Sunday, December 30, 2012


Hebrews 12:1-11

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  –Hebrews 12:1-2


Faith Is Endurance

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3  Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children —"My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts." 7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


The early Christians were tired. They had been running the race of faith as though they had been running sprints in the heat of the day. They were tired, their legs hurt, and whatever fancy energy gel packets they carried were long gone. The people had earned the right to be tired. They'd expected the return of Christ to happen quickly, but they had seen no proof that anything was different in the world. A person can only keep giving 100 percent when he or she believes that change is coming. This is something we understand. Who would keep up with a weight-loss program that didn't show any results? Who would pour one's whole self into a work project with no belief that the boss would notice?

Here comes the coach saying, "Don't you even think about quitting yet! This race matters!"

Our coach is clever. He doesn't start out telling us about all the hard work we're going to have to put in. Instead, he gives us a great reason to run the race at all: There are so many people watching! They're great people! How much harder would a high school football player work if he knew everyone in the stadium was an NFL Hall of Famer? The author of Hebrews wants to inspire the same kind of passion and energy in us. The people watching us are the ones that have already run the race well. The New Century Version renders v. 1 this way: "We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means." Of course, we want to do the very best that we can with all these greats watching our journey.



The first piece of wisdom that our coach offers us is "Lose the weight!" He's clear: whatever is holding us back has to go. Of course, the coach's advice makes sense. That doesn't necessarily make it any easier for us to get rid of what's holding us back. If we're going to run this race well, then we're going to need to get rid of the guilt and hardheartedness. We're going to have to let go of anything that isn't helping us get to the finish line, including our sinful habits.

The next piece of wisdom the coach offers us we know well. Every coach and motivational speaker we've met says, "Eyes on the prize!" Before we even find out what the prize is, we know where our attention is supposed to be. Any of us who have ever tried to walk (or do anything else for that matter) while looking behind us can testify that so doing is the quickest way to trip over our own feet. Coach reminds us that we don't have the time to keep looking back.

What is the prize that we're working so hard to see? It's a relationship with Jesus, lived out in faith. It's being like Jesus in all that we do. There is something else worth noting here. The fact that we're looking toward a goal means we're not just strolling along. We're not tourists. This is serious business that necessitates a change in our frame of mind.

Jesus is not only the prize. Jesus is the one who teaches us how to run the race. Here again, we realize how clever our coach is. Just as we are about to begin serious whining, Coach sets the example of Christ before us. If we are going to begin complaining about how hard our path is, then we need to watch the films of Jesus' race. Instead of a gold medal, Jesus got a crown of thorns. Jesus wasn't hailed; he was humiliated. Even though Jesus knew the race would end that way, the knowledge didn't keep him from the journey.

"So," Coach says, "if Jesus can have that much endurance, so must you."

The race metaphor works well to a point. We want to be like Jesus. We want to do the things that please God. Yet a shadow can be cast over our obedience when life becomes hard. When dark days come, we clench our fists and question the heavens. "Why is it so hard?" we ask. If we don't get the answer we want as quickly as we'd like, our cries turn to "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"


The writer of Hebrews has played the role of coach in the first few verses, but his tone shifts in v. 5. After he has told us to quit whining, he takes off his coach's hat. Now the writer pulls up a chair next to us and addresses us as dear friends. The writer understands that we're tired and discouraged. He knows we need a compassionate word and offers us one. It is not, however, the word we expected.

"Endure trials for the sake of discipline." These words give us a lens through which to view our suffering. The writer, as only a dear friend could, wants to give us a constructive way to view our suffering: What if we regard this discipline as coming from a father who loves us more than anything else?

During biblical times, the father was the head of the household. No matter how old or well respected the children grew to be, they were still under the authority of the father. The original audience for these words in Hebrews would have understood that when we are called "sons" it would have meant that we are family.

Parents tangle with their children because they love them. Parents correct their children because they don't want them to harm themselves or others. God corrects us in this same spirit.


The word discipline has several meanings. On the one hand, discipline is a way of correction. On the other hand, it is something that we undertake voluntarily to make ourselves stronger, better, or more able. Pianists play scales for hours a day. Athletes do sprints and climb hills. God's discipline encompasses both meanings. God wants to teach us and better us, so God corrects us. Through this correction, God encourages us to change. Just like the serious musician, we seek the self-control that God intends. It is with that in mind that the writer of Hebrews asks us to persevere.

