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Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Is Heaven Like?




What Is Heaven Like?

 

The pictures in our minds of what heaven will be like are perhaps of mansions on golden streets and angels floating around on clouds playing harps.  And St. Peter sitting there at the gate of heaven like a bouncer, letting some people in and keeping others out.  Let’s face it; since all we have ever experienced is life in this imperfect world, our ideas of a very different realm - heaven - are a bit obscure and hazy.

 

 St. Paul writes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now we know in part, but then we shall know just as we also are known.”  (1 Corinthians 13:12)   And Scripture also says: “No eye has seen, or ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  (1 Corinthians 2:9)  In other words, we have no idea what heaven is like?  We will just have to wait and be surprised!

 

We listen to what the Bible says about heaven and it all sounds too good to be true! Scripture says that God will create a new heaven and a new earth.  Everything will be made new. God will live with us and He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or crying or pain since the old order of things has passed away.  And we will drink from the spring of the water of life.  (Revelations 21:3-4, 6)  How will the water of life taste? 

 

Isaiah writes “the nations will stream to Jerusalem, and God will settle disputes for many peoples”: ..  God will teach His ways and everyone will walk in His paths…. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. (That probably goes for guns too: no more guns!)   Nations shall not use weapons against other nations. Neither shall they learn war anymore.  ” (Isaiah 2:3-4)  

 

Scripture mentions that all the people will be given grain and fruit and crops and new hearts and new spirits.  (Ezekiel 36)  The desert will bloom and new wine will drip from the mountains.  (Amos 9)  Everyone will love everyone and there will finally be peace on this new restored earth!

 

Scripture tells us that the Day is coming when God will finally say:  “Enough!” and “No More!”  Some things simply will not survive in the new heaven and the new earth!  Enough to oppressors who take advantage of the vulnerable and enough to guns and swords and weapons.  Enough to corporations more interested in profits than people and enough to killing (no more hunting) and greed and rape and injustice.  No more pride or exploitation or bullying or gossiping.  And no more prejudice or hate or rude behavior or holding grudges.  Only God’s will is done in this new heaven and earth. 

 

It is very comforting to hear that there will be no death or sickness or gossip or prejudices in heaven.  But can we handle it – Can we handle heaven?  If our hearts were not transformed could we perhaps gossip or bring our prejudices into heaven and mess up this perfect paradise?  We could, but God will not allow that to happen!  He will judge us, change us and we will finally be sinless. There will be a judgment for each of us– and even flames in heaven!!

 

Flames in heaven?  Did we get that wrong?  Aren’t the flames only supposed to be in hell?  This judgment will “bring everything to light” and “reveal it with fire,” the kind of fire that will “test the quality of each person’s work.”  So it seems that the work we did while we were on earth will be tested!  Jesus Christ should be the foundation for all of our life work. Through this testing by fire some folks will find that they spent their life working for things that had no substance – (that were not built on Christ) and their work will be shown to be worthless (and burned up!) “If it is burned up,” Paul says, “the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved, even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 

 

Let’s read the Scripture about how our life and our work will be judged by flames!  “Each one should be careful how he/she builds. (How you work and live out your life)   For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any person builds on this foundation (Jesus) … their work will stand, because the Day (judgment) will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what a person has built survives, that person will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the person will suffer loss: but the person will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  (1 Corinthians 3:13-16) 

 

Scripture also says: “Just as a person is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many: and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”  (Hebrews 9:27-28)  After death we will face judgment but Christ after His death will appear bringing salvation from sin and its judgment.  Even if a believer in Christ has wasted his life and has done no good deeds at all, this person will be saved because of Christ, “but only as one escaping through the flames.”  (1 Cor. 3:16)

 

Not only will we not sin in heaven but we will receive new bodies that will never get sick or die.  “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it will be raised imperishable:  It is sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory:  It is sown in weakness, it will be raised in power, It is sown a natural body, it will be raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” ( 1 Corinthians 15:42-44)   “Death has been swallowed up in victory…. Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:54b, 57) 

 

Everywhere we look in heaven there will be victory!  Over the top jubilation!  Victory over every problem and every trouble!  Shouts of love and joy and praise everywhere!  Justice and mercy entwined! The mysterious Tree of Life with leaves for the healing of the nations. Saints from all the ages – all together as family. Face to face with Christ our Savior! We will serve Him and “reign with Him” (Rev.20)  Actively participate in working with Him in His new kingdom.  Heaven - Words can never describe it all! Heaven –better than anything you or I could ever imagine!       

