Ramble through Ruth – Part 4

With thanks to Jonathan Durke for this guest blog.

 Read Ruth 4:1-6

So, Ruth has presented herself to Boaz at the wise and caring recommendation of Naomi. Boaz, in response, has shown concern for Ruth and even gone the extra mile. He sets out to find the relative closer to Naomi than he, so he can honourably give that relative the first opportunity to provide and protect for Naomi and Ruth. We now read of Boaz making his way to the city gate of Bethlehem to sit and wait for his relative to come along. Soon enough he walks by and is called to sit with Boaz along with ten city elders he has gathered, to discuss the matter.

In the ancient Near East, the city gates were where legal transactions would take place. Official business regarding property, law and economics etc. would be processed while the people involved, including the respected elders, would sit and negotiate. So, Boaz explains the entire situation and offers the relative the parcel of land that was Elimelech’s and which now Naomi is selling to make ends meet. The relative thinks this sounds good – he gets more land – but Boaz adds that he must also redeem Ruth. At this the relative rejects the offer. If he took it, it would have adverse effects on his own children and their inheritance. Marrying Ruth would mean producing more children which would take away from his own children’s inheritance.

  • How do you think this made Ruth feel?
  • How does God act differently to us compared with Boaz’s relative to Ruth?

 

INTEGRITY

 Read Ruth 4:7-12

The right and responsibility to now redeem Ruth has come to Boaz. Boaz proceeds to make this transaction with love and integrity. He does it properly and with transparency, making sure there are witnesses to the authentic and honest way he has dealt with this matter.

  • Are there any areas in your life (family, business, etc.) in which you think you could be more transparent?
  • Are there areas of your work or private life where there is pressure to NOT live with integrity?

We may never know how the outcomes of our actions will unfold. They could work out differently than we thought, take longer than we anticipated or fall short of our expectations. That can be especially frustrating when we have gone about them with integrity and in a way God is pleased with. However, regardless of the outcome, if we have done it with integrity, that pleases the Lord. He will work out what is best for us and most glorifies him.

 

NEW IDENTITY

Read Ruth 4:13-22

Ruth and Naomi have both received a kind of new identity in and through Boaz and the kindness he extended to them.

Remind you of anyone?

Jesus Christ has redeemed us, just as Boaz did for Ruth. Jesus is our “kinsman redeemer” because He became incarnate as a human being, so He relates and empathises with us.

Jesus, has also given us a new identity, through his life , death and resurrection. Martin Luther, a 16th century German Catholic monk turned Protestant reformer, called this transaction ‘the great exchange’. Christ exchanged His righteousness to us and He received our sin. As Boaz took on himself Ruth’s, poverty, hunger and shameful reputation, he gave her his righteous reputation, home security and bountiful provision.

All Jesus has He has now transferred to us.

The cross was a similar and greater declaration of payment. It was a divine transaction.  We have received new identities as righteous children of God through Jesus’ gracious kindness.

  • How will knowing we have a new identity inform and influence your lives?
  • What does the truth of ‘The Great Exchange’ conjure up in you?

 

FRUITFULNESS

Ruth is now married and bears a child. She is protected, provided for and blessed. Naomi is blessed too, as she nurses her grandchild and has her life restored to her again.

This child of Ruth’s, Obed, will become the father of Jesse, and Jesse will become the father of David. David’s descendants will lead to the birth of Christ and the salvation of the World. (Matthew ch1 lists Ruth as one of Jesus’ ancestors!)

God is always at work, unleashing His plans and purposes to accomplish His desires. We do not know the full fruit that will come from our ministry and decisions….

In conclusion, let’s do the following:

  • Wait in faith that his plans are GOOD!
  • Embrace our new identity, learning who we are ”in Christ” and that all he is, is ours.
  • Believe God for fruitfulness

 

 

 

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Ramble through Ruth – Part 3

A further study/discussion blog written largely by Jonathan Durke. Thank you Jonathan.

Read Ruth 3:1-18

As we turn to chapter 3 of this love story we read of Ruth being back home with Naomi after her first encounter with Boaz. It seems safe to assume Ruth told Naomi everything. Naomi’s response? To “seek rest” for her daughter-in-law through a relationship which will provide all the protection and provision she requires.

Naomi arranges a cunning plan with Ruth to help her get noticed by Boaz even more. But this plan requires waiting for the right moment.

