John the Baptist tells us how to prepare for Jesus

Scripture: Luke 3:1-20

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

Observation: Keeping in mind this is a look at social justice, here is another great example of getting a glimpse of God’s heart. As people came to get baptised, they asked what to do in preparation of the coming of the Messiah. What would I do if I knew someone was coming soon to see me? clean up, straighten out my house, prepare a meal. All nice things, but not at all what God has in mind. He just wanted people to treat each other fairly. This is why Jesus said all the law and the prophets could be summed up in two sentences, love God and love your neighbor. By loving your neighbor as yourself, you are loving God. You are keeping his commands. It’s all so simple, but why is it so hard?

Application: let’s prepare the way for the coming of Jesus again. Let’s ensure our lifestyle is consistent with treating others with love and mercy and grace.

Prayer: God, when we see your heart in your Word, it is just so simple. God help us to keep it simple. Love others around us. Help us to do this, even when some people are just so hard to love. Help me remember I was/am hard to love too. Help us to feel your love for your people. In Jesus name, amen.

What the Lord requires

Scripture: Micah 6

6 Listen to what the Lord says:
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains;
let the hills hear what you have to say.
2
“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation;
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people;
he is lodging a charge against Israel.
3
“My people, what have I done to you?
How have I burdened you? Answer me.
4
I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam.
5
My people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
6
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
9
Listen! The Lord is calling to the city—
and to fear your name is wisdom—
“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.
10
Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house,
and the short ephah, which is accursed?
11
Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?
12
Your rich people are violent;
your inhabitants are liars
and their tongues speak deceitfully.
13
Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,
to ruin you because of your sins.
14
You will eat but not be satisfied;
your stomach will still be empty.
You will store up but save nothing,
because what you save I will give to the sword.
15
You will plant but not harvest;
you will press olives but not use the oil,
you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.
16
You have observed the statutes of Omri
and all the practices of Ahab’s house;
you have followed their traditions.
Therefore I will give you over to ruin
and your people to derision;
you will bear the scorn of the nations.

Observation: Every time I visit my father in law lately, I have had opportunity to read the bible to him, and he has been trying to read through the bible again this year, so we’ve been through Ezekiel and starting in some of the minor prophet books. There were a lot of chapters just like this one, a lot of stern warnings, devastation, and consequences for sin. But he was always able to say there was hope. God always gave them hope, despite what they had to endure for a while. It’s no different in this chapter.

Application: God says simply in verse 8 to act justly and love mercy and act humbly. Despite God’s anger, He still showed them the way to make it right. The way back to God’s favor. Act justly to one another, which will automatically mean you are showing mercy to others. If you are doing this with the right motives, this is humbleness to God.

Prayer: Lord, you always point us to you, even when we clearly sin against you. Thank you for your everlasting love. We know that we face consequences sometimes for our actions, but you always have a plan to pull us back into righteousness. Help us to always act justly and extend mercy to our fellow man. Show us how to be humble before you and act accordingly. In Jesus name, amen.

Freedom for slaves

Scripture: Jeremiah 34:8-22

The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. 9 Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. 11 But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.
12 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, 14 ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’ Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. 15 Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. 16 But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.
17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. 19 The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, 20 I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.
21 “I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. 22 I am going to give the order, declares the Lord, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.”

 

Observation: just the same old story isn’t it? The people repent, the people change their mind, the people disobey God and sin. God is clearly wanting equality for His people. He does not want one to lord over the other. He wants them to take care of each other rather than take advantage. God is clearly upset with their decision to go back on their word.  Consequences.

Application: Let our yes be yes, and our no be no. And let’s not take advantage of our neighbors. This is definitely a repeating theme in this study.

Prayer: God your heart is so clearly revealed in these passages again. So often we get hung up on the consequences, that we forget what you are trying to teach us. Lord help us to treat each other well, and God, help us all to be men and women of integrity. Our promises to you need to be binding. Thank you, though, that you give us tons of chances to get it right.  In Jesus name, amen

Worship that God appreciates

Scripture: Isaiah 58

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Observation: The simple act of worship is not what God is looking for at all. In fact, worship is pointless if your heart is not right. God made it very clear in these passages that the point of the fasting and seeking Him was to earnestly seek after God’s heart, to be more holy, to love His people as He does. He doesn’t want us to fast and pray and worship just for the sake of doing it, like a ritual, but with the purpose of a new heart and new understanding.

