Growing in God’s Love: “Love’s Foundation” – Ruth 4

Like most healthy and reasonably “normal” children, I didn’t really follow politics, but there were some names I overheard and learned in my early life. One of those unmistakable family names was “Kennedy.” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most Americans of that time thought we would likely have decades of the Kennedy family in the news and perhaps even in the White House…

John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) the Senator from Massachusetts, in his Washington, D.C. office, February 27, 1959. (AP Photo)

I was only two years old when President John F. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Later, when I was seven years old, President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California, after winning the California Democratic primary for the upcoming Presidential election. With both gone, most eyes turned to yet another Kennedy brother – Ted. Just a year after the loss of Robert Kennedy, a single-vehicle car accident on Chappaquiddick Island brought his journey to the White House to an end. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s admitted negligence in driving resulted in the death of his 28-year-old companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. According to Kennedy’s own testimony, he accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge, swam free and left the scene. He pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury” and was given a two-month suspended jail sentence. I believe it is safe to say that scandal haunted the rest of his political career. Some in the media murmured about the family being “cursed.” Others waited to see what the next generation would bring.

Perhaps you were moved, as many Americans were, while watching television on the day of President Kennedy’s burial by the salute of little “John-John.” He became the hope for the Kennedy clan’s future. That is until he perished in a plane crash. Our nation again stood shocked around television sets in the summer of 1999 when John Kennedy, Jr. at the age of thirty-eight, crashed into the waters off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife and sister both died in the crash as well.

The sense of a curse deepened in the press. Yet, the truth seemed simpler than some plot or curse. Investigators concluded Kennedy was a qualified pilot but only according to VFR (visual flight regulations). He was not qualified to fly by instruments (IFR–instrument flight regulations). As he flew along the Atlantic Coast, he encountered a blinding fog. Only an IFR trained pilot would have been properly prepared to navigate through the confusing haze.

Immediately after the accidental crash, some pilots explained the disorienting nature of flying without any visual reference points. As strange as it seems, a pilot can lose all sense of direction relative to the ground. Without a view of the horizon, some lights in the distance or another reference point, a pilot can’t reliably perceive what direction he or she is heading. Some have come out of such fog banks flying perpendicular to the ground of even upside down from the earth! There is only one way to safely fly in such conditions, and that is for the pilot to keep his eye fixed on the instruments in the cockpit. The plane electronically provides an artificial horizon marker and makes clear the height, airspeed, and attitude (ascent or descent). The instruments tell the pilot the truth when they can’t see it with their eyes. The toughest part, according to many seasoned pilots, is learning to have unquestioned faith in the instruments – particularly when you feel something different from what they indicate.

Think about the faith it takes to fly on instrument flight regulations. Could you overcome your feelings and trust the panel in front of you?

Now, look at the situations in your life. Sometimes the way forward is clear. The alarm clock says, “Get up!” You hit the button, jump out of bed and head to the shower. It isn’t a mystery; you need to get ready for work. How you feel isn’t all that relevant, since you know the bills will roll in either way. That seems simple enough – but that isn’t all there is to daily life.

A plane lands in thick fog today at Heathrow Airport. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 22, 2011. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Maybe the circumstances you are passing through aren’t all that clear. Maybe you sympathize with the pilot in the fog bank because it feels like that is where you are living right now. Maybe circumstances don’t look particularly good, and God doesn’t seem particularly close… or even fair right now. This wasn’t in the brochure. You don’t know how to trust without being able to see… If you understand that feeling, then you understand my friend Naomi, and you can pick out the struggle she went through long ago. If you feel unprepared, remember that is the very reason stories like this one are in the Bible – to train you to keep focused on the instruments (in this case the promises and Person of God) when flying in the fog.

In the Book of Ruth, Naomi had a crisis of trust. God loved her, but she couldn’t see it. For a long time, it felt like He didn’t love her, didn’t want to tenderly care for her, and didn’t make anything clear. As you open Ruth 4, listen to the truth she learned from her “fog bank” experience…

Key Principle: Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances.

Naomi learned a spiritual version of flying by “instrument flight regulations.” She had to stay focused on God’s character and not her circumstances – and that took training.

Because you may have been away from the story for a while, let’s recall what the Book is all about.

In chapter one, Naomi was given by God two sons, but they were both sickly. She was given a husband, but he died. She was given by God a farm, but a famine drove her from living there for a time. Widowed and broken, she set her face to return from Moab back to Bethlehem. Against her initial wishes, one of her daughters-in-law, a Moabite girl named Ruth, came with her. Naomi arrived back to her old family farm with a companion, but utterly overtaken by bitterness toward God.

In chapter two, we find Naomi begin to soften a bit. Ruth asked to go and glean in the fields among the leftovers, and God directed her to a relative of the family who was kind and generous named Boaz. His care for Ruth and for Naomi’s situation revived hope in Naomi, and allowed her to see that God wasn’t cruelly stripping her of everything – He was repositioning her.

By the third chapter, Boaz showed love to the family and promised that he would see their needs through to the end… We feel like good things are coming, but they don’t happen until the last chapter.

Throughout the story, we learn that we need to live patiently before God.

We need to face the fact that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if leaving us there will position our life where He can best use us. We learn that He can set the stage by removing people dear to us and by removing situations that are both comfortable and familiar. He supplies people to help us, and He opens doors for us – but He does it to fit His plan and His timing.

As we close the story of Naomi’s life, we need to consider how walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not our view of circumstances. I have in mind an ironic truth: The greatest joy of this life is that our greatest joy isn’t found in this life. Because of that, we can’t see purpose here. It is only found in finally viewing the story from Heaven’s perspective. To that end, look at the last chapter, which we can divide into three simple parts:

• First, there is the story of the redemption of the family of Elimelech, the deceased husband of Naomi (4:1-12).

• Second, there is the marriage and childbearing of Ruth that brings about the celebration of Naomi (4:13-17a).

• Third, there is a narrator’s note on the reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22).

Ruth was promised by Boaz in chapter three that he would be willing to help Naomi raise up the name of her dead husband and restore their farm and standing in the community. How did he do it?

Redeeming the family and name of Elimelech (4:1-12)

The text records the redemption of the family at the ancient courtroom found in the gate of the city of Bethlehem. Watch as Boaz makes good on his promise:

Boaz organized the gathering (4:1-2)

Ruth 4:1 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.

