Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Faith may Be Personal, but it Is Never Private

Click Here to Hear the Sunday, February 27, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Click Here to Watch the Dramatic Monologue by Erin Paige.

Scripture Reference:  Ruth 3-4

Our Faith may Be Personal, but it Is Never Private

Lessons from the Book of Ruth on the Public Life of the Disciple

The book of Ruth has several layers. Ruth is the center of the story, partly because she is the “damsel in distress,” but also because the book is somewhat subversive in nature. One subversive part is the subtext of a foreigner embraced by Hebrew society; and not just any foreigner--Ruth was a Moabite, and Israel and Moab had a history.  Other layers of the story are about propriety and risk-taking, inclusion of immigrants, the huge disadvantage of being a woman without husband or son in that time and culture and the obligation of the culture to protect these women.

One of the most instructional layers of the Book of Ruth is the narrative about Boaz, the “kinsman redeemer” for Naomi’s family. The record presents him as an idealized embodiment of a law-keeping Jewish man. Yet his actions tell us of a man who acted “beyond the Law” toward Ruth and Naomi.  “Beyond the Law” is not exactly what we would say in twenty-first century English. We would say, “He followed the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.”

We see Boaz in action throughout the book, but most powerfully in chapter four.
  • He was above-board in his public dealings, had no hidden agendas, displayed no fake friendship to get what he wanted.
  • He did not use people for his own ends.
  • He honored the right and legal way to solve a problem.
  • He was godly in being his submission to God’s law (most notably the law of Levirate marriage)     

Moreover, Boaz was godly by being a man of integrity in his business life. He kept his hired hands from harassing the vulnerable immigrant Ruth (a lesson for today in both our immigration debate and the dreadfulness of human trafficking).  He showed more generosity in allowing gleaning from his fields than the law required (he wasn’t stingy and legalistic). He personally knew his workers. They weren’t just nameless muscle for his farm.

Boaz understood God’s expectations of him.  He understood that he was a steward of the place God had placed him in life, and that he must behave responsibly, openly and authentically.

So what does this mean for us?   Well, obviously Boaz is a model.

We can sum up Boaz’ modus operandi in the following life principle. Our faith is personal, but it is not private. Everything we do before others makes a statement about who we are, what we value, and how we view God and our relationship with him.

How might the example of Boaz look in our life?
  --Absolute honesty and integrity
      --Seeking God’s way in practical decisions in life
      --Takes care of those who are under his supervision

So if my faith is personal, but not private, what will those around me in the world learn about Jesus from me? And what will they learn about how seriously I follow him as a disciple?

Will they see hypocrisy? Or a man or woman of honor?

The most honorable man who ever lived was Jesus Christ. Not just because he was God in flesh, but also  because he walked the walk. He lived with absolute integrity and honor. His yes was yes, and his no was no. What the disciples saw in Jesus publicly is what they saw in him privately.
May I have the integrity of Jesus as my model for life. And if Jesus seems too intimidating, then let’s imitate Boaz. J

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD . . .  --Psalm 1:1-2a  ESV

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

God's Love for the Poor

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, February 20, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Click Here to Watch the Dramatic Monologue by Erin Paige

Scripture Reference:  Ruth 2 and Leviticus 19

Learning Grace from Law

“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that
have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.
I am the LORD your God.”  --Leviticus 19:10 NIV

In our study of the book of Ruth we have come to learn well the verse from the Law of Moses quoted above. We have learned how this law benefitted Ruth and Naomi, and also how this passage speaks to the immigration issue, causing us to make important distinctions between our politics on the one hand, and our practice of love for the immigrant on the other.

Whenever we study the Law of Moses, it is important to clarify that this law code was for the Hebrew people in their culture and historical context. It makes up the core of the “old covenant” with his people. After the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have entered into the “new covenant, which fulfills the old covenant and replaces it. That is why most Christians, Gentiles that they are, do not follow kosher laws, ceremonial laws, laws of animal sacrifice, etc.