 

     

 

Some ideas were taken from Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, Chapter 2 “Here Is The New There” p.21-62.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

God Calls Us to Work for the Common Good



God Calls Us to Work for the Common Good

 

 

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, He answered that first we should love God with everything we have and secondly we should love our neighbor as our self. (Deuteronomy 6:5: Leviticus 19:18: Luke 10:27)  We live in a selfish age and Jesus is calling us to a different way of life, a new way of living. He is asking us to look out for one another!

He tells us that if we love Him we are to “feed His sheep.”  He tells us a parable about a “lost” sheep that the Shepherd searches for all night until he finds it. (John 21:15-17)  Shouldn’t we, His followers, also care enough to search all night if needs be for His lost sheep?  Jesus calls us out of just loving ourselves and into loving others.  He is calling us to a life of love and service.

Christian conversion is more than just getting a ticket to heaven. God calls us to a relationship (with Christ) that changes all our other relationships, and especially our relationship with the vulnerable.  Jesus cared for the poor and the sick and we are to follow in His footsteps. We are to volunteer, give of our resources and reach out and follow the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  (Luke 6:31)

In Matthew 25:31-46 Christ sets down the principles by which people will be judged.  God will judge us by our treatment of those who are hungry, homeless, poor, diseased, and imprisoned.  Social concern cannot biblically be divorced from the Christian walk.  As people of faith, we are to rise above political ideology and lead on moral grounds. 

Jesus says: “I was hungry and you gave Me food: thirsty and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: Naked and you clothed Me, sick and you visited Me: I was in prison and you came to Me:  …And the righteous will answer Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?...And the Jesus will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.’”. (Matthew 25:35-37, 40) The Bible is saying that what we do for vulnerable people, we are doing for Jesus!

John Steinbeck was a famous American writer (1930s-1950s) who cared deeply about the troubles of the working poor and wanted a better life for them. He wrote more than fifty books, some of which described the plight of many in the U.S. working class at that time. His books often graphically illustrated how the powerless workers were being oppressed and cheated by their greedy employers. Steinbeck was trying to paint a picture of these working poor and help his readers see them as valuable human beings.  

When the terrible dust storms occurred in the 1930’s, the farming communities in areas of Oklahoma and surrounding states lost everything and many good men, women and children starved to death.  Many who lived in the “dust bowl” in desperation packed up and moved to California hoping to find work so they could feed their families.  California, the sunshine state was known to have an abundance of food.  

But alas, many Californians did not want these poor families moving in. The poor and the powerless were held in disregard in that day just as they are today.  In many communities the police arrested the poorest newcomers who had no visible means of support and put them in jail for being “vagrant”.  It was as if being poor was a crime!  Ugly signs were posted at the border and in shop windows and along the streets telling these destitute newcomers from Oklahoma and Arkansas to go home. And many new arrivals starved to death before they could find work in California while the people living around them didn’t care and looked the other way.      

A large group of wealthy businessmen opposed these powerless “Okies” from Oklahoma and surrounding states.  These folk might use up resources that should be going to them.  Many of these poor newcomers didn’t dress well and acted like hillbillies so they were insulted and made fun of.  They were labeled as “undesirables,” takers”, “no good” “lazy” and the “other”.

 Some of the wealthy feared that the government might raise taxes in order to feed these hungry folk. Their pocketbooks might be affected if taxes were raised. Some church groups went right along with these sentiments and turned their backs on the hunger and starvation in their midst.  Since John Steinbeck believed that a civilized society should provide a safety net for its’ disenfranchised citizens and not allow its’ people to starve, he was persecuted and called a “Communist”. 

