Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joseph’s incredible life.

Joseph lived an incredible life and there are many things we can learn from him as we look as his life.

Jesus was not born into a rich family.  Mary and Joseph came from very poor homes, ones you would not expect a King to come.  Joseph was a carpenter, a job that provided for the family but certainly not a lucrative money making profession.

Joseph’s decision to marry Mary took place in three stages.  William Barclay in his “Daily Bible Study” explains each stage.

(I) there was the engagement. The engagement was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents, or through a professional match-maker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.

(ii) There was the betrothal. The betrothal was what we might call the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. At this point the engagement, entered into by the parents or the match-maker, could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife, although they had not the rights of man and wife. It could not be terminated in any other way than by divorce. In the Jewish law we frequently find what is to us a curious phrase. A girl whose fiancé had died during the year of betrothal is called "a virgin who is a widow". It was at this stage that Joseph and Mary were. They were betrothed, and if Joseph wished to end the betrothal, he could do so in no other way than by divorce; and in that year of betrothal Mary was legally known as his wife.

(iii) The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal.

 His engagement to Mary was a very serious commitment to her.  During the normal one year waiting period, the groom would work and save money to be able to provide a home for his wife. The time between was a sort of testing of fidelity with the couple having little, if any, contact with each other.

I am sure that Joseph and Mary where both looking forward to their wedding date.  Jewish weddings were very important for both families.  The actual wedding did not last only a day but lasted a week in which the couple stayed at the groom’s family’s home and were treated like a Prince and Princess.  Friends of the bride and groom came to visit during the week so it was like an open house.  But we do not know if Joseph and Mary were able to have a true wedding ceremony and celebration as described.  Her pregnancy most likely changed everything they had planned.

When we look at the life of Joseph we note several things about him.

Joseph was a chosen man.

Joseph was chosen by God and was a recipient of God’s grace.  He was from the right lineage from which the Messiah would be born.  His ancestry was recorded by Matthew to the time of Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith.  Abraham received the promise that through his lineage the blessing of God would come.  The blessing is singular indicating it was meant to be the Messiah.  Joseph was chosen by God to be the final link in the ancestry of the Messiah.  It could have been one of Joseph’s brothers instead of him but he was specially chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus.  This was an act of God’s grace that Joseph specifically was chosen.  He did not deserve it nor was he a person who others would probably say was the perfect future father as he was from a humble family.

Each of us in the same way have been recipients of the grace of God.  Our salvation is totally an act of God’s grace to us.  It is his gift which he freely gives to us but we have to receive it by faith.

Joseph was a troubled man.

God’s choice of Joseph was not quickly accepted by him.  He did not understand what God was doing and his perspective at the time regarding Mary’s pregnancy was a shock to him and Joseph did not know how to respond.  Questions must have flooded his mind and doubts about Mary’s fidelity had to enter his thinking. Being pregnant before marriage was not acceptable in the Jewish culture. 

Jewish law provided that his betrothed, because of her unfaithfulness, could be placed before the elders for judgment and stoned to death or he could chose to privately divorce her with two witnesses testifying of his statement of divorce.  Joseph opted to just put her away quietly without public knowledge. Betrothals or marriage engagements in those ancient times were binding and could only be terminated by an official divorce decree.

Mary’s pregnancy would damage both of their reputations and Joseph was greatly troubled by her news.

At times we like Joseph experience situations that are unplanned and at times unwanted.  We may lose a job, suffer a sickness, experience financial difficulties, be misunderstood or mistreated, neglected or overlooked, lied to or lied about, and a host of other situations that we can encounter in life in which we do not understand why they are happening.  We are troubled because we lack understanding and often we do not see things from God’s perspective and his plan for our lives.

Joseph was a righteous man.

Joseph was a man who followed the law and wanted to do what was right. He was a man of character whom God could entrust this mission. The best option he could think of was to secretly end the relationship.  He did not want to continue his promise to Mary as the covenant they had made in the engagement was broken.  I am sure that he felt shame, disillusionment, discouragement and a lot of emotional ups and downs after receiving the news.

But Joseph was a righteous man and he did not want to publicly announce his intentions to end the relationship.  I am sure he was heartbroken over the situation and God understood that he needed a special message to convince him that what Mary had told him was true.

In our lives God is looking for people whose hearts are right before him.  People who have his character and whom he can entrust his mission.  Our character will determine our mission God wants to give us.  If we cannot be trusted to stay faithful we will not be given much responsibility in His Kingdom.  Joseph was a man God could use because he was a man of Godly character.