We don't take this journey idly. We travel with all the intensity and seriousness of a disciplined athlete, mindful of our coach's encouragement and lessons. When we falter on the path, we have a loving parent who will correct our focus until we can seek out the correct behavior on our own. Every hardship and obstacle strengthens us and prepares to be made in the image of Christ. In so doing, we draw close to God and faithfully live our lives with endurance, being cheered on by those who have journeyed before us.


What does "We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" mean to you?

Is being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses a source of comfort and encouragement, or does it make you fearful?

Who have you judged to have "gone far from the lord"? Were you mistaken?


Living God, author and perfecter of our faith, grant that we may follow hard and fast after you. Teach us to follow your example and to look to you for strength when we are ready to give up. Encourage us in your service, and strengthen us through our worship together. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Hebrews 11:1-3, 6; Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. —Hebrews 11:1

11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. . . . 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2   Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should
change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3   though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah....
8   Come, behold the works of the LORD; 
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9   He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10  "Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah


In the movie Miracle on 34th Street, Doris is an event planner for Macy's. Doris is certain that there is no Santa Claus, and she makes sure that her little girl doesn't have any reason to believe in him either. Her carefully ordered, executive world made sense only when things were structured in a "what you see is what you get" sort of way. There was no room for things that could not be explained. However, by the end of the movie, Kris Kringle has given her reason to think that maybe she was wrong. She finally says, "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

Like the character Doris, we struggle with things that we can't reason out. We want scientific explanations, numbers,' and statistics—things that are measurable. Our world doesn't give much credit to things that don't seem "logical." Again, like Doris, we who are in the church have learned that what we have experienced sometimes trumps what we think we know of how the world works.
We often think of faith as if it were some sort of intellectual doctrine, but this chapter of Hebrews shows us something else. Faith is trusting in the promises of God. Faith is not something we believe but something we practice.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a two-part description of faith. First, we hear that faith is "the assurance of things hoped for." Faith has a confidence right now about what the future holds. However, there is a second part of faith: "the conviction of things not seen." Christians realize that there, is a big difference between what we see and what is real. When we look at the world, it seems to be a place of utter chaos and destruction. As we glance through the headlines, it's tempting to wonder, "Hey! Who is in charge down here?" What we see tells us that the world is a corrupt and dangerous place. What is real is "that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet." ("This Is My Father's World"). When we look at ourselves, it's easy only to see our faults and failures. What is real are God's words to us: "I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine . . . you are precious in my sight, . . . and I love you" (Isa. 43:1, 4). Our faith allows us to see the evidence of God's presence in our world even when our present realities cloud our sight. Faith affords us the opportunity to look at the world through the eyes of hope.

At first, reading the "Faith Hall of Fame" list that we see in Hebrews can make us feel like we will never measure up. But when we look again, we see that the people who are hailed as role models turned away from the world's standard of greatness. Noah built a massive boat in the middle of a desert because God told him he'd need it. Abraham and Sarah heard the words "Go to a land that I will show you" and went without the careful planning that most of us would prefer. And don't forget that Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac at God's direction; Abraham knew that God would provide. We would call the Department of Children and Family Services on him! These giants of the faith are held up before us because they were all ordinary enough, but they knew that God was extraordinary.

For many of us, a Psalm we turn to for comfort  is Psalm 46. The psalmist eloquently spells out that which we most need to be true: that even though God's "got the whole world in His hands," "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."

The writer of Hebrews would have appreciated the psalmist's words, because they show us what faith in action does. We often think of the Psalms as lovely, poetic renderings of a life that nowhere matches our experience. We think of them as idyllic and safe. But who would say, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (v. 1) without having known God's deliverance? The psalmist has known a very dangerous time. Because he was kept safe, he believes that God sees his trouble and answers his call for help.

A young girl once told a friend, "Faith is like your birthday. You don't know exactly what you're getting or what the cake will look like, but you know it will be good because it always has been before. I always want to believe there is something good out there."
When she died in an accident at the age of 20, those attending her memorial service expressed how much her faith in God had helped them through their own storms. Many people would have called her an optimist, but it was more than that. She had seen God's hand holding her, and she was completely convinced of God's goodness.

Christian faith is knowing that we are held "gently in the palm of God's hand," even when it feels like we are in the pits of hell.


How has your life changed because of your faith? What has your faith cost you?

Where has "reality" come into conflict with your faith? When have you been called to trust in something that didn't make logical sense?