 These events occurred seventy years ago and we might hope that attitudes toward the poor have changed since then.  But sadly there are still many Christians today who vote to disenfranchise the worker and take away any safety net out from under the poorest of the poor!  And amazingly many do this in the name of Jesus!  Christian churches make a big mistake when their main aim is to protect themselves and their own interests while ignoring Jesus’ command to feed the hungry and care for the sick!

Today many of the younger generation are no longer interested in the Christian faith. Living out the neighbor ethic is essential to the Christian church if it is to attain credibility.  Otherwise, the next generation is just going to move on from the faith since it is being portrayed by hate and prejudice instead of love and openness.  And it is even worse when Christian churches try to use politics to enforce their morals and beliefs or use the force of law to control the behavior of others!    

There is a deep hunger, especially among a new generation of young people, for a new ethic of loving our neighbor. If the faith community loves their neighbors then people will be drawn back to faith: but if we don’t, even more people will answer religious surveys with “none of the above.”  Christians need to agree that loving our neighbor is required if we say we love God!  We need to put out a new call to work for the common good. 

Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and part of this Lord’s Prayer says: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  I believe the Lord wants us to be His hands and feet to work towards righting the wrongs here on earth as there are no wrongs in heaven.  And we can start doing that by serving the most vulnerable in our society. 

 

     

Some of these thoughts and ideas were taken from Jim Wallis’ article “A Gospel for the Common Good”, page 16 in Sojourners’ Magazine, April. 2013.

     

 

 

 

 


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Come Holy Spirit




Come Holy Spirit

 

 

Jesus promised us and all his followers a wonderful gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We read in Scripture how the Holy Spirit empowered and changed the lives of the early Christians along with bringing healings and miracles.  And we sometimes wonder if these early Christians had “more” of the Spirit than we do.  And if that is so, how would we get “more” of the Spirit?  In fact, how do we receive the Spirit in the first place?

 

The Bible asks this of us: “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)  And we are told not to be passive but to “earnestly desire the best gifts” of the Spirit.                   (1 Cor.12:31) But then Scripture says that the Spirit distributes the gifts to each person individually as He wills.  (1 Cor. 12:11)   Wouldn’t the Spirit perhaps want to give us more gifts if we were “earnestly desiring” to receive them? 

 

 And though Scripture also tells us that being filled with the Spirit is not something that we achieve through our own efforts, but is something that is done for us.  (John 15:26)   At the same time we are told to pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives. (Luke 11:14) So, since God gives us the Holy Spirit – do we have to ask for Him?  What is our part in receiving the Spirit?  Let’s see what Scripture says.

 

Jesus said, “Those who love Me will keep my Word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…And the Advocate  (Helper), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have told you.”  (John 14:23, 26)    It sounds like if we love God and want more of His Spirit then He gives us more of Himself.  Our relationship with God is a two way street it seems.

 

 This Scripture is saying that we receive the Holy Spirit when we love Jesus and try to follow Him (keep His Word).  We can never keep all of the Word or the commandments by ourselves - but the Spirit helps us and we are forgiven when we fail.  We can never be good enough by ourselves, but He makes us good enough if we love Him!  Our part is that we need to be willing – to submit to God – to not shut the door to Him. 

 

Another name for the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ”.  People who reject Christ and don’t want Him in their lives are not given the Holy Spirit (who will lead them into more of Christ) against their will!  Scripture seems to be saying that we get what we want.  We may not want Christ because we do not want to give up our favorite sins. God gives us free will and respects our wishes and He never forces us to begrudgingly take His Spirit.   

 

We can pray and ask for the Holy Spirit and then know for sure that our prayer will be answered!  Scripture says: “If you, being imperfect parents know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  (Luke 11:13)

 

 God gives the Spirit to those who love Jesus but we need to reach out and take the gift that we are given.  That’s our part. And believe that the Holy Spirit is in our lives and have faith that He is working through us.  Move over and give Him space.