Application: We should be able to tell our hearts by our fruit. Are we loving those who are unlovable, are we compassionate and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, treating those in lesser positions than you with respect and dignity? Do we truly seek God’s heart in our worship?

Prayer: Lord, may we all today seek your heart with earnest. Help us to love others as you do and have compassion on those in need.  Help us all to be fair in business and work today, and help us understand that we are all your children and you love each of us equally. Thank you , in Jesus name, amen.

Warning to the complacent

Scripture: Amos 6

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
to whom the people of Israel come!
2
Go to Kalneh and look at it;
go from there to great Hamath,
and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms?
Is their land larger than yours?
3
You put off the day of disaster
and bring near a reign of terror.
4
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
5
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
6
You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
7
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.
The Lord Abhors the Pride of Israel
8 The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob
and detest his fortresses;
I will deliver up the city
and everything in it.”
9 If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them[a] asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”
11
For the Lord has given the command,
and he will smash the great house into pieces
and the small house into bits.
12
Do horses run on the rocky crags?
Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—
13
you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar
and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?”
14
For the Lord God Almighty declares,
“I will stir up a nation against you, Israel,
that will oppress you all the way
from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.”

Observation: Amos is not one of those books that I have read a lot, so this is a bit challenging. After doing a bit of research on this chapter, there was one statement I read I felt helped understand this time in history and this chapter.  “Amos prophesied during a time of economic prosperity in Israel, and the successful in Israel used that prosperity for pure self-indulgence. When God makes us prosperous, we have an absolute obligation to use what He gives us in a way that glorifies Him, not pampers ourselves.” Isreal had been extremely blessed by God, but now became lazy, self seeking and complacent. He hated their pride that developed and even told them to look to other pagan cities, are they any better off or different than they were? They were acting the same as every other person in every other city. So much for God’s chosen people, for being an example to the world.

Application: It’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency. When things go well, we have enough food in the fridge, our bills are paid, our health is good, we have lots to spare, it’s easy to start forgetting that God is our provider. We can forget to be thankful, we begin to think how much we “deserve” all the luxuries in life, not that God doesn’t want us to have nice things and enjoy life, but when it replaces time with God and turns to pride, that is where God is displeased. Am I complacent? That is my challenge of today.

Prayer: God you have greatly blessed me and my family. You have given us plenty of food, a warm house, plenty of finances to live by, and I thank you. God, forgive me if I have been complacent, forgive me if I forget sometimes where this all came from. It’s all from you, thank you Lord! Help me to use what you have given me for your honor and glory. In Jesus name, amen.

Warning to fun-loving materialists

Scripture: Isaiah 5 (long chapter today)

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Woes and Judgments
8
Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
9 The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing:
“Surely the great houses will become desolate,
the fine mansions left without occupants.
10
A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine;
a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”
11
Woe to those who rise early in the morning
to run after their drinks,
who stay up late at night
till they are inflamed with wine.
12
They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
pipes and timbrels and wine,
but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord,
no respect for the work of his hands.
13
Therefore my people will go into exile
for lack of understanding;
those of high rank will die of hunger
and the common people will be parched with thirst.
14
Therefore Death expands its jaws,
opening wide its mouth;
into it will descend their nobles and masses
with all their brawlers and revelers.
15
So people will be brought low
and everyone humbled,
the eyes of the arrogant humbled.
16
But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.
17
Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture;
lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.
18
Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with cart ropes,
19
to those who say, “Let God hurry;
let him hasten his work
so we may see it.
The plan of the Holy One of Israel—
let it approach, let it come into view,
so we may know it.”
20
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.
22
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
and champions at mixing drinks,
23
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice to the innocent.
24
Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty
and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25
Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people;
his hand is raised and he strikes them down.
The mountains shake,
and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.
26
He lifts up a banner for the distant nations,
he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.
Here they come,
swiftly and speedily!
27
Not one of them grows tired or stumbles,
not one slumbers or sleeps;
not a belt is loosened at the waist,
not a sandal strap is broken.
28
Their arrows are sharp,
all their bows are strung;
their horses’ hooves seem like flint,
their chariot wheels like a whirlwind.
29
Their roar is like that of the lion,
they roar like young lions;
they growl as they seize their prey
and carry it off with no one to rescue.
30
In that day they will roar over it
like the roaring of the sea.
And if one looks at the land,
there is only darkness and distress;
even the sun will be darkened by clouds.