Joseph was a relieved man.

God met Joseph at his point of need.  Joseph needed to have a sure word that Mary was telling the truth.  God sent the angel Gabriel to him and gave him the message he needed to hear. We don’t know what Joseph’s reaction was to this message but we do know that he did not end the relationship but continued to be engaged to Mary.  The news from the angel convinced him that this really was a God thing that was happening and he was specially chosen by God to carry out the mission God was giving him that no one else in history would be able to say they did.  Perhaps Joseph understood the magnitude of what was going to happen and he felt relieved that God was truly involved in this situation.  Joseph had to be convinced because of his doubts but also because of the trials he and Mary would face in raising Jesus. Throughout Mary’s pregnancy there must have been many people who judged them, possibly gossiped about them and thought badly about them.  Their story of her pregnancy was difficult to believe.  Once Mary began showing that she was pregnant the speculations ended and more accusations must have started.  The assurance they had received from the angels gave them strength to endure whatever came their way.

Any doubts he may have had were most likely dispelled when the lowly shepherds came to worship Jesus in the manger after his birth.  The humiliating conditions of the birth place of Jesus must have affected Joseph.  As a man and soon to be father, I am sure he wanted a better and cleaner place for his wife to give birth.  The rejection of the inn keeper must have been a very humbling experience for both of Joseph and Mary.  Would it have made any difference if they had announced that Mary was going to give birth to the Messiah?  Would the inn keeper have made a special place for Mary to give birth?  Joseph did not demand special treatment but accepted what he was given and probably did the best he could to make the manger as comfortable as possible for Mary.

The arrival of the shepherds with their story of the angelic visitation was another confirmation to Joseph that Mary was giving birth to the Savior of the World.  The excitement of the birth combined with the visitation of the shepherds made for an extraordinary night!

In our lives we also need the assurance and confirmation from God that what we are experiencing is part of God’s plan.  We may not have complete understanding until later but we desire to have the assurance that we are in the right place at the right time with the right people who are doing the right thing.

Joseph was a responsible man.

Joseph accepted his role as what we would call today, “the step father”.  He remained faithful to Mary throughout her pregnancy and cared for her. He took her to be his wife and fulfilled his promise to her.  Being married was a great responsibility but being the father of the Son of God must have been heavy on his mind. What must it have been like for him to know that his wife was carrying the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world?  He would become the earthly father to this royal son, both a privilege no one else would ever know and a responsibility that was beyond his comprehension how he would be able to fulfill his role.

When Jesus was born Joseph gave him his name “Jesus”.  He was told in the angelic visitation that this would be his name and Joseph did as he was told.  The name Jesus means “Savior”. His name had great significance and it was important that Joseph give him this name.

But even as a proud father, we do not read where he publicly announced that he and Mary were raising the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for to arrive.  How could you keep this news silent?  Wouldn’t you want everyone to know?  But Joseph did not do this as far as we know.  He and Mary kept this information private which must have been difficult to do.

Throughout Jesus’s life we can see how Joseph fulfilled his responsibilities of raising Jesus.  He provide a home for him, he fulfilled the Jewish laws of circumcision at 8 days old. He protected him by fleeing to Egypt as instructed to avoid the jealous wrath of Herod who sought to kill all boys 2 years old or less.  He brought Jesus to the temple when he was 12 years old as required to dedicate him. He taught Jesus the trade of a carpenter to help him provide for his needs. Jesus became a responsible adult and it appears that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry as he is never mentioned in the gospels during this time.  Jesus took on the responsibility as the oldest son to care for his widowed mother.

As Disciples of Christ we too must fulfill our responsibilities no matter how difficult they may seem at times.  Often the easiest thing to do is quit, walk away and leave everything behind which often includes a disaster that will be created.  We will all leave a legacy behind regarding the fulfillment of our responsibilities God has entrusted to us.  I think we all want to hear Jesus say “well done my good and faithful servant.”  We want to end our mission knowing we have accomplished what God has given us to do.

Joseph was a rewarded man.

Joseph’s life of obedience, sacrifice and service was worthy of receiving his reward.  God is a rewarder of those who live by faith and fulfill their mission.  Throughout his life he must have thought about the mission God had given him in raising Jesus.  We have very little information about the childhood and young adult years of Jesus.  He was most likely a normal child who went through the phases of growing up and Joseph was there to guide him.  Raising Jesus was a reward in itself.  Joseph most likely died before Jesus began his ministry and he went on to receive his heavenly reward.