 

I have a ministry visiting older people in our church who are too feeble or sick to go outside their homes or retirement centers.  Sometimes before I visit, worries cross my mind.  I am shy and I worry that I won’t know what to say to these folk or how to pray for them. That I will just waste their time.

 

 But then I remember that I am not alone-that the powerful Holy Spirit is always there with me.  So before I visit I stop and pray and ask Him to fill the visit with His presence and blessings. Then I knock on the door and relax and let the Spirit love this person through me. And when I pray for these dear ones I trust that God hears and blesses them. It is a great comfort to me to know that the Holy Spirit is with me guiding and helping – that I am never alone.  So for me the Spirit is a comfort in living my life.

 

In fact one of the names of the Holy Spirit is the “Comforter”.  One of the blessings we receive when we open our lives to the Holy Spirit is the blessing of comfort.  Jesus said:  “When the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) comes whom I (Jesus) will send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which comes from the Father, He shall testify of Me.”  (John 15:26)  So Jesus and the Bible tell us that the Holy Spirit is a comforter – and a comfort in our lives.  But the Spirit is so much more.

 

The Spirit is dynamic and powerful.  Scripture says: “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.”  (Isaiah 59:19)  The Bible says that the Spirit is the Author of the Old and New Testaments. (2 Sam.23:2, Is.59:21, 2 Tim.3:15-17,John 14:25,26 1 Cor.2:13)  He is a Person  given as a gift to the church to continue the ministry of the resurrected Christ. 

 

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity.  (Another mystery)   The Holy Spirit creates and is a Creator (Genesis 1:2)   He is illustrated with symbols that describe Him such as fire (Acts 2:1-2) , wind (Acts 2:1-2) , water (John 7:37-39), a seal  (seals us for eternal life) (Eph. 1:13), oil ((Acts 10:38)  and a dove ((John 1;32). 

 

The Spirit makes us alive or quickens us.  “It is the Spirit that quickens. (makes alive)”  (John 6:63)   In the Bible we read that Mary, the mother of Christ, became pregnant by the Holy Spirit when she was still a virgin.  “…she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:20) 

 

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit regenerates and renews us.  (Titus 3:5)  And He prays for us. (Rom.8:26) and He teaches us spiritual truths and reveals things to us. (Luke 12:12)  The Spirit reveals things to us! There may have been times in your life when the Spirit revealed something to you or urged you to do something or pushed you into something and maybe you thought it was just your own idea.  When is the Spirit nudging us and when is it just our own thought?  We don’t always know, do we? My husband remembers an experience he had that he later thinks must have been a nudge from the Holy Spirit.  

 

Years ago my husband, Brendan, got the news that his mother had become very sick and the doctors had diagnosed her with advanced inoperable cancer.  Later we got the word that she lay dying in a hospital across the country and Brendan flew back to be with his mother during this difficult time.  His mother did not believe that Christ was her Savior and she would become angry when Brendan would talk to her about spiritual things.  

 

One day at the hospital as Brendan was coming down the hospital stairs, he passed a man in a blue suit going up the stairs.  As the two passed on the stairway an urgent voice spoke in Brendan’s head and said to him: “Go speak to that man in the blue suit about your mother!” And along with that “voice” Brendan felt like he just had to turn around and run after the stranger on the stairs in the blue suit and speak to him about his mother.

 

 At first Brendan, being a rational person kept going down the stairs and ignoring these voices in his head and these urges he had to chase after this man!  After all, these ideas made no sense and Brendan never did things that didn’t make sense to him.  And also he didn’t want to make a fool of himself running after a stranger in a blue suit!  Wouldn’t the man think he was crazy?  And indeed, maybe he was crazy!  The battle continued between this “voice” inside Brendan’s head and his rational mind as he continued going down the stairs.

