Tuesday, 27 January 2015

LiFE!

Another You Version plan from Brian Houston: Release, Revive, Repair.

Jesus said - Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1 - that the spirit of the Lord had come upon HIM to preach the good news, proclaim freedom and give sight to the blind, freeing the prisoners.

We are all ignorant, trapped, blind and imprisoned in some way. In our thoughts, our emotions, our physicality to varying degrees.

And so he offers help: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Yes, but how? Paul has the answer:
"I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

The Solution Is Life on God’s Terms

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.


Brian Houston: ""For we were slaves." Ezra 9:9
Many people who have already walked through the door of freedom in Christ are still slaves to something or someone....The word 'release' implies momentum and action. It carries the idea of liberation, spaciousness, generosity, forgiveness, mercy and grace. Release is about emancipation - set free from whatever has restricted us. When I think about release, I see prison doors swung wide open with overjoyed people running onto a wide-open field....

It's time to break free from bondages in circumstances, relationships, finance, addictions or health. It's time for deliverance into an overcoming life. Don't settle for brokenness - Jesus came to heal the broken, to release us from everything that weighs us down.
God has not forsaken you. He has not forgotten you nor has He given up on you. Do whatever it takes to walk in the freedom that Jesus won for you.
"

His love never fails

This is the fourth day running I have been encountering this phrase.
His love never fails.

The song 'One Thing Remains' popped into my head during a theology talk on Saturday; we sang it on Sunday morning; I highlighted it in my notes yesterday, still pondering this truth; and then it popped up in Psalm 103: "The Lord is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails."
 
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

In death, in life
I'm confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid
There's nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love


God's love never fails.


1 Chronicles 16:34
Praise the Lord because he is good to us, and his love never fails.

Psalm 103:8
The Lord is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails.

Psalm 106:1
We will celebrate and praise you, Lord! You are good to us, and your love never fails.

Psalm 107:1
 (Psalms 107-150) ] [ The Lord Is Good to His People ] Shout praises to the Lord! He is good to us, and his love never fails.

And then there is Psalm 136:
Praise the Lord! He is good.
    God’s love never fails.
Praise the God of all gods.
    God’s love never fails.
Praise the Lord of lords.
    God’s love never fails.

Only God works great miracles.
    God’s love never fails.
With wisdom he made the sky.
    God’s love never fails.
The Lord stretched the earth
over the ocean.
    God’s love never fails.
He made the bright lights
in the sky.
    God’s love never fails.
He lets the sun rule each day.
    God’s love never fails.
He lets the moon and the stars
rule each night.
    God’s love never fails.
10 God struck down the first-born
in every Egyptian family.
    God’s love never fails.
11 He rescued Israel from Egypt.
    God’s love never fails.
12 God used his great strength
and his powerful arm.
    God’s love never fails.
13 He split the Red Sea apart.
    God’s love never fails.
14 The Lord brought Israel safely
through the sea.
    God’s love never fails.
15 He destroyed the Egyptian king
and his army there.
    God’s love never fails.
16 The Lord led his people
through the desert.
    God’s love never fails.
17 Our God defeated mighty kings.
    God’s love never fails.
18 And he killed famous kings.
    God’s love never fails.
19 One of them was Sihon,
king of the Amorites.
    God’s love never fails.
20 Another was King Og of Bashan.
    God’s love never fails.
21 God took away their land.
    God’s love never fails.
22 He gave their land to Israel,
the people who serve him.
    God’s love never fails.
23 God saw the trouble we were in.
    God’s love never fails.
24 He rescued us from our enemies.
    God’s love never fails.
25 He gives food to all who live.
    God’s love never fails.
26 Praise God in heaven!
    God’s love never fails.


Jeremiah 33:11  And when people come to my temple to offer sacrifices to thank me, you will hear them say: “We praise you, Lord All-Powerful! You are good to us, and your love never fails.” The land will once again be productive.
 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Confusion

A remedy for confusion:

If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires. The Spirit and your desires are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should.  Or, as The Message puts it: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
Galatians 5:16-17


Clutter causes confusion. We've just done a major tidy up - but not de-clutter - of the house, and it feels good. I realise that much of my mental confusion and indecision (over, it must be said, a VERY LARGE DECISION) isn't helped by clutter around me.

Cheri Gregory knows about clutter. One useful thing she has written stands out: that de-cluttering is not easy for HSPs - Highly Sensitive People.
 