There they sat, Boaz and eleven men gathered by him to discuss the matter of the loss of the name of Elimelech and the need to redeem his property. The Law had few restrictions on women of the era in terms of their ability to buy, sell or grow a business or run a farm. Proverbs 31 illustrates the fact that a good woman performed many business functions. Don’t get hung up on the fact that she stayed at home, for that is where people operated their businesses – both men and women. The chief issue was this: a woman couldn’t operate her home business pursuits without a male heir whose name was listed among the tribes of Israel. This allowed the property to be identified by tribe and family and held the land in trust according to God’s prescribed order. Elimelech died leaving no male heir. The relatives could redeem his name by marriage and “takeover” of assets and liabilities, but the order in which they could apply to the court was based on a specific lineage order. Boaz wanted to see Naomi and Ruth cared for, and the farm redeemed – but he knew he wasn’t first in the line to redeem the family – someone else was before him. The text continued:

Ruth 4:3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.” 7 Now, this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

The court witnessed three issues that day.

First, the land and property of Elimelech were, in effect, purchased by Boaz.

He was taking on all debts and responsibilities for the property. Boaz removed his sandal and put on the sandal of Elimelech, openly beginning a journey to “walk in his shoes” as a metaphor for taking over in his place.

The idea of redemption in the Bible is simple: it is a purchase. When Boaz redeemed the property of Elimelech, he was making crops raised on that property saleable under Elimelech’s name. He was reviving the position of one who had been removed from the rolls because of his death. Real estate hung in limbo for a time because of no permanent tribal record of a living heir. The property was in jeopardy when the next Jubilee year would reset the records of property. Boaz pledged his fortune to cover all the markers on the land.

Christians use the term redemption in a related way as we look in the Christian Scriptures. The idea comes, in part, from the Law and stories like this one in Ruth. We find the term used in places like Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus where he wrote:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us ...

Don’t get lost in all the words. Paul made the point that God blessed us with all kinds of rich spiritual blessings which will reach completion when we are in His presence in Heaven (1:3). He intentionally chose us long before we were here – with the end purpose of bringing us to holiness (1:4). Out of love God purposefully adopted us (1:5-6). How did He do it?

He did it by redeeming us. The term translated “redemption” is “apolýtrōsis” and literally means “to buy back, to re-purchase something once owned but later lost.”

The Bible teaches that man was created by God and was His personal property. In rebellion, mankind turned from God as a child that ran away. When God “found” us (an analogy with limits, to be sure), we were enslaved. He had to buy us back. Fortunately for us, God had what was required in the form of the sacrifice of His Perfect Son. The blood that paid for our sin, should we decide to accept it, is effective to cleanse us. It also provides the full re-purchase price to put us into the family of God as adopted children. We who follow Jesus are His twice over: once by creation and the second by redeemed purchase.

Second, the name of Elimelech was overtaken by Boaz.

All children of the union of Boaz and Ruth were legally named after Elimelech, and the property remained in his name under his proxy, Boaz. To redeem the name, Boaz lost the right to transfer his own name to others. He gave up his place so that others would have the proper attachment to their rightful father.

Throughout the Bible, the idea of “giving a name” was to take responsibility for and to act on behalf of and in the character of another. Think about these two meanings for a moment:

In some Bible stories, a person gave a name to another to show they were (in some way) taking responsibility for them. Adam did this with the animals, to show he recognized his responsibility to care for them. He named Eve to show he understood his responsibility to her as well. In the Ruth narrative, Boaz took the responsibilities of the dead man Elimelech from chapter one.

Think about this: When I pray “in the name of Jesus,” I am consciously recognizing that He is the One Who can DO the things I ask. He is the One with the responsibility to act where I cannot.

In other Bible stories, the giving of a name is about ascribing character. Many are the stories where understanding the name of the people is key to recognizing the whole story. In Ruth, her name is derived from “Re-ut” – the term for “friendship.” Who can miss that she is the example of the concept? Like Jacob, whose name meant “trickster,” and scores of others, their name helped their story along.

Again, I remember that when I pray “in the name of Jesus” I am to bring petitions that match His character. I dare not ask for something He would not ask. I offer a request because I know, in the end, the granting of it will bring honor to my Savior.

Third, a marriage was announced.

Boaz announced his intention to marry Ruth in hopes of bearing children to re-stock the household of Elimelech with boys. These would carry the name of one who formerly was lost from the tribal records because of death and loss of all of his name-bearing sons. The people were excited, and their blessings reflect they understood what the priority of the marriage was for Boaz. They exclaimed:

Ruth 4:11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Between Rachel, Leah, with Bilhah and Zilpah (their maids) the twelve sons of Judah were born. According to Numbers 26:20-21, the house of Perez was a very sizeable clan. All in all, they were exclaiming, may your house be full to overflowing – the best way to both become people of wealth and of fame!

It shouldn’t escape any Jesus follower that the completion of the redemption happened with the wedding of the two. That same truth applies to our own re-purchase by Jesus! We await the coming of the groom as the “bride of Christ!” It is for this reason, we are to be preparing ourselves, by walking distinctly from the world around us.

That is the first of the three stories of the passage, that is, the court proceedings that redeemed the family. The other two parts of the passage are the results of that story. Notice the first outcome was the fruitfulness of the family…

The marriage and childbearing of Ruth (4:13-17a)

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”

Did you happen to notice that most of the focus of the account was not on the baby, nor on the baby’s parents – but on Naomi, the matriarch of the redeemed and restored family? Naomi suffered loss and became bitter. Now God showed her a small touch of His love and a slight glance at the beginning of His purpose. She didn’t live long enough to see it all, but she began to get a glimpse of this truth: the death of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion were not the end of her family’s story – they set up the special way God chose to use them.

The reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22)

The last story unfolds the true underlying purpose of the whole story. This was a legal document of lineage for a king that sat on the throne of Jerusalem. Little “nobody Naomi” and her unloved and forgotten family were awarded a critical role in the plan of God! The writer ended the story with these words:

Ruth 4:17b “…So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez [s]was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.

Can we not see that our life is bigger than we know? Can we not understand what the Lord told us concerning the plan? Proverbs 16:9 echoes through history: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” God is at work behind the staging of your life, before your life, beneath the fabric of your life. He forgets no one. He misses nothing…

In a way, your life is in His hands. Your role in the world is His to write into the scroll. In another way, you have much that you can and should do. You must learn to fly by instruments because the fog will roll in. Even though you won’t choose the fog that one day will surround your life, how you see where you are in the midst of the fog is your choice. You can prepare to learn to fly without sight.

A young student in China decided to play a trick on his elderly teacher one day. He caught a small bird and cupped it in his hands behind his back. He then approached his master with a plan in mind. He would ask the wise man what he had in his hand. If he answered correctly, he would then ask the teacher if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said, “Alive,” he would crush the bird. If he answered, “Dead,” he would release the bird. Upon approaching the teacher, the young student said, “Old man, what do I have in my hand?” The man responded, “A bird, my son.” “Is he dead or alive, old man?” the boy asked with a grin. The old sage thought for a moment and then he replied, “The answer to that question, my son, is in your hands… It’s in your hands.”