 

 But the urges became even stronger and the voice shouted even louder in his head and finally Brendan could take it no longer! He turned and ran back up the stairs and down the hall and breathlessly caught up with this stranger in the blue suit. Feeling like a complete idiot, Brendan grabbed the man’s arm and asked him if he would stop by his mother’s hospital room and visit her.  The man turned and smiled and said he would be glad to do that.  In fact the man surprised Brendan when he told him that he was a chaplain and he visited the sick there in the hospital all the time! And he pulled a Bible out from a pocket of his blue suit as they talked.  

 

The man in the blue suit – the chaplain –did indeed visit Brendan’s mother- (my mother-in-law) and he shared Christ with her and she joyfully accepted Christ as her Savior a week before she died.  Now the question is, did the Holy Spirit push Brendan into running after the man in the blue suit and asking him to visit his mother or did Brendan just think that up himself?  We believe that it was the Holy Spirit, because that is the kind of thing He does!      

 

When we receive the Holy Spirit into our life, we are given a “gift” or “gifts” to use.  The nine gifts of the Spirit are 1) the word of wisdom, 2) the word of knowledge, 3) faith, 4) gifts of healing, 5) miracles, 6) prophecy, 7) discerning of spirits, 8) different kinds of tongues, 9) the interpretation of tongues.  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

 

And when we receive the Holy Spirit, we will be able to grow into the “fruits” of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”  (Galatians 5:22)

 

 The Bible says: “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God, and you are not your own?”  (1 Corinthians 6:19)   A person who receives the Holy Spirit is definitely a changed person.  But some persons seem more changed than others.

 

 We can throw open our lives and ask the Spirit to fill every part of it.  Or we can give the Spirit a small corner of our life and try to keep Him out of the rest.  And we can even “quench” the Spirit and cover the light that is in us completely!  The choice is up to us.  Each day we can remember that the Holy Spirit is with us (in us).  And keep inviting Him to fill more of our lives.            

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Going from Being Empty to Being Full



Going from Being Empty to Being Full

Lessons from the Book of Ruth

 

 

 

Naomi had been away from home for a long time but now she was going back to Bethlehem.  And Ruth wanted to go with her. It was a long dangerous trip and the two women had no donkey and little food, but they had each other, so they started out.

 

Naomi and Ruth caused quite a stir when they arrived in Bethlehem.  Since Naomi had many relatives in Bethlehem – cousins, aunts and uncles- the whole town came out to greet her.  And to meet this foreign woman who was with her. Naomi and her family had been gone a long time and now she looked so tired and worn.  “Can this be the same Naomi?” the women gasped when they saw her. 

 

“‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ Naomi told them.  ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter..  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?’”  ((Ruth 1:20-21a)   In the ancient Near East a person’s name was supposed to describe the persons’ life.  The name “Naomi” means “no sorrow” or “a full life” and the word “Mara” means the opposite, “bitter” or “empty”.   

 

Naomi had lived in Bethlehem all her life surrounded by family and friends and Elimelech also was part of a big family in Bethlehem. So when the two fell in love and  married the whole town came to the wedding.  The newly weds settled in on their prosperous farm growing barley and livestock and life seemed complete (full) as good years passed and Naomi gave birth to their two boys, Mahlon and Chillion.

 

 For women in ancient times, having children meant everything, so Naomi’s life was full and happy. She loved those busy years on the farm as a young wife and mother and farmer and she thought the good times would last forever. 

 

 But her good years did not last long! The year was approximately 1,200 B.C. and bad times were on the way!  Scripture says that the crops failed in Bethlehem causing a famine in the land. (Ruth 1:1)  We are not told whether there was a drought or a plague of insects or disease that ruined the crops and brought on the famine. But as the famine continued and got worse and one by one the animals either starved in the fields or were killed and eaten.  Gloom and desperation hung over the town of Bethlehem. And many of the hungry townspeople slowly shriveled and died since they couldn’t find anything to eat.

