn’t want a vacation; a break from all their troubles?  Of course, there is more to a Sabbath.  We are also commanded to “keep it holy.”  Merriam-Webster describes holy as “devoted entirely to God.”  That makes things a little tougher, doesn’t it?    You see, a Sabbath isn’t about sleeping all day, or escaping reality through the television, or laying by the pool.  Neither is it about being refreshed and “gathering strength to continue the ongoing competition of life.”  Those are not bad things, but they may not be a Sabbath.  Those things are about me.  A Sabbath is about God.

When we Sabbath, we are asked first and foremost to spend time with God.  Yes, prayer and scripture reading are part of that.  During this time, He will reveal himself to us.  This revelation establishes God as the deity and reminds us of his sovereignty.  This will produce worship.  Unfortunately, most of us will not get there.  We will fail to experience God the way he commanded us to.  Why not?  A simple answer is, fear.  Specifically, we are afraid of being alone with God.

Two amazing authors document this fear.  First, Henry Nouwen explains that “to truly Sabbath, we must also be silent, and silence, he says, provokes anxiety.  Ruth Haley Barton Corroborates this.  She refers to silence and solitude as a ‘fearsome’ place.  They know and have experienced it, first hand.  Of course, our fears are unfounded. In fact, until we finally confront this place of transparency and vulnerability with God, we may always consider ourselves for God, but we will never be with God.

Nouwen, Henri, The Way Of The Heart. HarperOne. 1981

Ruth Haley Barton;R. Ruth Barton;Dallas Willard. Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence (The Transforming Center Set) (Kindle Location 398). Kindle Edition.

This Gets A Little Messy

Genesis 8

On Saturday, Holly-Rae wrote about Noah’s Ark from Genesis 7.  She mentioned that many people believe it to be a metaphor and I was reminded that the reason someone built a replica in Kentucky is to help us understand that these stories are real.  I will admit that when I read the story, I have the same thoughts.  In fact, it’s easier to read Bible stories as metaphors, in order to  pull every ounce of wisdom from them. For example, in today’s reading, I might review the powerful imagery of ravens, doves and olive branches (Genesis 8:6-11).  I’ll reflect on them and consider how they relate to my life today.  I might even work up a strategy or two so that will allow me to be more intentional with my life.  Most of the time I stop right there.  I take the wisdom and don’t even consider, let alone contemplate, the bigger picture.  It’s easier that way.  Truth is, stopping there debases God and the Bible.   In fact, it reduces my relationship with God to a self-help guru or a life coach.  Sure, I will walk away with big thoughts about Noah’s faith and maybe even his leadership capacity.  Those are good things.  But, those are not the purpose of the stories in the Bible.  When I read it right, God reveals to me who he really is.  To get there, I have to get messy.

Getting messy means that I have to ponder what kind of being, what kind of God, has the ability to do all those things.  In fact, how can that actually be?  I have to poke at my own understanding to determine why this God would do all those things.  I have to wrestle with what is good or bad about it. Even what I like and don’t like.  I have to discover that these are things that God wants to reveal to me about himself but I have to seek them out (Luke 11:9).  In my seeking, I would discover that God is far bigger than a piddly little flood.  This was nothing for him.  I would discover that the answers I find create even bigger questions about who he is and what that means for who I am.  He would reveal to me his righteousness and holiness along side his justice and his mercy.  In fact, I would encounter the mystery of God and begin to realize that there is no way I can really experience him in this lifetime (1 Corinthians 2:7).  In many ways, I would begin to feel like a foreigner here on this earth and understand that I was created for far more than this life.  My heart would start to sing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty” day and night, without ceasing (Revelation 4:8).

Or not.   I could just go with the metaphor theory.  Besides, I have a lot to do today.

Close Encounters

Now that we have passed Christmas, our thoughts turn toward the new year.  As always, I make a list of things that I want to accomplish in the next year.  “2019 will be different,” I say.  This is the year, that everything will come together.  This year, I will fulfill my life’s calling. But, it doesn’t really work that way.  At least, it hasn’t happened yet in my 48 years.  You see, if I am going to achieve bigger things, if my efforts are going to yield different results than last year, I will have to make some adjustments.  I am learning that my life is built exactly the way that I have built it.  Which creates in me all kinds of questions.  Primary among them is “Lord, how would you have built my life?”