 

Observation: I had to read this several times to begin to grasp what the author was saying here. God is saying He freed His chosen people and placed them in a great land, and yet, He did not see good fruit. In other words, He still saw the people sin and rebel against Him. They did not appreciate what God had done for them. They liked the things they had, but God was not remembered as the one who gave it to them. They like to party, but did not remember the deeds of the Lord.

 

Application: This sounds a lot like the first world type church. Do we really stop and thank the Lord and acknowledge Him for what He has done? Are we really thankful for our full cupboards, or do we take it for granted it will be that way everyday? When I say we, I mean “do I”. Do I put my whole heart in thanking God for my meals, for the house I live in, for my family and friends, my church.  Today the challenge is to really stop, take time and thank God for where he has brought us.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for freeing me from the bondage of sin. Thank you for bringing me to this community, for giving me the family you did, for the awesome church we belong to. God forgive me when I take these things for granted. I acknowledge that it was you that gave me these things and that made this all possible. Thank you, in Jesus name, amen.

Nehemiah demands justice for the poor

Scripture: Nehemiah 5

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”

Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”

Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”

12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”

Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land.

17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.

19 Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.

 

Observation: interesting how when in a position of power, and left unchecked, can lead to sin and corruption. The Jews were called to be different from the world, but they fell into the same pattern. Demanding unfair taxes, slavery of their own people, heavy burdens of debt. Completely opposite of what God had in mind for his people. Jesus later confirmed what Nehemiah was saying here when He said we should settle our disputes amongst ourselves, not to bring our differences before worldly judges or systems, settle on something fair. What i like in this account is Nehemiahs people immediately recognized their mistakes and vowed to set things right. The lesson here is that we are supposed to treat each other with fairness, especially as fellow Christians. If we can’t settle our differences and treat each other fairly, how do we expect the world to look at us as an example?

Application:  How are we treating each other? in our business, in our jobs, in our day to day interactions? Do we admit and accept fault when we do wrong, or do we try deflecting blame or try to get out of consequences? God wants us each to treat each other fairly. Let’s ensure we are treating each other well.

Prayer: God we know your desire is for each of us to love each other as ourselves. God may our day to day activities be honoring to you, show us Lord where we have been unfair or unjust. Help us to be good examples to the world, especially when our actions have not been right. May we pour your love on each other. In Jesus name, amen.

Elijah speaks to a land-grabbing, murderous king

Scripture: 1 Kings 21

Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”
3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”
4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”
6 He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”
7 Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. 9 In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
11 So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 13 Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned to death.”
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”
20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
23 “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’
24 “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”
25 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)
27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Observation: well if the theme of this series is social justice, this is pretty self explanatory. Naboth was clearly set up by slandering lies against him, which in this situation, got him killed. But even worse, it was the abuse of authority and lack of leadership. The same lack of leadership we saw in the Garden of Eden when Adam was right there when Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and he did nothing to stop her. When in a leadership position, abuse of authority and lack of leadership are equally a big concern. Either it’s bullying or not willing to stand up for yourself. That’s not leadership. Ahab was clearly a bad leader, being influenced negatively by his wife and doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. But even despite all this, God showed him some grace in the end.

Application: This applies to all of us. Leadership is anyone who has influence over another. Don’t we all have that? As Christians, we’ve all been called to disciple the world, to be the examples and influencers. We are also parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc..  We all influence someone. But our influence must be out of love and respect, but also making the hard decisions and stand by them when you need to. Are we doing this, or are we being the bullies or the ones afraid to stand up for what we believe?

