Purpose

This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Refuge

I recently attended a ladies' retreat with a group from my church. Because of my continued health struggles, I had seriously debated canceling. I know such situations are challenging for me, especially if I don't sleep well, which is almost a given in this setting. Knowing the potential risk, I finally decided to go, praying that God would make the retreat worthwhile.

My life has been sober lately, carrying various challenges. While my health has improved somewhat, the prolonged nature of this trial is a burden. Even still I manage the bare minimum in terms of activity, generally needing quantities of rest every evening and every weekend. There are still significant questions regarding future treatment; I've procrastinated emailing my doctor for lab results, not wanting to know the answer. My parents' health has been especially concerning lately, with emergency medical intervention for both of them. I can't help them, and wouldn't have the capacity to do so even if I lived closer. I had limited information on new complications occurring the day before my trip. Work always has some level of challenge; my morning before leaving for the retreat didn't go well.

At the retreat itself, new challenges surfaced. I was already tired, and poor sleep made things worse. Normal people can take in the activities of a big event; they might get tired, but they can enjoy the time and handle it okay. I can't, and I was reminded of my distance from being normal. My life is simple enough that I was not interested in typical female activities that others were doing; I felt disconnected. I was aware that while I would love to speak in such settings, the limitations of my body would interfere with my effectiveness and even ability to do so.

In the difficult moments of recent weeks and months, I have had a great longing, one that was present and reinforced even at the retreat. I have wanted someone to lean on - literally; I have yearned for someone to hug me or put their arm around me and hold me close, to support me, comfort me, and allow me to share my heart's burdens. There is no such person in my life, and I did not anticipate anything different at the retreat setting, even though it is what I still wanted.

I know there is one Person who does care about me that deeply and is willing to express that level of support, and my primary goal at the retreat was to seek solace and support from God. I went to the retreat knowing that I did not need the crafts, game time, conversations, fellowship, or various other pleasures of the camp; I needed to rest in God. I went with the intention of spending extended time with God, communing with Him through His Word and through prayer. I wanted to sit and relish His presence. I knew that I needed every possible minute of such activity, so I spent the free time of my weekend in the Psalms. I read and meditated. I talked to God about what I was reading: confession, yearning, petition, thanksgiving, and praise. My in-depth approach meant that I only reached Psalm 90, but it also meant that God could minister precious truth to me.

As I jotted down major recurring themes, two words stood out: "refuge" and "trust." Much of what I read tied into those ideas. God is repeatedly called a refuge. He is proclaimed as worthy of trust. There need be no fear of being ashamed in life's trials. God's track record is spotless, having repeatedly delivered His children and given them blessings. God is exceptional in every way; His righteousness, goodness, lovingkindness, and faithfulness are constantly proclaimed. Believers can be confident in God's care, fully assured of His attention. This is not based on their perfection, because they are frail and often fail. The Psalms echo with prayers of aspiration to walk closely with God, to grow and to be led. God does amazing work in the heart and soul, where the profoundest troubles of man occur. God's response is often compared to that of other sources. Man can't help himself, and the help of others falls far short. Even when others oppose, God supports, and the help He gives is the only truly effective aid. He always hears when His children call to Him. He especially cares and notices the most needy. He accepts and welcomes them, offering a close relationship. God is the best possible refuge, one that can be trusted whole-heartedly. These wonderful truths stirred my heart to poetic expression.

A Trusted Refuge: Themes in Psalms (Sonnet 49)
I find in God each day a refuge sure.
Through countless acts, He's proven year by year
He always does what's right and good and pure.
His fail-proof, matchless pow'r is ever near.
I need this refuge, for I am so weak;
My heart and soul oft' struggle and despair.
God knows my frailty, but asks that I Him seek.
My deepest struggles bring His deepest care.
If others do not help, I can survive,
For God responds each time I call to Him.
My self and friends can never make me thrive,
But God prevails when other hopes are dim.
He is a shelter safe in which to trust,
So rest in peace and wait on Him, I must.