Well, that is a relief, in a bizarre way. Because HSPs tend to:
    be overwhelmed by strong sensory input. (i.e. visual, auditory, etc.)

    be bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.

    feel more deeply.

    be more emotionally reactive.

    take longer to make decisions.

    become more upset if she makes a "bad" or "wrong" decision
    .

    take criticism more personally and experience its effects more strongly
    .
    BUT I CAN 'choose to be led by the Spirit'.

    The Spirit who pares life down to what is essential. Important. Necessary.
    The Spirit who, when I listen, and follow His promptings, leads me in an uncluttered life.

    A daily, hourly challenge.

     

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Poignant

As the bustle and busyness of Christmas begins to fade and I reflect on the many kindnesses and gifts, I read something poignant from a single mother: " what I wanted most at Christmas time was not a tree full of presents. I wanted to find a way to make what we had be the only thing we really needed. I knew that no one knew how to help. Maybe this was the hardest part of those weeks of Advent — knowing that everyone knew where I was at while we all pretended I didn’t know that everyone knew."

Yes. What I want most, all the time, not just at Christmas, is not presents or things... I want to  find a way to make what I have be the only thing I really need.

I WANT TO BE CONTENT. And while I am not - or so I believe - like the people in Ecclesiastes who are never satisfied with what they own, I recognise that there is always a small part of me which is not actually content.

The Bible teaches how to be content. Proverbs (19:23) says: "The reverent, worshipful fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it rests satisfied; he cannot be visited with (actual) evil and is untouched by trouble, without fear of danger."

I want to be like David, who says in Psalm 131: "I am not conceited, Lord,
and I don’t waste my time on impossible schemes.


But I have learned to feel safe and satisfied,
just like a young child on its mother’s lap.


People of Israel, God's people,
you must trust the Lord now and forever.


Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!

John prepared the way for Jesus to work in people's hearts by telling them to be content with what they have without greedily trying to get more.

As Paul says: "I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have.  I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. Christ gives me the strength to face anything. "

We don't need any more. "Godliness with contentment is great gain: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough."

Hebrews 13:5 says: "Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money (including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions) and be satisfied with your present (circumstances and with what you have); for He (God)Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. (I will) not, (I will) not, (I will) not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let (you) down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!

Be satisfied with your present circumstances. This is my prayer this year. To be satisfied with my circumstances, to be content in not knowing what the future holds for me, where I might be living this time next year, what I might be doing, where I might feel 'at home'  - and to be dissatisfied with my spiritual condition. Living in the tension of the kingdom come now and the not yet. Knowing that my present earthly circumstances are just fleeting in the light of eternity, and being content with where I am and what I am doing today. This hour. This minute.

CONTENT.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Wishing: to see the glory of God

This woman in the ancestry of Jesus is not even named. Bathsheba, 'Uriah's wife'. Mother of Solomon, through an adulterous affair with David.

Bathsheba. So many questions.

Was she innocent, unaware she could be overlooked as she took a bath?
Compliant, unwilling to offend the king by refusing to come to him?
Protective, bizarrely, of her husband Uriah, afraid that she might be putting him in even more danger by refusing?

Or was she scheming and ambitious, hoping to secure the king's favour?
Bored by marriage to a good and faithful man?
Simply vain, aware that her beauty attracted attention, craving adulation, feeding her vanity by bathing where she could be seen from the king's palace?

Her father, Eliam, was one of David's mighty men. Did she consider that she merited special treatment because of this? That her rightful place was in the palace?

And then she was pregnant. Unable to assign parentage to her husband, she tells David that he is the father.

So how did she feel the morning after, knowing she had committed adultery - the penalty for which was death by stoning? How did she feel when David arranged for her husband Uriah to come home from serving his country to sleep with her, so their adultery could be covered up? And then, when that failed, David had Uriah put in a position where he was certain to die?

We know that she was careful to observe the outward rites and rituals, in 'purifying' herself of her uncleanness that same day.
We know that she mourned her husband.
We know that she then became David's wife as soon as the mourning period was over. She gave birth to a son, who later died.
We know that David still stood by her, was still in love with her, because when he comforted her, she then had another son. Solomon, which means 'peace'.
We know that she had three other sons, one of whom was called Nathan. Named, perhaps, after the prophet who confronted David with his sin?
We know that, later, she manipulated and schemed to ensure that her son Solomon inherited the throne, despite the claim of other sons. She was cunning enough that, when Adonijah came to her to ask for his father David's concubine - tantamount to announcing that he would take his father's place - she pretended to acquiesce to his request. As soon as Solomon heard it, Adonijah's fate was sealed and he was killed. One more building block in providing a secure foundation for Solomon's kingship.

