March 31, 2007

Ethiopia Update

So far, we have received $566.00 (largely from readers of this blog) to sponsor Ethiopian men to attend the Pastor's Training Institute in March. Thank you!

To be brief - and frank - we still need $3,034.00, in a hurry! Please continue to pray for the Lord's provision. And see the PTI post below for more info.

Woman of Excellence

Here we are in our third week of looking closely at the book of Ruth…and we have yet to say very much about the girl for whom the book is named! But there is much to say about Ruth—and there is a reason why history knows this little short story by her name. She absolutely shines in these four brief chapters. And she is rightly called (3.11) “a woman of excellence.” But what was so excellent about Ruth?

First, notice her commitment (ch.1). Her husband had died. Her mother-in-law was moving to a foreign land. She had every reason to cut ties with Naomi and her married family. In fact, her sister-in-law had not needed much persuasion to cut the cord (v.14). But Ruth would not be swayed. By marrying Mahlon, Ruth had made a commitment to care for his mother, too. As Naomi grew older, it would be Ruth’s job to be the mother of the household—and the support of her aging in-laws. But now she had a good excuse to lay all that responsibility aside. Instead, she kept her vow. And her speech to Naomi, in 1.16-17, is such a beautiful poem of commitment that we often use it today in ceremonies that mark the greatest human commitment—weddings!

Second, notice Ruth’s ingenuity (ch.2). Now both she and Naomi were hungry upon arriving back in Bethlehem. One of them was going to have to start pounding the pavement in search of some income. Now you would think, given that Bethlehem was her hometown, that Naomi would have taken the initiative. Even if she herself was too old to work, it seems she would have been the one directing Ruth as they sought daily bread. But notice verse 2. It was Ruth who approached Naomi with a work-proposal. And, as you read on in the chapter, you find that Ruth was quite the industrious worker, too (v.17). She worked the same long hours as the robust farmhands! Ruth was a hard-worker!

Thirdly, notice Ruth’s submissiveness (ch.3). Naomi gave her some strange instructions at the beginning of chapter 3. ‘You want me to sneak down to the threshing floor at night, uncover Boaz’s feet, lie down on the floor, and suggest a marriage arrangement?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘OK. “All that you say I will do”’ (v.5). Isn’t that great? Don’t you wish your kids would obey like that? Don’t you wish you obeyed God so quickly and unquestioningly? I do…but, somehow, I don’t obey as I should. And Ruth’s submissiveness—under much stranger requests than most of God’s requests of me—rebukes me.

So, Ruth was indeed “a woman of excellence.” And, as such, she is an example, not only to women, but to us all. Women can learn from Ruth’s excellence as they seek to relate to in-laws, husbands, and so on. But all of us could stand to have a little more Ruth in our relationship to the LORD! Are we as committed to Him as she was to her mother-in-law? Are we working for His glory as hard as Ruth worked? Are we as submissive to our Head as she was to hers? Probably not. So we have some growing to do as we think about Ruth!

But let us also think about Jesus! No, we are not fully committed, passionately working, or totally submissive to our God. But Jesus is! And He Himself is our righteousness! So…let us learn from the good example of Ruth. But let us look beyond her to the One who not only sets for us an example, but who is also able to save those of us who do not follow it as we should!

March 25, 2007

How much is $50 Worth in Ethiopia?

Well, it exchanges into about 400 Ethiopian Birr, actually. So how much is 400 Birr worth?

From April 16-26, 400 Bir (or $50.00) is worth two weeks of intensive Bible training for an Ethiopian pastor-in-training. We are hoping we can train 72 men over those 10 days or so...the beginning of a two-year program that will prepare them to plant churches in 36 unreached areas of Ethiopia. The training is free (myself and another US pastor providing it). But it will cost $50.00 to house and feed each man for the two weeks.

So far, the Pastor's Training Institute has only been able to raise $100.00! Quick math: That is only 2 pastors! So we agreed to help! And thus, we need your help...and we need it fast.

We need to raise $3500.00 in the next week! (by 4/2/07)

Would you consider sponsoring a pastor, or two, or five, or ten?

To help you decide...let's think about some other ways of measuring the worth of $50.00. Maybe it amounts to your monthly cable bill. Or tickets to that ballgame. Or a nice dinner with your spouse or friends. All nice things, to be sure.

But ask yourself (or your church): Which is more important? An evening of entertainment? Or the eternal, perishing souls of many hundreds of Ethiopians who may eventually be reached by the pastor(s) you sponsor?

So think about it...and please consider sponsoring these men. If you'd like to give:

1. Email me as soon as possible, and let me know how much you are sending (So we can get a guage of what to tell the Pastor's Training Institute as quickly as possible).

2. Make your check...

Payable to: Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church
Earmarked for: PTI-Ethiopia
Mail to: PRBC, 6401 Ridge Ave. Cincinnati, OH 45213

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

March 19, 2007

The Kindness of Boaz

Every time I read Ruth chapter 2, I find myself again amazed at the character and kindness of Boaz. Lately I have been thinking to myself, ‘O, I hope my Julia will someday meet and be loved by such a strong, yet gentle man.’ In fact, as I read the entire Old Testament, there seem to be few more Christ-like characters in all its pages. So, inasmuch as he is like Jesus, Boaz deserves our imitation.

