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Read 1 John 2:18-24
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV)
The Western world is fixated with the apocalypse aren’t we? We are fascinated with the end of the world, with doom and gloom, with the destruction of all things and the idea of living in a dystopic world. From “The Walking Dead”, to “The Hunger Games,” to “Divergent”, there are tons of apocalyptic, dystopic films and books out on the market. Perhaps such a world is more than just a fixation, but an underlying fear.
There is a lot to be afraid of in today’s world, isn’t there. There are religious extremists, in all religions, who are wreaking havoc on people who don’t believe exactly as they do. There are Deadly viruses killing tens of thousands of people and taking the world by storm. There are dysfunctional governments warring over power and ideologies. Every day there are reports of beheadings, kidnappings, grisly murders, riots, hatred, violent uprisings and much, much more. It seems like at every turn, the world is falling a part at the seams. No wonder the fixation with the end of the world.
And often when we think of the end of the world within the Christianized Western world, we can’t help but imagine that dark forces are aligning against humankind and , often times, those dark forces are embodied by an all-evil entity, envisioned as the “son of Satan”, named the “antichrist.” Yet, the antichrist, as we have come to understand the word, is little more than great fiction based off of a misinterpretation of Scripture. Don’t misunderstand me, as I am NOT saying that the Bible makes no mention of the antichrist. What I AM saying is that the Bible does NOT say the antichrist will be a humanesque demon, named Nicolae Carpathia, who seeks to war with God following a mythical disappearance of millions of God’s neatly dressed holy-rollers.
What the Bible does say about antichrist is that it is a spirit. It is not a spirit of outside forces trying to penetrate the church; rather, it is a spirit that has already penetrated the church and is seeking to destroy the church from within. Whereas the Spirit of God seeks to bring about hope, healing and wholeness, the spirit of antichrist seeks to bring about hopelessness, dis-ease, and disunity. The Spirit of God seeks to love, to encourage, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, to show compassion, to be gentle, to be kind, to be patient, and to be unified in love with God’s creation. The spirit of antichrist seeks to undercut, to undermine, to be proud, to live selfishly, to be wrathful, to seek vengeance, to show ruthlessness, to be divisive and to quell the Spirit and the presence of God.
Antichrist, in short, is exactly as it sounds. It is anything that stands opposed to Christ. Practically speaking, if the way we are acting and living is counter to the teachings and example of Christ, then we are living in the spirit of antichrist. I have seen the church adopt tons of models of how it approaches ministry in the world, everything from the business model, to a political model, to an entertainment model; however, the church is not a buisness, nor is it a political machine, nor is it merely an entertainment agency. The church is Christ’s body, broken and resurrected, filled with the power of God to bring about hope, healing and wholeness.
We all have the potential to get caught up and even derailed by the spirit of antichrist; however, this is a power within you that is greater than any other spirit surrounding you. That very power is from God and it is empowering you to live your life in the Spirit of Christ, in a way that heals others, that builds them up, that invites them to discover their purpose in life, that challenges them to grow, and that shares the unconditional love that God has shared with you. Seek first God’s Kingdom, be filled with God’s Spirit, and live accordingly.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” – Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 5:25
Lord, I seek to live by your Spirit and your Spirit alone. Allow me to not only move beyond negative spirits and influences so that in you I may truly shine and be a blessing to others. Amen.
Read Isaiah 45:1-8
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)
When you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!
I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.
Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.
I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.
What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya
Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.
Read Hebrew 6:11-20
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, NLT)
Just the other day I had an opportunity to stop and see the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ with a group of friends. The building was brilliant and awesome. I am huge fan of gothic architecture and this particular cathedral takes the cake in New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area. Yes, I have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral; however, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands on its own without other buildings taking away from it’s immensity and beauty. The saints and gargoyles guard and protect the building and, standing at it’s base, the building ironically reminds me of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” This place, even on the outside, feels like it would be a sanctuary on the inside.