 

Travelers coming by brought the news to Bethlehem that there was food in nearby Moab.  So Elimelech and Naomi took their two sons, Mahlon and Chillion and traveled to Moab on the other side of the Dead Sea (about 40 miles away) and bought land and settled in. The Moabite people and the Jewish people were generally not friendly to one another, but Scripture does not record anything about the Moabites being prejudiced against Naomi’s family while they were living there. 

 

But the family had other problems. Soon Elimelech got very sick and died, leaving Naomi all alone in a foreign land to raise her two boys without her beloved husband.  Her once full life was now being emptied. And when the boys grew up they married Moabite girls; Mahlon married Ruth and Chillion married Orpha.  And since the family line was all important to people in ancient times, Naomi hoped that she would be a grandmother and the family lineage would continue.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  First Chillion got sick and died and then Mahlon became ill and died too, leaving Naomi desolate with no family remaining. And even worse, now there would be no grandchildren – no hope of the family line continuing on. A tragedy in ancient times.

 

Her whole world had fallen apart. Her husband and both her boys were dead. Naomi felt as if she had lost everything.  Her life had been so full of hope and family and now it was empty and lonely.

 

 Travelers passed through Moab bringing news that the people in Bethlehem finally had bread to eat and the famine was gone. So Naomi told her two daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpha, that she would go back to Bethlehem and live there again.  Ruth and Orpha were sad to see Naomi go and they walked along with her as she was leaving holding her hands and crying. Finally at the edge of town the three widows stopped and Naomi hugged and kissed each daughter-in-law, prayed that each would find a new husband, and said her good-byes.

 

Orpha kissed Naomi one last time and turned to go back, crying as she left.  But Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side clinging to her.  Ruth knew that Naomi had very little food or money and she was too old to find another husband and too weak to work. And without a husband or son a woman would quickly slip into poverty.

 

 In ancient times a woman could not own property or work outside the home, so she had to depend on her husband or her sons for her welfare.  If a man died, his sons inherited the farm or home and his wife would hopefully be taken care of by a son.  But since Naomi had no husband or sons now she would have no means of support.  And being too old to work in the fields she might not have enough to eat.  Ruth loved her mother-in-law and hoped that maybe she could travel with her and be of some help to her.

 

When Ruth refused to leave, Naomi pushed her away insisting that she stay in Moab.  She fussed at Ruth: “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods: return after your sister-in-law.”  (Ruth 1:15) And that was when Ruth gave her amazing answer to Naomi that expressed her commitment and her loyalty.  Her words, spoken over 3,000 years ago, have been immortalized - written down in Scripture for all to read. 

 

These are Ruth’s beautiful words of self-giving love spoken to her mother-in-law Naomi so long ago as they stood on the road that led out of Moab and into the desert.

 

 “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you.  For wherever you go, I will go.  And wherever you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people.  And your God, my God.  Where you die, I will die.  And there will I be buried.  The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

 

After Ruth made this solemn vow of her friendship to her mother-in-law, Naomi just stood there speechless.  And I imagine even God was speechless. Such love perhaps reflects God’s caring love - a marvelous joining of a human’s actions with God’s.  Ruth had not only chosen to be with Naomi, but she had chosen to serve Naomi’s God, the God of Israel. Arm in arm the two women headed off together across the hot and arid desert on the long and dangerous journey back to Bethlehem.

 

And when the two finally arrived in Bethlehem the word quickly spread of how changed Naomi was after her years away.  Once she had been a radiant young wife and mother comfortable on the family farm and full of life.  But now she was empty - a grieving widow- with no way to support herself and no hope for her important family line and name to continue.

 

Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning.  Since Ruth and Naomi had no food, Ruth suggested to Naomi that she go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind the workers.  God had given the Jewish people laws concerning how they were to take care of the poor and the strangers in their land.  (We Christians are given those commands also!)  And God’s law required that farmers leave the corners of their plots to be harvested by the poor.  (Lev.19:9: 23:22:  Deut. 24:19)  And according to Scripture the poor were entitled to gather the grain that fell from the hands of the reapers. (They weren’t to stop and pick up what they dropped.)  