During our time on earth we may not see all the results of our work or be rewarded by people.  The acclaim of man is not what is really important but we know that God sees what we do and he will reward us for our labor for his kingdom and our service to others.

William Barclay in his "Daily Bible Study" cited this story.
One of the loveliest of all stories is that of The Fourth Wise Man. His name was Arabian. He set out to follow the star and he took with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl beyond price as gifts for the King. He was riding hard to meet his three friends, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, at the agreed place. The time was short; they would leave if he was late. Suddenly he saw a dim figure on the ground before him. It was a traveler stricken with fever. If he stayed to help he would miss his friends. He did stay; he helped and healed the man. But now he was alone. He needed camels and bearers to help him across the desert because he had missed his friends and their caravan. He had to sell his sapphire to get them; and he was sad because the King would never have his gem.

He journeyed on and in due time came to Bethlehem, but again he was too late. Joseph and Mary and the baby had gone. Then there came the soldiers to carry out Herod's command that the children should be slain. Artaban was in a house where there was a little child. The tramp of the soldiers came to the door; the weeping of stricken mothers could be heard. Artaban stood in the doorway, tall and dark, with the ruby in his hand and bribed the captain not to enter. The child was saved; the mother was overjoyed; but the ruby was gone; and Artaban was sad because the King would never have his ruby.

For years he wandered looking in vain for the King. More than thirty years afterwards he came to Jerusalem. There was a crucifixion that day. When Artaban heard of the Jesus being crucified, he sounded wondrous like the King and Artaban hurried towards Calvary. Maybe his pearl, the loveliest in all the world, could buy the life of the King. Down the street came a girl fleeing from a band of soldiers. "My father is in debt," she cried, "and they are taking me to sell as a slave to pay the debt. Save me!" Artaban hesitated; then sadly he took out his pearl, gave it to the soldiers and bought the girl's freedom.

On a sudden the skies were dark; there was an earthquake and a flying tile hit Artaban on the head. He sank half-conscious to the ground. The girl pillowed his head on her lap. Suddenly his lips began to move. "Not so, my Lord. For when saw I thee hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick in prison, and came unto thee? Thirty and three years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King." And then like a whisper from very far away, there came a voice. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." And Artaban smiled in death because he knew that the King had received his gifts.
Our lives are to be marked by our service and willingness to sacrifice and use whatever resources God has given us to be a blessing to others.  Joseph's life was one of service and sacrifice to raise Jesus and prepare him for the mission God had given to him.

Joseph’s life reflects our lives in many ways and is a model to us.

He was a chosen man by the grace of God to have the mission of raising the Son of God.

He was a troubled man having received news that was not what he expected.

He was a righteous man who obeyed God’s laws and wanted to do what was right.

He was a relieved man after receiving the assurance from the angel that the situation was ordained of God.

He was a responsible man who faithfully fulfilled his mission.

He was a rewarded man during his time on earth and he received his eternal reward in heaven.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Legalism or Love?

The Pharisees were a unique group of people among the Jews.  They were dedicated to preserving the Law and became very legalistic in their observance of it.  To the Pharisees the Law was the Word of God and it was their greatest possession. When Israel was permitted to return to Jerusalem during their captivity to the Babylonians, the Law was reestablished by Ezra and Nehemiah.  From this point in their history, the study of the Law became the greatest of all professions.  The Scribes were the first group of people who dedicated themselves to study the Law and interpret how it should be applied.  They broke the Law into thousands of rules and regulations to make sure they did not violate the Law.

For example the command to not work on the Sabbath had to be defined. 39 laws were written to define what could not be done on the Sabbath.  Only an exact number of steps on could take on the Sabbath.  They also limited the weight of something they could carry to be equal to 2 dried figs so as to not be guilty of working. Even thinking about work was forbidden. By the time they finished interpreting the Laws they had amassed more than 50 volumes to hold the mass of regulations.

The Pharisees became of sect of the Jews after the Syrians tried to conquer them in 155 B.C.  They wanted to eradicate the Jewish beliefs and replace them with their Greek religion and customs.  The word Pharisee means “separated ones”.  They dedicate their whole lives to be careful and meticulous to observe every rule and regulation that the Scribes had worked out.  They were legalists but they were also very dedicated to their beliefs.