I could have done nothing better with my weekend. While not an exuberant, bubbling victory, it certainly was not defeat. It was stability, calmness, and comfort in the midst of what threatened to be the opposite. It was sweet reassurance that God alone can meet my deepest needs. He held me like I longed to be held, listened to me, comforted me, and gave me helpful truth. He was my refuge. God's answer was not dramatic nor outstanding, but He answered my prayer. He made the retreat worthwhile.

"Trust in Him at all times ... God is a refuge" (Psalm 62:8).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Failure Redeemed

A kinsman-redeemer is "the relative who restores or preserves the full community rights of disadvantaged family members. The concept arises from God's covenant relationship with Israel and points to the redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ" (Dictionary of Bible Themes, Martin Manser).

There are various situations in which a disadvantaged person could require restoration through a kinsman-redeemer. A poor man might have been forced to sell his land to an outsider in order to survive. A poor person could become so desperate that he would voluntarily become a slave. A woman could lose her husband through death, leaving her helpless and her husband's heritage at risk.

The Old Testament law provided the solutions for these situations. As related to the land, a kinsman-redeemer had the opportunity to buy back his relative's land from the new owner, thereby keeping the land in the family (Leviticus 25:25). In situations of servitude, the kinsman-redeemer was able to buy back the years remaining on his relative's arrangement (Leviticus 25:44-49). When a man's brother died, leaving the widow childless, the kinsman-redeemer was expected to marry the widow and provide an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5).

Since people are imperfect, those noble expectations were not always met. One family's sad story reveals failure in fulfilling the kinsman-redeemer's role. The story involves Abraham's great-grandson; Er was the oldest son of Judah. Er married Tamar, but sadly, Er "was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life" (Genesis 38:7). Although the laws described in the paragraph above had not yet been given, the passage implies a clear expectation and recognition of what should have happened in this situation.

Judah instructed his second son, Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her; and raise up offspring for your brother" (38:8). Onan made some pretext of complying, but when the time came, he deliberately refused to father a child with Tamar. "What he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also" (38:10). Onan failed to be the kinsman-redeemer.

Judah made a pretense of rectifying the situation. He told Tamar to remain in her father's house until Judah's third son, Shelah, was old enough to marry her. Judah, however, was afraid that Shelah would die as well. Judah apparently never intended to fulfill his promise. "Considerable time" passed (38:12). "Shelah had grown up," and Tamar remained a childless widow (38:14). Judah failed to perform what was right, meaning that Shelah also failed to become the kinsman-redeemer.

In time Judah's wife died, leaving him a widower. Tamar, realizing she had been misled and neglected, took matters into her own hands. She learned that her father-in-law Judah would soon be passing nearby. She dressed as a prostitute, placed herself where Judah would see her, seduced him, and became pregnant by him (38:14-18). This created a complicated situation of seeming success, but through wholly unlawful and unsatisfactory means. Tamar achieved the goal of carrying on the family line by having one of her dead husband's kinsman become the father of her child. However, the child was the result of an adulterous and incestuous encounter; furthermore, it was not a willing fulfillment of duty. Because success was achieved unlawfully and unwillingly, the role of the kinsman-redeemer failed for the third time.

Tamar gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah (38:27-30). If the story ended there, it would remain one of the saddest, most tragic, and most sordid stories contained in the Bible. It was a triple failure in what the passage reveals was a God-ordained expectation that a family member would redeem Tamar's situation.

The story of Perez picks up again in the book of Ruth. The story of Ruth is the best-known example of a successful kinsman-redeemer. Ruth's situation was similar to that of Tamar. Ruth's husband died; in the same general time frame, her father-in-law and brother-in-law also died. Three women were left widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. The kinsman-redeemer concept (in terms of marriage) did not apply to Naomi or Orpah. Naomi was an older widow with adult sons. Orpah chose to remain with her own people. Ruth, who returned to the land of Judah with her mother-in-law, did qualify for the aid of a kinsman-redeemer.

Ruth's story is well-known. Ruth was providentially led to work in the fields of Boaz, a near kinsman. When the circumstances were revealed, Boaz was willing to perform the role of kinsman-redeemer. He was willing not only to buy the lands belonging to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon, but he was also willing to marry the widow Ruth in order to carry on the family line (Ruth 4:9-10). He did what another kinsman could not or would not do (Ruth 4:6), and through his actions, Boaz provided a wonderful success story of the kinsman-redeemer.