So, naturally we decided that we would take a walk inside to see its beauty from within; however, as we approached the doors and began to pull on them, we found them to be locked! Bummer. We really, really wanted to see the inside of it…but we were barred from entering. This took me by surprise as every Roman Catholic church I had ever been to had always been open for people to come in, pray, meditate, confess, etc. Yet, these doors were locked and we were not able to enter into the sanctuary within.
When talking with a fellow colleague the following day, I was reminded that the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart was located in Newark, which is a major city that has, whether right or wrong, been known for it’s crime. Now, I am not sure if that is the reason the doors were locked or not, and another colleague pointed out that if we went one of the other side doors and knocked someone would have let us in, but the fact remains that the doors were locked and that was enough to turn us away.
While I am certainly not blaming the cathedral caretakers for locking the doors, I see a powerful metaphor here that can illumine our own lives. According to Paul, our bodies are to be God’s temple. We, as God’s children were created to be sanctuaries. The church, not the buildings but the people of Christ, was called to be a sanctuary of hope, healing and wholeness for all who seek refuge; however, often times, the church finds itself weathered and beaten. We find ourselves being reshaped by the experiences of the world that surround us in our daily lives and, as a result, we become more like a locked fortress than an open sanctuary.
What’s important to stress here is that the church is not called to be a fortress; rather, the church (meaning the people of Christ) are called to be living and breathing sanctuaries. We are called to be open. If we look at the aforementioned hymn by Martin Luther, we will notice that GOD is our fortress. GOD strengthens and fortifies our hearts so that they won’t be changed by the weathering and beating that the storms of the world so often cause in us. The fact of the matter is that if we have become fortresses on the outside, it is because the world has hardened us on the inside.
We are called to be LOVE on the inside. If we have faith in God, if we trust in God to be our fortress, then we have nothing to fear in remaining open as a sanctuary for others. God will not abandon us and God will protect us from the weathering that tends to lock us up into stone fortresses. All we need to do is remain open to God, who will lead us to be open sanctuaries for all who are weary and heavy laden. Have faith in God and be the sanctuary you have been called to be.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus of Nazareth, (Matthew 11:28 NLT)
Lord, re-enter into my life and secure me in your love. Give me the peace and the foresight to open myself to others in the same way that you have opened yourself up to me. Amen.
Read Matthew 22:34-40
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)
When it comes to how Christians should treat each other regarding theological and doctrinal differences, there is a seventeenth century quote that says, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity (meaning love).” Yet, it seems as if that is much easier said than done in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. People tend to invest themselves in their religions, and they identify themselves by their beliefs, and so doctrines and theologies become awfully personal.
As such, attacks against one’s beliefs often ends up getting translated as an attack against oneself. I have, no doubt, been both on the receiving and the giving ends of those attacks. If we are honest, most of us have been. Sometimes when one questions someone’s beliefs, he or she is not meaning to “attack” at all; however, it gets interpreted that way because of the personal nature of faith. Yet, there are many times that one just vehemently disagrees with the beliefs of another, often feeling that their beliefs are threatened the opposing beliefs of another, and so they react in ways that are both spiritually damaging and ungodly.
Sometimes it isn’t even beliefs that called into question, but personal practices or forms of expression. For instance, I have been questioned before because I have eight tattoos. I have been asked, “What would Jesus think of you having those tattoos? Surely, you must know that Jesus was a good Jewish boy and he would not have condoned your marking your body up like that.” What does one say to such a comment? It is true that Jesus would not have been down at the tattoo parlor getting WWJD and fish symbols tattooed to his body; however, it is also true that Jesus wouldn’t have been eating shrimp. He wouldn’t have eaten pork. He wouldn’t be wearing clothing with mixed fibers (e.g. shirts made with cotton and polyester). Yet, the majority of Christians have no problem eating and wearing such things.
Of course, I could go on quoting Jesus on what defiles a person, or perhaps quoting Paul on how Christians are free to do all things in Christ, though not all things are beneficial. But that is beyond the point. How do we, as people of faith, live into the quote above? First off, what are the essentials? It seems that there are no groups of Christians that can agree on just what the essentials are. One group will hold the Apostles Creed as the essentials; however, other groups might dispute one or more of the Apostle’s Creed as essential. What’s more, even if they accept the Apostle’s Creed as essential, they might interpret its parts differently than others, leading to conflict. If people can’t agree on what is essential, then it is impossible to move beyond to what is non-essential.