William Barclay in his Daily Bible Study series noted that there were 7 kinds of Pharisees the Jews themselves gave classification.

The Talmud distinguishes seven different kinds of Pharisee.

(1) There was the Shoulder Pharisee. He was meticulous in his observance of the law; but he wore his good deeds upon his shoulder. He was out for a reputation for purity and goodness. True, he obeyed the law, but he did so in order to be noticed.

(2) There was the Wait-a-little Pharisee. He was the Pharisee who could always produce an entirely valid excuse for putting off a good deed. He professed the creed of the strictest Pharisees, but he could always find an excuse for allowing practice to lag behind. He spoke, but he did not do.

(3) There was the Bruised or Bleeding Pharisee. The Talmud speaks of the plague of self-afflicting Pharisees. These Pharisees received their name for this reason. Women had a very low status in Palestine. No really strict orthodox teacher would be seen talking to a woman in public, even if that woman was his own wife or sister. These Pharisees went even further; they would not even allow themselves to look at a woman on the street. In order to avoid doing so, they would shut their eyes, and so bump into walls and buildings and obstructions. They thus bruised and wounded themselves, and their wounds and bruises gained them a special reputation for exceeding piety.

(4) There was the Pharisee who was variously described as the Pestle and Mortar Pharisee, or the Hump-backed Pharisee, or the Tumbling Pharisee. Such men walked in such ostentatious humility that they were bent like a pestle in a mortar or like a hunchback. They were so humble that they would not even lift their feet from the ground and so tripped over every obstruction they met. Their humility was a self-advertising ostentation.

(5) There was the Ever-reckoning or Compounding Pharisee. This kind of Pharisee was forever reckoning up his good deeds; he was forever striking a balance sheet between himself and God, and he believed that every good deed he did put God a little further in his debt. To him, religion was always to be reckoned in terms of a profit and loss account.

(6) There was the Timid or Fearing Pharisee. He was always in dread of divine punishment. He was, therefore, always cleansing the outside of the cup and the platter, so that he might seem to be good. He saw religion in terms of judgment and life in terms of a terror-stricken evasion of this judgment.

(7) Finally, there was the God-fearing Pharisee; he was the Pharisee who really and truly loved God and who found his delight in obedience to the law of God, however difficult it might be.

(Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., pp. 330–331). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.)

Jesus reprimanded them severely for their beliefs and actions that placed people in bondage to keeping all the rules they created to make sure the laws were not violated. Their righteousness was based on their obedience to keeping all the laws they created. 

Matthew 23:1–4

  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore do and observe everything they tell you; but do not act as they act; for they speak, but they do not do. They bind burdens that are heavy and hard to bear, and place them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves refuse to lift a finger to remove them.’

Jesus instructed the people to keep the principles that come from the Law which are very simple. The Law given by Moses focused on two things: Reverence for God and respect for others.

 Out of our reverence for God we

Place no other gods before Him (Ex. 20.2)

Make no graven images and  worship them (Ex. 20.4)

Use God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7)

Keep the Sabbath Day holy (Ex. 20:8)

Out of respect for others we:

Honor our Father and Mother  (Ex. 20.12)

Do not murder (Ex. 20:13)

Do not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14)

Do not steal (Ex. 20:15)

Do not bear false witness (Ex. 20:16)

Do not covet anything that belongs to someone else (Ex. 20:17

Our love for God results in our reverence toward him.  Our love for others is demonstrated by the respect we give them.

Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you want.”  This is not a license to do anything want to do but holds us to the principle of what does it mean to love God.  We demonstrate our love to God also through the way we treat others.  The apostle John, the apostle of love, wrote in 1 John 4:20-21:

“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The Pharisees were guilty of placing rules and regulations above relationships in which love was demonstrated. 

Jesus used the example of the story of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate to the Jewish lawyer who knew the Law what it meant to be considered a good neighbor (Luke 10:29-38)  The two people who passed by the injured man were a Priest and a Levite.  Both knew the Law and interpreted it legalistically.  They knew they would be unclean if they touched someone who was dead and they were unwilling to break the law to render aid to the injured man. 

The Samaritan was praised by Jesus for his actions to help the injured man.  The Samaritan saw the need and made it a priority to help, not an option to consider or worse something to avoid.  He made himself available perhaps because he may have been in a similar situation in the past or that he put himself in the situation of the injured person and he would have wanted someone to help him. The Samaritan went beyond what may have been the expectation of others by taking him to a place to rest and being willing to pay for any expenses. His heart was in the right place and it was a reflection of God’s heart for humanity.