Prayer: Lord, help us to be amazing leaders in this world. Help us to influence others with respect and love. Lord help us to not think ourselves above everyone else, but yet stand firm on what we believe. God I thank you that you are full of grace when I mess up, help me to be humble in correction too. in Jesus name, amen.

A Poor Woman Finds Help

Scripture: Ruth 2

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.
2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.
5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”
17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”
Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”
21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”
22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”
23 So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

Observation: This series is about social justice, let’s first define what that actually means. Let’s look at Websters definition

  1. “The fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.
  2. The distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society
  3. Wikipedia suggests that ‘Social Justice’ originated as a religious term to acknowledge the collective nature of humanity, and our personal commitment to helping other humans

As we look at this chapter, we can see several examples of these definitions in action. First, Boaz learned who Ruth was and did not turn her away because she was a foreigner. He approached her and gave her full rights, and possibly more rights than his own servants. He even instructed protection for her and for the men to intentionally leave grain for her to gleen from the fields, just to ensure she had plenty. I think we can see a couple lessons here. First God is showing us His heart on how we should treat others around us. Second, I think we are getting a glimpse of things to come, such as God extending His salvation and grace even to the gentiles, such as was the case with Ruth.

Application: God’s heart is clear, treat each other well. “love your neighbor as yourself”. It is so easy to look at the less fortunate and think that it’s their problem, they put themselves in this situation. They could work harder and do better. Let’s admit it, we’ve all done this. But the fact is, if we take the time to get to know the person, to hear their heart and their story, we will often find a very different story than we assumed. I’m not saying that is the case every time, a few bad apples do spoil the bunch. We get a bad taste  from the few that actually take advantage of the system. Today, the challenge is to try and look at the less fortunate or someone that is in trouble with the eyes of God. Can we love them and help them, even if we really don’t want to?

Prayer: Lord, help us today to see people with your eyes. Give us compassion and give us an ear to listen, but not just listen but really hear. Help us to love the “unlovable”.

The year of Jubilee-a time of economic revolution

Scripture: Leviticus 25

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
The Year of Jubilee
8 “‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
13 “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.
14 “‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.
18 “‘Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.
23 “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. 24 Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.
25 “‘If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. 26 If, however, there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it themselves, 27 they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. 28 But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.
29 “‘Anyone who sells a house in a walled city retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time the seller may redeem it. 30 If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and the buyer’s descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. 31 But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as belonging to the open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.
32 “‘The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. 33 So the property of the Levites is redeemable—that is, a house sold in any town they hold—and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites. 34 But the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession.
35 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
47 “‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. 50 They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. 53 They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.
54 “‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

 

Observation: Fairness and equality and stewardship, with the ever present undertone of God’s grace. Wouldn’t it be great to be given a chance to start over? What an interesting chapter, and interesting concept of economics God laid out for the Isrealites. God knew the dangers of a few men getting really rich and powerful, while the poor get poorer. God gave them a way to reset, to start fresh. Maybe some made poor decisions or didn’t work their land like they should have. Having to sell off their homestead would have given them a short term solution, but no way of creating a living any longer. By returning the land to each of the rightful owners every 50 years, everyone is once again given a chance to start over, the chance to be all equal again. The next generation would not have to suffer for the mistakes of this generation.

Application: Even though the chapter is about economics and equality and fairness, the heart of this message I believe is two things. First, God grace. He is always about second chances. Here was just another way He gave us to set things right and back in order for the ones that had to sell their lands for whatever reason. Second, I believe God is teaching us about His economy. He owns it all, everything is His. This is what scripture tells us. We are stewards of His world, and if we manage His world well and according to His ways, He will reward and bless us for it. Are we remembering that everything is the Lords? Are we managing our “possessions” with this in mind?

Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge that everything in this world is yours. And I recognize that you have blessed us with your stuff to manage. God help us to manage your world in a way pleasing to you. Thank you that you always are looking for ways to give us another chance when we make mistakes, so we can start again. Thank for being a fair and just God. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.