Tucked into the end of this success story is the redemption of the earlier failure. Everyone knows that Ruth became the mother to Obed, who was father to Jesse, who was father to David. Ruth's redemption was amazing, with the end result that she became the great-grandmother of King David.

In addition to sharing Ruth's and Boaz's descendants, the Bible also reveals Boaz's ancestors. Boaz was the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez. The genealogy revealed in the final verses of Ruth does not extend further back; it does not mention Judah, Jacob, Isaac, or Abraham. Rather, it starts with Perez, the illegitimate offspring of a thrice-failed attempt at redemption. Perez's rough heritage was redeemed. He was the ancestor named in the beginning of the line that led to the great success story of the kinsman-redeemer.

Consequently, that line continues past David until it reaches Jesus, the greatest example of the Kinsman-Redeemer. God can take the most tragic failure and can turn it into unsurpassed success. No one is beyond the reach of His grace.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Why Love Matters

People want to be loved. This universal desire includes children and adults, men and women, Christians and non-Christians. Clearly, the deepest fulfillment is found in  the love of God. Additionally, God expects His children to express His loving nature through their own lives. For many reasons, it is important that Christians show love.

In reference to God, Christianity without love is disobedient.
The expectation to love is ubiquitous in Scripture. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Jesus pointedly revealed the necessity of love by commanding His followers, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). This essential command to love one another is repeatedly referenced in Scripture (I John 2:7-11, I John 4:21, II John 1:5-6). If a Christian refuses, or even neglects, to love others, he is directly disobeying the primary commandment of the New Testament.

In reference to genuineness, Christianity without love is contradictory.
Love is such a crucial aspect of Christianity that the absence of love calls into question the legitimacy of one's claim to be a Christian. "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (I John 4:8). God clearly states that His children take on His nature. If they do not love others, it is because they do not personally know His love. The opposite is also true; if one does know the love of God, he will be able to love others. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (I John 4:7). For a Christian, loving others is proof that he has experienced the love of God and shares the divine nature.

In reference to self, Christianity without love is legalistic.
This concept begins with love for God. "And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind'" (Matthew 22:37). If one does not fully love God, he is merely going through the motions of Christianity. This man gives the appearance of serving God and living uprightly, but he does so without a true heart motivation. The same concept transfers to the treatment of others. If there is no love at the core, then the actions come from another motivation, such as obligation, guilt, or conformity. Christianity becomes an empty drudgery, consisting of laws that must be followed and expectations that must be met.

In reference to one's children, Christianity without love is unappealing.
Children expect love from their fathers. God recognizes that the love from fathers to children is natural and expected, and He uses this common reference point as a way to describe His own character. "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). Even godless fathers ought to naturally display some love to their children. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11). With a father's love serving as a pattern to reveal God's own love, it is critical that a father love his children. If he does not, his children will struggle to understand the love of God and will not be attracted to a relationship with Him.

In reference to the church, Christianity without love is empty.
Church members are to operate with each other on the basis of love; love is the necessary foundation for all service. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels . . . if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith . . . if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing" (I Corinthians 13:1-3). Ministry without love also results in these evaluations: "I am nothing" and "I have become a noisy gong." This empty service can have disastrous consequences. "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). This verse charges believers to make sure other Christians have sufficient favor and good will. Since the surrounding context involves helping the weak, I believe this bitterness, with potential to divide a church, happens when Christians fail in practically expressing God's love. For example, "A complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food" (Acts 6:1).

In reference to observers, Christianity without love is powerless.
God intends that the mutual, observable love of Christians be a powerful attraction to unbelievers. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).  Those without Christ should be able to easily see the love that Christians have for one another. This appeals to their own desperate desire for such love and draws them toward the family of God. Without seeing this love, unbelievers have less pull toward God.

For all of these reasons, Christians must show their fervent love for each other. "Fervently love one another from the heart" (I Peter 1:22). They must grow in their love. "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more" (Philippians 1:9). In families and in the church, repeated, visible expressions of love must be expressed through both words and actions. The greatest indication of love is sacrifice. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Love matters.