Waiting

  • Can you remember a time in your life when all you wanted to do was get on with something, but knew you had to wait for God’s timing?

The timing of God is important. As much as we may want to move at our own pace, and even attempt to speed the Lord along a little to help Him out, what matters is God’s schedule. We can make all the plans we want, covering every minute detail and making every contingency, but if we speed off without the Lord then we will end up going nowhere without Him. We must learn to wait. We must learn patience and even perseverance.

It is while we wait that our characters are formed. In the heat of frustration, we are shaped and moulded. At times God can even be more concerned for how we wait rather than what we are waiting for. He is interested in the process as well as the result. We must learn not to do what we want at any time but learn to be ready for the Lord at any time.

Learning to wait is not a waste of time. We can wait ON God as well as for Him. Joyce Meyer writes “I end up spending much more time in my life waiting than I do receiving. So I decided to learn to enjoy the waiting time, not just the receiving time. We need to learn to enjoy where we are while we are on the way to where we are going”

  • -Share what may have helped you to be patient and wait for God? – What might you have learnt from times when God’s asked you to be patient and wait for Him?

Working

Ruth was a hard worker. She applied herself and was diligent in her labour. From morning until evening Ruth would graft to provide for her relative and herself. For her and Naomi it was a matter of life or death. Work is a great privilege and opportunity to both serve and receive the fruits of our labour but also to serve and give to others. –

Being as honest as you can, how do you feel about your work? Similarly to what we observed above, there can be times in our careers when we have to wait on God. We feel  all we are doing is enduring our paperwork, juggling our children, persevering in being away from home for long trips. Yet, our work can be life or death to our souls. As difficult as a job might be, usually our attitude towards it can be what is making it more difficult. Work hard, apply yourself, be diligent, take responsibility and endeavour to labour to the best of your ability.

Change your mindset and renew your mind with the truth that God’s grace is there for you every morning. Knowing he is with you in the office, classroom or play area can transform your attitude. The old adage is true, do your best and let God do the rest.

  • How might relying on God’s presence and believing in His grace help change your attitude to work?

Ruth 3:6-18

Ruth goes out to the fields, as directed by Naomi, and after Boaz has eaten his meal and lain down to sleep, Ruth uncovers his feet and lies down beside them. The laying at his feet was a cultural symbol, thought to indicate servanthood, respect and dependency, although not entirely understood by anyone today. There is no hint of behaving inappropriately.

Asking.

Ruth was humbly submitting to Boaz and presenting herself in the hope of help. This is a beautiful illustration of how we should approach the Lord Jesus. With humility, respect, honour and hope for help. We should come to Lord with big requests as well as small because He cares for us.

  • Do you find it difficult to come before God with requests, expecting Him to answer? If not, why – let’s encourage each other…

Boaz wakes up at midnight startled and quickly questions Ruth. Ruth identifies herself and responds with pleading for help in her and Naomi’s desperate situation. Ruth actually asks that Boaz “spread his wings” over her. She is asking for his protection and provision. She is looking for his support and care.

Boaz responds by granting her request. – More often than we acknowledge openly, we can feel lonely and isolated. We can feel vulnerable and weak in many situations in life.

  • How might remembering that the Lord protects, provides, supports and cares for us help? Where can we turn to remind ourselves of his help?

It is good to be authentic with God. Be genuine in your relationship with Him. He wants to hear all about our situations, regardless of problems, emotions, mistakes, disappointments or sins.

Ruth stays the night at the feet of Boaz after he agrees to check that a closer relative will accept being her kinsmen redeemer. (A legal family guardian) – She then returns home where Naomi shrewdly advises they see how the matter unfolds…. The story continues… with a bit more waiting!

 

 

 

Ramble through Ruth – Part 2

Thanks again to Jonathan Durke for this guest blog: part 2 of a study guide alongside a series on the book of Ruth.

Read Ruth 2:1-13

Naomi and Ruth have now returned to Bethlehem and have arrived at the time of the barley harvest. However, the two ladies have returned empty. They are empty of a home, empty of relatives and particularly empty of food. They were poor widows.

Yet, emptiness is healthy and helpful when it is God who does the emptying. As we shall see later in the story, it is God’s providence that has caused Naomi and Ruth to be emptied because He is about to do something remarkable in their lives.

  • Reflect on a time when the Lord has emptied you or has permitted a seemingly bad situation but, on reflection, was His sovereign working in your life.

When the Lord is emptying you do not resist Him but embrace His activity in your life.