Of the people mentioned in the "Faith Hall of Fame," with whom do you feel you have the most in common? Why? With whom do you have the least in common?


Living God, thank you for your faithfulness. Teach us to have the faith of our ancestors who trusted in your promises. Remind us that faith is not something we talk about or believe but something that we practice. When storms threaten to undo us, help us to see that you are our refuge and strength. Draw us close to you. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hebrews 10:19-31

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23


10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.28Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." 29How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Hebrews promises new vitality for the church; the writer challenges us to refocus our attention and energy. We're asked to take our eyes off the "Bs": buildings, budgets, and bodies; instead, we are called to train them on Christ. It's not about programs, committees, and budgets; it's not about more, bigger, and better.


The Random House Webster's Dictionary defines privilege as "the principle of enjoying special rights or immunities," later adding, "under certain conditions." It makes sense to prove we are worthy to enjoy the privileges. Through Christ's sacrifice, however, Christians are entitled to privileges we do not deserve. We don't have to earn them, and in fact we cannot earn them. There's a big difference between what the world expects of us and what Christ offers to us.

The writer of Hebrews helps us see the promise of new life by telling us about the "benefits package" that comes with following Christ. The benefits package is comprised of privileges that are given to us because Christ is our savior. What are those privileges?

First, we get direct, unlimited access to God. Prior to Christ, only the high priests would have gone into the Most Holy Place, and even they were only permitted to do that once a year, during the Feast of Atonement Because of Christ's sacrifice, we stand face to face with God confidently—that is to say, without worry about how we will be received.

Second, we are made clean before God. While the priests and people might have been ritually clean according to the laws, performing those acts did not rid them of their sin. In Christ, "our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies [are] washed with pure water" (v. 22). Only Christ's sacrifice could do that.

The third benefit is that we are people of hope, allowing us to look trustingly to a future that is in God's hands. These words are not "idle tales." The writer assures us that "he who has promised is faithful" (v. 23).


Though we don't earn the benefits of salvation, we are expected to respond to them appropriately. The writer of Hebrews does not hesitate to point out that we are called to do certain things in response to what Christ has already done for us. The writer presents an "If this, then that" argument, balancing Christ's sacrifice with the call to live a holy life.

For the writer of Hebrews, three things contribute to holy living—three things that are flagged with the words "Let us":

Let us draw near to God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a duty to worship God together—it's our job, our vocation. "Do not neglect to worship together as some are in the habit of doing," says the writer of Hebrews. Corporate worship is as important as private devotion.

When we gather, each of us brings something that adds to the faith of our fellow worshipers.

Let us hold fast to the hope we profess. The writer challenges us to hold onto hope even when the very foundations of our lives are shaking. We need to believe we're secure. Instead of looking to our faith, we often seek security in wise financial planning, in education, or in leaders. However, the writer of Hebrews says that by having faith in Christ, we are secure. Stocks fall, culture shifts, but Christ remains.

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. Provoke is a strong word—with all the connotations of a frustrated mother who all but growls, "Stop provoking your brother!" Yet, we're told to provoke one another toward the faith-filled life. We're told to lovingly "meddle" in other people's affairs to encourage them to do good things. The writer's exhortation calls us to urge people to faithfulness with encouragement. It may be easier to laugh at or belittle someone than it is to offer encouragement. However, as Christians imitating Christ's sacrifice, we're called to build up the community.

Throughout Hebrews, the writer has worked to make sure we understand that Christ made a once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf. Consequently, we are not being asked to offer sacrifices. We are being challenged to do the very thing that is asked at baptisms: to turn away from sin and turn toward Christ. Our security comes from the belief that when we turn toward Christ, it is not a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


How can you help encourage other Christians to live in loving and faithful ways? In what specific ways has another person encouraged you?

When you worship, are you conscious of entering into God's presence? How do you feel about worship's being described as your vocation or your calling?

What benefits do you receive from your community of believers? What gifts do you bring to them?


Holy God, by your sacrifice we are made one with you and made clean to stand before you. Help us persevere in the faith. Help us live in faithful response to your gracious acts. Teach us to be mindful of the cost of our salvation, never regarding it lightly and always living in gratitude. Amen.


Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Ruth 4:1-10


"The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquir­ing Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance." Ruth 4:5




4:1 No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, "Come over, friend; sit down here." And he went over and sat down. 2Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit down here"; so they sat down. 3He then said to the next-of-kin, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. 4So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you." So he said, "I will redeem it." 5Then Boaz said, "The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance." 6At this, the next-of-kin said, "I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it."

7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a trans­action, one party took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, "Acquire it for yourself," he took off his sandal. 9Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people,

"Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses."


Red tape can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with, especially for idealists or dreamers. In our churches, it can be frustrating at times to have to go through the proper channels when we want to see something happen. When a committee wants to raise money for a pressing need, to get the approval of the congregation's governing body seems like an unnecessary hoop that will kill momentum. When there is a new idea for ministry, we want to grab hold of that excitement and run with it. Rules, policies, and procedures all presumably exist for good reasons, though sometimes those reasons seem outdated or simply not applicable to the task.


Boaz's attention to the red tape, to do things by the book, is rather jarring in this narrative. In this short book, there has been so much action and forward movement; this feels like a screeching halt. Naomi and Ruth have been risk takers from the start. They haven't let things like social convention stop them from moving forward. If they had, they would have gotten absolutely nowhere! When Boaz suddenly pays painstaking attention to every legal detail, it feels like he's dragging his feet. However, by respecting the rules and procedures of the community, Boaz helps to pave the way for reconciliation in the community. After all of this, the community is able to embrace Ruth as one of their own, and the women gather around Naomi in support.


In Chapter 4 we learn for the first time that Elimelech (Naomi's late husband) still had some land. To keep land within fami­lies, such land had to be offered for sale to the next of kin, who had right of first refusal. Women could not sell their late husbands' property on their own, so Boaz had to act on Naomi's behalf to broker the deal. Ruth and Naomi assumed that Boaz was the closest relative, eligible to purchase the land, or "redeem" it. Boaz knows of another relative who is closer yet, who must have the first right of refusal. Everything is done by the book. Boaz meets this relative at the city gate, which is where legal matters were decided in ancient Israel. He has gathered the elders together to serve as witnesses to the legal proceedings.


Boaz tells the relative that Naomi wishes to sell the land, and he may redeem it if he chooses. The kinsman says, "I will redeem it." Then Boaz tells the kinsman that the day he redeems the land, he will also acquire Ruth to maintain the dead man's name on the inheritance. Israelite law provided that if a widow was to remarry and have children with her new husband, the children would maintain her late husband's name and property. However, we do not know of an Israelite law that required a kinsman redeemer to marry Ruth in this situation. An alternate translation of the Hebrew could be that the day the relative acquires the land, Boaz intends to marry Ruth, and therefore produce heirs that would have legitimate claim to the land now in question. At any rate, the kinsman who is first in line determines that if there is a chance of another heir in the picture, he didn't want to risk his own inheritance, so he decides not to purchase the property.


Through the proper legal channels, the closest relative relinquishes his claim on the property. Boaz declares his intention to redeem the property and to take Ruth as his wife. He further promises to maintain the dead man's name on the inheritance, to honor all legal and social customs of the day. Therefore, when Ruth conceives and bears a son, Obed, the women of the neighborhood say, "A son has been born to Naomi," even though the child is biologically unrelated to Naomi. Until Ch. 4 the lines of what is proper and acceptable have been blurred, and in some cases completely bypassed. Now, everything is done according to the letter of the law. Ruth, the Moabite, is fully included into the family and community, and after all of these careful legal proceedings, the son that is born to Ruth and Boaz becomes the grandfather of David, Israel's first great king.


All churches experience disagreement over hot-button issues. Some churches divide over them. In times of question, discernment is needed, and in times of disagreement, reconciliation is in order. How else can we move together as a body of Christ, unless the body parts are all working in proper order?


The Hebrew word for redeem in v. 4 can also mean "to cover." In 3:4, Ruth goes to the threshing room floor to ask Boaz for help. The text says that Ruth went to "uncover his feet." She went to Boaz when he was most vulnerable, sleeping alone. If there was ever a time when he would hear her request for help, this was it. Ruth and Naomi's plan was a reflection of their position, one in which they were left uncovered, unprotected, and vulnerable to the nearness of poverty. Once Boaz wholeheartedly agrees to look after Ruth, he is ready to formally redeem, or cover, her.

For Ruth and Naomi, it meant even more than that; it meant that they were given rights. For Ruth and Naomi, being covered meant salvation.