I don't like Bathsheba.
Yet...she is one of Jesus' ancestors and this was in God's will. The Lord had named Solomon 'Jedidiah' which means 'loved by the Lord'. The Lord had sent Nathan the prophet to tell Bathsheba that Solomon's elder brother Adonijah had styled himself as king, enabling her to put a stop to it.

Matthew Henry comments: "Giving way to sin hardens the heart, and provokes the departure of the Holy Spirit. Robbing a man of his reason, is worse than robbing him of his money; and drawing him into sin, is worse than drawing him into any wordly trouble whatever."

I see Bathsheba as a selfish, sinful woman who was nevertheless used by God for the purposes of His kingdom.

How am I any different? Am I willing to be used by God, in spite of my own selfishness and sinfulness?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Anna, who lived in the temple...

Anna. A prophetess who lived in the temple. Words of wisdom from Joy at Love God Greatly.

"These verses really get me. I am in awe of Anna. I want her to be my mentor, but since I don’t have a time travel machine just yet, I will have to settle for her life speaking to me via these verses. There isn’t much similar between me and Anna. She was advanced in years, a widow, and had copious amounts of free time to spend fasting and praying in the temple. I, on the other hand, am nearing middle age, still have my husband, a mama to 6, living in Uganda. I have very little free time, and quiet moments are scarce to non-existent. 
So it’s here that I’m tempted to send sweet Anna on her merry way and assume that her life has nothing to do with mine. BUT. She is a woman caught up in the Grand Story of the Redemption. She couldn’t get enough. It flowed out of her life. She spoke of it to all. And this is beautiful to me. I find this irresistible. Oh, how I want this to be true of me!
What if I took her situation, her devotion, her commitment to giving thanks and talking about redemption and translated it into my everyday? What would it look like?
What if I make my home a temple and spend my days worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day? 
Can I take my moments, the ones filled with laundry and trying to convince a teenage boy of the benefits of showers, and turn these mundane moments into acts of worship? Can I? Can I turn my words to thankfulness to God and speak of His redemption to all?
What would this look like? Here are some thoughts on how to start:
  • Turn my eyes upon Jesus. Bask in His redemption. Gaze at His glory.There is no substitute and no checklist. The Gospel is where it starts and ends.
  • Turn down the noise and to be quiet. {Getting up early, afternoon quiet time for the whole house, turning down TV watching in the evening, turning off the Internet}
  • Turn from my idols. Rinse, Repent, Repeat. Daily, hourly, minutely {!}, I find myself running to idols in my heart. Things that tempt me away from gazing. I have to continually return to the Lord and repent and ask the Holy Spirit to help me turn from these things. {Internet, appearance, pride, reputation, to name just a few.}
  • Turn up the message I need to hear. {Turning on the worship music, turning my eyes to Scripture, turning to those people in my life that challenge my heart to follow the Lord}
  • Turn each mundane moment into an act of worship, no matter how small, from cooking to cleaning, showering to scrubbing.
  • Turn my words into words of praise and thankfulness, declaring the redemption to all. 
Let’s take these moments, in our days leading up to Christmas, to turn our homes into temples. Thank you, Anna, for leading us on the road. The Road to Jesus. The Road to Christmas. "

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ruth and Anna. Wanting: to serve and glorify

Ruth. (As a digression, my first encounter with the name Ruth was in Swallows and Amazons, where the character Nancy was actually called Ruth but had been renamed by her uncle as Nancy, because Nancy was an Amazon and a pirate - and pirates are ruthless...).

Her name means friend, companion. She was a true friend to - of all unlikely people - her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi (whose name means 'pleasantness'), together with her husband Elimelech (whose name means 'My God is King') was from Bethlehem - the town which was to become known as the city of (King) David. There was famine in Israel, so Elimelech took his wife and two sons to Moab, where they settled. (It has been suggested that understanding the meaning of the names in the book of Ruth point to the book being an allegory for God's saving grace towards us. Read more here.)

Moab became home.