Here is the truth from Naomi’s life: No matter what you think about your circumstances – God is at work in, through, and around you. She thought God left her family, but she found out that only by famine would she move to Moab. Only in Moab would she find Ruth, and only through Ruth would the story of her family be redeemed.

• The loss of her husband wasn’t a fluke – it made her leave Moab and go home to start the king’s lineage.

• The loss of her sons wasn’t happenstance – they set the stage for a redeemer.

“Wait!” you might say, “I have made so many bad choices! I am not like Naomi at all!” That is nonsense. Her sons married forbidden women. A Moabitess shouldn’t have been in the gown of an Israelite wedding. You must understand: No matter how much you think your bad decisions have blocked God’s love, as long as you are breathing, God is at work in your life. Your bad choices didn’t put you too far from God’s ability to work in your life.

You simply MUST learn to fly by the instrument panel etched on His face. You have to trust His character and not the foggy mess of your circumstances.

When you learn to fly by instruments, you place your faith in His ability and begin trusting a mind greater than your own. That is part of the surrender process. You begin by plotting the course to the destination by allowing God to lead you – since you know He knows what you cannot know. In short, flying by instruments includes beginning my journey with the end in mind.

The first thing we learn to do in our journey is to think through our destination, because it has much to do with how we get where we are going. When we know where we are headed, the point of the journey becomes clearer. What we take with us and why we value it becomes clearer.

Let’s say it this way: My first task in learning to trust God and not my circumstances MUST be to clarify in my mind where I’m headed.

Philippians 3:20 reminds me: “You are a citizen of Heaven!” How does that affect my view of Washington’s woes and the mountains of problems of this life? I must keep in mind that what looks like a reversal and defeat of the Lord’s plan isn’t that at all.

I must also learn that my Father may chart a course through a storm I cannot see in, but He is not unsure of where I am going and how to get me there. The way for Israel to get to the Promised Land was THROUGH the harsh desert and hot sands. The way for you to get to the land of His promise may take you for a time through that same sand pit. For a while, you may smell the camels. God hasn’t left; He is leading where you cannot see. Remember, Israel wasn’t ready to fight for the land without attacks from desert people that taught them warfare. Some of your problems are to teach you and prepare you to use the defenses God has set up for you. You cannot “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6) alongside the likes of the Apostle Paul and his fellows, without some fight club training and a few bruises.

If I second-guess His way, I’ll grab the wheel and begin living by feeling! If I waste time fighting His every directional change and keep “putting in my two cents” every time He inputs instructions for my directions, I keep arguing the foolish point that I can do this as well as He does. He has told me to “Trust in HIM with all my heart and NOT lean on my own understanding.” He has explained that I must “in all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). He knows the best way for me to get where He is leading. I simply don’t.

The excursion may be long, but I know I’m going to arrive if I trust Him to get me there. No matter what I see or cannot see right now, knowing He is leading me opens the door to freedom and optimism, because “He Who began a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 1:6).

If I am willing to let the instruments take over, there is a great opportunity. Think of it this way: The beauty is they start wherever I am. The instruments don’t tell me there is no way to get there from where I am. If I grab the controls and pull things off course, I have a reset – a renewed trust – where they will again take over. It is possible that I may willfully disobey and pull away in mistrust, but I have a Savior who reassures me that doesn’t put me beyond His grasp. That is why He has told us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

• If it is true that He can grab the controls and lead me home, then it is also true that my future has more power over me than my past. The journey is all about what lies ahead.

• All the nonsense detours, all the silly wrong turns, all the accidental forays away from the destination mean little to the journey once the instruments take control.

• Stop acting like you can’t turn over the controls when you can’t see anyway! You can have a start fresh.

Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances… Love’s foundation is trust. The problem is you have to choose to trust what He knows over what you think you see.

Growing in God’s Love: “Models of Love” – Ruth 3

Have you ever watched an old re-run of Bob Ross painting a landscape. If you haven’t, you should! He was a natural teacher with a humor and soft voice – and was he ever talented with a paint brush!

Robert Norman Ross (October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was a 20 year Air Force veteran (retiring at a rank of Master Sergeant) who became a painter, an art instructor, and a television host of the still popular “Joy of Painting.” His instructional television program aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in the United States, but was also picked up in Canada, Latin America and Europe. What you might not know is that Ross was a Floridian, born in Daytona Beach and raised in Orlando, Florida. He had two sons. Though his show ran in the 80s and 90s, reruns still flood YouTube and other media outlets. Notable art critic Mira Schor called him the “Fred Rogers” of painting, (Referring to the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) and noted both had soft voices and a slower and more soothing pace of speaking. The artist was diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 1990s, and The Joy of Painting’s final episode aired in the Spring of 1994. He died at the age of 52 in the summer of 1995. His grave is in Orange County, Florida (Gotha) and frequently has people who leave small pictures and paintings beside, according to a local resident of the area.

What Bob did was more than bring his large “afro” hairdo to the set and paint landscape pictures; he shared the love of his own personal passion for painting. It was all too obvious that he loved to paint, and he loved to show people they could learn to paint.

Why do I mention this painter to begin this lesson? I don’t want to sacrilegiously compare Bob Ross to our Creator, but I do want you to consider one similarity or reflection: Bob modeled his passion. He may have seemed a bit eccentric, but he truly believed others could learn to do what he was doing. The interesting thing is this: so does the God Who created us. God models love. He shares love…and yes, He teaches us to love. In Ruth 3, you will be able to see this truth…

Key Principle: God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.

Before we get to our continuation of the story of Naomi and Ruth in chapter three, take a moment with me and look at the few descriptive verses about LOVE in 1 Corinthians 13. Ruth 3 is considered the equivalent in the Hebrew Scriptures – the main difference being that Ruth models while Paul (in 1 Corinthians) describes. Look at the description of love as God gave it.

The Description of Love in 1 Corinthians 13

First, a bit of context. Paul was in the middle of a section answering questions about Spiritual gifts, the empowering abilities given at your salvation with the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. He made a point to answer five misunderstandings about these gifts to the church at Corinth. Reading the letter carefully, Paul wanted believers to know:

1. God speaks and engages them (12:1-2).

2. There are basic tools to discern truth from error (12:3).

3. Each believer is unique (cp. 12:4-7).

4. Each believer should be valued (12:8-11).

5. No believer should see themselves as overly important (12:12-31).

Paul then made clear that God had something even BETTER than great empowering gifts for His people. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

Paul said, in essence, because of God’s empowering the church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; yet, because of choices it may lack love for people – and that is the most important ingredient for our work.

