God’s Vineyard of People

We had a Sunday School lesson based on teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan’s series, ‘That the World May Know.’ I highly recommend looking into this series / these teachings. A YouTube search will offer up several videos to get you started.

This particular study was called, ‘A Well-Watered Garden.’ Mr. Vander Laan took the group in Israel to a portion of a hillside vineyard or garden (Hebrew, gan; plural, ganim).

Imagine, if you will, the land that God created for these farms. It was perfect. Did it look perfect? Not likely. The early Israelites’ ancestors had come from bondage in Egypt. They must have heard the stories of the rich farmland of the Nile River basin. They were promised a land flowing with milk and honey.

But they had spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Those desert years had taught them some things:

  • Dependence on God
  • Fortitude
  • Patience
  • How to listen to their leader (Moses, then Joshua)
  • The dangers of not listening to God / their leaders
  • A sense of community
    • In all that moving around, they had each other to depend upon: it was them against the world
  • Who their enemies were, and how to do battle

The desert was a wasteland. When they thought of a land flowing with milk and honey, what did they picture? Whatever met their eyes, it was better than the desert. God had promised that (Deut 6.10, 11) “it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not.”

God's Vineyard of People

When that rocky soil and those terraces met their eyes, did they have to shift their paradigms? Were they willing to put aside whatever they had imagined, and accept what God gave them? Did they see this new land as the amazing gift that it was?

The hillsides had been transformed into terraces so the crops of figs, olives, and grapes could be grown.

I found it interesting that each family’s portion was not a vertical strip of several layers, going up the hillside, but the land they took care of and farmed was one terraced layer.

You can imagine, as folks were tending their gardens, that they would often run into each other, looking up at cousin Ashan and waving, or down at Uncle Bozkath to ask about his new grandchild.

The farmers tending their gardens had much work to do in order to reap a good harvest. And most of the work was communal work: digging cisterns and irrigation, using rainfall to best advantage, grafting plants from each other, prevention of disease and rot, harvesting and using the fruit, and maintaining the walls.

The walls had to be kept strong and firm. If the garden walls above your own crumbled, that soil and water would come pouring down to make a mess of your own garden. And a fellow couldn’t necessarily see his own wall: he would have to walk in his neighbor’s garden, below, to inspect his own walls. Most often, each gardener would keep an eye on his neighbor’s wall, and shore it up when needed. They depended on each other to maintain their walls: Uncle Bozkath kept an eye on Zanoah’s wall; Zanoah kept an eye on Ashan’s wall.

The ground these farmers used for their crops was not the rich loam we are used to seeing in modern gardens. No, these olive and fig trees, and grape vines, grow in rocky soil. When building their terraces, they were able to access a rich store of supplies in the rocky ground.

Once in a while, the soil would shift, a rock in the wall would loosen, a hole would work its way there. Accordingly, as each farmer worked his plot, he might find a rock in his soil. Those of you who garden or farm might look upon those rocks in your soil and groan. Not those Israelites. They knew they were a gift, and they knew just what to do with them: Look at your neighbor’s wall, and see where that rock fits in to shore it up and make it stronger.

I love how God is Lord of Relationships. He created us to have relationship with Him, and with each other. He creates opportunity for relationships. Make Him Lord of your relationships.

I love how God gives us gifts. He gives us work to do, and the resources to use.

Some people see a rock, an obstacle, a nuisance.

Other people see a useful gift.

Who are your neighbors? What are the rocks in your life? Ask God what He would have you do.

{image from google images}
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God’s Way

GodsWay

In the book of Ezra, the exiled Jews return to their homeland.

Interesting fact: not all Jews chose to return home, only those “whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1.5).

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia (Ezra 1.1) to proclaim and put into writing, that “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1.2). In addition, Cyrus gave them all the silver and gold and brass items that Nebuchadnezzar had taken away. The Jews traveled back to their homeland with all this, plus all the gifts the people of the land bestowed upon them.

Once home, the people set to work to build a new temple upon the foundation of the old temple.

The enemies of the Jews around Jerusalem at first came, offering to “help” the Jews rebuild, saying, “Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him…” But the Jews would have none of it (and rightly so), saying, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build into the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded.” (Ezra 4.3)

So the enemies gave the Jews grief for 16 years, and eventually wrote a letter to Darius, the king who had replaced Cyrus, a letter filled with lies.

Darius ordered a halt to the building.

The Jews might well have been devastated. They obeyed the king’s order, however, and stopped. AND they sent their own letter to Darius, appealing to him to find in the records the decree Cyrus had issued.