But then Elimelech - Naomi's strength and protector - died. Naomi was left with her two sons Mahlon and Kilion, whose very names mean sickly and failing or unsuccessful. The sons married: not Hebrew girls, as Naomi might have preferred, but Moabite women.

Perhaps, initially, this was acceptable to Naomi. She was, after all, far from home though there must have been other Hebrew refugees, fleeing from famine. But ten years went by, with no children appearing in either marriage. No grandchildren to gladden Naomi's heart and bring meaning to her widowhood.

Then her sons, living up to their names, took ill and died.

She was alone in a foreign land.

This was now too much for Naomi. Hearing that famine in Israel had ended, she decided to leave and go back home.

Life was not turning out for Naomi as she would have hoped. Losing her husband was bad enough, but now her sons too? Yet she didn't just stay and sink into decline, but made a proactive decision to return to where she came from.

One of many lessons Naomi teaches: not just to stay and wallow in depressing thoughts when disaster and misfortune arrive in life, but to be proactive and return to where I come from. To the place where I have history, connections, where I am known. To return to Jesus, where I can be at home because I am totally known, loved and accepted.

Naomi teaches me courage, too. Because, after only a short while on the journey to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to leave her to go on alone:
 “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!”

She kissed them and they cried openly.

They didn't want to leave her, but she insisted, even though she would be making the journey alone.

"But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.”
Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye;"

But this story is not so much about Naomi, but about Ruth: "but Ruth embraced her and held on."

Ruth's devotion. Ruth's faithfulness. Ruth's love.

"Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.”
But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem."

And then they settled there. The bitter woman and her foreign daughter-in-law - which must, in itself, have been strange: for what girl would not prefer to stay with her own mother?

And so we see Ruth's humility, going out almost as a beggar to gather grain for bread; then expressing humble thanks to Boaz.
And we see the beginning of this romantic love story:
"It so happened that Naomi had a relative by marriage, a man prominent and rich, connected with Elimelech’s family. His name was Boaz.

One day Ruth, the Moabite foreigner, said to Naomi, “I’m going to work; I’m going out to glean among the sheaves, following after some harvester who will treat me kindly.”

Naomi said, “Go ahead, dear daughter.”

And so she set out. She went and started gleaning in a field, following in the wake of the harvesters. Eventually she ended up in the part of the field owned by Boaz, her father-in-law Elimelech’s relative. A little later Boaz came out from Bethlehem, greeting his harvesters, “God be with you!” They replied, “And Godbless you!”

Boaz asked his young servant who was foreman over the farm hands, “Who is this young woman? Where did she come from?”

The foreman said, “Why, that’s the Moabite girl, the one who came with Naomi from the country of Moab. She asked permission. ‘Let me glean,’ she said, ‘and gather among the sheaves following after your harvesters.’ She’s been at it steady ever since, from early morning until now, without so much as a break.”

Then Boaz spoke to Ruth: “Listen, my daughter. From now on don’t go to any other field to glean—stay right here in this one. And stay close to my young women. Watch where they are harvesting and follow them. And don’t worry about a thing; I’ve given orders to my servants not to harass you. When you get thirsty, feel free to go and drink from the water buckets that the servants have filled.”

10 She dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground. “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?”

Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. God reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from God, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.”

She said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness—I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here!”


At the lunch break, Boaz said to her, “Come over here; eat some bread. Dip it in the wine.”

So she joined the harvesters. Boaz passed the roasted grain to her. She ate her fill and even had some left over.

When she got up to go back to work, Boaz ordered his servants: “Let her glean where there’s still plenty of grain on the ground—make it easy for her. Better yet, pull some of the good stuff out and leave it for her to glean. Give her special treatment.”
Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. When she threshed out what she had gathered, she ended up with nearly a full sack of barley! She gathered up her gleanings, went back to town, and showed her mother-in-law the results of her day’s work; she also gave her the leftovers from her lunch.

Naomi asked her, “So where did you glean today? Whose field? God bless whoever it was who took such good care of you!”

Ruth told her mother-in-law, “The man with whom I worked today? His name is Boaz.”
Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!”

Naomi went on, “That man, Ruth, is one of our circle of covenant redeemers, a close relative of ours!”

Ruth the Moabitess said, “Well, listen to this: He also told me, ‘Stick with my workers until my harvesting is finished.’”

Naomi said to Ruth, “That’s wonderful, dear daughter! Do that! You’ll be safe in the company of his young women; no danger now of being raped in some stranger’s field.”