The body should seek from God the gifts that would fill out the needs of the whole group, but they should seek something else that was even more critical to the success of the work of reaching people for Jesus. They should seek the highest prized earthly possession of the church in her dealing with one another. They should seek to learn to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in the way God would have us love.

Paul made clear the priority of love in four arguments in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

• Love is more important than great communication skills! (13:1). It didn’t matter if Paul could sing like an angel or argue like a skilled lawyer – the work of making clear the truth required a loving vessel.

• Love is more important than deep spiritual insight (2a). The gift of prophecy uncovered hidden spiritual truth, but it was of little value if issued from a harsh voice and cold life.

• Love is more important than great vision in God’s work. (2b). Faith that moves mountains is dangerous in a loveless servant – they are liable to dump the mountain on the house of someone for whom they have only disdain!

• Love is more important than self-sacrifice (3). Giving of one’s self is truly an act of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice comes from love. Many a parent raised a child out of obligation, but the house was cold because of the absence of true love.

Deep faith won’t make up for a cold heart. Both the traveling priest and the itinerant Levite mentioned by Jesus in the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” seemed to have plenty of faith. What they lacked was love. It was such a lack that it cried loudly to the man who lay beside the road broken and helpless. They crossed over to the other side of the path to avoid making his problem, their problem. In their rush to serve God, they left a man helpless and bleeding beside a road to die alone, and nothing they would teach or oversee in the Temple that week would change that fact.

Did you notice that Paul didn’t finish verse three offering any less than EVERYTHING – self included? Faith isn’t enough without love, and the same is true of generosity! Giving without loving also falls short. Perhaps we give from guilt, or to gain status. Generosity can’t replace love.

Paul explained the practice of love in fifteen short but picturesque descriptions (13:4-7).

It may seem dumb to hear it said, but LOVE (as God described it) is known by its practice. Love isn’t something you FEEL as much as something you CHOOSE to ACT upon. Paul made clear that love is not a mystical force (as in the case of some song writers who believe it is like mud you accidentally “fall into”). Not to sound cold, but love is a clear, calculated and consistent choice.

If He commanded it; we can do it! Even more… when a believer practices love – it can be measured (13:4-7). Paul wrote a description of its appearance:

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Look at the description for a moment:

Love is patient: makro-thumeo “long before burning temperature”. God’s description of real love is the kind that doesn’t “fly off the handle” and become rash in reaction.

Love is kind: chrest-euo-mai: “to show one’s self mild or tender”. Love isn’t rough, but gentle. It isn’t harsh, but mild. If you find you bristle at the sound of someone’s voice and snap at them when they speak to you – you don’t love them.

Pastor Melvin Newland shared a story that I think fits well here. He wrote: “I heard a story about a woman who was standing at a bus stop. She had just cashed her tax refund check, so she was carrying more money than usual & was a little bit nervous about that. She glanced around & noticed a shabbily dressed man standing nearby. And as she watched, she saw a man walk up to him, hand him some money, & whisper something in his ear. She was so touched by that act of kindness that she decided to do the same. In a burst of generosity, she reached into her purse, took out $10, handed it to the man, & whispered to him, “Never despair, never despair.” The next day when she came to the bus stop, there he was again. But this time he walked up to her & handed her $110. Dumbfounded, she asked, “What’s this?” He said, “You won, lady. Never Despair paid 10 to 1.” Pastor Newland went on to make the point that kindness isn’t really kindness when it is self-serving, and it doesn’t always pay back in this life.

Love is not jealous: dzayloo means “to burn with uncontrolled impassioned fervor”. Love hasn’t caused you to lose control. Lust does that, but not love. People will say, “Love makes you do crazy things!” We know what they mean, but it really doesn’t. The Bible simply offers no refuge to the person who says “I couldn’t help it; I just felt so strongly!” Our world has demoted truth and responsibility painfully, while it elevated feeling as the chief of all motivators. God made it clear – don’t blame love.

Love does not brag: Per-pereu-omai means “to verbally celebrate or concentrate on self-issues and accomplishments.” By definition, love is “other person centered” and therefore not unduly focused on self. For every moment we spend justifying our own selfishness, we give up a moment in which we could have loved others. This may seem obvious, but the longer I live the more I see people starved for real love because they have settled for selfishness as a cheap replacement.

Love is not arrogant: Phusio-o means “to become inflated and cause to grow in self-importance” and is the brother to the word “does not brag”. In our culture, someone has fed us the idea that our needs must be first, so that we can somehow have enough to care for others. That would be fine if we didn’t fall into a bottomless pit and find our needs growing as we fed them. Love doesn’t take all the air from the room, but allows others to shine and considers the needs of others first. Self-promotion is arrogance. Pouting when we don’t get our way is a form of childish arrogance.

Love does not act unbecomingly: as-kay-mon-eh’-o means “act in a way that tears down the other”. Love builds up others whenever possible, and never seeks to cut down the other, or smash their dreams. It means holding your tongue and training your speech. It means saying you are sorry for anything that pulls the other down. It isn’t your job to FIX the other, but it isn’t your job to DESTROY them either!

Love does not seek its own: The word used literally means “not forcing their own way upon another.” You keep hearing words that are the intonation of the same idea – the opposite of loving is selfish. Think of love this way: whatever you would like people to do for you – do THAT to and for them. This is a thinly veiled plagiarized quote from my favorite teacher…. Jesus!

Love is not provoked: The word par-ox-oo’-no means “sharpened” with a figurative idea of becoming sharp or pointed. Love isn’t wearing a razor thin knife edge so that is can cut back.

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered: The terms logidzomai kakos mean “to keep an account or record of evils suffered.” Historiography and forgiveness don’t really work together. If you find yourself saving up “what he or she did wrong” – you aren’t acting in love toward the other person at all. With every exchange, you are making a longer list of what they have done wrong, and readying it for release. .

Love calls us to notice others. It calls us to care. It helps us get off the center of the stage of our own lives and put others there. Love is at the center of our evangelism, and lack of it is at the center of our ineffectiveness to reach others.

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: It “does not celebrate getting away with breaking a rule”

Love rejoices with the truth: It “celebrates truthfulness”

Love bears all things: From the word stego which means “to cover over or thatch”

Love listens. It takes the time to care. It covers over the fact that what is being said doesn’t seem relevant or necessary. Love locks on to the value of the other person.

Love believes all things: to entrust and give credit to”. Love talked about is easily ignored while love demonstrated is irresistible!”

Love hopes all things: epidzo “have high expectations of”.

Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”.

The point is this: because love is a chosen set of behavior, when a believer practices true love – it can be measured (4-7).