God does not empty us for no reason. He empties us so He can place something else within us. God is about to fill their lives with good things .

The barley harvest was a significant time for the Israelites. It was the time just of the Passover Festival – where Israel remembered their exodus from Egypt, when the Lord passed over their firstborn to kill the firstborn Egyptians and rescue them from slavery.

  • Can someone remember and explain the key command God gave them for that night so He would pass over them?
  • Discuss how is this event is an image of the Gospel?

As the Israelites were provided a redeemer for their children, a lamb, so Ruth now meets her redeemer in the form of Naomi’s relative Boaz. He was a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s now dead husband.

Read Ruth 2:14-23

Ruth asked her elderly mother in law Naomi if she could go to the field to glean (pick up) the ears of grain, which was a right for those who were poor. Ruth begins to glean and just so happens to be working in Boaz’s field. Then Boaz appears, greets his reapers and comes across Ruth. He engages her in conversation.

As Boaz and Ruth talk we can begin seeing her trust in the Lord blossoming.

  • Which verse might indicate Ruth growing faith in God and why?

Perhaps Ruth being in the fields of a foreign land, with alien people and conversing with a stranger was a difficult place to be in. Yet, in spite of all the change going on in her life and the hard circumstances, it was the right place. The best and safest place to be is where God wants you to be.

  • Share a time that appeared difficult but on reflection you knew to be where God wanted you. Share why God may have wanted you there.

Aside from the core relationship in this narrative between Ruth and Boaz, let us look briefly again at the other key relationship in this story, Ruth and Naomi. These two had a remarkable friendship. They cared for each other. When leaving Moab, Naomi gave Ruth the opportunity to go back to her family and be protected and provided for. In Bethlehem, Ruth took the initiative to go out and work hard to provide for and protect Naomi. Ruth resolved to be dedicated in every way to Naomi all the days of her life. They had a culture of honour and respect towards each other.

  • How might this kind of honour, respect and dedication be reflected to each other in our church family today?
  • What would it be like for a single, foreign woman to go into the harvest field?

There is another relationship we can glean from the book of Ruth that may go unnoticed to our modern eyes. It is the relationship between the Church and the poor. The activity Ruth was engaged in as she gleaned from the fields was an activity instituted by God in the Law.  Land owners were instructed to not glean the entirety of their property but to leave the edges alone. This was so that the foreign, poor and destitute might be able to glean, eat and not die in their poverty.

In New Testament times the early Christians, though not all Jewish, were instructed to continue with this principle. (See Galatians 2 v 10)

  • How can you in your church continue to remember the poor?

The account of Ruth includes statements such, ‘as it turned out’ and ‘as it happened.’ This symbolizes the fact that nothing which occurred was manipulated by Ruth or part of a grand and intricate strategy. Instead, God guides her as she takes steps. The truth is we really know very little of what the Lord is doing all the time around us. While we are walking the path, the Lord is directing our footsteps and clearing the way. (See Proverbs 3 v 5 – 6)

  • Are there areas where you are just having to trust God? … that he is, or will, work things out?

Ruth was prepared to work hard while God was working on her behalf. It is the comforting and inspiring revelation that God is sovereign and we are responsible.

Returning to Ruth and Boaz’s interaction, it is here that we see what Boaz is really like, or rather who Boaz is really like…Jesus Christ. Boaz foreshadowed what Jesus would do for us. Let us briefly observe from Scripture how Boaz reflects Jesus.

V.5 – Boaz noticed Ruth straight away. Jesus notices us all the time.

V.14 – Boaz provides for Ruth. Jesus provides all we need.

V.15 – Boaz protects Ruth. Jesus protects us by His mercy.

Boaz shows Ruth grace. v 10 “Why have I found such favour in your eyes?” Jesus showed us “favour” or “grace” – the undeserved kindness of God!

As true a reflection as all this was, all pictures fall short of the reality of Christ. Nothing is better than the real thing!

Boaz was what was called a “kinsmen or guardian redeemer”. (For more details on this law – see Leviticus 25:23-55)

Conclusion

  • Care, protect and love each other as Ruth did for Naomi, Boaz did for Ruth and Christ has for you.
  • Show respect to those who are older and those who have come from another culture.
  • Remember the poor
  • Trust Jesus as your redeemer who has knows us, provides, protects and shows grace to us.