When Boaz steps in as Ruth's kinsman redeemer, he does not have to give up anything. He willingly takes on a new responsibility. The story of Boaz is reminiscent of the kinsman redeemer for all of humanity, Jesus Christ. However, when Jesus Christ acts as kinsman redeemer, he gives everything. Jesus went about his business openly, as Boaz did to redeem Ruth. Jewish authorities questioned Jesus throughout his ministry. When the authorities came to take Jesus away, he went willingly. Jesus carried himself with dignity and lived a life that angered the authorities because he stood up for the people who were uncovered, those who were most vulnerable. In our society, money has become the difference between covered and uncovered. With Christ as our kinsman redeemer, we should go out in confidence to speak for the uncovered as Boaz does.




Are there ways that you have seen or experienced reconciliation in the church because of work within the structure of governance?


What are some of the benefits of following community rules and practices?


Are there ever times when those rules or practices should be suspended or ignored?

If so, under what kinds of circumstances?


Are there ways to legislate inclusion in a community?


Gathering God, we recognize that you call us into com­munity, and only through you can we be the community that you call us to be. Help us learn the practices of our community so that we can be the body that you would have us to be. In Jesus' name. Amen

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Scripture Selection

Ruth 2:8-18

"May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!"

—Ruth 2:12

2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn." 10 Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?" 11 But Boaz answered her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!" 13 Then she said, "May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants."

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine." So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, "Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her."

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied.


The practice of gleaning acknowledges that most of us have more than we need. The owners didn't miss what might have been left on the edges, but to those in need, it was life-saving and life-giving. Making sure that everyone has what they need means giving out of our abundance. Often there are simple ways we can set aside a little here or there and hardly miss it. God called Abraham and chose his descendants for a particular blessing so that all people would be blessed. Blessing comes with a responsibility, and that means giving what we have when we recognize how richly blessed we are.

The provision for gleaning certainly includes Ruth, who gleans after Boaz's hired workers. Boaz's managers identify Ruth as "the Moabite who came back with Naomi." They tell Boaz that she has been working without rest since early morning. Gleaning in the fields could be dangerous work— especially for a vulnerable, poor, foreign widow working in the midst of many hired men. Boaz provides protection for Ruth and orders his men not to bother her. He gives her food and drink and tells his men to pull out handfuls of grain for Ruth to pick up, making her work easier.

Throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, laws and commandments address the needs of widows, children, the poor, and the oppressed. The rule of gleaning was one such law. Even in the small communities of Israel, God gave regulations for how to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. More than a system of charity, the regulations empowered the needy to seek security for themselves, rather than relying on goodwill donations. The office of deacon was established in the early Christian church as a direct response to a breakdown in distribution of food to the widows. In both cases, the people of God recognized their call to care for the oppressed, and to carry it out systemic solutions were put in place to address material needs.

It is not enough for us to donate money, clothing, food, and time. We also must learn more about what the specific needs are. We must advocate for systemic change and solutions to problems that are often cyclical. And lest we judge those who are in need of help, we must realize that we could one day be the person in need. The provisions for care were given in the Torah with frequent reminders to the Israelites that they, too, had been oppressed, enslaved, poor, and vulnerable, but that God had delivered them.

Ruth and Naomi lived in a society that relied on each year's harvest of crops for survival. Widows without fathers or sons to protect them, such as Ruth and Naomi, were the most vulnerable of all vulnerable populations. Many people in our society have no choice but to live on what is left over after others have taken what they need. Who are the vulnerable among us today?

Outcasts are the most exploited, including immigrants and convicted felons.  When we think about immigration laws, do we see the face of Christ in the eyes of the immigrant? Ruth, a foreigner, was a direct ancestor of Jesus. God's mission of sending the Son into the world is accomplished through a Moabite widow.

In the United States, convicted felons face an uphill battle once they are released from prison. Few jobs are available to them, especially if they do not have a GED. Few companies will take on someone convicted of a felony. They often have little hope and few options when it comes to earning a living wage in society. It's little wonder why felons with drug-dealing convictions return to their old ways. They return to their old neighborhoods. Where else could they afford to live? And how else can they make money?


What are the unmet needs of your community? If you aren't sure, where might you find the answer?

In what ways has your church responded to the needs of others in the past?  In the present? Are there windows of opportunity for new missions in the near future?

What distinguishes Christian faith in action from community service?