Jesus in his ministry touched people he should never have touched if he was to be legalistic about the Law.  He touched a leper, allowed a woman with a bleeding issue to touch him and did not declare himself unclean, and touched a dead girl by taking her hand to raise her from the bed.  Jesus was a healer, he cared for the needs of people and had no issue with breaking the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. He also broke the law when he allowed his disciples to eat corn on the Sabbath which was a violation because they were preparing food.

The legalism of the Pharisees kept them from experiencing God’s heart for people in need. Their hearts were hardened.  They became more concerned about being seen as a pious person than being a practical person who cared for others.  They loved being recognized and honored for their dedication to keeping the Law.  Jesus exposed them as hypocrites and people who were all about putting on a show. He called them out and labeled them with terms that were not pleasant but truthful.

Mt. 23.16 Blind guides

Mt. 23.17 Blind fools

Mt. 23.27 like white washed tombs, full of hypocrisy and lawlessness

Mt. 23.33 snakes and den of vipers

Jesus extended mercy to all kinds of people who had all kinds of problems but he had little tolerance for the Scribes and Pharisees because of their hypocrisy and misrepresentation of God.  They were zealous but totally mistaken on how to be righteous before God.

Paul before his conversion was a Pharisee. 

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Php 3:4–6).

He was so zealous for God that he persecuted the early believers in Christ.  After his conversion experience he was set aside by God for several years.  During this time I believe God reprogrammed his theology so that he could reach out to the Gentiles and correctly understand that the Law was completely fulfilled in Jesus. It was no longer the basis of righteousness as the Pharisees believed. Christ set Paul free from the Law and he declared this among the people. The letter to the Galatians was written to set the church straight regarding the observance of the Law.  Paul was a champion for freedom from the Law and was inclusive of the Gentiles who believed in Christ but did not follow the laws.

As followers of Christ we are still held accountable to the moral laws God has given us but we no longer need to fulfill all the ceremonial laws practiced by the Jews.

We must guard our hearts from becoming like the Scribes and Pharisees.  Some believers fall into the trap of living by a set of rules that may be self- imposed or imposed by abusive spiritual leaders.  The true test of anything regarding our conduct and practice as believers is whether it fulfills the law of love toward God, loving ourselves or to our neighbor.  If we understand what Godly love is and allow it to govern our lives we will not fall into the bondage of legalism. In our relationships with others we must always guard ourselves from becoming legalistic and we lose our love for others.  Josh McDowell has stated in one of his books, “Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.” We can become very judgmental of others and critical of them if we do not have a good relationship with them.  When we take the time to understand and develop healthy relationships we will find that we will be less critical and more loving toward them.  It does not mean that we do not hold people accountable for their actions but the way we interact with them is marked by love and an attitude of helping them rather than condemning them.

God desires that we be free from controlling people and controlling ideas that make us captives. Spiritually mature believers should readily recognize Pharisaical leaders and refuse to allow them to impose control upon them. 

We also need to look at ourselves in light of what the Pharisees were like.

1.       Am I hypocritical? Do I say things that are not in line with my conduct?  Do I have different standards for myself than I have for others?

2.      Am I a controlling person?  Do I place restriction on others so I can control them?

3.      Am I concerned that I present a good image to others and cover up my weaknesses or sins? Am I truly vulnerable to reveal myself as I really am?

4.      Am I a “black and white” thinker?  No gray areas in my understanding and judgment of people or ideas?

5.      Do I seek attention and recognition for my good deeds or my personal holiness?

6.      Do I do things out of obligation or fear of what may happen and not true love for God or others.

7.      Do I see myself as indispensable and irreplaceable?  God needs me.

8.      Do I get angry or offended when I am confronted by someone?

We will never attract people to the Lord with a Pharisaical attitude. Choose to love others instead of condemning and judging them as the Pharisees.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Poverty and caring for the poor


Whenever you are visiting a Majority world country like Guatemala, you at times can be overwhelmed by the poverty and the number of poor people in the country.

The World Bank statistics indicate that in 2016 almost 60% of the population lives at a poverty level which means that families do not have sufficient money to provide for nutritious food, education, health care, and housing. The chronic undernutrition rate for children under age five is 49.8 percent. The gross national income is $3610 per capita or the equivalent of earning $1.79 per hour considering a 40 hour work week.