Of course, that is the most dangerous of all questions because it convicts me. I have not yet become who God created me to be.  How do I know?  Because I have not yet learned to be reliant.  In fact, nearly everything I attempted in 2018 was designed to become independent, powerful and full.  This is not the Jesus way.  Jesus chose to remain hungry when presented with food in the desert, while I looked for more food and complained when I didn’t get it.  Jesus chose to remain poor rather than accept all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  But, I turned to bitterness and resentment when my kingdom didn’t grow. 

There is hope.  In fact, we get to celebrate a new year in just a few days.  New years are a wonder ful thing.  They are a new beginning, a new creation.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  This is it.  Right now, today, is our opportunity to be that new creation.  It is given us, all we have to do is acknowledge it.

As I write the words on this page, the voices in my head get louder.  They ask, “how in the world will you ever do that?” “How can you possibility be that strong?”  “After all these years, do you really think that you can just shut it down and be who you were created to be?”  The honest answer to all of those questions is “No.  I cannot.”  It is this realization, this understanding that gets me closest to who I was created to be.  At the end of my rope, with no hope left and no resources to call upon, I get to encounter Christ.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So, if you want to know what my real goal is for 2019, I will tell you.  I will intentionally seek a true encounter with him.  Everyday.

How Do You Read The Bible?

Fiction and myth

The Bible is full of entertaining stories about people and the choices they make.  No other book can rival its imagination and creativity of its authors.  Better yet,Biblical stories bring us moralistic meaning. Like fables.  As we read, we are able to extract enlightening force from them’ awakening our souls.

Historical account

This is about information.  Factual accounts and records of what happened in the past. History is useful to know, of course. I’ll bet that we can all recite the phrase “he who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.”  The Bible can be our opportunity to learn from others’ successes and failures.

Self-help

I want to be a better person and the Bible is full of wisdom.  It allows us to evaluate our thinking and behavior.  In fact, I am often surprised that self-help gurus do not quote the Bible as their source of insight to the human condition.

I readily admit that I have read the Bible for all of these reasons. Each of them have proven true for me.  As I think about them, my gut reaction is one of judgement.  To view the Bible through any of those lenses is hypocrisy, right?  Maybe it is, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that God is bigger than that.  In fact, when I go to the Bible with any of those selfish ideas, something happens.  My soul is awakened.  I realize that it is this awakening, this enlightening that I have been craving.  My soul is filled with hope.  Not just hope for a better tomorrow, but real hope.  The kind that draws me in, reminding me of the glorious riches waiting for me (Eph 1:16-23).  A real hope that brings riches without hardship and toil.  Instead, they are freely given by the immeasurable greatness and power of God.  More-so, there are no barriers to entry, no obstacles to overcome in attaining them because the full price has already been paid.  That’s right, hope, joy and glorious riches are immediately mine when I remember the price that Jesus paid on the cross (1 John 2:2).

The great mystery of the Bible is how this works.  How is it possible to gain all of this from even a few simple verses.  The answer lies in the power of the HolySpirit.  He is the reason that Paul describes the Bible as being “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  I am so grateful for it.  Every time I come into the Word, looking for anything, he finds me.  And, he talks to me.  In fact, sometimes I come to the word not looking for a conversation, and he finds me anyway.  I find that his pursuit of me is relentless.  Clearly, he wants something more for me.  He has something for you too!  He wants us to be complete and perfect, exactly the way he intended with all of his creation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Check out the handful of verses Ive outlined here and see what the Holy Spirit wants to tell you!

Delivered

John 19

Our introduction to today’s reading:  “Jesus is delivered to be crucified”.  Pilate had a decision to make.  In reviewing the charges against Jesus, Pilate states: “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”  How conflicted he must have been?  He finds no guilt in him but he feels the pressure of the crowd.  The crowd clearly wants and believes he should be crucified.  When I last wrote on this verse, I used the terminology “crowdsourcing”.   While not a perfect definition for this situation, it relays the message that the crowd came together and decided Jesus’ fate.  Pilate kept trying to get Jesus to open up, to talk to him, to say something he could use to free Jesus, but all that he said was “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”   Not much to go on to free this man people believe is disobeying the law.   Pilate tried a few times but without success and finally gave us, releasing him to the crowd.

