Chapter-a-Day: Ruth 3

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Ruth 3

This chapter is difficult to put in perspective when we live in a time where laughing off advice from your mother-in-law is the storyline of sitcoms and being told to lie at a man’s feet would inspire a march against misogyny. There are plenty of studies written on the cultural norms related to the book of Ruth and the meaning behind Naomi’s advice and Ruth’s actions.

Less has been said about Boaz’ response. In light of current events, it is worth noting that he was presented an opportunity to behave less than honorably. He had all the power. As both a widow and a foreigner, who placed herself in a position of great vulnerability, Ruth could easily have become a victim. Her apparent youth compared to him (v. 10) and the fact that he noticed her in the field the very first day she was there suggest he found her attractive.

Yet he does not take advantage of her vulnerability. He advises her well to protect her from any accusations. He also doesn’t bypass established standards and ignore the rights of the nearer kinsman-redeemer. He follows the absolute letter of the law to ensure the best outcome for Ruth and Naomi and to honor God. He demonstrates a desire to  follow God not only when others are watching, but even when they are not.

Desiring to earn God’s favor will never produce this level of obedience. Our very best efforts fall short when we act out of obligation, fear of consequences, or a desire for reward. Only overwhelming love based on the love that was first shown to us and the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives to will and to do good can create this kind of character. Everything else is merely hypocrisy, wearing a mask of righteousness in the hope of impressing others or God.

We are discovering that many men who rose to positions of respect wore only a mask of respectability. Their real character was far different. The reality is that many of us are also wearing a mask. We may be hiding different sins, but the result is the same. When we hide our sin behind a mask and refuse to acknowledge it and recognize the price Christ paid for our failures, we remain imprisoned by it. We gain freedom by admitting to ourselves our desperate need for forgiveness and grace and allowing God’s Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.

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Chapter-a-Day: Ruth 2

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The Book of Ruth tells such a beautiful story of God’s love and care for us. His sovereignty over the circumstances in this book is evident in this chapter as Ruth happens to go to Boaz’ field on the first day she begins gleaning in the fields, and Boaz happens to come by and see her.

Our circumstances can often appear random. It may seem as if there is no rhyme or reason to the difficulties we face or the blessings we enjoy, but God sees the end from the beginning and is “working all things together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Don’t get confused and think that God working things together for our good means a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. God’s perspective on what is “good” is an eternal one that is often difficult for us to comprehend. What will help us grow closer to Him? What will make us more Christ-like? What will draw others into relationship with Him?

God’s plan for Ruth began before she was born. Although Elimelek was not living in obedience to God or trusting God’s promise to provide for Israel in the land He had given them, God’s plans included sending Elimelek to Moab and bringing Ruth back. His plans for Ruth included giving Boaz a soft spot in his heart for a foreigner, an outsider, because his own mother (Rahab) had been an outsider. His plans for Ruth’s future include the honor of being one of three women named in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1).

You and I have no idea the history God has orchestrated to bring us to this moment. We have no clue the future He has ordained for us as a result of what we are going through today. We see only this narrow sliver of seventy or eighty years. It’s a bit like dumping out a 5000 piece puzzle, selecting a single piece, and trying to understand what the completed image is. God is creating a masterpiece for all eternity, and our piece is essential, but it isn’t the whole picture.

Chapter-a-Day: Ruth 1

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Ruth 1

Sometimes I find it challenging to read such a familiar passage and find undiscovered gold in it. I’ve mined this particular chapter many times before, and it is rich with symbolism, doctrine, and application. But I’m seeking to learn something new each time I read God’s Word. I’m asking God to show me a new perspective that I’ve never seen before.

Elimelek’s name means “God is King,” but he failed to live up to that name. When challenges came in the form of a famine (the result of Israel’s disobedience of God), instead of repenting and returning to God, he led his family far away from God. Running from God seldom improves our situation, and that was true for him and his family as both he and his sons died in Moab.

Left with no means of support, his wife Naomi learns the situation in Israel has improved. She decides to return to her people, to God. What I see anew today is that for all the time they had spent together up until this point, it is not until Naomi takes a stand and decides to return to Israel that Ruth makes a decision to follow her.

It’s hard for people to follow you if you aren’t going anywhere.

Only when we follow God boldly do others see something worthwhile. If we are living an average, ordinary life, not so very different from those around us who don’t follow God, why would anyone want to emulate that? There is nothing special or worth following.

But when we step out in faith to do the impossible or when we cope well because we are leaning on God through adversity, others wonder what is different. What gives us the courage to dare the impossible? What gives us the strength to go one despite painful tragedies? What gives us joy in the midst of sickness or peace when we are surrounded by turmoil?

Ruth had seen something in Naomi. As Ruth watched Naomi lose her husband and then bury her sons as well, Ruth had seen a strength that made her want to know more. Even Naomi’s choice to move home – an arduous journey on foot which was no doubt dangerous for two women traveling alone – inspired Ruth to sacrifice everything she had known to follow.