Darius did, and he found the decree. Then he ordered the rebuilding to continue with additional orders: the enemies of the Jews were to provide all the money and resources the Jews needed for completing the building.

Our eyes can grow round with amazement, and we can shake our heads at the miraculous provisions of God.

The Jews were obedient. That counts big with God.

Maybe, after those first 16 years, the Jews were running out of resources: money, timber, building blocks, energy, ambition. Maybe they had been praying that God would provide for all these needs.

Maybe they didn’t see, in the order to stop construction, an answer to their prayer.

But they waited on God, and were obedient.

The temple was finished and dedicated; sacrifices were offered; the laws, written in the book of Moses, were read and followed.

God blessed. Prayers were answered.

A verse that jumped out at me this morning, was Ezra 6.21: “And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat.

Filthiness was what caught my attention. When I studied it, the Hebrew definition indeed means filthy, unclean. There it was again in Ezra 9.11.

I thought, “I bet the people of the land around them might take umbrage at being called filthy. There are probably a lot of nice, well-meaning people they deal with, who are actually friends.”

I bet that’s true.

What is filthy, in the eyes of the Lord? Unclean. Of a foul or filthy mass. That which is apart from His Spirit. Really, anything that is not of God.

God is clean and pure. In our flesh, we are not.

As Christians, we can be washed as white as snow – CLEAN – with the blood of Jesus. Although this happens once-for-all at salvation, sometimes we have to do this, moment by moment in our daily lives. (1John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)

What about the world around us? Our unsaved friends and neighbors, our relatives? All those nice, well-meaning people? Are they filthy? Yes. Just as we were. They have nothing to do with God (remember Ezra 4.3, the Jews did not allow the enemies to join with them in rebuilding.)

These things are God’s way.

This is why God warns us not to be intimate with the world. Be in the world but not of it. Love your neighbor – he’s just like you, and needs Jesus.

Know Thyself?

KnowThyself

My thanks to Nancy for her comment after our Sunday sermon (Attributes of God series). She thanked the pastor and said something to the effect, “We need to know God more. The more we know God, the more we know ourselves.”

That stuck with me. HOW TRUE!

God created us. Who knows us better than God? If we want to know how we work, if we want to understand what makes us tick, KNOW GOD!

Put away all the self-help books, the worldly counseling tapes and series, the wisdom of the people, and look to God. Read His Word. He will give you understanding. He will guide you with words of wisdom and lead you in straight paths.

He will show you who you are. He will show you Who He is. And He will show you the right relationship between the two of you, and between all His other children.

Obedience and Blessings

ObedienceAndBlessings

I am blessed to use several devotionals throughout my day and week. One of my sources of inspirational reading is the blogs I read from YOU! I so appreciate your interpretation of and encouragement in God’s Word.

Another that I read and study daily is Quiet Walk’s Walk Through the Bible daily devotional, found here: http://www.walkthru.org/qw-daily-devotional

Today’s readings inspired me to go off on some tangents about obedience (one of my favorite topics). It starts with a Bible passage I love, where Hezekiah spreads Sennacherib’s letter before his Lord, in the temple. The discussion pointed out that, “God is not reluctant to bless us. But we must be sure we are eligible by being faithful to Him.”

God is a God of faithfulness! He loves to shower His blessings upon us. But we must position ourselves to be eligible to receive His blessings.

How?

By being obedient.

How to be obedient?

READ GOD’S WORD!

Without God’s Word, it is easy to assume and visualize in our minds how we can be obedient to God. We can (and do) make up anything we want to push ourselves into believing we are pleasing Him, while in reality we are conniving to please ourselves.

God is our plumb line, our source of Truth, of reality. Everything we do or say or think or feel must be aligned with the Truth He gives us in His Word.

Mind you, blessing does not always mean a lovely life filled with roses and lemonade. Blessings come in all forms. Sometimes a blessing looks like a face of anger or a scary situation or a blocked road or even death, to turn us to the direction God wants for us. If we are in tune with God, if we know Him, His Word, His Spirit of Truth, then He WILL guide us.

None of us is always obedient. We try, and God forgives. The devotional this morning continued with this passage from Joel 2.12, 13: Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

Sometimes we are afraid to be obedient to God, fearing we won’t get what we want. God knows our hearts. If we will but surrender to Him, He gives us joys we cannot imagine – even better than what we thought we wanted!