This does not mean that the Law of Moses is unimportant. Far from it. When we come up against a verse like Lev. 19.10, we have to take it seriously as part of God’s revelation to his people. But rather than ask “how can I do this law today” when we are not required to do so, we can instead ask a different question:

What does this passage teach me about the heart and mind of God?

I think you would agree that it teaches that God cares, in a special way, for the poor and the immigrant. Actually, it goes farther than that. This is not the only place we read of this command. We also see it in other places.

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”  Exodus 22:21 NIV  

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 24:19 NIV  

So now we have immigrants, the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. I think you can see that God has his eye on those who are at a disadvantage in society. But how would this “law of gleaning” look in our world. We’re not farmers!

Here are some suggestions: 

  1. I need to have what God has: a heart for the poor and marginalized. I don’t have the luxury of ignoring those who live close to the edge of economic or social oblivion. I need to pray that God will sync my heart with his heart; my loves with his loves; my mercies with his mercies.
  2. I can create a law for myself. This personal “law” for me is actually a “habit of the heart.” Maybe at the end of the day I’ll put my loose change, or all my dollar bills, in a jar. When the jar is full I’ll cash them in for grocery gift cards to give away, or help someone pay their rent, or put gas in their car so they can get to work. You get the idea.  

  1. I can identify the excess in my life in order to “bless others” with it. And believe me, most Americans have excess. Why not take all those canned foods from 1983 that are in the back of my cupboard and put them in the church pantry, or give them to a friend I know could use a boost? Why not let my tax return bless a homeless organization or the benevolence fund at my church?  Maybe instead of selling that old couch on Craigslist so I can make a lousy fifty bucks, I first look to see if someone in my church or neighborhood could use a free couch?          

Can you now see how this Law of Moses that does not bind us in this new covenant age, teaches us about the heart of God?  And can you see how understanding God’s heart can “free us” to be better disciples?

So find ways to allow others to “glean” from your abundance.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another,
for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 NIV

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

God's Love for "Those People"

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, February 13, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Watch the Dramatic Monologue on Ruth 2 by Erin Paige

Scripture Reference:  Ruth 2 and Leviticus 19

God's Love for "Those People"

Those people.  Them.  You know who I’m talking about.  They're different.
They look different from us.
They speak differently.
They don’t think like us.
They eat different food.
They have weird rituals and traditions.
You know…..  Those people.