Where is charity in all of this? Where is love? Thankfully for us Christians, Jesus answered what is MOST important for all people of faith, and I will extend this decree to all people of faith…and not just Christians. What is most important, what is essential, is this: that you LOVE God with all of your being, and that you LOVE your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, those two commands summed up all of the laws of Judaism and were what was essential to that religion. As such, that is what is essential for Christians as well, and be hard pressed not to see that as essential for all people, regardless of faith. If we all were more unified in our LOVE of God, as opposed to our LOVE of OUR IDEA OF GOD, and if we were all unified in our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR, then we would find out that the non-essentials would fade away and that CHARITY would rule the day. This is what we, as beings created in the image of God, are called to do…to LOVE and to never cease in that LOVE.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Paul of Tarsus, (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Lord, give me the grace to be graceful and give me peace enough in my own beliefs so that I do not feel threatened by the beliefs of others. In you, I am secure. Fill me with your love so that I may, in turn, love others. Amen.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)
Have you ever had one of those days where you take two steps forward only to feel like you are still ten steps behind? Have you ever had one of those weeks where absolutely nothing seems to be going your way? Have you ever had one of those years where you feel like the stars, the planets and perhaps even God seem aligned against you? Have you ever sat and asked the question “why me?” Or, have you ever exclaimed in frustration, “I can’t stand this life!”
Whether you admit to it or not, these feelings and under-the-breath questions and exclamations are common to the human experience. Often times, it is very hard for us to see beyond the situations we are in. When caught in stressful moments, or in the midst of life’s trials, it is very hard for human beings to see anything but the small picture. We are caught in the moment, as it were, and the bigger picture often escapes us. It is in moments like these that we literally begin to make a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill. It is also in moments like these that we are in need of just a little perspective.
As a minister I have seen some people go through pretty tough circumstances. Many of these people have witnessed to me with their faith, in spite of their circumstances. These people went through things I couldn’t even wish on my enemies, and yet they were the last to complain about their circumstances. I have seen veterans who have lost limbs and nearly their lives, who have suffered through homelessness and other terrible situations, striving to find ways to help other vets so that they don’t have to go through the same things. I have seen people who are terminally ill, worrying about others who are suffering over and above the things that they, themselves, are going through. I have seen people who are suffer from debilitating diseases giving thanks for all that they have. In India I saw young and impoverished children, infected with HIV/AIDS, dancing with joy over being visited by us at their orphanage.
On the flip side, I have seen people who are relatively well off complain over the slightest things. I have seen people who have been given so much complain about having so little. I have seen people take their lives and the blessings in their lives for granted. I have seen people who have been given so much in life feel entitled to for that much more. I have seen people who have everything in the world to be happy about walking around completely miserable about everything.
What I have come to understand is that we all have been blessed with the lives we have, whether we realize it or not. Being blessed in life does not mean that everything will go as I wish it to. It does not mean that I will never have bad days or that things will ALWAYS go easy. In fact, how blessed would I really be if I never had to work hard for anything? The fact of the matter is that we are alive…and that is a blessing.
This is not to guilt anyone for feeling lost in their situations; rather, this is being written as a hope-filled reminder that no matter how bad things may be, and no matter how bad we may think things to be, we have a lot to be thankful for. Let us become a people witness to the blessing of LIFE that we all have been given. Let us be a people who are thankful for whatever we have, whether it is little or plenty! Let us be a people who realize that we are blessed so that we may become a blessing and, then, let us become that blessing for others.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Natalie A. Sleeth
Lord, help me to have perspective in the midst of my trials so that I may find joy even when I am not happy, and feel blessed even when I cannot see any blessing. More importantly, use me in a way that is a blessing to others, for then I will truly be blessed. Amen.