Ramble through Ruth – Part 1

Thank you to Jonathan Durke for this guest blog: a study guide to go with a teaching series on the book of RUTH.

Read Ruth 1:1-22

Setting The Scene:

The Book of Ruth is set against the historical backdrop of the Judges. The period of the Judges was a time when men and women were raised up, one after another, to judge the nation of Israel because they had abandoned God for other idols.

Usually these same Judges would lead Israel into battle against the pagan nation that had invaded and enslaved them. They would be victorious and their land would enjoy a time of peace for many years. However, before long Israel would do what was evil in the sight of God, disobey Him, be judged, repent, do battle, win, enjoy peace and, sadly, repeat the cycle all over again!

  • Read Judges 2:16-19 for a concise summary of the times of the Judges.

It was a time when everybody did ‘whatever seemed right in their own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). There was no central authority, no king or prophet to lead; there was no unity, each tribe lived in their own land and did their own thing, and there was chaos.

  • Discuss what life would look like today in Britain and your own neighbourhood if everyone did whatever seemed right in their eyes.

Beware of drifting:

Read Ruth 1:1-5

 A famine occurred in Israel and a man called Elimelek uprooted his family and emigrated from Bethlehem in Judah, where they lived, to Moab, a Gentile country outside of Israel. He took Naomi his wife, Mahlon and Kilion, his two sons, with him.

In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread”. Ironically, the house of plenty is now empty and has forced this family to go elsewhere. Although they were beleivers in God, their children had Canaanite pagan names, Mahlon means “sickly” and Kilion means “Pining or wasting away”.

After Elimelek’s family settled in Moab, he sadly passed away. His two sons then married Moabite women, one name Orpah and the other Ruth. Marrying Gentile (non-Jewish) people was forbidden in the Old Testament Law because it threatened the covenant relationship between the Israelites and Yahweh.

It appears that this family started in faith, with a privileged heritage, but began to drift away. They left the land of promise, distanced themselves from God’s presence at the Tabernacle, and they entered into an unholy land with unholy relationships.

  • Reflect upon your own life, when and why did you drift away from the Lord?
  • When you’ve fell on hard times why can it be so easy to drift away from God?

 

How can we ensure we stay on track and do not drift away for our faithful Provider, the Lord? Let’s look…

Stick With What God Has Promised:

Elimelek had led his family out of the promised land. Israel was a country made up of 12 tribes who were the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob was a Patriarch and founder of Israel, and he was the son of Isaac and Isaac was the son of Abraham, also founders of Israel. It was to these three men that God had made a promise. More than that, God has committed to a covenant with them and their descendents. God has sworn by Himself to make these patriarch‘s descendants numerous and for them to inherit a land He would give them.

God honoured His covenant promise and brought Israel together and to a land flowing with milk and honey. He helped them do this in spite of their slavery in Egypt and their wilderness wanderings which included hunger, thirst, wars, complaining and lots of unbelief.

Now, Elimelek has left his ancestoral inheritance. He has taken his family away from the presence and provision of God.

  • Should Elimelek have left Israel and wisely sought sustenance elsewhere or should he have stayed and trusted God to provide?
  • Discuss what you think a godly balance of practical wisdom and faithfulness to God looks like.

Sometimes, instead of sticking to what God has promised we can get stuck with what the World offers. Or, we can find ourselves stuck in our situations and only looking at our problems instead of seeing past them to the God who promises provision and deliverance.

When we get tunnel vision and only see obstacles, we can get frustrated, angry or fearful. When this happens we can easily make bad decisions. Elimelek made a bad decision to leave the Promised Land and allow his family to marry Gentiles.

However, what we can learn from Elimelek’s mistake is to trust God’s promises and trust His timings.

How can we ensure we stay on track and do not drift away? By trusting both God’s promises and timings inspite of our circumstances.

God Brings us to Decision Points:

Read Ruth 1:6-5

After Elimelek and his two sons pass away, Naomi hears that the Lord has provided food and so decides to leave Moab and return to Bethlehem.

Noami tells her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their mother’s homes in Moab. Noami makes them both aware of the apparent lack they’ll experience if they follow her. They have no husbands, no work and Naomi can‘t provide for them. She wants to give them all the possibilities. Now the daughters-in-law have to make a decision.

  • When you’ve faced a big decision, how have you approached it?

Orpah ended up turning back, but Ruth refused and devoted herself to Naomi, her people and her God.