Poverty is a result of sin which has caused broken relationships between:

God and man –we are separated from God and unable to relate to him in the way we were originally created. Our fallen nature has resulted in many problems because we are no longer in right relationship with God and are not following his ways. Our alienation from God has left of devoid of his wisdom, love, empowerment.

Mankind-we are not in unity with each other, selfishness, greed, exploitation, war, government oppression and control,

Man’s understanding of himself-loss of true identity, purpose, dignity, worth, value of work,

Creation-misuse of natural resources, lack of care, creation itself is groaning for its redemption

God understood that there would be poverty among people if they did not follow his ways. He has a special heart and care for them.

God’s relationship with the poor.

 Refuge:  (Ps 14:6 6      You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge

Shelter: Isaiah 25.4 “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall.”

 Executes Justice:  (Ps 140:12).   12      I know that the LORD maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

Will not forsake them: Isaiah 41:17 “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”

Jesus came to preach the good news specifically to them.  (Lk 4:18). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

God’s care for the poor through his people

Providing food for the poor.

Intentionally leaving crops: By allowing them to work in the field to harvest some of the crop that was intentionally left by the workers for them.  They worked for what they got in many cases.  Only those not able to work were to be provided for by the generosity of others.  Ruth was a beneficiary of this provision by God when she harvested behind the workers to provide food for her mother-in-law, Naomi and herself.

(Le 19:9–10). 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

 Land during the Sabbath year rest was for the poor (Ex 23:10–11).

10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

Dedicated tithes for the poor.

"At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied." Deuteronomy 14:28-29

During times of celebration they were to remember the poor ( Es 9:22).

22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Financial help.

Money was to be lent without interest (Ex 22:25).

25 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.

Released from debts; (Dt 15:1).  15 Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts

Restored to their original land every 50 years (Year of Jubilee) (Le 25:13).  13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.

Have an open hand toward the poor.

(Dt 15:11). 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.

Just and timely payment

(Dt 24:14–15). 14 You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. 15 You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt

Treated equally with justice

No impartiality in law suits against them (Ex 23:3

3 nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit

They were to be treated equally because they are created by God.  (Job 34:19

    19      who shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?

Many countries lack the ability to enforce these rights due to lack of trained and motivated police.  Other countries lack a viable criminal justice system or are overwhelmed with the number of cases that backlog their system.  Corruption within the justice system impedes many from having their cases brought to court.  People who are poor are often not represented by a lawyer and are unprepared to defend themselves resulting in convictions and sentencing that are undeserved and unjust. In several countries people wait in jail until they can have their day in court and often the amount of time spent in jail waiting is longer than the sentence they would receive if they were found guilty of the crime they were accused of committing!

Verses 12-18 The Response of God toward the oppressed and the oppressors

12Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13               Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”? 14But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. 15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. 16The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. 17O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

When we serve the poor we are serving the Lord

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or see you thisty and give you drink?".. The king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."Matthew 25: 35-40

God sees, takes note of what is happening, holds people accountable, executes punishment, hears the cry of the oppressed and strengthens them to be able to endure until justice is served.

Proverbs also speaks of the actions against the oppressors.

Not be heard

    13      If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard. (Pr 21:13).

Oppression will lead to loss

(Pr 22:16).     16      Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself,   and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.

Those who add wealth through high interest will lose it (Pr 28:8).

    8      One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest   gathers it for another who is kind to the poor.

Oppression of the poor is an insult to God (Pr 14:31).

    31      Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

Turning a blind eye brings a curse (Pr 28:27

    27      Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.

What are the rights of the poor and oppressed?  What does God expect from us and require of us? (Pr 29:7).

    7      The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding

  1. They are to be treated with respect and dignity because they are created in his image and likeness.  Do we see the face of Jesus when we look at the poor?  

Prov. 22. 2 The rich and the poor have this in common:  the LORD is the maker of them all.

Mother Teresa said, "My true community is the poor - their security is my security, their health is my health. My home is among the poor, and not only the poor, but the poorest of them: the people no one will go near because they are filthy and suffering from contagious diseases, full of germs and vermin infested; the people who can't go to church because they can't go out naked; the people who can no longer eat because they have'nt the strength; the people who lie down in the street, knowing they are going to die, while others look away and pass them by; the people who no longer cry because their tears have run dry! The Lord wants me exactly where I am - he will provide the answers."