The Picture of Love in Ruth 3

The third act of the story follows three people as God weaves the redemption story of Naomi’s once beleaguered family back together, this time making her line a part of the most important line in human history – the line of Messiah. On the way, each of the three main characters will model love in their own way – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.

The story is broken into four simple parts:

• What Naomi told Ruth to do.

• What Ruth did to follow the instructions,

• What a surprised Boaz said about the plan of the women.

• An uncertainty about the future. The end of the chapter is left uncertain (from the perspective of the players) with everyone waiting for the final act of God to bring the story together.

Naomi modeled love in her instruction.

The story opened with a speech by a newly softened version of Naomi, fresh from God’s initial blessing…

Ruth 3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her,

My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”

With some small blessing, feeling returned to her long numbed limbs. Naomi began again to think in terms of love. What does that look like?

The small passage we read offers five examples of loving behavior.

First, love places another first. It cares for another above self. Love places the needs of another above the needs of self. This is reflected in “shall I not seek security for you?”

Second, while selfishness separates, love gathers. Naomi expressed again (after calling her daughter earlier) that her family was Ruth’s family. This is expressed in “our kinsman.” Ruth was an insider in Naomi’s mind, and that opened the door to allowing her to be a part of the solution.

Third, love sees possibilities for a future. Love isn’t just about the problems; it is about seeing and pronouncing hope. This is reflected in “he winnows at the barley floor tonight.”

Fourth, love works to make another successful. Using the skills she learned throughout her life, she counseled Ruth on what to do and how to do it.

A skill like proper appearance is reflected in “3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes.”

Another skill like “timing” matters in potential conflict situations. Naomi taught that love demanded Ruth think of what will work for Boaz, not what works best for her. This is reflected in “do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.” It would have been easier to walk up to the man and get the whole situation over with. She may have felt confidence to do that – but that was not what the situation demanded. Youth can be most seen in direct hubris. With some tempering, Naomi brought to the situation advice that led to a greater chance of success.

Fifth. love is honest and doesn’t hide the risks about the road ahead. This is a work of love reflected in “then he will tell you what you shall do.”

Ruth modeled love in her obedience.

Following the instructions of Naomi, Ruth went to the threshing floor and hung back until the meal was over and the servants bedded down for the night. The text continued…

Ruth 3:5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.” 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.

First, loves learns to trust beyond sight. This is reflected in the phrase “All that you say I will do.” Ruth didn’t insist on understanding everything before she agreed to follow everything she was told to do.

Second, love protects the reputation of another. This is reflected in the word “secretly” in verse seven. This proposition could look like something unsavory, and could affect the reputation of Boaz. Making the connection without bringing dangerous damage to the reputation was a loving act.

Third, love subjects itself to the role of a servant. Note how Ruth related her identity as “your maid.” People who believe they are too important to serve don’t understand love. Love shows in service. Love expresses itself in subjection.

Boaz modeled love in his speech.

Naomi and Ruth modeled love in the passage, but so did Boaz. Keep reading as you encounter the speech of Boaz and you will be amazed at the clarity of the model…

Ruth 3:10 Then he said,

“May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.

First, love appreciates the kindness of another. Listen to the comment of Boaz. He made clear that she has offered him a wonderful surprise. He didn’t talk down to her, but up!

Second, love allays the fear of others. Boaz knew that Ruth and Naomi needed redemption, but he didn’t presume that he would be offered an opportunity to be involved (since there was another closer to the situation that had first choice in the matter). He made clear that he would not stand by and let the matter go undecided. He knew the fear and vulnerability of the women, and he didn’t want them to be uncertain. He flatly stated, “Don’t worry, I will act.” Her greatest fear was likely rejection. He second greatest fear was inaction. How many women fear rejection and inaction by the man in their life?

Third, love encourages and reaffirms good testimony. Boaz was quick to affirm the testimony of Ruth, and called her a “woman of excellence.”

Fourth, love seeks the best for the object of its love. Boaz wasn’t sure he would play a role in the redemption of the family of Elimelech, but he was certain that he would be able to stand by them until their needs were met, one way or another.

Fifth, love gives beyond expectation. One great thrill of love is that it is often full of surprise! Boaz made a promise, and that was a hope, but also an expectation. The barley was the unexpected gift in verse fifteen, a special surprise of provision that was both a sacrifice to him, and an unanticipated blessing to both Naomi and Ruth.

Love left things uncertain.

Note the excitement of anticipation in the atmosphere of uncertainty. Isn’t that exactly what love produces? Ask any young man who ever overcame the cracking of his voice to ask a pretty girl to dance, and they will tell you that all matters of love are risky! The text ends with risk – just as it should in a good drama. The chapter concludes with the whole matter unresolved…

Ruth 3:16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

Love involves taking a risk. It involves a level of uncertainty that is so uncomfortable, many people choose to live without it rather than take a chance. The truth is, loving is risking.

• Ask any parent who has given everything for a child, only to watch them walk away and never call or seem to care.

• Ask anyone who has cared and given in love to a spouse who simply snubbed that love and was found in the arms of another.

• Ask GOD, Who gave His Son for the world, only to have many yawn and pass by the gift.

God knows the pain involved in the choices of people. He knows the risk involved in loving…Because God made His highest value LOVE, greater than all other values, He placed in everything the risk of rejection. That was illustrated in the Fall of man, it didn’t come from the Fall. It was built into the original design of the universe. God didn’t want robots that were programed to respond to Him – He made people.

Here is the truth: Rejecting the love of another person may be a tragic mistake, but rejecting the love of your Creator is an eternally tragic matter.

Go back and think through the love modeled by Naomi. She offered a classic example of love that Jesus Himself showed to us.

• Jesus’ love placed US above Himself as He faced the Cross to pay for sin.

• Jesus calls us to gather to Him in love and become one with each other.

• Jesus offers you the best eternal future imaginable, and even beyond your imagination!

• Jesus makes an offers to you of life, but also provides His own Spirit, to aid you to navigate successfully in this world.

• Jesus makes clear the difficulties ahead: the warfare and attacks of His enemy that come with your new life.

Jesus loves us, and the model of Naomi demonstrates that love beautifully. The issue isn’t God’s love; it is our response. Even the most loving and caring people can suffer the abuse of unthinking and selfish response.

• Some respond by ignoring the gift of love and living thoughtlessly, regardless of the cost to the Giver.

• Some respond by choosing a path to the gift of Heaven that more suits them. They want eternity in bliss, but not with Jesus. The problem is, in the end they will get neither Jesus nor Heaven.

• Some respond by seeing the cost paid for them, and are overwhelmed by God’s gift. They respond by wanting to know the One Who gave Himself for us. Is that you?

God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.