 In Hebrew, the name Ruth means commitment. Ruth stayed and obeyed. When God brings you to decision points, don’t turn from what He calls you to.

How can we ensure we stay on track and do not drift away? By devoting ourselves to God and obeying Him.

Set a Course of Commitment:

Read Ruth 1:16-22

Verse 16 is a remarkable response from Ruth to Naomi and drastically different to Orpah’s response of leaving. Ruth radically commits herself to Naomi, going where she goes, staying where she stays, engaging with who she engages with, believing what she believes, and even dying where she dies.

This demonstrates great commitment.

  • Be as honest as you can and reflect together on whether Ruth’s commitment to Naomi could be said of your commitment to Jesus.
  • If not, why not and discuss how you could grow in your devotion?

Be encouraged to set a course of commitment to Christ. Be devoted to Him and His Gospel. Resolve to faithfully connect with your local church, your brothers and sisters in the Faith and most of all with God. This last part can be helped with regular Bible reading, prayer, reflection, worship, listening to sermons, creativity, etc.

How can we ensure we stay on track and do not drift away? By committing ourselves to God and engaging with Him.

 Conclusion

 Beware of drifting from God, but,, if and when you do, remember:

  • Stick with what God Has promised by trusting His promises and timings.
  • When God brings you to decision points devote yourself to Him and obey Him.
  • Set a course of committment by engaging with Him.

 

 

 

 

 

DOODLING JESUS

Somewhere in Africa our minibus rattles along the interminably long, hot, dusty, potholed road. It’s been a long day and I am sleepy. A sudden braking and crunching of gears and I awake… Rousing myself, I see a large crowd blocking the road, waving sticks. The driver leans on his horn and edges slowly through the crowd who, very reluctantly, part.

To my amazement, in the centre of the mêlée, stands a naked lady. She is trying to protect her modesty, and, at the same time, avoid the worst of the sticks with which she is being struck.
I feel as if I have slept and awoken in a parallel universe. I have no idea what is happening. Our driver is nonplussed and accelerates out of the crowd, continuing on our journey wordlessly.
Disturbed, I ask him “what was happening? What was that all about?”
“She has been a very foolish woman” he solemnly replies. – Verdict and end of conversation!

My mind wanders to a different time and place but, maybe, a similar lady. Caught “in the act of adultery” she is dragged before Jesus. Leaving aside the question of where the man was, (last time I checked, statistically, it took two to commit adultery), Jesus is told that the law of the day required a death sentence – What did he think?
Though they did not know it, he is the only one qualified to punish her, since he’s the only guiltless one present. However, he calmly declares “Let the stoning commence – providing the first person to throw a stone is guiltless”
He then bends down, seemingly without a care in the world, and doodles in the street dust. The doodling continues for some time until the crowd, so recently roaring for a stoning, slowly slink away.
“Is there no one left to punish you? – neither am I your punisher… go … and sin no more”
This lady had looked for love in destructive places and the law had tried and failed to steer her from the outside. She now experienced love of a different quality. This love freed her from guilt and freed her to choose. The love of Jesus steers from the inside.

The writers of the New Testament didn’t encourage us to go and sin! – “I am writing this so you won’t sin”… but, on the other hand, they were keen for us to know what would happen if, and when, we messed up.
• “You have an advocate” – One who speaks -up on our behalf – Jesus
• “You have a propitiation” – A giant Bible word which simply means that God’s right wrath against sin has been taken away, through Jesus’ work on the cross – there is no punishment.
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy!” You are a work in progress – but while others, and sometimes you yourself, may condemn, Jesus can still doodle!

The bones of this teaching is found in John 8 v 1 – 11, 1 John 2 v 1-2 and Hebrews 10 v 14

OUTRAGEOUS ”FORGETTERY”

Once he had put behind him his God respecting father, he was able to embark on a disastrous, debauched, reign of his own.

He began by celebrating religious diversity. Leaving behind the God of his Fathers, he promoted any and all kinds of cult – the more perverted the better.
Baal, or “The Master”, a storm god, and his consort Asherah were favourites – and depraved in the extreme. Asherah , – a female mother deity – was worshipped with ritual prostitution, famous for phallic “Asherah poles”. Sex as worship soon became very popular and he led his nation into an enthusiastic celebration of immorality.

In the temple, built for the one true Creator God, he placed altars for stars and planets, angels and demons. As bad became worse he introduced a cult to honour Moloch, involving the horrific ritual sacrifice of children to the fire.