Am I living a life that would inspire others to join me on the adventure of following God?

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 21

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The chapter is summed up in the familiar refrain that closes the book of Judges: In those days there was no king in Israel; each person did what they thought to be right.”

We live in a time and place that is not so very different. We are surrounded by debates about what is right and wrong – and in the end, most people do what they believe is right, disregarding both the governmental and religious authorities, and even disdaining to seek God’s guidance in their decisions.

The book of Judges, and this final chapter in particular, illustrates the consequences of such philosophies. Morality is not relative. There are moral absolutes, and they are determined by the only One capable of judging rightly, the One who created the heavens and the earth.

If you try to measure something using a yardstick that has been broken and taped together, you are unlikely to get an accurate measure. Our human ability to judge right and wrong is as skewed as that yardstick. Each of us is broken or warped in a slightly different way, so we get a different result when we try to evaluate something with our flawed instrument. We look at one another and scoff over the foolishness of those around us trying to make sound judgments despite their brokenness, but fail to see how flawed our own judgements are.

Instead of comparing our poor judgment to others around us and boasting because we are better than someone else, we need to compare ourselves to the perfect One, to the Christ, and recognize we have more in common with the drug addict, the murderer, or the thief than with the One who died for each of these.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 20

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The Levite’s gruesome message to the rest of Israel served its purpose. They rallied to take revenge on those who had murdered the man’s concubine and had threatened him. Though they outnumbered the Benjamites almost twenty to one, the first two days of battle saw their number reduced by a tenth. Each time they were routed by the smaller force, they turned and asked God (with growing doubt), “Should we do this?” And each time, God sent them back into battle. But only when they fasted, sat in God’s presence, and offered sacrifices to the Lord, did He give them victory.

There’s a difference between asking God to endorse a decision we’ve made and seeking God’s Will. Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted as saying, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right” when he was asked by a pastor whether he believed God was on his side in the Civil War.

How often, both personally and collectively as a church, state, or nation, do we move forward with our own agenda and pray for God to bless it instead of earnestly praying that He would align our hearts with His agenda? How many times do we find ourselves on the wrong side of history because what is “right” seems so obvious to us that we don’t bother to seek God’s perspective on it? How seldom do we recognize the incredible arrogance it betrays to presume we know the Will of God without inquiring of Him? His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are as far beyond ours as the stars in the heavens.

How many perish because we rush in thinking we have an easy win and we know just what to do, but fail to spend time in prayer, fasting, and devoting ourselves to God’s mission first?

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 19

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This is one of those chapters that, honestly, I’d love to skip over. The story is so horrible, it makes my heart ache and my stomach churn. Why is such a disgusting, heinous account preserved in God’s Holy Word?

Because it illustrates the depths of mankind’s depravity apart from God. The account starts with a statement that is more profound than we might realize initially: “In those days when there was no king in Israel . . .”

Not only was there no established government, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes as we’re told multiple times throughout the book of Judges, but Israel did not recognize or worship God as their authority.

Consequently, as we’ve seen in the past two chapters, they began a steady slide into more widespread, and deeper sin and immorality.

But how does this relate to us today? Oh, brothers and sisters! We are all to some extent a product of the environment we live in. Do not think that sin can multiply around us and we can remain untainted by it. Like a frog in gradually heated water, we won’t realize it’s boiling until it is too late. The notion that we can be “tolerant” of sin is a deadly compromise, yet somehow we must reach out with kindness and mercy to those who are trapped in its web.

Our pastor mentioned last weekend, “we are known as a church where it’s OK to not be OK, but it’s not OK to stay there.” We must love and welcome broken people, because we are all broken. But we must not peddle the demoralizing lie that we can remain comfortably participating in things that God calls sin. “It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free!”

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 18

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The theme of reaping what one sows continues and expands in Chapter 18. Micah’s worship of false gods and purchase of the services of an ungodly priest are seen by a group of five spies from the tribe of Dan, who offer the opportunistic priest a better gig. The personal sin of Micah provides the seed for the congregational sin of the entire tribe of Dan. By the end of the chapter, the tribe has established corporate idolatry in Northern Israel in direct defiance of God’s guidance to His people.

The seeds we sow in our sin do not only reap a deadly harvest for ourselves, but lead and entice many to follow us on a path of destruction. These two chapters set the stage for Israel’s eventual destruction and exile to Babylon. Micah never saw Israel go into exile. He never knew on this earth the magnitude of his decision to set up images to worship and to engage a Levite to authorize his pagan cult.

What small compromises have we made that will bear fruit in future generations? Will one person’s apostasy lead a nation astray and result in destruction for millions? As a writer, this story tempts me to put away my pen in fear that my words could miss the mark and lead others down the wrong path.