Isn’t it amazing that Ruth just “happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz” (v.3)? Surely this was God’s doing! In fact, I think the phrase “happened to” in the Bible is like God’s signature, written in small letters, at the bottom of His most beautiful works of providential art! Ruth “happened to” come into Boaz’s field because God had a wise and loving plan for her life. And Ruth “happened” into Boaz’s field because God had a wonderful plan for sending the Messiah through her family line! And Ruth “happened” into Boaz’s field because God knew that Boaz was just the type of man whom He could use to further His good plan. So what kind of man was Boaz?

Well, notice how he treated his employees. When Boaz, the owner of the farm, came into his fields to check on his workers, he was not sour, or exacting, or strictly business-like. His first words were not: ‘How is the work going?’ or ‘What kind of crop are we looking at?’ His first words to his employees were: “May the LORD be with you” (v.4). Apparently this was his custom. And, therefore, Boaz was loved and respected by his employees. When the bossman came into the field, they didn’t all begin to murmur, or act busy. They called out to him, from their hearts, “May the LORD bless you” (v.4b)! What a pattern for Christian businessmen, supervisors, and employees! And what a man for God to graft into the Messiah’s family tree!

But notice something else about Boaz. He was not only concerned about his own workers and crop. As soon as he had greeted his men, he immediately noticed a poor young girl, gathering up the leftovers from the ground so that she might feed her family. Watch what happened: He noticed her (v.5); he showed a genuine interest in her (v.6); he spoke to her (v.7); he protected her (v.8a); and he provided for her (v.8b). All of this is noteworthy! How many large business owners take time to get to know the common folk around the factory? In fact, how many of us actually notice the needy or lonely people around us? And, of those of us who notice, how many take a general interest in them? Precious few, I would guess!

But Boaz was observant, generous, and genuinely interested in this timid young woman. Verses 15-16 tug at my emotions every time I read them: “Boaz commanded his servants, saying, ‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. Also, you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean.’” In other words: ‘Do you see that lass who is picking up our leftovers? You make sure there are plenty of them for her to pick up!’

What mercy! What compassion! What an example for us all! And what a reminder of the even greater kindness of Jesus Christ to us poor sinners!

Do you see beauty in Boaz? Do you see in him hope and compassion? Do you see in him all that is right in the world? Then imagine how loving, compassionate, kind, and merciful Jesus is! Imagine how beautiful Christ is! And don’t just imagine. Let Boaz’s story push you forward a few hundred pages…to the stories of his greater ancestor, Jesus! And don’t just read about the kindness and compassion of Jesus. By faith, receive it; experience it; revel in it! Let handsome, strong Boaz make your heart pound for the even more lovely Bridegroom of the church, Jesus or Lord!

March 12, 2007

Naomi or Mara

As I make my annual trek through the Bible, I have come to the book of Ruth. Of course, it will only take a day or two to read through it in my daily devotion; but I thought, this year, it deserved a little more attention. So, for the next four weeks, this column will be my attempt to give a little more attention to the book of Ruth. I am not going to attempt anything like a verse by verse commentary…just a devotional thought or two from each of the four chapters, a chapter a week. You will be greatly helped if you read along with me as we walk through Ruth together…starting today with some thoughts on chapter 1.

Naomi was having a hard go of it. She had, presumably, grown up in Israel. Perhaps she had a happy life—caring for her husband and raising two boys. But then famine came. Famine so severe that Naomi and her husband were forced to uproot their little family and move to another country. All that she’d ever known was left behind. She was dropped in the middle of a strange place, with strange people, who carried on strange customs, and worshipped strange gods. Perhaps she eventually got used to it all. But if she did, her comfort zone was again rudely interrupted—this time by death. The death of her husband and both of her sons, to be specific. Did they all die at once in some accident or plague? What a shock to the system that would have been. Or perhaps they all died at varying times and seasons—prolonging Naomi’s pain. However they died, it was not convenient. Death never is.

So how did Naomi, a daughter of Israel, respond? With grace? Perhaps by reminding herself that God works all thing for the good of His people? Not exactly. Actually, she blamed God (“the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me” v.13). She murmured (“Don’t call me Naomi [Hebrew for pleasant]; call me Mara [Hebrew for bitter], for the LORD has dealt very bitterly with me” v.20). And then she murmured and blamed God some more (v.21)!

‘What a pathetic old sourpuss!’ you might be thinking to yourself. ‘Blaming God? Complaining? What is the matter with this woman?’ Not a bad question. But before we go asking it in our judgmental tones, let’s try and place ourselves in her shoes for just a moment or two. How strong would you be if you lost your whole family all at once? What would be going through your mind? Would you want someone to record all your innermost thoughts for the whole world to read? I wouldn’t! So let’s not be too hard on old Naomi.