He replaced his cabinet with witches, mediums and spiritualists resulting in civic chaos; a corrupt government filled the capital with innocent blood.

Perhaps, at some point, his conscience was pricked but he learned that, with constant practice, he could ignore it and that, eventually, it even seemed to go away.
Those challenging him were silenced. One brave prophet gave him two words… One was a simple picture of a builders plumb line; “what isn’t built straight, God will flatten”. The other, “like a dirty bowl, I will clear you out, and turn you upside down”.

When the end came it was dramatic. Brought down by a foreign power, Manasseh was led around with a hook through his nose, like a prize bull. Having been ritually humiliated, he was then exiled and imprisoned in what is now Iraq.

Hooray!! The prophet killing, child murdering, despotic, satanic, God rejecting, sex addicted tyrant was history! … Except, before we all cheer, he wasn’t!

This atrocious, obnoxious man turned to an amazingly gracious God. In some “god forsaken” dungeon he prays and finds he is not, after all, God forsaken. He vomits up the deep truths about himself – and God forgives him. Whilst I might have given him a million years solitary confinement, and then the same on probation, God even restores him to his throne!
Grace is truly outrageous!

God loves to respond to “gut prayers” and he alone sees what is going on in our hearts. Genuine repentance irresistibly releases God’s mercy. This was not a token gesture kind of “sorry”, but a genuine remorse. – “I wish I’d never done this, I wish I could undo it, I am ashamed before God and want to renounce it all” kind of praying.

The reinstated King then removes all the idols and altars, rebuilds the neglected capital city and its defences and reinstates the worship of Creator God.

This king, Manasseh, illustrates a wonderful Bible phrase – “their sins … I will remember no more” This is “grace” – a totally undeserved “forgettery” in which go all our demerits. No atrocious sinner is beyond the grasp of an amazingly gracious God.

Perhaps our temptation is to identify ourselves too much with our past sins, and mistakes, when the truth is that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us”

Paul once wrote to a people trapped by their past and reminded them “this is what you were”. The Christian can grasp hold of a whole new identity – “I was this but now …”
• “You have been washed” – the work of Jesus totally cleanses you from sin and shame
• “You are sanctified” – the Holy Spirit has set you apart and gifted you with a new identity
• You’ve been justified – The Father himself has declared His verdict “not guilty”.

This is outrageous – and wonderful.

(The bones of this story are in the Bible – 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 v 10ff. Other useful verses, for the curious, are Psalm 103 v 10-12, Heb 10v17, 1 John 1 v 9 and 1 Corinthians 6 v 9-11)

SHOCKING LOVE

She’d never settled, though she had been married once, and had children with her husband. Those who knew her, and liked her, said she was discontented. Those who liked her less spoke of her being wild and flighty. Those who disliked her said much worse!
Perhaps inevitably, her eyes wandered. She took a steady lover and later left her husband. A tragic cycle developed as she loved, lost and moved on … A couple of children later, and with no one to support her, she found that certain men were willing to pay for her attentions.
When it finally all fell apart she felt deserted and damaged. Dishevelled and penniless, the decision had been made for her – she would sell herself into domestic slavery.

The Market Place.

I can picture her there, in the market place. Humiliating though it all is, shameful though it may be, there is plenty of interest in this lady! She may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but she remains beautiful, so the bidding rises sharply.
“9, 10, 11 pieces of silver”
“12” – and the lower bidders drop out.
“13… 14 … 14 and a half” – the half a sure sign of dwindling resources!
“15” says “H’”…
Another bidder, out of cash and on his way home from the market, adds, “And a bushel of barley”
In desperation “H” shouts “15… and a bushel and a half!”

The gavel falls. Gomer, for that is her name, is now the property of Hosea.

The Scullery.

After the silent trudge to her new owner’s house, she sits, head bowed. He stands, clears his voice, and outlines his household rules…
“1. There will be no unfaithfulness – no prostitution, no sleeping around, no sex – purity”. – That’s not a line Gomer has heard for a good few years!
“2. You are going to live here for a long time, – and I will wait for you to love me”.

WHAT!?!? – This is not “the ideal Christian family”! – It is amazing, shocking, tragic and wonderful!
Here is a man, Hosea, who wants pure, faithful love; but can do nothing to ensure it. He wants intimacy not just sex. But you can’t make someone love you. You can’t force faithfulness. His is an extreme vulnerability.
The final twists in the plot, like a tale of the unexpected, are that Hosea is already Gomers’ husband, a believer, who claims he’s done the whole thing “because God told me to!”