What arrogance to think that I could share my imperfect thoughts and create anything but trouble! I confess that everything I know about God could fill a Barbie-sized teacup even after twenty-six years of study and following Him. I confess that although some days I pray earnestly for God to give me the right words, other days I rely on my own understanding — what a foolish and dangerous thing to do! I pray that God would grant anyone who reads my words discernment and that those words that are flawed would dissolve from the page leaving only His truth. Whether it is my words or others outside of God’s Holy Word, pray for discernment. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 17

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If Samson revealed a life that failed to live up to his calling, Micah represents a life of misguided religion. He’s a great illustration of Pascal’s concept of a God-shaped vacuum in our lives. Although Pascal is often paraphrased as saying, “There is a God-shaped hole in every human heart,” that’s not really accurate. His actual statement in Pensees (which was a collection of his notes on a variety of subjects first published in 1670, eight years after his death) was:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Quoted from Penses, Penguin Books, 1966)

Micah knows this sense of an infinite abyss. He first tries to fill it with money, stealing silver from his mother. When that fails to satisfy and results in her cursing him, without knowing it was him, he returns the silver. His mother, equally ignorant of the God of Israel and His law, takes a portion of the silver to create molded and sculpted images for her son to worship. That obviously doesn’t satisfy either as he first appoints one of his own sons and then finally hires a wandering Levite to serve as his priest. He’s search, desperately it seems, for a relationship with God, but he’s looking for God’s love in all the wrong places.

Does that sound familiar? I can’t be too harsh in judging Micah’s idolatry because I know that I’ve tried to create my own gods, or find my own way to reach the One True God, as well.

I’m so thankful that it wasn’t up to me to mold a god in my image and it wasn’t up to me to find the True God. He found me. For reasons I can’t comprehend, He chose to reveal Himself to me and continues to show me more and more of His character, His love, and His mercy every single day.

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 16

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I’ve read the account of Delilah’s deception of Samson dozens of times, but this is the first time I realized that although we, the reader, know that am ambush was waiting in the inner room each time she bound him and called out, “The Philistines are upon you,” Samson did not. We see the whole picture and think, “How could he keep falling for this deception?” But we don’t see in the text that Samson actually saw they were waiting for him, it seemed like a game she was playing. If anything, the fact that each time he broke free may have made him more trusting rather than less trusting.

We fall prey in much the same way. Sin entices once, and we succumb, but slip away unscathed, or so we believe. A second time we nibble at forbidden fruit, with no ill-effect, we think. We come back time and again, bolder each time, more secure in our belief that we are invincible, that our dabbling in things we know to be sin will not be found out.

But then comes the harvest of our pride and arrogance.

Another principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor J.D. shared last weekend is that the harvest comes later than the planting. It is not immediate. If you plant a seed, you may wait months to eat the fruit. Whether you are sowing to the Spirit in godly activities that feed your soul and build you up in Christ, or deadly sin, the results take time to see.

In Samson’s case, his sowing began with disregarding the calling God had given him. Instead of honoring the covenant, he treated it with disdain, violating it for a handful of honey. With each choice to ignore the command of the Lord, he planted more and more seeds of his own fall. The fruit of heartbreak, suffering, and death flourished as a result. Though his final moments show him turning to the Lord, begging for the gift that God had freely given him and he had squandered, his life is a cautionary tale. Not because we have miraculous strength, but because we are all prone to the same mistakes he made in treating with contempt the blessings of God, neglecting His calling in our life, and assuming the final result based on the immediate effect.

What are you planting? What do you think the harvest will bring?

Chapter-a-Day: Judges 15

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Continuing in the theme of reaping what we sow, in this passage, Samson begins to reap what his rash actions sowed. He is the one who set up the riddle, not giving thought to where his future wife’s loyalties rested. When he lost his wager, for the sake of thirty sets of clothing, he stormed off in a rage after paying what he owed. Consequently, the bride’s father chose another groom for her.

Seldom do actions that come in the heat of anger result in anything positive. When we are angry, it’s almost impossible for us to think through all the possible ramifications and make good, positive, and healthy decisions about our best course. Certainly, we’re unlikely to pray about a decision when we are furious, so our decisions definitely won’t be Spirit-led ones.

One of the principles J.D. Greear spoke about in regard to sowing and reaping was “the harvest is greater than the planting.” In Samson’s case, he not only lost his wife to another man, in the end, she and her whole family were killed because of his foolish behavior. Whether we sow good things or bad, the results are multiplied. A tiny act of kindness or generosity results in abundant joy. A single cruel word can follow someone their whole lives with devastating affect.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all recognize moments when we have sown poorly as a result of our anger, pride, or foolishness. Jesus covered our sin so the eternal consequences are taken away if we’ve trusted in His work on the cross. But we can’t un-sow the seeds we’ve already planted. We can’t change the poor choices we’ve made in the past, but we can move forward planting more wisely in the future.