When it mattered …

The Book of Ruth is simple, beautiful, and a deep lesson for us today. Throughout this short book, faith is demonstrated in loving-obedience: Ruth to Naomi, Naomi to Ruth, Boaz to his kinsman, Boaz to Ruth, and all to the Lord.

Hear Ruth, the Moabitess, as she pleads with Naomi:

“Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you stay, I will stay; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do to me, and more, if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Death and poverty prompt Naomi to leave Moab, and return to Bethlehem; to the ancestral inheritance of her family. In poverty, she tries to send her daughters-in-law away. Orpah reluctantly returns to her home. Ruth stays with Naomi.

Unfolding during the time of the Judges, when Israel is yet maturing as His covenant people, Ruth, as biblical literature and history, is beautiful.

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem with nothing. The family land is yet unredeemed. Ruth must go to the fields of surrounding landowners and glean from the harvest. By the Torah, this is permissible as a means of support and dignity for the poor; but in that era, not necessarily practiced. Ruth would have to rely on covenant-kindness, for her as a stranger, and Naomi as a poor Israelite; but also, the faithfulness of a yet unknown landowner.

The Torah commands:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).

There are many such commands regarding kindness in faith shown to the poor, the stranger, the widow and orphan in God’s economy. Kindness that ensures life, and human dignity.

Ruth finds her way to the fields of Boaz, a kinsman redeemer of Naomi’s family. Most of you know the story of the events from that point: Boaz directs his laborers to show kindness to Ruth, not chasing her away, but leaving sheaves of grain for her to find; ultimately leading to Boaz redeeming Naomi’s family inheritance, and his marriage to Ruth.

Faith-obedience, expressed as loving-kindness is the underlying message of this precious book. Naomi shows kindness to Orpah and Ruth by releasing them from any obligation to her. Ruth shows kindness by clinging to Naomi, then going out into the unknown to glean from the harvest.

But it is the kindness of Boaz that is our focus. He allows Ruth to glean, ensuring her safety. And ultimately he redeems Naomi’s family inheritance, lifting them from poverty. He could have gone the way of his generation, even the unnamed “so and so” (פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי) who was a closer redeemer (Ruth 4:1), and refuse to redeem the land and family, but he did not do so.

Still the concluding blessing for all started with the kindness in the field, see Leviticus 19:9-10 above.

The series of events that followed brought forth family: Obed, to Jesse, to King David, and generations later Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. Hallelujah!

We also live in an age where everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, not necessarily feeling an obligation to anyone but self. Laying aside what is right, for what is expedient, and the holy for the accessible.

When it mattered, Boaz did the right action in faith-obedience to the Lord. It was a command of kindness, that in the immediate sense caused Boaz loss, but ultimately, blessing to him and gain for the world.

In the moment of need, we will not know the end result of kindness shown. Yet, we are directed to the act nonetheless. The kindness itself is the blessing, and right action in faith-obedience to Him sets us in the way He has ordained.

In faith, obedience to His Word, even when uncomfortable, will keep us in the way He has prepared, and bring us to the place He has prepared for us (Jn. 14:3).

Our Kinsman redeemer, Yeshua, has shown us extraordinary kindness; and in His example, He has called us and prepare us to walk (Matt. 4:19; 5:44-48). Amen.

Be well. Shalom.

Stop Theologizing, and Start Healing.

It is amazing how something so small can stick with you. In John 9:1-7, Yeshua/Jesus heals a man born blind. Many years ago I read one translation of these verses, and something so small informed, not only my understanding of the verse, but how I applied it to my life, without even realizing it.

“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (Jn. 9:3 KJV).

Bible translations are necessary, and in many cases, honest representations of how the interpreters read the underlying original texts. In the absence of punctuation, it is the preference of the translators as to how verses should be punctuated, and in many cases it is obvious from the original text.

Two little dots, not incorrect, but a poor choice in John 9:3, dramatically effected how I viewed my own circumstances, and pain. The colon between “parents: but …”

In English, a colon precedes: a list, a quoted sentence, or, in my understanding of John 9:3, an explanation.

How did a colon inform my understand of this verse: the disciples wanted to know why he was blind, his sin or that of his parents; Jesus says neither (:) “but that the works of God might be manifest in him,” meaning God caused the man to be born blind in order for Jesus to heal him when he passed by. This is an entirely different subject for another time.

That was my understanding.

If I was translating this verse, for clarity, I would, and my linguist friends will probably disagree, render it: “Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

“Neither of them sinned.” Not that they were without sin, but a past sin in his parents life was not the cause of his blindness. “Neither …” .

Continuing: “But that the works of God might be brought to light in him, I must work the works of him that sent me (Jn. 9:3-4). Changing the period between verses 3 and 4 to a comma also helps to inform the purpose of the miracle.

For many years I would theologize my circumstance, pain, suffering, sadness, whatever it might be. Rather than addressing the pain, I would apply theology to it looking for an answer, often leading to an attempted “works based remedy,” usually by burying it.

Rather than seeing the pain for what it was, I turned in on myself. Not healthy. Millions of questions resulted; and I usually beat myself up even more, compounding the agony, and walking in the shame of blame.

What I had experienced was placed under the microscope; and a series of, “If I only did … perhaps this … it’s my fault … I’m always … it’s never … “ And on, and on, and on. Humans are good at inflicting pain, both physical or emotional. We still need work in the healing department.