You can find the gist of this drama in the book of Hosea. Shockingly God tell this man to “go marry an adulterous woman, and get children … for the whole country has become nothing but a whore, by abandoning God”. Later, after being abandoned, he is instructed to go and find her again…

The Great Grace Drama

History’s greatest drama is God’s fixed and determined desire for an intimate relationship with us.
Playing the part of God in a living drama may well have appealed to Hosea at the audition. It sounds good, until you realise that God compares himself to a deserted husband of an adulterous wife!

If we re-live the story, playing the part of Gomer, we discover a story of grace like no other. Created to be in intimate friendship with God, who has pledged himself to us, we have disgraced ourselves, repeatedly. Uncomplimentary as it is, the story portrays us as unfaithful, prostituting ourselves with other, lesser loves.
Many things in this world make bids for our affections, offering fun, power, satisfaction, comfort and security; and to our shame, we fall for them.

The outrageous “Grace news” is that while we were still “adulterous” Jesus entered the market place to buy us out of slavery and to win our devotion. Christ’s own love was demonstrated by his bidding his own life blood – He used the exact word, “ransom”, the price paid to free a slave, to describe his mission. (Mark 10 v 25)

Accepting his love, he re-clothes and re-homes us and asks us to live in friendship with him. What undeserved love!
There is, in this story and within God’s love, a fierce vulnerability. Determined to love us, under no illusions as to who and what we are, He cannot make us love him, yet longs for closeness with us.
God has never desired sterile religious adherence. He has, shockingly and wonderfully, purposed to overlook our former disloyalty, and deeply longs now for us to “abide with him”. Receive his love, and respond to him with new affection.

WORSHIP – a misty morning

Climbing up past an ancient hill fort on the Malvern Hills, on a bright but slightly misty morning, the view began to shrink. I had intended to walk to an obelisk but soon I entered a whitened out world.
Hill fog closed in. The path ahead was not clear. A Bible verse suddenly came to my mind, “be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46 v 10) As I couldn’t see which way to go I sat on a rock and just tried to “be still”.

I would have said, until then, that it was a perfectly calm day but, as I sat for a while, my senses “tuned in” and I could actually hear, in my right ear, a slight breeze. I heard pheasants in the woods far below, and a blackbird singing in the distance.

A wonderful bead work of pearl-like dew drops glistened on the grass in front of me.
I was surprised by 3 birds, sitting on the grass, motionless, no more than 2 metres away. They studied me – and I returned the favour. They had been there all along but I had been unaware of them.

I slowly came to the realisation that my left check was warmer than my right – where the sun was struggling to break through the heavy curtain of mist. (I’m not the sort of person who normally takes much time to consider the relative warmth of my cheeks!)
Over the next few minutes a circle of mist, directly above my head, disappeared – an extraordinary ten pence piece of sky blue – with a line drawn across its diameter where a jet’s trail slowly evaporated.

The initial frustration of not being able to get on with the walk changed gradually to an enjoyment of all that I could hear and feel and see.
None of this, I believe, would I have experienced if there had not been a white out. If I had not been forced to take time to be still and open up my senses.

Traditionally there are said to be 5 senses, (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and hearing), but there are more of course. – A sense of balance (equilbroception), a sense of heat, (thermoception), the awareness of where our body parts are (so you can be on all fours and put your leg out straight behind you – called propioception) Then there is our ability to sense pain … not to mention arguments over our sense of morals (conscience) or justice or beauty ….

However many or few there are it is certainly true that, if we build in moments of stillness, we can perceive things that are there all the time but which we had no time to sense.

What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual realm. God is speaking all the time – through his word, through nature, by His Spirit. We need to open up all our senses and learn to be still enough in our spirit to tune in to anything he might be saying.

I don’t believe we are called to an aesthetic withdrawal from the world. The Bible verse not only tells us to “be still” it goes on to say he will be “exalted in the nations” I do believe, however, that carving out time to know again that He is Lord, to be still and listen to Him, receive and be in his presence, is essential. If we take the time who knows what he may speak to us about!!? – songs to be written, people to make friends with, ministries released, business strategies developed, leaders trained, … Worship is sometimes best expressed by being still and receiving. He is, after all, a giving, speaking God.