But after we have walked a mile in her shoes, it is important to ask: ‘Why did Naomi respond so bitterly…and why might so many of us respond similarly if put in her place?’

Naomi’s problem seemed to be that she did not take the long view of the providence of God. She was right in saying (v.13) that the LORD’s hand had “gone forth” and caused the death of her husband and boys. God is always in control of who lives and who dies (1 Sam 2.6), and Naomi understood that. But she was only looking at the here and now. She had forgotten that , in the long-term, the LORD always has good purposes for everything He does—whether he makes alive or kills. That is why she could say: “The hand of the LORD has gone forth against me” (v.13). She was measuring the LORD only by what she could see now.

Thus, her judgment was not true. The hand of the LORD was not against Naomi. Yes, He brought about unimaginable difficulty for a season. But in the long run, this difficulty worked for her good! In the long run, Naomi got a very loyal daughter-in-law in Ruth (v.16-18). She got a new family and a brighter future back among the people of God (v.19). She got a grandson who continued the family name (ch.4)—which she was noticeably without before “the hand of the LORD” had “gone forth.” And, through that grandson, she got to perch herself on a little branch in the family tree of the King David (ch. 4)…and thus, of Messiah Jesus, the Savior of the world!

So…it wasn’t just Naomi’s long-term good that God had in mind in the midst of her sufferings. It was also yours and mine! The death of Naomi’s husband and sons, and all the sorrow that came with it, was a wisely placed domino in God’s plan to send a Savior—bother for her and for us! Without the bitterness of Ruth 1, we would not have the joy of Revelation 22!

So, next time you are tempted to murmur against the Lord, or to question His dealings with you—remember the bittersweet providence of Ruth 1. And ask yourself: ‘Am I going to be Naomi or Mara?’

March 10, 2007

Ten Shekels and a Shirt

Lately, a few people have asked me how I made may way to the theological convictions I hold...about the centrality of Christ, the sovereignty of God, and so on. Well, there have been many 'rest stops' along the journey; many influential people, passages, and books. But perhaps the most important God-ordained means of bringing me to a more God-centered worldview is here.

It is well worth the hour or so of listening!

March 5, 2007

The Jesus Family Tomb?

Most of you have heard by now that a group of so-called experts, including the producer of The Titanic (a real scholarly crowd!) has ‘discovered’, in Jerusalem, a box of bones that supposedly contains the bones of Jesus—and ‘demonstrates’ (as Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code failed so miserably to do) that Jesus really was married to Mary Magdalene. They have made a ‘documentary’ about their ‘findings’ that aired this past weekend on The Discovery Channel. Read more at:

Their theory that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, and that he was married and had children, is based on this discovery of a box of bones (a way of burial common to ancient times) containing the names Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mariamene, Mathew, Jofa, and Judah son of Jesua. The assumption is made (probably correctly) that these people were all family, and that the name Mariamene is code for Mary Magdalene. And after all, they say, what are the chances that another Jesua (Jesus) son of Joseph would have been living in ancient Palestine?

So, do they have a case? Is it possible that our faith in the literal resurrection of Jesus (and therefore Christianity itself) is one big hoax? A few things to think about…

1. What are the chances of there being another Jesus, son of Joseph (who also had a family member named Mary) floating around in ancient Judea? Pretty good actually. Just read the rest of the New Testament and you will see that these were very popular Jewish names. There were no shortages of Mary’s, Joseph’s, and Jesus’s in ancient Jewish times. So these bones could have belonged to any number of ancient extended families.

2. Why would Mary and Joseph have been buried in Jerusalem? In ancient times, people were almost always buried in a family homestead. And Jesus’ family never lived in Jerusalem. They were from far off Galilee.

3. It is interesting that the archaeological community—the people who actually discovered this box in 1980 (and who do this kind of thing for a living) have not considered this a significant find at all. For the reasons above (and others) the real experts place no credence in this new theory. In fact, though the archaeological community has known about this box for 27 years, this new ‘theory’ has only surfaced recently—with Hollywood’s help!

4. Place yourself in 1st century Jerusalem. If this box really were the bones of Jesus, who in the world would have actually buried it? If you were an enemy of Christianity, you wouldn’t bury a box with Jesus’ bones in it! You’d bring it out for the world to see; you’d prove once and for all that Jesus had not risen! And if you were a 1st century Christian, trying to further the hoax that Jesus really had risen from the dead, you wouldn’t bury a box like this either. You’d destroy it so that, someday, some really smart ‘scholars’ wouldn’t come along and uncover your hoax!

So which is the hoax? Christianity? Or the Jesus Family Tomb? Think it out and the answer becomes obvious. Do we want to trust the writings of the New Testament—written the decades immediately following Jesus’ life and death; written by eye-witnesses; and disseminated in the land of Israel where, even those who had witnessed the events and disliked Christianity, could not disprove what the apostles wrote?

Or do we want to trust the musings of a few half-cocked Americans with a box of bones and a movie camera?