  1. They are to be treated equally, not exploited or treated with prejudice because of their poverty.

(Jas 2:1–4).  2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

  1. They are to be paid justly and not have money withheld. (Dt 24:14–15).
  2. They are to be given opportunities to work to provide for themselves.

(Lev 19:9–10). This would also include education and training to be able to take advantage of opportunities.

  1. They are to be given financial help to meet immediate needs.

(1 Jn 3:17).  17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

  1. They are to be given equal justice and representation. 

(Pr 29:14).   14 If a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be established forever.

  1. They are to have a place of refuge and shelter during hard times.

 (Is 25:4).   4   For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress,  a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat

  1. They are to be given help to be set free from debts. 

Education in managing finances is part of the process to eliminate the same failure in the future.

Year of debt release after 7 years, year of Jubilee after 50 years returned property to the original owner.

(Dt 15:1).  15 Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us.  Poverty is the result of sin and as long as there are sinners there will be poor people.  The root of all poverty is sin in the hearts of the oppressors and sin in the hearts of the poor.  When our actions toward the poor line up with the directives of the word of God we can offer them the help they need to be set free from poverty. 

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving Day is a very special day of celebration in the USA.  It is one of the holidays that is celebrated by the majority of people.  Many make a special effort to be home for Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for the airlines as people return home.

The origin of the celebration goes back to the early 1600 when the Pilgrims came to America seeking religious freedom.  They were originally from England but had fled to Holland where they thought they would be able to live out their Christian faith.  They became disenchanted with the lifestyle of the people and hired a ship to take them to America where they settled in the NE part of the country.  The first year was a very difficult year as half of the 102 people who came died from various causes.  The local Indians led by Squanto, who spoke English after having lived in England came to their rescue and taught the pilgrims how to plant different crops to help them supply food and survive. The summer after their arrival they had a bountiful harvest and to celebrate they had a 3 day feast.  They invited the family of Squanto to attend the celebration but were not prepared for the 91 people who came with him.  The Indians brought much of the food and shared in the celebration.

Thanksgiving was not established as a legal holiday until President Abraham Lincoln in the 1863.  It is now always celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November of each year.

As followers of Christ we have much to be thankful for each day.  God is our Source and without His intervention in our lives we would not be able to enjoy the life he has provided for us.  From the very beginning of the creation of the world and the human race we understand the goodness of God and his desire for mankind to receive his generous provisions for life. When we think about the Garden of Eden we understand that God is a God of beauty, order and abundance.

 Adam and Eve were in paradise, a place of what must have been intense beauty with all the plants and animals around them.  We serve a creative God who delights in making things beautiful for us to enjoy.  God has placed us in a beautiful country of Guatemala where we can enjoy the awesome landscapes all around us.

God is also a God of order.  He has established the laws of nature and has ordered the universe in a miraculous way.  Of all the planets he created on the earth is in the exact location in the universe where life can exist. We have a movie called, "The Privileged Planet" and another called the "God of Wonders" that are fascinating to watch as they describe the beauty and order of the universe.  He is not a God of chaos, he does all things well and we are able to enjoy the order he has established.

God is also a God of abundance.  Adam and Eve lacked nothing in the garden, there was more than they needed because God is a God of abundance and it was his desire for them to multiply and fill the earth.  With God there will always be enough.  When Jesus fed the multitudes there was always more than what was needed.  We can count on his generosity to meet our needs and supply us with more than we need to enable us to share with others.

I am thankful that we serve a God who delights in beauty, order and abundance.

Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the blessings we have received materially, physically and spiritually.

Materially, God has promised to supply for all our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. 

I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Php 4:18–19).

There may be times when we are challenged but God is faithful and He will provide for our material needs.  I have witnessed and experienced the generosity of God in my life on many occasions. God has always supplied work for me, finances to sustain me on the mission field and material things I need to be able to do the work he has given me.  I have been well taken care of by God and he has used many people and churches to help supply for my needs and Susy's.

God also takes care of our physical needs.  He gives us life and sustains our lives with good health and the food we need.  He does not want us to worry about the basic things we need: food, drink or clothing.  He knows what we need and will supply for it if we seek His Kingdom first. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Mt 6:25).

Our physical health is a gift from God. We have to do our part to stay healthy but ultimately we have to depend on God to give us life each day and protect us from the effects of a fallen world that can take away our lives very quickly or bring changes that will make life difficult.  God is our Healer and He responds to the cry of His children in their time of need.

Our spiritual needs have been provided for through the gift of Jesus.  We through Jesus have everything we need that pertains to life and godliness.