Grief, pain and wounds, it seems, are often the price of love. But that does not mean that the love was in vain, rather, that we will share in His sufferings as others work out their salvation. This is not an excuse for the pain inflicted, but a recognizing of the grace at work, and the grace is this: we need not carry the shame for the actions of others towards us. And, we need not suffer in it.

Still, we must be careful to not theologize pain. Don’t overthink it. Get to healing it however the Lord ordains the healing.

Deal with the pain. Get to the healing. Tend to the need. Then we will see: “the works of God made manifest in him.” Hallelujah!

As you read the opening of John 9, it’s not the disciples who see the man, it was Yeshua. Once He set His eyes on him, the disciples noticed. Rather than tending to a need, they wanted to have a theological discussion: the why’s. In a classroom it’s one thing, but with pain before you, it’s something entirely different.

Jesus got healing, helping and restoring.

Perhaps this is part of the mind of Christ we are to have? To see the human other in their circumstance, or to see ourselves as He sees us. More healing, helping and restoring; and less theologizing.

As a colleague of mine has reminded me too many times to recount: hurt people, hurt people. There is no need to apply theology to that, the hurt itself is what needs attention. After the healing or recovery process has begun, then we can discuss particulars.

The life of faith in Messiah is not a guarantee of circumstantial well-being, as Messiah said, “In this world you will have troubles” (Jn. 16:33). The trouble might be the result of a fallen world manifest in disease, or the fallen character of man.

In every circumstance, rather than theologizing the pain, stand on this: “but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In the circumstance, have faith that He sees you. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He saw the blind man, He sees you. Disciples will ask questions. Sheep will bite. The Savior will bend down, reach out, and get to the rescuing.

I know someone else needs to receive this, glory to God, I pray: that “the works of God be made manifest” in you today.

Be well. Shabbat Shalom.

A Donkey, an Ox, and the Bridge.

(An article anticipating ordinary life circumstances.)

Messiah Yeshua/Jesus taught, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45; cf. Lev. 19:18).

Messiah is referencing, not the Torah, but a folk teaching informed by human wisdom and experience. Yeshua, however, corrects this: “you have heard … but I tell you …”

Is it really so easy? Simply, that depends; but many of us would say, no, it’s not so simple.

As we approach all people, we need to remember that they too, no matter our differences with them, are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We must approach them in faith, remembering the fallen nature of humanity, and that, at times, struggles we have with others may be used by the Lord to humble us, drawing us closer to Him.

Yeshua, further in Matthew 5:45, references what is called common grace, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Common grace provides for, and safeguards life. Here we find how we can begin to “love your enemies.”

The bridge.

“If you find your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you must surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of the one that hates you lying down under its burden, do not leave it. Rather, you are to release it with him” (Ex. 23:4-5).

The above is the biblical origin of “love your enemies.” Returning the lost animal to your enemy would likely preserve his life and that of his family; and keep them from potentially slipping into poverty. Helping him to unburden his animal brings two separated, oppositional parties together.

The Lord does not just tell us to “love your enemies because I said so!” He directs us to see their humanity, their life, and their value.

Yeshua references the provision and care of the Father to the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous: safeguarding life. The Torah earlier instructs us to see them, our enemy or the one who hates us, in their fragility. As Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

The act of love, by common grace described above, is the act of building a bridge, a גֶּשֶׁר/gesher in Hebrew, in faith strong enough to hold you and your enemy, the proverbial bridge over troubled waters.

In faith, He is the bridge. He is strong enough. His Word is able. Can you see Him in the life of your enemy, or those hating you?

It may not be an ox or a donkey that necessitates the interaction today, but any number of circumstances, tragic or simply inconvenient, may be the mitigating factor that brings you together.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Be well. Shalom.

WHACK!

Have you ever been whacked by something…or someone? I’m sure it has happened. It is unpleasant. Yet, it gets our attention.

Whack!

When chosen by God, it seems that we get whacked by circumstance(s). Messiah said, “In this world you will have trouble/tribulation, but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (Jn. 16:33).

In this world we will have “thlipsis”: pressure, troubles, pressing, tribulation. In ancient medical texts, thlipsis was the pressure producing the pulse: the blood “pressure.” It is the squeezing, the emotional weight of circumstance pressing upon us. It’s from a root meaning “to break.”

And in some court cases, thlipsis was applied to those “needing” to confess by setting enormous weight on the chest, often leading to their death … by crushing! … broken they were indeed.

Whack!

Our English word tribulation is derived from the Latin tribulum. In Roman times the tribulum was an instrument used to whack wheat in order to separate the grain from the husks. The tribulum was an instrument of separation: the good from the junk, so to speak.

The “whacking” or tribulum, is a vision of the threshing floor. The place of separation, and gathering. The sorrows, anger, bitterness, sinful inclination, fear, apathy, whatever is not of godliness is removed by those times of tribulum, or tribulation of the inner and outer man (Heb. 12:6). The good of the reformation by His hand is then conformed more to the image of Messiah (Ro. 8:29).

Paul encourages us: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Ro. 5:1-5).

James echos this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4).

Whack! Then rejoice!

The entire first epistle of Peter is addressed to those enduring the whacking of reformation, the tribulum, or thlipsis; and Peter rests his case on chosenness in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.

Yet we endure: by His grace; His mercy; His love. The whacking is preparation. Preparation to endure, to minister, to praise, and rest in Him.

“The whack” removes the junk, reveals the treasure, and continually reminds us that Messiah has already “overcome the world.” So in that, we take heart, knowing that the whacking, even from the hand of the enemy, is being worked together by our loving Father, for our good (Ro. 8:28), to His glory through us.

Be well. Shalom.