What if the story had been different?  What if Jesus had confided in Pilate?  What if they had a conversation and came to a conclusion on what to do next? What if Pilate let Jesus go?  It is hard to contemplate because we know the rest of the story.   Jesus is then given over the crowd, already wearing a purple robe, a crown of thorns and multiple wounds from being flogged.  The events of this day are traumatic.  We continue reading about Jesus bearing his own cross on the way to the Place of the Skull.  We read about the Crucifixion along with two others.  This chapter is not written from Jesus’ perspective, but from Pilates and others.  The next turn of events: 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  He goes against the crowd with what he believes and still showing he does not feel Jesus was guilty.

The story continues as we know it today with the dividing of his garments and casting lots for his tunic.  The scene presents vivid images of the drama as it unfolds with a large crowd, watching Jesus die on the cross.  The Death of Jesus as it is written:

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

His side is then pierced and he is buried. Before we continue to the next chapter and read about his resurrection, let us ponder again what would have happened if Pilate had released Jesus?  At this time of Thanksgiving, let us give thanks that Jesus died on the cross for us!

~Carol Barham

What Will You See?

Today’s Reading: John 9

He probably blamed himself.  Can you picture him?  The blind beggar, sitting, all alone.  Cold, hungry, and lonely.  He could hear people talking as they passed by.  They questioned what was wrong.  They mocked him.  They made up stories. Every conversation reminded him that he was useless.  Every remark reinforced his belief that he was bad.  For a while, the blind man fought it.  He wondered what he could have possibly done wrong.  Why, did he deserve this?  

In the moments that others engaged him in conversation, the answer was always the same.  “you must have done something” they would say.  “Think hard.  You dont remember doing anything sinful?”  As the blind man searched his heart, he would cry out, “no, nothing.”  “Well,” they retorted, “if not you, then it must have been your father.  Clearly, you are paying for someone’s sin.”

Most of the time, he was just alone.  Alone with his thoughts and heavy heart.  His hope for a normal life, productive and useful, was gone.  He would never be like everyone else.  Over time, he decided, they are right.  I’ll just accept what I have.  “There is no sense in trying harder, no benefit to leaning in.”  

I wonder if that is real for all of us.  The blind man had an ailment that kept him from experiencing a full and meaningful life.  It was something that he could not overcome.  Nobody else could help him either.   Like the blind beggar, we are unable to view the thoughts and actions that shape our lives objectively.  When we look closely, we will develop reasons why it just wont work for us.  Ironically, those reasons, become exactly what keeps us from moving forward.  They are the things that keep us from becoming who God created us to be.

Just like the blind man, we cannot find comfort or assistance from other people. We definitely cannot find it inside of ourselves.  We need someone to believe in us.  Actually, we need something more than belief.  We need someone that knows us, intimately, just like Jesus knew the blind man.  Jesus stopped and provided exactly what was needed.

I wonder, if the blind man knew what sight would bring him.  Maybe he thought about new and amazing opportunities, or maybe that it would open the door to love and companionship.  It could be that comfort and ease of life were enough for him.  Whatever it was, I wonder if he was surprised at what he got.  He didn’t get any of those.  Instead, he got Jesus, telling him to be a witness.  To tell the world of his experience.  It didn’t make sense.  Of course he would tell the world.  In fact, he wanted to shout it from the mountaintops. He would make sure that everyone knew it was Jesus Christ that healed him.  He is why he sees.

What the blind beggar didn’t know and didn’t think about was that this is who he was created to be.  Full of passion, full of love, hope and joy.  These were the fruits that had been hidden away for so long.  This is what Jesus unlocked in his life.  For the first time, he could see.

What do you want to see?  What will you use your sight for?  

Bad Investments

Luke 21

When I read Luke 21, I get a little scared.  It starts with the destruction of the Temple.  Jesus is telling us that God’s very house will be destroyed.  When it does, we will be tempted to follow others that are not God.   We could easily be led astray.   There will also be wars, natural disasters and persecution.  Jesus makes it personal.  He tells us that we, as believers, will be beaten and tried with some being put to death.  This action is not caused by strangers or even the government. It is our own parents, brothers, relatives and friends.   Entire cities will be destroyed and overtaken.