So Ruth did it—she stuck close to Boaz’s young women, gleaning in the fields daily until both the barley and wheat harvesting were finished. And she continued living with her mother-in-law.
 
Did Ruth dream of this kind man, who had offered her protection and looked after her? Did she go gladly to spend those days in back-breaking labour, in the hope of glimpsing her benefactor? Did she secretly study him, memorising his features to treasure inside her heart?
 
One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, “My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor.

“Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.”

Ruth said, “If you say so, I’ll do it, just as you’ve told me.”
She went down to the threshing floor and put her mother-in-law’s plan into action.

And was she glad? Resigned? Needful of a husband - any husband? Was she sure of his heart, because she had seen him watching her when he thought no one was looking, and she knew him for his integrity and compassion? Or was she afraid: afraid of making herself vulnerable, afraid of the shame she risked, afraid of others' scorn and enmity? And, perhaps, even afraid that he would, under the influence of alcohol, betray her trust and take yoof her? A tiny voice inside her which would say: "He's due some payment for his kindness... you are, after all, a widow and no young maiden."

She was a foreigner, a poor widow, subsisting on the generosity of others.

Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage.

In the middle of the night the man was suddenly startled and sat up. Surprise! This woman asleep at his feet!

He said, “And who are you?”
She said, “I am Ruth, your maiden; take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers—you do have the right to marry me.”

He said, “God bless you, my dear daughter! What a splendid expression of love! And when you could have had your pick of any of the young men around. And now, my dear daughter, don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll do all you could want or ask. Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are—a real prize! You’re right, I am a close relative to you, but there is one even closer than I am. So stay the rest of the night. In the morning, if he wants to exercise his customary rights and responsibilities as the closest covenant redeemer, he’ll have his chance; but if he isn’t interested, as God lives, I’ll do it. Now go back to sleep until morning.”

Ruth slept at his feet until dawn, but she got up while it was still dark and wouldn’t be recognized. Then Boaz said to himself, “No one must know that Ruth came to the threshing floor.”

So Boaz said, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and spread it out.”

She spread it out and he poured it full of barley, six measures, and put it on her shoulders. Then she went back to town.

When she came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “And how did things go, my dear daughter?”

Ruth told her everything that the man had done for her, adding, “And he gave me all this barley besides—six quarts! He told me, ‘You can’t go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law!’”

Naomi said, “Sit back and relax, my dear daughter, until we find out how things turn out; that man isn’t going to fool around. Mark my words, he’s going to get everything wrapped up today.”

 

Focus: a digression from Ruth

Reading in Advent about Ruth in the story of Jesus, I stop short at verse 6 in the first chapter.
When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.

Yesterday, I didn't notice that the Lord had ended the famine and blessed his people with food. How often do I neglect to see Him at work in my life and in the lives of others?

Psalm 35 reminds that God does indeed come to our aid against our enemies: against those who wish us harm or gloat over our misfortune.

Keep focused on HIM.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Breakfast in Advent

As I make gingerbread men people, I am reminded of the women whose stories are part of The Big Story. The God Story. The Jesus Story.

I shape hair for the head, and I think of a woman who covered her face so she could not be recognised: Tamar. Tamar, who was Judah's daughter-in-law. Judah, the son of Jacob who had merely sold his brother Joseph into slavery, rather than acquiesce to his killing by the jealous brothers. Tamar, widowed once, rejected by the second brother who should have married her. Tamar, so desperate for children, that she covered her face and disguised herself as a prostitute, enticing her father in law to sleep with her and so ensure that she would not be killed and that her child would be born.
That child was Perez, in Jesus' family tree as a son of Judah.

Are as desperate for God as Tamar was for a child? Are we more desperate for things other than God? How can we do this, when busyness crowds our lives?

The hands of Rahab, letting down a scarlet cord from her window as a sign that she and her household were to be spared by the invading Israelites. Rahab, who risked disgrace, alienation and death to save two foreign men who had visited her brothel. Rahab, who recognised God at work in the Israelites and wanted to be part of that.

How do we recognise God at work? What do we risk, if we 'join in with what God is doing' as Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) has said?

The feet of Boaz, Ruth's husband. Ruth, who risked scorn, humiliation and disgrace to throw herself at a man's feet, tantamount to begging him to marry her. " Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage."

The body of Christ. All working together in unison. "The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything."