Read Isaiah 55:8-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” (1 Corinthians 8:2)
We live in a world that often only sees in black and white. Things are either right or wrong, good or evil, bad or good, up or down, this way or that and there is no possibility for anything else in between. People who think this way often fear that if you start giving leeway in allowing for more possibilities, or allowing for people to interpret things differently, you start to head down a “slippery slope” toward the pit of destruction.
For example, since the publication of his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell has been branded a heretic by people who disagree with his propensity to question Christian dogma in order to shed light a deeper and more profound truth. The book “Love Wins” happened to question the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell, or at least the doctrine as it has been understood in the last 2-3 centuries. Much of the criticism against him was launched before the book was even published. All that his critics had to go on (as they obviously hadn’t read it yet) was the title of his book and a short video trailer that featured Rob asking questions such as, “Will only a select few make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And, if that’s the case how do you become one of the few?”
In the video, he points to the fact that many have been taught that the central point of the Gospel message is that God will send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus, who came to save you from God’s wrath. “But what does that say about God,” Rob Bell asks? “What that ends up implying is that Jesus has come to rescue us from God.” The video goes on to ask even more questions, with the hope of sparking a desire in the viewer to refelct on these questions, on heaven, on hell, and on “the fate of every human being to have ever lived.” As his book title suggests, and if you haven’t read it…I highly recommend it, in the end, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), and love wins!
People really got in a frenzy over this book. Christian book stores started to ban Rob Bell’s books from their shelves, some Christians started to refute the claims that they hadn’t actually read, but assumed were in his book. Franklin Graham went on cable news and called Rob Bell a heretic for not believing in hell, despite the fact that Rob’s book never denied hell as much as re-framed it. Rob’s critics stated that his questions would open up the proverbial can of worms and lead many people away from Christ. The problem is that slippery slope arguments are not logical. It does not follow that by asking questions one will necessarily LEAD people away from Christ. In fact, the fervor over the book actually drew more attention to the book, to the doctrines of heaven and hell, and to the teachings of Christ, as well as to Christianity; it seems that the book helped draw more people to at least stop, pause and theologically reflect on some pretty big theological questions. What’s the harm in that? What’s the harm in trying to point people to the LOVE, as opposed to the WRATH, of God?
Today’s challenge is two-fold. First, do not allow yourself to get caught up in fear. Unchecked fear is paralytic and keeps us from moving forward from where we are to where God wants us to be. Second, don’t get caught up in the slippery slope. There are more than one way to look at things, and not everything is black and white. There is a lot of gray in the world, and whole spectrum of colors beyond that. Open your eyes to the beauty of God’s world and allow all of the possibilities to be presented before you jump to conclusions. Remember that God’s grace is wide and far-reaching, it calls to all people, and no fear in the world will ever change that.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.” – Socrates (found in Plato’s Apology)
Lord, humble to realize that I do not know it all, and allow me to avoid the slippery slope of thinking I do. In you all things are possible. Amen.
Read Mark 13:1-13,
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)
I just recently saw the new film, “Left Behind”, starring Nicholas Cage, which was based off of the book series of the same name. Very loosely modeled off of the book of Revelation, they envision what the end times will look like as it is supposedly “reported” in scripture. In actuality, the Left Behind series takes many liberties and it cross-references many other books in the Bible as if they were either written by the same author or, at least, with the same events in mind. What’s more, it naturally reads a whole lot between the lines in order to formulate what the authors believe will happen based off of their reading and/or interpretation of Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Thessalonians, select passages from the Gospels, 1 Corinthians, and other passages in correlation with modern-day events.
While these novels make for thought-provoking speculation, if not just good fiction, many people have made it their purpose in life to try and scry when these things will take place, let alone how they will take place. Aside from just the novels, there are tons of other books predicting the world’s end and how it will come about. There have been Christian radio show hosts, television personalities and others who have all bought into this notion that this world is coming to an end, and have seen to it to warn people that they had better wake up before Jesus comes to takes the faithful and leave the rest behind.