Pray with me:

Lord, I praise You. I worship Who You are, and I bow before Your throne of glory. I acknowledge my weakness and my sin. I come before You, knowing You love me, You welcome me, and You want Your best for me. Increase my faith in Your goodness. Guide me to read more of Your Word, instruct me in the way I should go. Give me a heart that yearns for You, a heart that desires above all else to know You and please You. Give me eyes and a heart to see the beauty and peace and joy of Your Ways. Amen.

A Question of Angels

You know how, as you’re reading the Bible, sometimes you skim over parts of it as you’re focusing on another aspect?

So this morning I’m reading, and there’s Genesis 3.24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

And I got to thinking about those angels guarding the east of the garden of Eden, and the flaming sword.

Have those angels been hanging around since Adam and Eve left, flashing that sword any time someone comes near?

Or do battles rage there? Do Satan’s armies fiercely want entrance, do they want humans to be able to enter, so that maybe someone could eat of that Tree of Life? There has never been an immortal sinner. Praise God, He did not let us eat of that Tree of Life, and condemn ourselves to eternity in our flesh.

These are the things that wander about in my head sometimes…

Joshua’s Admonition

JoshuasAdmonition

Joshua 23.4-13 Behold, I have divided unto you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even unto the great sea westward.  And the LORD your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the LORD your God hath promised unto you.  Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left;  That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them:  But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day.  For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day.  One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.  Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God.  Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you:  Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.

In the book bearing his name, Joshua was “old and stricken with age.” He called together all Israel, with its leaders, to give them final reminders, admonitions, and comfort.

He warns them not to mix in with the remnant of the nations that God had driven out, and among whom they lived: Do not make mention of the name of their gods nor swear by them or serve them or bow down unto them, do not marry among them, do not go in unto them or they to you.

Joshua’s admonitions to God’s people pertains to us today. We are God’s people. God Himself has driven out all our enemies from within us, and we belong to Him. We serve Him only. We are not to entertain notions of the gods around us (money, fame, entertainment, drugs, alcohol, food); we are to find our delight only in Him.

Because God is all our delight. Find your comfort, your delight, your joy, your peace and education and enlightenment, your fulfillment, in Jehovah God, and Him alone.

Blessings of Obedience and the Resurrection

BlessingsOfObedienceAndTheResurrection

After Jesus was crucified, the women noted where He was laid to rest (Luke 23.55), then went home and prepared spices and ointments; but they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (Luke 23.56).

These were Jewish women, likely able to trace their lineage back centuries to their original tribe, just like any other orthodox Jew. Their ancestors had received The Law straight from Moses / straight from God, and their adherence to it was the basis of their relationship to God Himself.

And so, in obedience, they waited until after the Sabbath was over. That begins a chapter in each of the gospels: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. Unsuspecting, they had a discussion along the way of how they could get that stone rolled away from the tomb. They likely thought the guards would let them in to anoint Him, seeing as how they were women and unable to steal the body.

None of their recorded discussion centered around “What if the body isn’t there?”.

They were astounded and nonplussed to find 1) the stone rolled away, 2) no body in the tomb, and 3) an angel telling them that “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.”

Because of their devotion and obedience, they received the astounding blessing of being the first to discover that Jesus had, indeed, arisen. These women were entrusted with the directive to go and tell the others.

These Jewish women may not have felt the least inclination to break the Sabbath and anoint Jesus’ body the day after He died. They were firmly entrenched in The Law and Tradition, and they simply never broke the Sabbath, out of habit if nothing else.

For those of us outside orthodox religion, we might consider other circumstances: Jesus had just been crucified in an untimely, cruel, and unjust manner. Did they not feel a tug at their hearts that, just this once, it was okay to anoint His body, even though it was the Sabbath? That surely God would give them leniency, given that this man had claimed to be the very Son of God? Did they not love Him so much that they were drawn to be that near to Him? We can, in our minds, rationalize a whole host of really great “reasons” to do what is right in our eyes.

What if they had not been obedient? What would they have found at the tomb? The stone with its seal would still have been there. The guards posted by Pilate and the Pharisees would still have been there. They would not have been able to enter. Even if they had been able, they would have found and anointed a dead body.

But they were obedient. They put aside whatever feelings or logic they may have had otherwise, and they obeyed God’s fourth commandment of the Ten.

Obedience works just the same now-a-days as it did back then. Obey out of habit, stiff-necked obedience, obey out of love, obey because of fear of man: no matter, as long as it is GOD you are obeying.

You just never know what blessings will follow obedience.