WORSHIP – Values and expressions

When we talk about “worship values” what we mean is “here are the things we feel are are really important … so here goes…

  • The Father seeks worshipers John 4 v 23 – so worshiping God is the highest calling and will continue through eternity. Worship is not a preliminary to the main thing, it IS the main thing!
  • God delights in our worship  – “he will take great delight in you… he will rejoice over you with singing” …”The greatest thing of all, oh Lord I see, – You delight in me”
  • Worship is a response to who God is and what he does and also an encounter with Him – a meeting!
  • We delight ourselves in him Psalm 16v11, Psalm 84 v1-4.
  • There are many ways to express worship – (see below)
  • It is to do with entering his courts and knowing his presence – not just the singing of songs and the saying of prayers …James 4 v 8, Psalm 95
  • We can come with confidence, Heb 10 v 22, as well as awe, Heb 12 v 28-29
  • God wants all believers to be priests and play an active part in worship 1Cor 14 v 26, 1 Peter 2v 9
  • In God’s presence we also expect gifts as he speaks Psalm 95 v 7b-8
  • Bread and wine was a part of NT worship – it focuses us on remembering the object of our faith, what he did, what he  accomplished and his future return
  • Worship is spiritually powerful 2 Chronicles 20v21-22
  • Unbelievers can recognize something of God’s presence when the church body worships. 1 Cor 14 v 25

Expressions of Biblical Worship …

There are many traditions but here are some Biblically valid expressions of worship..

  •  laughter and joyful songs Psalm 126 v 2;
  • singing 89 v 1, Psalm 105 v 2;
  • bended knee 95 v 6;
  • the bowed head 2 Chron 29 v3 0, Neh 8 v 6;
  • clapping and shouting, Psalm 47 v 1, 95 v 1, 98 v 4-6;
  • making music to the Lord 98 v 5;
  • lifted hands 28 v 2, 134 v 2;
  • prostration, 1Kings 18 v 39, Rev 11 v 16-17;
  • dancing, Exodus 15 v 20, 2 Sam 6 v 14, Psalm 149 v 3;
  • silence Rev 8 v 1;
  • stillness and waiting psalm 37 v 7, 46 v 10.

WORSHIP – obstacles and benefits

The psalmist says “I will extol the LORD at all times, his praise shall always be on my lips”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when people think of us, they think “He (or she) is really a worshiper!”?

Since God himself desires worshipers we can be pretty sure the “enemy of our souls” is keen to put hindrances between us and worship. “Life is too busy”, “worship is a luxury”, “we do that on Sundays”, I’ll get less done, and I’m busy”, “isn’t this a bit inward looking?”, “I need to answer these emails first” … All these and more need to be identified for what they are – “Worship Obstacles”

The truth is that our first priority is to live our lives for what one writer called “the audience of One” It is not a heavy duty to be before our God but a glorious privilege, our eternal destiny and what we were created to do!

Of course, God does not need our worship, He is entirely self sufficient and complete in his self. Although he is glorified by us reveling in him the truth is that worship brings many benefits to us!

  • We magnify the LORD. We cannot enlarge a perfect God but as when we look through a telescope at the moon we change our perspective of what we are looking at. God is already huge and magnificent and all powerful. When we worship him we enlarge our view of Him, and gain perspective on things we have made too big in our lives. Alternatively, if we fail to worship him we tend to diminish our view of who he is and magnify the wrong things.
  • We experience his presence. Grace gives us access to the Father at all times. If we learn to worship as a lifestyle then we can know the reality of him being with us all the time … in our work, family life and so on… what former Christians called “practicing the presence of God”
  • We receive fresh hope. I’m not sure “my problems disappear” as the song says … but I do know I see them in better perspective when I have an eye full of who he is and what he can do. I gain faith and the weight of burdens are lifted as I see God
  • We revel in the truth. The words of our worship songs are so important as truth fuels worship, as does the word of God… sing, read, pray and the truths of God will seep into your soul!
  • We receive fresh life and joy. We all get tired and weary but “those who wait on the LORD renew their strength” Someone once said to me “if you are tired, go to bed but if you are weary go to the Lord”. Good advice! I am grateful I have a wife who will spot the signs and tell me “you need a prayer walk!”

“Rejoice in the Lord… draw water from the well of salvation … the joy of the Lord is your strength”

Life gets cluttered and complex and confusing so let’s remember our number one priority, fight to overcome worship obstacles, and make the One who is THE first thing first in our lives!