Of course, what has always struck me as rather funny is the fact that Jesus only talked about such things when he was pressed to, and he always began and/or ended those discussions with the warning that “no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Certainly, the end times were not the focal point of his ministry as much as it was the focal point of his followers’ concerns. He recognized his disciples’ concerns, he let them know that indeed God was active in the world and would eventually bring justice justice to the world; however, he also told them the futile nature of being caught up of wondering where and when, as opposed to taking an active role in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth here and now.
It is very easy to turn on the news and to see the world around us burning in flames. It is easy to be like smoke rising up off of those flames and to get caught up in the heat of the moment, wondering when and where God is going to stop the injustice in the world. With that said, what are we doing to act against the injustice of the world? We are not called to be stagnant, or to be paralyzed in fear of what lies ahead. Also, Jesus never, ever used the end times as a means of frightening people to convert to his way of thinking! Rather, his end times message was always directed at his disciples in order to spark them into active participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. It saddens me when I see Christians using fear tactics as a way of spreading a “good news” that sound a lot more horrific than it does “good”.
We, as God’s creation, are being called to take an active role in the coming of God’s Kingdom…which IS GOOD NEWS! After all, with God’s Kingdom comes hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary, healing for the sick, shelter for the homeless, love for the unloved and abandoned, acceptance for the rejected and wholeness for all who find themselves in need! Let us not leave behind our call to be there for the “least of these”, while getting raptured by our fantastic re-imagining of the world’s demise. We are called to be a part of God’s Kingdom by living as Christ lived and loving as Christ loved. We are called to make that our focal point, leaving the rest to God and God’s timing. What’s more, if we live that call out in our lives, we will be far too busy to worry about things that, in the end, only serve our fearful curiosity and nothing more. I pray that all that gets left behind is our complacency to the live out the TRUE message of the Gospel. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 13:35-37)
Lord, help me to be leave behind my complacency and to pick up the truth of your Good News for all people. Amen.
Read Ruth 4:13-17
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” (Mat 1:17)
Do you know Ruth? Some people might be saying, “sure, I know a ‘Ruth’ or two.” So, I will ask this question again, do you you know Ruth? I am not referring to someone you might know with the name “Ruth” who may or may not be among your family, friends, and/or neighbors; however, I am referring to the Biblical character of Ruth, who happens to have her own book in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, out of all of the books that bear a person’s name throughout all of the Bible, Ruth is just one of two books bearing the name of a woman. What’s more, Ruth wasn’t even a Hebrew by birth; rather, she was a Moabite. In fact, the author of Ruth reminds us that she is a Moabite seven times, and that she was from the land of Moab (in other words, she’s a Moabite) four times; that’s a total of eleven times within four short chapters, which is the length of this small, yet important, book.
Now let me ask, how many of you know Moabite when you see one? The fact is that Moab was a kingdom that existed in what is now modern-day Jordan. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh and would, as was customary for the time and geographical location, often offer human sacrifices to their god. This kingdom also found itself at odds with the Kingdom of Israel, which eventually split into the kingdoms of Israel (in the North) and Judah (in the South) following the reign of Solomon. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the Israelites, Solomon had built a temple to Chemosh to help promote trade between the two kingdoms. That may have been a wise political move, but it did not sit well with the devout followers of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.
So, Ruth was from a Kingdom that the Israelites detested; yet, there we see her not only prominently displayed in Hebrew religious literature, but also prominently revered in Hebrew history. As it turns out, this Moabite woman named Ruth ended up marrying a Hebrew man named Boaz (read the book of Ruth for the full story) and bearing him a son named Obed. From there we find out that Obed was the father of Jesse who, in turn, was the father of David. Yes, as in King David…arguably the greatest King that Israel ever had. What an odd, odd story. What kind of people attest to their King being born of a woman who was not even one of their own? And don’t forget the ancient Mosaic law that forbid the Israelites from marrying outside of the Hebrew gene pool for fear that the they would forget their covenantal relationship with God (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). Yet, here is Ruth, a convert to Judaism from Moab (the enemy of Israel), shown to be the mother of Israel’s greatest King…and the ancestor of, if we believe the Gospel recording of lineage, Jesus of Nazareth.