 

While Ruth was gleaning she happened to come to part of the field that belonged to Boaz, a man who happened to be a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband.  Boaz noticed Ruth and asked his reapers who the young woman was and they told him that she was the Moabite who had come back to Bethlehem with Naomi.  So Boaz told his reapers to leave some of the barley in the field for Ruth to take to Naomi and then he introduced himself to Ruth and told her to drink from his well and eat bread with his workers. 

 

When Ruth got back that night she brought Naomi an ephah of barley. (about four gallons)  Naomi was glad to have some food and amazed that Ruth had gleaned so much. Boaz encouraged Ruth to glean in his field every day during the barley harvest and each day his workers were instructed to leave extra barley just for Ruth and Naomi. Naomi watched in amazement each night as Ruth came home with enough barley for both of them to eat for weeks to come. Naomi and Ruth would not go hungry for a few months now.

 

Finally the fields of barley had been cut and Boaz would be winnowing the barley at the threshing floor all day and sleeping there all night to keep his grain from being stolen. Naomi knew that Boaz would be sleeping on the threshing floor that night and she thought up a plan. She told Ruth to wash herself and put on perfume and wear her best dress and sneak down to the threshing floor late at night. (in other words put on lip stick and curl your hair!)  (Ruth 3:3 

 

And then she told Ruth that when she got to the threshing floor to hide (not let anyone see her) until the men got through eating and drinking.  Then to wait until the men left for the night and Boaz has drunk his wine.  And then wait a bit longer until Boaz lay down to sleep on the threshing floor and was feeling good from the wine. Then after he is alone and falling asleep, Naomi told Ruth to sneak over and uncover his feet and lay down under his cover at his feet. The ancient Middle Eastern world involved the practice of casting a cover over one being claimed for marriage.  (Ezek. 16:8)  So when Ruth lay under his cover, symbolically she was asking him to marry her.   

 

Naomi knew that her people, the Jews, had laws in the Old Testament that family members should be responsible for protecting the interests of any needy members of their extended family.  Family was supposed to redeem land that a poor relative had sold, if they were able. (Lev.15:15-18)  And if a male in the family had been married and died before he and his wife had a child to carry on his name, his brother or closest male relative was supposed to marry the dead brother’s widow and have the child with her that her dead husband never had.  This child would carry on the dead brother’s name and be considered the dead brother’s child!  (Deut.15:5-10)  It was the concern of the community that a family be preserved from extinction. 

 

Ruth hid in the bushes near the threshing floor and watched the men sitting around the fire while they ate and drank wine and laughed and talked. Finally one by one the men left and finally Boaz lay down by the fire and pulled his long coat over himself as a cover and went to sleep.  It was nearly midnight when Ruth quietly crept down to the threshing floor and crawled under Boaz’s coat and lay there trembling at his feet.

 

Shortly after midnight Boaz woke up - startled to find a woman lying at his feet.  “What, what,who are you?” he shouted.  “I am Ruth, your maidservant.  Take your maidservant under your cover, for you are a close relative.”  (Ruth 3:9)  Ruth was asking Boaz to marry her and have a child that would carry on her dead husband’s name.  And she was reminding Boaz of the Old Testament law that their people lived by. 

 

Boaz smiled and told Ruth that he would like to marry her (I think he was already falling for her!) - that he would gladly pay the money to buy back the land that had belonged to Elimelech so that Naomi would not live in poverty.  But he told Ruth that there was another relative that was closer to Mahlon, Ruth’s dead husband, and Boaz would have to first ask this other relative if he would allow Boaz to take over his responsibility.  He promised Ruth that he would take care of the matter as soon as possible and get back to her.  Ruth ran back to Naomi that night so that she would not be seen on the threshing floor with Boaz in the middle of the night and others would get the wrong idea.