And I think of the parts of the body to be careful of. The tongue, which can be so divisive. The eyes, which can be haughty. The hands, which should not lie idle. The feet, ready to take the good news of the Gospel to wherever God wants them to go.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Advent:Being Willing

Rahab and Mary. Willing: Social outcasts. #willingsocialoutcasts

Rahab. Great great grandmother of David. Not a Hebrew, but a foreigner.  Rahab, who became immortalised in the stories of Jewish history for saving the spies who were scoping out Jericho before the attack. "Rahab the prostitute ... was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road." Rahab, who James considered a great example of showing her faith by her actions, as did the author of the book Hebrews: "By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God."

And then, right at the end of the family history - HIS story - we find Mary: "Joseph, the husband of Mary,and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah."

And I think of words I read in Woman Alive magazine recently, in a study by Anne Le Tissier: "We are called to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us, making each day count...consider your mindset, your desires, your deeds, your lifestyle, your use of time, money, talents and resources. Where is your focus, who or what is the treasure of your heart, what is your goal in life, how does your lifestyle compare with Christ's, and what are you doing with the life He gave you?'

What am I doing, indeed? She says: "Whatever our role, if we seek daily to express God's loving care, then we shall be rewarded." 

What did Rahab and Mary do, before they chose obedience to God? Two opposites.  Rahab hardly lived a righteous life - she was a prostitute. But then, as she heard the rumours of this strange nomadic people who were taking the country with supernatural power, she recognised that this power was of God.

This changed her life. Ultimately, saved her life, yet she faced huge dangers before that would happen. She hid two foreign spies at great personal risk to herself and her family; lied; risked alienation and death, then bet her life that this people would indeed, with God's power, invade and defeat the city in which she lived.

And then she had her reward, as she asked: "Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you." And so she - and all her family - were saved from death.

Mary, the opposite. Mary, "Beautiful inside and out!". Mary, who had lived a quiet life, growing up a good girl, about to be married to a good man. Mary, who only needed the news of Elizabeth's unexpected pregnancy to convince her of her own future. Mary, who didn't then doubt God's word.

YET. Yet....with this unexpected pregnancy, Mary faced alienation from her family and community, exile and shame, prostitution her only hope of supporting herself; At worst,, she faced a mob lynching, pelting her with stones until she died. (As Anne Atkins, in December 11th's Thought for the Day says.) 'A woman of extraordinary learning, championing the rights of the poor...' What a role model!

Mary, magnificent in her praises. I never realised she was a prophet, but prophesy is exactly what she and Elizabeth did:
"I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten, (From now on all generations will call me blessed.)
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now."


And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking out as soon as she heard Mary's voice in greeting: "You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!

And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said, BELIEVED EVERY WORD WOULD COME TRUE"

Humble Mary, who accepted shame and disgrace, believing God, in faith.

What did Rahab and Mary have in common? They were both WILLING. Willing to be obedient. Willing to embrace the unexpected. Willing to give up control of their lives, as Whitney talks about so well:

"But God doesn’t call the qualified.
________________________________
I already know it, so why do I so often need reminded? I’m frustrated in my own lack of faith that in the unexpected, God knows better than me. Listen, He always knows better than me.
But Mary.
Mary’s young, trusting hands were unclasped. She wasn’t paralyzed by fear when Gabriel told her she’d give birth to the Messiah. Oh, in human terms, it was shocking, unexpected, surprising, unplanned news to be sure.
But she didn’t hesitate.
She didn’t fall to the ground in a weeping, doubting mess.
She didn’t ask a million questions or raise her voice in anger, and she definitely didn’t fire back with, “Lord I can’t do this.”
No, she accepted her calling and lifted her humble voice in praise – not because she was confident in her abilities – but because she KNEW the One who had called her.
When the unexpected comes, we have two choices: we can either become paralyzed, or we can praise.
But listen, God always, always knows better than me....
Unexpected roads can paralyze, or cause us to praise.
The great thing? You don’t need confidence in your ability to walk your unexpected road well. You just need to KNOW the One who calls you – and then with unclasped hands – place your full confidence in Him.
"God doesn’t call the qualified, but He qualifies the called."
Embracing the unexpected on {The Road to Christmas} sounds a whole lot like this:
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” ~ Luke 1:38
Can you say it?
Father I praise You, because the unexpected road is also a road that leads to unmerited grace. You are worthy… have your way in me."
Giving control of my life over to God. Ah, there's the thing...