God, you alone are our strength and refuge. You are our present help in times of trouble, and yet too often, when the tables are turned, we neglect those who need to feel your ministries of care. We pray that you would open our hearts and empower us to be your ministers in this world, to provide refuge under our wings, just as you protect us in the refuge of your wings. We ask this all in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Ruth 1:8-18

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.—Ruth 1:16


1:8  But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house.  May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me." 14 Then they wept aloud again.  Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16 But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die--there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" 18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

This scripture and 1 Cor. 13 are often used at weddings. Both passages express selfless love. Beyond marriage, this is the bond that all Christians are called to share in community. We are called to support each other, encourage each other, and bear with one another in love.

When communities are bound together by mutual love and devotion to God, members have much to gain. Think of the benefits you derive from maintaining close bonds with family, with friends, and within church groups or civic groups. This story brings together two unlikely partners, and through this relationship both are blessed and redeemed. We are called to be in community with those who are different from us, who seem to have little to offer in return. We might be surprised by the blessings that come from unlikely connections when community is gathered by God and held together in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Naomi arrived in Moab with her husband and two sons to escape famine. The first irony is that Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem, which means "House of Bread/ Food"—because there is no food in Bethlehem! Their destination of choice is even more puzzling. Moab wasn't simply a neighboring territory; there had always been bad blood between the Israelites and the Moabites. The son conceived out of incest and deceit and born to the older daughter of Lot (Gen. 19:30-38) was named Moab, and the Moabites were presented as descendants of this shameful union. According to Deut. 23, the Moabites were never to be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, and the Israelites were prohibited from promoting their welfare or prosperity.

After the Babylonian exile, intermarriage between Israelites and Moabites (among others) was outlawed and blamed for causing the people to turn away from God. Under Ezra's leadership, a covenant was made to send away the foreign wives and their children, to promote total exclusion and ethnic cleansing. For those who subscribed to Ezra's edict, it would have been no surprise to read that Naomi's husband and sons died after going to Moab, and taking Moabite wives simply sealed the sons' fate.

After the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, three childless widows remain. Without husbands or sons to protect and provide for them, their survival is in danger. Add to that Naomi's age and the fact that she is an alien in a hostile country, and we can understand the dangers. Naomi decides to go back to Bethlehem, where she will be with her own people. Ruth and Orpah start on the journey with her, but Naomi implores them to stay in their home country, where they have family and a chance for remarriage.

Naomi and her two daughters-in-law share a deep love. They start back to Bethlehem together, but then Naomi decides it will be better for their welfare for them to return to their own people and remarry. She sends them away with words of gratitude, love, and blessing. Orpah bids farewell, but Ruth refuses to go. Why doesn't Ruth remain with her Moabite family? What is it about her relationship with Naomi that compels her to continue this journey as her companion?

In Naomi's life and through her love, Ruth has seen the love and welcome of God for all people, including a Moabite woman such as herself. It has changed her forever. Though Naomi says that the Lord has turned against her and made her life bitter, Ruth sees beyond the circumstances. She sees a God who loves and cares for all, including the widows, the orphans, the aliens, and the poor; this is the God to whom she cleaves.

God has given us the blessing of our faith communities. We better understand who we are through fellowship. At times, it may seem safer to go at faith alone rather than to bear with each other. Sharing ourselves with our faults and shortcomings is a scary thing. However, when we encounter the nurture of faith community, we meet grace, and we want to be part of it. This is how Ruth felt about Naomi. We live in community so that we can care for each other and be cared for. Our identities are formed by making the choice, saying to Jesus as Ruth said to Naomi, "Where you go, I will go."


What do you think was the extent of Ruth's "conversion" or "repentance"? Do you see conversion in the lives of any of the other characters?

Ruth tells Naomi, "Your God will be my God." Are there people in your own life who have been important influences for you, and led you to a closer relationship with God as a result?


El Shaddai, we pray that in our relationships with others we would be drawn closer to you. Help us to look beyond the divisions of human creation—race, origin, gender, class, and others—and enable us to enter into covenant community with your beloved children, wherever that call takes us. May our lives tell others about your love, so that they, too, would be drawn to call you Lord. Give us the strength to go where you follow, and unify us through the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask this all in Jesus' name. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Judges 13:1-8, 24-25

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him.  The spirit of the LORD began to stir him. —Judges 13:24-25


13:1. "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7 but he said to me, 'You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'"

8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, "O LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born."...