The events found in this chapter are truly horrifying, with one exception.  Did you notice the first paragraph about the widow?  How did it land here?   It is out-of-place, isn’t it?  I thought so, until I got a closer look.  Read it again and note that the widow kept nothing back for herself.  She gave everything she had, because that is not where she found value.  Consider it this way.  She invested everything she had.  Why?  Was she foolish?  No.  She gave everything because she did not hold value in herself, her own comfort, or her own well-being.  Instead, she invested everything she had for the Kingdom.  She only though of others’ comfort and well-being.  She invested it so that God’s kingdom could be full.

It is worth considering our investments vs the widows.  I realize now that my fear when reading chapter 21 is a result of the investments I am making.  You see, if I am investing in my business or my possessions or even my family, Jesus is quick to show me that my investment will not pay off.  This is what gives me anxiety.  Thankfully, I have an opportunity to make it right.  Today, I choose to invest in God’s kingdom.  I can do it with my pennies and dollars as well as my talents and abilities. Will you?

Man, Prophet, or God?

Luke 9

How did God make the stars? Were they thrown in the air like pixie dust settling into random patterns, or were they placed, one by one with care and intention?  I can spend hours in the fascination of the stars and our universe, becoming quickly overwhelmed with their mysteries and possibilities.  God has not revealed to me how, or why, he created the universe, I just know he did.  In fact, we all know.  We to experience it every time we look into the sky.  I find myself saying “Wow, you are awesome God!”

I don’t question that God created the universe.  Maybe because the evidence is all around me.  Sure, there are people that contrive alternate explanations, but I believe He did it.  I have no doubt.  In order to believe that, I have to consider his capabilities.  I come to greater understanding that he is far bigger than me. I see that his capacity for both creativity and activity are infinite. Why then, do I question that he was able to feed 5,000 people with four loves and two fishes?  Why do I attempt to rationalize and water down the story into some rational explanation? Seriously, there is no rational explanation for the universe so why do I attempt to create them around the works of Jesus?

Asking those questions is scary.  Actually, the answer is the scary part because it reveals what I believe about Jesus.  You see, if Jesus was a prophet, or merely wise human, feeding the 5,000 is impossible and I need to rationalize the story.  If, however, Jesus is God, the creator of the universe, the answer is quite different. Feeding the 5,000 is easy when you know how to make a sun and stars and moons.

Who do you believe Jesus to be?

The End

Mark 13

Do not be anxious.  That’s what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6.  I have to remind myself of that because it’s exactly what happens to me when I read Mark 13.  Maybe you become anxious too?  Here’s how it goes.  We begin to analyze and worry, trying to discern if we are in the end times. As we consider current events and the natural disasters happening everywhere, the conclusion has to be yes, we are living in the end times.  Given that answer, our creative energy is poured into possibilities and theories that tie everything together.  In some odd way, it helps make sense of the world.  Other people support the idea too.  In fact, they will encourage us and ask for more which causes us to go digging into the prophetic scripture so that we can justify our conclusions.

What is my conclusion?  Yes, we are in the end times.  I do not know if we are closer to the beginning or closer to the end, but I’d have to be crazy not to see evil rising up all around me. And, yes, it makes me anxious.  Truth is, this anxiety is very revealing.  It paints a pretty good picture of what is really in my heart.  You see, this anxiety is produced when I consider that the life that I know, with its familiarity and relative comfort, is going to be disrupted.  If that is true, then clearly, I am not looking forward to a life with God.  If that is true, Jesus warns, there is no possible way you will make it through the tribulation.

How then, are we going to make it through?  How are we going to survive additional trials that are headed our way? Its easy when we reflect on the central focus of all these stories.  They are not about God’s condemnation.  They are about his love and faithfulness. If we are to be reminded of this, we must do as Colossians 3:2 suggests and “set our mind on things above, not on earthly things.”  When we do that, all the events, all the possible horrors and evils fade away, forever lost in the hope created by the pure, precious love of Jesus Christ.