The power of this story is that it reminds us that GOD does not choose sides, or favor one people over the other. It does not matter who we are, what religion we do or don’t claim to follow, or anything else we humans choose to be divided over, God is the LORD of us all. And God will choose ANYONE who is open to the call to LOVE GOD with all of our being and to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR as ourselves.
That is what the LORD requires of all creation…LOVE. Ruth was filled with LOVE. She LOVED GOD, she LOVED HER NEIGHBORS, she even LOVED HER ENEMIES, and God blessed her for it. And, as with all people who have been truly blessed, Ruth BECAME A BLESSING to and entire kingdom of people, and went on to be a BLESSING to many throughout the whole world through the followers of her descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. I pray that you, too, will open yourself up to GOD, who is the ULTIMATE REALITY, just as this remarkable Ruth did so many years ago!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” – Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17)
LORD, build up in me the faith of Ruth that I may boldly go where you lead me and boldly love everyone, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
I have written a bit about the importance of developing spiritual discipline in our lives as a people of faith. A great spiritual practice to get into is to read the Bible. Today many people take the Bible granted as something that’s there if they need it, but not to be bothered with otherwise. But that is a luxury only this modern Western world really affords. For many, throughout history, the Bible was something that the common person was not permitted read and, even if they were, they weren’t literate enough to read the Bible anyway. Many people gave up their lives to ensure that EVERYONE could read the Bible for themselves, and many have given their lives, and still are, to ensure that people have equal opportunity in education.
But history aside, many people in today’s age do not read the Bible and, for those that do, many do not even know where to begin. Should they start in Genesis and read through Revelation? Should they just randomly open up the Bible and read the first thing they come to? What should they read first and in what order should they read the Bible? The truth is that there is no right or wrong way to read the Bible. It is not a book that is compiled in the order that the books were written and the books don’t always follow chronological order in terms of connecting stories from previous books with the stories they are telling. Thus reading the Bible from front to back is not the only way to read the Bible and, in fact, it probably isn’t even the best way to read it.
What complicates things even more is that the Bible was not written in a vacuum; rather, it was written in a specific time, place and context. Thus, reading the Bible goes beyond just reading the words, but digging deep into the historical, socio-economic, and political contexts of the times the texts were written. It is also important to note that the Bible was not written by just one person, but that the Bible is actually a collection of books written by different people, and those books often have many more than just one author. In other words, behind a lot of the books in the Bible are narratives, histories, poems, songs, wisdom teachings, prophetic writings, and theologies written by many different people pulling from different sources that span over the course of thousands of years.
This is not to scare you off from reading the Bible, but is an invitation to more than JUST reading the Bible. It is an opportunity to do some time travel, to take a journey back into worlds and worldviews that are foreign to us. The Bible is actually a world full of adventure awaiting for you to unlock and unleash its mysteries. If you can take off your twenty-first century glasses off and put yourself, to the best of your abilities, the shoes of the people writing the texts, you will be awakened to a whole new world (thank you Aladdin) of opportunity when it comes to understanding who God was to the ancients. Once you have that understanding, you can then pull that understanding into our own time and context and make it real for us today. Of course, not every word or edict will be applicable to your life, but the basic spirit behind ever word in the Bible will come to life in you, and you will be writing your own chapter (figuratively speaking) by living your faith out today.
So, read the Bible! You’ll be amazed at how alive the texts become when you begin to engage them from all angles. There’s a reason why the Bible has been referred to as THE LIVING WORD…because it is rich with context and deep in meaning. It points to a people who are foreign to us and yet similar to us at the same time. It points to us, and it calls us to live a life devoted to our timeless God who created us all, ancient or not. Read the Bible, you won’t regret it. If you are looking for a place to start, try the Gospels. They will be the topic of the next devotion.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.” – Harper Lee
“Lord, spark in me a desire to engage the Bible with humility and in a way that not only gives me understanding of your people in the past, but also transforms who I am in the present. Amen.