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 The spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Of all the judges, Samson would be voted most likely to succeed. Something about the other judges made them unlikely heroes. Ehud was left-handed. Deborah was a woman. Gideon was the runt of his family litter. Through all of those judges, God chose human weakness to show God's strength. With Samson, however, things are different from the start. God makes clear even before Samson is conceived that he will be set apart for service. The other judges, plucked from their ordinary lives, are thrust into major positions of leadership and responsibility, without any apparent instruction. Samson, however, is to be groomed from birth.

Even with the best preparation, and all the physical advantages one could want, Samson has a fatal weakness. He relied on his own might, took for granted that his power would be there when he needed it, and lost sight of his dependence on God.

In the Scriptures written and shaped within a patriarchal society, the mere mention of a woman should immediately draw our attention. Even though the wife of Manoah remains unnamed, she will become the mother of Samson. She receives a visit from the angel of the Lord. The news the angel delivers is joyous; though she is barren, she will conceive and bear a son. The advice for prenatal care hardly sounds novel to us—no alcohol, and watch what you eat! But from the beginning, everything is to be different. The barren woman will bear a child, and that child will be set apart as a Nazirite to God from birth.

In Num. 6:1-21, the Lord tells Moses all the rules that Nazirites must follow—abstaining from any product of the vine, avoiding objects that are unclean, and not cutting their hair for the duration of their vow. This last requirement made known to all that the Nazirite had made vows to be separate and consecrated to God. One became a Nazirite by taking a voluntary vow to the Lord, and by following these regulations. There was a set period for this vow, and a ceremony and sacrifice to be made at its completion, including a ritual shaving of the head. Nazirites voluntarily responded to God's call. Samson, however, was called from before conception to be a Nazirite, and rather than having a set period of consecration, he was to be a Nazirite for his whole life.

God's interaction with and instructions for Samson's parents parallel two other stories of barren women who conceived. In 1 Samuel, Hannah goes to the temple to offer prayers for a child, promising to give him to the Lord as a Nazirite for all his days. Her prayers are answered. Hannah conceives and gives birth to Samuel. She and her husband Elkanah bring him to the temple to live as a Nazirite for his whole life. In the Gospel of Luke, we read about the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah in the temple, telling him that his elderly wife Elizabeth would conceive a son who would be great in the eyes of the Lord. From birth, these children were set apart for special service, and special service required special preparation and dedication by parent and child.

God called and claimed Samson. The Lord had told his mother that Samson would deliver his people from the Philistines, but did she have any idea that the deliverance would also result in his death? She did what she was called to do, though. She followed the prenatal directions and raised Samson as God instructed. Maybe something went wrong along the way. Samson became demanding and arrogant, and he had quite the temper! He fought the Philistines, and never lost a battle, but his battles were fueled by anger and revenge.  Though he is born, marked by God, and called to be a Nazirite, he does not live up to his potential.

The Lord raised previous judges to leadership after the people cried out to the Lord. Before Samson was born, no one cried out -to the Lord. It is as if they didn't remember how. Other judges used their office to rally the people to stand up to the enemy. Samson didn't command the same loyalty. The people betrayed Samson, tied him up, and handed him over (Judg. 15:9-13). Rather than showing the people the way to serve God, Samson serves his own ends. He fights the Philistines out of revenge. Samson brings no peace to the land.

No one wins when battles are fought over pride and hard-hearted revenge. God's final will and purpose will ultimately be accomplished, but we will miss many opportunities if we are not willing to set aside differences. God loves us even when we don't do things right. In this story, God sent a judge to deliver the people from the Philistines, even though they didn't ask. To be a community that acts like it knows God, the church must continue to reach out to people even when they have wronged it. Through forgiveness, the church shows the world what godly rest is.


How did your parents nurture your sense of belonging to God?

Samson was quite a departure from the judges that preceded him. What do his call and his service teach us about Cod's action in the world?

Unlike the other judges raised up by God, Samson experiences defeat and shame. It ultimately leads to his final victory, even as he is humbled, but when he is captured, the Philistines give thanks to their gds for the victory. Can we see any purpose for this defeat and humiliation? Are there times when God might use defeat in our lives?


God our Parent and Guardian, we acknowledge that all life comes from you, and all life returns to you. Help us to nurture the children of your church, even while we recognize that they already belong to you. Give us wisdom as a community of faith to develop and encourage leaders, to help provide the training and preparation that will equip them for your service and ministry. We ask this in the name of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.