Ruth was one of those people, she came from Moab to Israel.  Moab was across the Dead Sea.  It was the other side.  Them.  They.  Those People.  Ruth had to travel miles up around the Dead Sea and cross the Jordan River to get to Bethelehem. 
Ruth stood out and people noticed her as ‘That Moabite.’  In today’s terms, she would be an illegal immigrant.  Now, borders and immigration laws were different then, but racism was the same then as today.
God’s people, the Jews, were often very discriminatory.  It’s hard not to be when you know that you are chosen by God.  You start to think of yourself as better than others and you start treating others that way. 
Except, that’s now what God expects of them (or us).  Throughout the Old Testament, God tells the people to remember that they were once foreigners in Egypt and that because of that, they should treat the foreigners that travel through their lands a little better.  He commanded the Jews to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so there would always be food for the poor and the traveler.  He commanded them to allow the foreigner to rest on the Sabbath, right along with the native born.  He commanded the Jews to treat the foreigners fairly in court and not take advantage of them in the workplace.
Let’s be honest here: the Jews didn’t always follow God’s commands, and neither do we, today.
Most people know the famous Bible verse John 3:16:  For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten son. That whoever believes in him shall not perish.  God so loved the world.  That’s everyone, not just a select few.  The world isn’t divided into ‘us’ and ‘them.’  God loves all people, and that includes the illegal immigrant. 
In my sermon, I mention two people, a man who had signs against illegal immigration painted on his truck and another man who suggested that we station snipers on the border to kill anyone coming across.  In addition to the angry signs on his truck concerning ‘illegals,’ the truck man also had bumperstickers for a local Christian radio station and a local church.  The man who suggested shooting people was a man that I knew to periodically attend a church.  I don’t know the real religious status of either of these guys, but I do know they have taken the compassion for human beings that God calls us to and lost it to angry rhetoric.
I don’t like the word ‘illegal.’  Actions are illegal, not people.  Referring to people as things dehumanizes them.  Then, people become a problem.  And, you deal with problems by solving them as expediently and efficiently as possible.  Thus, ridiculous ideas like rounding up millions of people and dumping them across the border or shooting women and children as they cross the border suddenly begin to sound reasonable.
God calls us to have compassion, to love people, to be gentle, and to be kind.  
Yes, we must be good stewards of our resources, but let’s be honest here, we are the richest nation in the world and we have money, resources, and jobs to spare most of the time.  It’s far too easy for us as citizens of the United States to think we are special.  We won the cosmic lottery by being born in this land.  It’s something to rejoice in, because just about anywhere else would be worse (despite our incessant bellyaching).  When God blesses you, it isn’t for you to keep it for yourself: God blesses you to bless others.
Yes, we must protect ourselves from terrorists and those who hate us just because we exist and don’t believe the way they do.  But, we can accomplish that in reasonable ways without turning into the same kind of monsters that hate us. 
As Christians, believers in God, we must remember compassion and gentleness.  It is not wrong to provide water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, clothing for the naked, and company for the lonely.  In fact, we are called to it.
Whatever side of the immigration issue that we fall on, we must remember to keep an open and compassionate heart for those who are suffering , the needy, and for those who endure conditions beyond what most of us could even imagine.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus would be ministering among those who are crossing the border illegally.
When this debate heats up again, and it will, are you going to add to the heat and anger, or will you take the gentle approach of love?
Will you support practical solutions that provide good stewardship and protect our borders while offering realistic options for legal immigration and guest workers?
Will you prayerfully remember the people of both sides whom God loves equally?
And, when the time comes that everyone is yelling about this issue again, will you be an example of gentleness and love, as every Christian is called to?
Practical Applications:

  • Begin learning another language or study another culture.  
  • Visit ethnic restaurants and engage someone in conversation that you might not normally speak to.
  • Listen to others with an open heart and thinking brain.
  • Look for someone at church or workplace who looks different from you – get to know them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Love in Action in the Family

Click Here to Watch the Dramatic Monologue on Ruth 1 Performed by Erin Paige.

Scripture Reference: Ruth 1:1-22

Chesed? [Gesundheit!]

Chesed is one of those strange sounding Hebrew words that require a bit of phlegm to pronounce correctly. Its pronunciation is halfway between HES-ed and CHES-ed.  Give it a try!

Chesed is one of those words that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. But if you put together the meanings of the following words you come up with a blend that looks a lot like chesed:

Kindness + Compassion + Loyalty = chesed

The concept of covenant is also present in the meaning of chesed.  It is a one-sided loving-kindness. Just as God loves us before we have done anything to deserve his love, so we can be like him by loving others before they have done anything to deserve our notice. 

Think about it. Chesed is showing compassionate loving kindness toward someone when we don’t get anything out of it.
The book of Ruth that we began studying last Sunday is the account of real people showing real chesed in real-life situations. The recipients of chesed come empty-handed; the givers of chesed have no ulterior agenda. Wow! Think of a world full of chesed and you have described heaven.

Which is precisely the point of the book of Ruth and why it is included in the Old Testament canon. It is a literary picture of God’s attitude of chesed toward his creatures. God’s attitude toward his covenant people (first Old Testament Israel, and now the church as grafted into God’s covenant family -- Romans 11.11-24.) is like Ruth’s love for Naomi, and Boaz’s love for Ruth.

Chesed is neither an emotion nor sentimentality. It is attitude-in-action. In the case of our Lord it looks like this: “God loved the world so much (chesed) that he gave his only begotten Son (when we didn’t deserve him), that whoever believes in him will not perish . . .” you know the rest.

So even if you can’t pronounce chesed, you can certainly revel in receiving it—and you can commit your life to practicing it.