There is an old ethical test that is used in counseling called “The Lifeboat Test.” There are a variety of scenarios, but the issue of selfishness versus selflessness is tested by placing you (mentally) on a sinking ship. There is no doubt the ship is going down. There is no doubt one cannot live long in the frigid waters. The question is this:

Will you try to find something you think will float and use it instead of a lifeboat? Will you avail yourself of the lifeboat provided?

Growing in God’s Love: “The Secret of Blessing” – Ruth 2

Writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ted Kruger writes:

I have many memories about my father and about growing up with him in our apartment next to the elevated train tracks. For years we listened to the roar of the train as it passed by. Late at night, my father waited alone for the train that took him to a factory where he worked the night shift. On this particular night, I waited with him in the dark to say good-bye. His face was grim; his youngest son had been drafted. I would be sworn in at six the next morning while he was at the factory. My father didn’t want them to take his child, only 19 years old, to fight a war in Europe. He placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘You be careful, and if you need anything, write to me and I’ll see that you get it.’ Suddenly he heard the roar of the approaching train. He held me tightly in his arms and gently kissed me on the cheek. With tear-filled eyes, he murmured, ‘I love you, my son.’ Then the train arrived, the doors closed him inside, and he disappeared into the night….and I left for boot camp. One month later, at age 46, my father died. I am 76 as I sit and write this. I once heard Pete Hamill, the New York reporter, say that memories are man’s greatest inheritance, and I have to agree. I’ve lived through four invasions in World War II. I’ve had a life full of all kinds of experiences. But the only memory that lingers is the night my dad said, ‘I love you, my son.’”

What an incredible power can be found in a father’s blessing! What empowering for life grew from such a simple but vital inheritance! I mention the story because in this lesson I want us to carefully consider the empowering that comes from our Heavenly Father’s blessings, given in love. I admit, the story found in Ruth 2 is an emotional one to me, because God has so richly blessed my life, I cannot imagine what I would be like had I not been shown the love of both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.

To draw us back into the story of that blessing, we must first go back to the story of pain – for it is in the backdrop of the dark and dreary days and long sleepless nights that we find the birth of a new day…

Last time we opened this little book, we learned when looking in Ruth 1 that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. That is an uncomfortable truth, but one that many believers can easily attest to from their life experience. Though God does deeply love us (according to His Word) He doesn’t see that love as something that requires Him to keep us from troubles, discomforts and even pain. He seems content to let us go through things that will eventually yield good fruit, even if there is a time of throbbing trouble along the way.

Consider His beloved people Israel as they walked through the wilderness of Sinai. Passing through a place of intense heat by day and nothing short of “bone-chilling cold” by night, God met them. In all their national experience they never saw God more clearly, even though they were never more vulnerable, more uncomfortable and more uncertain. God led them through.

In the story of Naomi captured in the Book of Ruth, God seems to have even intentionally increased discomfort in the life of an older woman (a wife and mother) to bring her into a relationship with a much younger woman. That relationship would eventually pull a young Moabitess into a new place, a new home and even give her a role in bringing salvation to the world as a mother in the line of Jesus. God’s rich place for Ruth was only found by plotting a course through pain in the life of Naomi. I have to admit that this side of heaven, there is little doubt in my mind that Naomi wouldn’t find much comfort in God’s path to redemption until she stood in Heaven’s gate.

She bore, raised and buried her sickly sons. She lost her farm for a time to famine. She buried her husband. She was broken, but in the breaking, God re-positioned her to bring the line of Messiah into the world.

Pick up the story at the beginning of chapter two. As the curtain rose on the second act of this four act play in Scripture, Naomi and Ruth were back in Bethlehem. Naomi wore on her face the part of the embittered old widow suffering under God’s hard hand. If you have ever had the opportunity to live with one who was broken, I dare say that she was probably not really a “joy” to live with at that point! Yet, Ruth hung tough and looked hard at the circumstance, stubbornly unwilling to give up hope and see a blessed future in spite of what looked like a cursed past. Watch as she attempted to take a proactive position to direct a hopeless friend back to seeing the whole picture of God at work. She helped her understand blessing. You will see…

Key Principle: God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.

We learn to “grow in God’s love” when we understand that He is the One Who is setting the stage for every blessing we have ever received, or ever will receive. He is at work, even in the emptying of our life to ready the very blessings He desires to use in our restoration!

First, note God had stored resources available that Naomi lost track of because of her intense pain.

It is hard to see promise through searing pain, but it was there…

Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

The verse offers two pieces of new information: Naomi had family in Bethlehem and some of them were people of means.

The first you hear about “other family” is AFTER the return, AFTER the bitterness and AFTER hope has slipped from the scene. It seems Naomi didn’t calculate everything – she tallied up only the bad things. Though she didn’t feel it, God wasn’t done with her, and her life wasn’t a wrecked waste. It did feel that way to be sure – but we are warned in Scripture all the time not to trust our feelings to discern truth. It is natural to feel deep pain and think, “I guess it is over now!” The problem is, what may be a “natural feeling” in this fallen world is often not a godly impulse. Naomi knew what God took and couldn’t see what God guarded in place to give her a future.

In verse one, it is impossible to miss that Elimelech had an extended family with other male members in Bethlehem. If he had a brother that was living, that alone would have provided some comfort and assistance to Naomi, because of the Levirate marriage (Hebrew: “yibbum” mandated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6) where the brother of a deceased man was obliged to marry his brother’s childless widow in order to give a possibility to raise up a son in his name if God allowed. The term Levirate isn’t a reference to the Levitical tribe, but rather is a derivative of the Latin word “levir” which meant “husband’s brother”. There is a story in Genesis 38 where it was not honored and God was not at all pleased. In the case of a Levirate marriage, the first child born to the brother’s widow would be deemed the heir of the deceased. If either of the parties refused to go through with the Levirate marriage, both were required to go through a ceremony known as “halitzah” or “the renunciation” Today, most contemporary Jews renounce instead of practicing this.

Verse one indicated that Boaz was a relative, but not a required Levir, so his help was not demanded, though it was obviously welcome. If you look more closely, though, Boaz was a man of means. He could have aided in many ways that didn’t include child bearing! As you keep reading, God had more help in store for Naomi…

Second, note that in addition to possible financial help, God had emotional resources available to Naomi as well!

Listen to both the words and the tone of Ruth’s words to Naomi as you keep searching the text:

Ruth 2:2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

The text offered some interesting things. First, can you hear respect in Ruth’s words? Her words were bathed in humility and caring. This was not the sound of an overly-privileged and demanding youth; it was the soft sound of a woman who tenderly looked to help. Entitlement sounds shrill to the hurting ear; humility offers a welcome tender tone.