 

The next day Boaz went to the gate of the city and sat down there.  In ancient times the gate of the city was the place where legal matters took place.  (2 Sam.15:2: 1 Kings 22:10, Amos 5:10)  The relative who was closer to Naomi’s family than Boaz just happened to walk by and Boaz asked him to sit down with him.  Then Boaz called ten other men who were elders of the city to come and sit down with them as witnesses.  (Decisions in ancient Israel were made by ten men - women were never allowed to decide important issues). 

 

When the elders were seated at the gate, Boaz asked the relative who was closer to Naomi’s family if he would buy back or redeem Elimelech’s land for Naomi and marry Ruth and perpetuate the name of the dead by having a son with her.  The relative said that he could buy the land but he couldn’t marry Ruth and have Mahlon’s child as it would mess up his own inheritance.  So the close relative took off his sandal and gave it to Boaz. (It was a custom in ancient Israel that a man would take off his sandal and give it to the other to confirm an agreement.)

 

 So Boaz announced to the elders and all of the people that were standing around that they were his witnesses, and they all agreed.  Then he promised that he would buy Elimelech’s land for Naomi and marry Ruth and hopefully have a child so that her dead husband’s name (Mahlon)would not be cut off and Naomi would have the hope that her’s and her dead son’s line would continue in Israel.  And everyone standing at the gate listening congratulated Boaz and wished him and Ruth many children!

 

So Boaz and Ruth were married and Ruth indeed became pregnant and had a baby boy.   And Naomi became the doting grandmother!  Naomi’s life was full again and she spent her days taking care of her beloved grandson and even nursing him.  And all of Naomi’s friends came around her and said:  “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you without a close relative, and may the baby’s name be famous in Israel!  And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age: for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, is better to you than seven sons.”  (Ruth 4:14-15)

 

Ruth and Boaz named their baby boy “Obed”.  And Obed would grow up and become the grandfather of King David, from whose line the Messiah-Redeemer, Jesus Christ would come – making Ruth the great great great and many more greats grandmother of Jesus Christ. The book of Ruth emphasizes that Ruth, the alien Moabitess, the foreigner became part of the lineage of the Messiah – Jesus Christ.  (Luke 3:31,32: Eph. 2:19). 

 

Some Biblical scholars believe that Boaz presents an imperfect picture centuries in advance of the redeeming work of Christ.  Boaz took on the role of the “kinsman-redeemer,” for Naomi’s family. Here is a silhouette of the Master, foreshadowing His redemptive grace since He becomes our “kinsman,” – He becomes flesh- comes to earth as a man (John1:14, Phil.2:5-8) Christ was willing to identify with the human family (as Boaz assumed the duties of his human family), Christ has worked a thorough redemption of our plight, bringing life out of death and giving us a hope and a future where there had been none.

 

Naomi was empty.  Her family (the line of Elimelech) was dead and there were no offspring to carry on the family name- a tragedy in her culture.  Her inability to do anything to change this typifies our human helplessness to save ourselves.  (Rom 5:6)  And Boaz’s willingness to pay the complete price (Ruth4:9) perhaps foreshadows Christ’s willingness to die for us and make the full payment for our salvation.  (1 Cor.6:20, Gal.3:13: 1 Pet. 1:18, 19)  

 

Ruth, Naomi and Boaz all cared about one another and love can do so much. God was and still is today able to work through us and bless us and those we touch more than we can imagine when we live caring and loving lives.  Ruth is a book of redemptive imagery. It reveals God’s will that human loss always be recoverable and that we work with Him in extending such possibilities to those in need.  Even death does not have the last word.

 

Do we ever walk in Naomi’s shoes – feel empty like she did?  Are there hopes and dreams that we have watched die, family members that we have given up on, troubles that we can’t overcome?  God calls us to wake up, take heart and care and love again, because He is with us! We have a Kinsman-Redeemer – Jesus Christ who has paid the price and restored our fortunes!  Being dead with no hope or a future now He has given us life.  Like with Naomi, God will also take us from being empty to being full!  “Now to Him (God) who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think,…to Him …be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20)