2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 because his divine power has bestowed on us all things that are necessary for life and godliness, through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence of character,  (2 Pe 1:2–4).

 Christ has reconciled us to God and given us the privilege of being sons and daughters of God.  We are now part of his family and have been accepted and made righteous through Jesus.  God has placed us in the church, the body of believers where we can grow in our understanding of Him and learn how to live in community with each other.

We are blessed to be able to meet in peace to be able to study the Word of God and be able to share it with each other.  We do not have to meet in secret as many do in countries where Christians are persecuted. Freedom to read the Bible at times comes with as price and the story of Corrie Ten Boom is one example.

Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.  They had been hiding Jews in their home in Holland but were caught and sent to the concentration camp in Ravensbruck.

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were kept in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested.

 They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things there were to give thanks, and that God can use anything for good.

 Corrie’s sister Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas.

 This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas.

 Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened. They found that the guards never entered their barracks. This meant that women were not assaulted. It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp.

 Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

 Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks.

 It was because of the fleas.

 I am thankful to God for the diversity of the body of believers and how each one is unique and important in their function in the body.  We are united in Christ and we need each other.  Our spiritual gifts are designed to complement each other and we must truly appreciate the gifting God has given to each one of us. 

We are not to think to highly of ourselves but humble ourselves and see ourselves as we really are and see others from God's perspective.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Rom 12.3

If we view someone as better than us we often envy what they have. 

If we view someone as equal to us we find ourselves in competition with them. 

If we view someone as less than us then we struggle with pride and condemnation of them.

It is important that we appreciate each other but also just as important to acknowledge it verbally.  It is easy for us to become so involved in the ministries we are doing that we forget to take the time to show appreciation and give thanks for the people who work with us and make our ministry possible.

Paul in his letters to the churches often gave thanks for the people who helped him in the ministry. Romans 15 contains a list of people whom he wanted to acknowledge.

Phoebe: for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Prisca Aquila: who risked their necks for my life

Mary: who has worked very hard among you

Andronicus and Junia: my relatives who were in prison with me

Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord

Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ

Apelles, who is approved in Christ.

Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.

Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.

Paul understood that he needed others to help him in the ministry and made an effort to thank them.  May we never take each other for granted and be so consumed with our work that we forget to thank the people who are helping us.

I want to close with a story I read about Thomas Carlyle a Scottish essayist and historian. John Ortberg in his book, "When its all over it all goes back in the box" recounts this story.
  Carlyle married his secretary Jane Welsh.  She was highly intelligent and attractive and served as Carlyle’s secretary.  Jane became ill and Thomas did not seem to pay much attention to her ill health but constantly was absorbed in his work.  Jane had cancer and eventually she was confined to her bed.  Even though Carlyle loved her he did not have much time to stay with her or give her much attention.

After several years Jane died. On the day of her burial, he returned to his house that was suddenly shatteringly empty.  He went upstairs to her room and sat in the chair next to her bed.  He noticed her diary lying on the table next to her bed.  He picked it up and began to read.  On one entire page she had written a single line: “Yesterday he spent an hour with me and it was like heaven; I love him so.”

Carlyle suddenly realized that he had been too busy to notice how much he meant to Jane.  He thought of all the times head had been preoccupied with his work and simply failed to notice her.  He had not seen her suffering.  He had not seen her love.

Thomas turned the page of Jane’s diary.  He read the words that would break his heart, that he could never forget: “I have listened all day to hear his steps in the hall, but now it is late and I guess he won’t come today.”

He read a little more in her book and then put it back on the table and ran out the house.  Friends finally found him back at the churchyard kneeling in the earth at the side of her grave, covered with mud.   His eyes were red from weeping; tears were rolling down his face.  “If only I had known, if only I had known.” He cried.

After Jane’s death, Carlyle made little attempt to write again.  The historian lived another fifteen years but said he lived them “weary, bored, and a partial recluse. 

Do you appreciate the people God has placed in your life and are you giving them the time and attention they need?  Do you see them as instruments in God’s hands to be a blessing to your life?  Are you thankful for each person God has given to you and have you expressed your gratitude to them?

This Thanksgiving let's be people who express our gratitude to God for his beauty, order and abundance that we experience in our lives each day.  Let’s be thankful for his loving care we experience through meeting our material, physical and spiritual needs.  May we be especially thankful for the Body of Christ and the importance of each person God has placed in the church, acknowledging their gifts and expressing appreciation to them.