Ruth carefully approached Naomi. She asked for permission to lend a hand. She pressed Naomi to look beyond despair. Sometimes that is all we need to help us shake off the fog of depression – the quiet voice of someone who loves us and wants to help. It doesn’t always work, but it is always right to try. After all, God may have taken her husband and sons – but he gave Naomi a loving daughter-in-law that would not leave her and wanted to help restore her life. Naomi seemed unable to get up and get ready for “end gleaning” – but Ruth could step in – and she did!

A second thing to note in the text (I love the way verse two ends) is the reply of Naomi in a word of affection. Naomi doesn’t snipe at her, but tells her to “Go, my daughter.” After her nasty and embittered words in Ruth 1, it looks like Ruth’s testimony is beginning to work in her.

Here is the truth: That is how a testimony works. It slowly, carefully drips love out on the object of affection. It isn’t a flood, but it doesn’t run when the other person reacts as one embittered. If you are going to have an impact on someone, it is going to take time and require persistence – even when they don’t seem to be responding. Testimony isn’t built overnight. It takes time, patience and persistence in the face of resistance. At long last, you may see a small “crack” in the stone-wall face of your hurting friend. Ruth would tell you, “Keep trying!” They may not be ready to receive love at first, but they will need love that doesn’t retreat to be restored to a healthy life. God provided Naomi with more than relatives. He provided her with a young woman that was emotionally sensitive to her long season of pain. There is more to the story, for God provided more.

Third, God provided a bridge between the assets of provision and the needs of her life.

Ruth went out and did what she needed to do, but that wasn’t a guarantee of anything if there wasn’t enough at the edges of the field to keep them alive. Keep reading…

Ruth 2:3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

There is no indication that Ruth had any knowledge of Boaz’s property lines. All textual indications are that she was simply diligently following what was available, field by field. She came to glean at this field by happenstance, from her point of view (though with God there are no coincidences). This is the point of the verse – God was at work. Mature believers should readily understand that a God of providence doesn’t need luck to put together assets and needs. Look at how effortlessly Ruth drifted into the place of God’s blessing. She didn’t plan it, and she didn’t know it was about to happen… and most of the time, you won’t either.

I am not arguing that it didn’t take diligence and work on her part. She didn’t lay in bed and hope for a check; she got a job. At the same time, God worked behind the scenes to track her path directly into oncoming blessing. That is how He works. Watch the progression:

God blessed her because of a believer “close by” (Ruth 2:4)

Ruth 2:4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”

How often God uses a believer who walks intentionally with Him! The text oozes with a man of godly stature in Boaz. The first words from his mouth in the text are wishing blessing from God on other people. Do you know people like that? I do! I know people who God has blessed and they have responded with a deliberate thankfulness and a heart to share God’s gifts. They have been at work in my life this week.

One dear man gave $100,000.00 to our work in Africa this week. I have never met him. I may never meet him this side of Heaven. I can tell you this: people will be reached with God’s Word because of his impulse to give. God brought this man into my life because he watched videos on YouTube and grew in the Lord. He wanted to find our work and give to it. He was “close by” digitally, and God brought together asset and need.

Don’t forget when you are struggling, there is more than your money and your month. God is there. He knows how to care for His children. He knows how to bless. In fact, you have never had a single delight, a single moment of blessing that didn’t come from His good hand. Yet, God had more in store…

God not only covered the need but He exceeded the need! (Ruth 2:5-9)

Despite how some people pray, God isn’t broke and He isn’t stingy. He has what you need – because He IS what you need! Watch the story unfold for a moment…

Ruth 2:5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”

Humanly speaking, Ruth had the wrong heritage to expect blessing from a “man of God” in Israel. She was a Moabitess, and that alone made her suspicious in the eyes of Israel. After the famed temptresses from Moab were used by God’s enemy to help derail the blessing of the Promised Land near the end of the life of Moses, Ruth couldn’t comfortably show up in downtown Bethlehem with a sweatshirt displaying “Moab University” on it. She was a foreigner in a land that was held by a closed clan, and she came from the region of a long remembered enemy. I think it is interesting that Boaz’s servant knew her whole backstory when asked to give her identity. Ruth didn’t just follow the Law and go to the edge of the field to glean – she ASKED to do what she did. She explained who she was. That couldn’t have been easy! When the servant recounted Ruth’s words, they dripped with humility once again.

Don’t skip that God was at work in the background right there. Keep reading you will realize that God was about to dump blessing on an unsuspecting young woman… Boaz walked up and met the young lady. He told her that he was going to stand in the place of provider for her and for Naomi. The text recalls:

Ruth 2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”

God touched the heart of Boaz and the man responded with kindness. Is that how we look at those who we come into contact with who are displaced by life and in need of help? I hope so. It is easy to be jaded. It is easy to see someone trying to get something in a culture saturated in entitlement values. Boaz didn’t think twice. He considered her story, and lent a hand. What happened next surely helped assure him that he was helping the right person…Look at her reaction:

Ruth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

The proper response to God’s blessing is not to feel like we deserved better, but to feel a sense of deep appreciation, and fill our mouths with praise and celebration. Did you notice what Ruth felt about herself that came out of her mouth. She exclaimed: “I am a foreigner!” She was saying aloud what she clearly felt within, “I cannot expect even the nicest of these people to help me. I am not one of them. Anything I get will be more than I could normally expect.”

Just as God’s Word teaches us to be givers; it offers counsel to those of us who have been on the receiving end of blessing. Don’t demand it and don’t expect it. Don’t coach yourself into thinking you deserve more than people have offered. It isn’t wise, it isn’t thankful and it isn’t going to produce good things in your daily walk. Consider for a second the attitude Jesus told His followers to have when offered honor and blessing.

Tucked into a portion of Luke 14, there was a story of Jesus entering the house of a Pharisee after synagogue services one Sabbath afternoon. Reclining around the table in the home of a wealthy man, Jesus spoke:

Luke 14:7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who [g]are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Men and women, because we live in a time where self-touting is considered near a necessity in business and has nearly taken the place of a virtue in our culture, it is again essential to speak the words of the Savior concerning a humble spirit. Healthy believers don’t echo entitlement. They sound surprised daily at the sheer size and nature of God’s manifold blessings to them. They see themselves as LESS than the honor they receive. God resists the proud, but gives manifold gifts to those who think themselves less than they are!

The Apostle Paul warned the Romans in the letter to them:

Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

God doesn’t want you to hang your head in perpetual shame. He loves you and loves to bless you. At the same time, we need to be thankful and careful not to overplay our relationship as though we did something to deserve His love. We didn’t. That much is painfully clear in Scripture.

“Wait!” you may say. “Didn’t I work hard? Didn’t I ask Jesus to walk with me today?” Perhaps you did. The fact is that your conscious and deliberate choice to ask Jesus to guide you through the day, however, will benefit YOU much more than Jesus. Despite how the world shapes a positive self-image, we need to be mindful that we bring little to God when we bring ourselves. Look back at Boaz’s words to Ruth. Her behavior DID invite blessing. Her loving and humble spirit DID attract attention. In short, hers was a demonstration that God blesses those who are faithfully dedicated to be what He wants them to be (2:11).

Ruth 2:11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.

Remember that God doesn’t ignore your sacrifices on behalf of others. We need to remember that our children may not remember all it took to get them where they are, but God was watching. Our boss may not readily acknowledge all we sacrificed for the company, but God knows those who do their work with diligence. Boaz heard because Ruth DID. If she was slack, he may have been less inclined to shower blessing on them.

I love that Boaz made very clear the blessing was from God and not merely from him. He told Ruth:

Ruth 2:12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

Boaz blesses Ruth, and claims his goodness is merely her “maskoret” – the word translated “wages.” Boaz believes that Ruth deserves his response through her choice to follow Israel’s God. Did you notice that Boaz didn’t make her focus on his benevolence at all? He gave, but he made clear that God was rewarding her for her sacrifices. How often we are tempted to use even our giving as a way of showing others our goodness? When we focus attention on US instead of on God, we rob Him of His due. We have nothing to give that He did not give us!

It is true that God connects the assets to the needs. Yet, we should recall two more things about God’s blessings:

Fourth, God doubly honors a thankful heart.

You can’t help but read the response of Ruth and celebrate with her! The text records:

Ruth 2:13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”

Here is the moment we get a model response to God’s blessing. What do we see? Our response should be one of thankfulness. It should contain a frank acknowledgement of both God’s goodness and the giver’s generosity. Look at how specific she was:

• You brought me comfort – she acknowledged the effect of the gift.
• You spoke kindly – she made clear his approach was a blessing in itself.
• You treated me with care not normally given to one like me – she showed surprise for his extraordinary goodness.

The secret of Boaz’s giving (seen clearly in verse 12) was that he saw the hand of God in the testimony of Ruth. He was a good guy, but he saw God at work in and through her. I think of a little poem that sometimes helps put things in perspective:

Look at self and be distressed,
Look at others and be depressed,
Look to Heaven and you’ll be blessed!

In times of distress, one of the greatest ministries we can have to someone is to bring them comfort from Scripture. When people feel inferior, we can bless them by making them KNOW we don’t see them that way because God doesn’t see them that way at all.

Finally, consider that God’s objective in blessing is to refocus us.

Go back to the scene and watch what happened when mealtime came…

Ruth 2:14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may 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 took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied.

Boaz showed through public action that he was fine with everyone hearing what he thought about Ruth, and he wasn’t ashamed to be identified with her. She trusted Israel’s God, and cared for one of Israel’s daughters. She proved her faithfulness by cleaving to her mother-in-law when few could bear her negativity and bitterness. She became a part of the people of Israel in Bethlehem, even when she felt like an outsider. If she got the message, Ruth walked home that night with a different sense of herself.

Follow her to the small home of Naomi, and listen in as the older woman was changed by God’s blessing…

Ruth 2:19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.”

Can you believe the change of expression in the woman that had been so embittered before? God blessed her home, and her whole vocabulary began to change. In verse 19, she called on God to bless the man who blessed her home. In verse 20, she specifically asked GOD to bless the man. Can you hear her heart changing?

It wasn’t simply the grain that changed her, though hungry people don’t usually feel as blessed as full ones. It was the sense that the hard hand of God had been lifted, and God was restoring Naomi’s household through the kindness of another. The same woman who tried to push away the help of Orpah and Ruth a chapter ago was now calling on God to bless the one who shared with her household.

God used the time of hardness to empty Naomi’s hands. He used the time of blessing to refocus her on His goodness. He was not being cruel; He was readying people for enormous blessing.

Let me ask you pointedly: Do you trust God when things aren’t going well? Do you trust that God is good when the economy isn’t? Do you see Him as righteous when you work hard but find the one who was a slacker got the promotion over you? Do you see Him as just when things don’t feel fair?

I believe one of the profound reasons some of us don’t understand God’s blessing may be that we “hedge our bets” in the world in case we feel “God lets us down.” We don’t let go of this world completely. Let me explain with a story…

In April of 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He brought only about 600 men, and was vastly outnumbered if he thought he would defeat Montezuma with all his thousands of warriors in the Aztec empire. Cortez was eventually victorious. How did the small force win? One way Cortez motivated his men was having all his ships disassembled (some say burned) after landing. His men stood on the shore and watched as their only possibility of retreat destroyed. From that point on, they knew beyond any doubt there was no return, no turning back. The general clearly understood that same power of making a “point of no return” commitment.

It is important for us to recall that God cannot be judged by today’s circumstance, nor can we trust our feelings about our life to be a reliable measure of God’s true purpose for us. Here is the truth from God’s Word…

God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.

Growing in God’s Love “Impatient with Love” – Ruth 1

Did you ever have a friend recommend a movie, only to have them accidentally “slip” out of excitement and spoil the movie by sharing the ending for you? I hate that! Sadly, as we renew our study in the ancient Book of Ruth for a few rich lessons in God’s love, it is necessary that I “spoil” the end of the story in order for the premise for the beginning lesson to even make sense. Though I hate spoilers, I simply have no choice. Here it is! As you open your Bible to Ruth 1, we need to recall that God used the lives of a few women to offer His Redeemer to the world. As far back as the first book of the Bible in Genesis 3, God promised that in spite of Satan’s duping of a woman in the Garden of Eden, God would bring Messiah through the womb of a woman and redeem all mankind. God takes the broken and makes it new. The Book of Ruth shows one of the strong links where God “set the table” for the redemption event. He did it through broken people. Here, He did it through the life of a woman who lost control of everything so that we could gain everything. Her name was Naomi.

As you look at her story, you will probably marvel as I did at how the work of God in our life sometimes includes “emptying our hands” to fill them anew with the people and things I need most to honor His true purpose for my life. It can be a painful process, but it is a loving and necessary one. It can help to reduce my desires to one: His will. It can help me to grow in trust of Him, but it is easily misunderstood. The danger in the process is that I will misunderstand it, and begin to feel it is an unjust or unloving process. When God moves my life into a position, I may be easily swayed to think He has forgotten me, or doesn’t really love me at all. That is the deception born in impatience that Job experienced in the writing that bears his name. He didn’t get things taken because of his sin; he sinned because things got taken. It is easy to understand, simple to justify and utterly wrong. God loves me, and that is true even when my life isn’t working out the way I planned it. His plan is my highest purpose. Here is the truth the way Naomi would express it when the lesson was made clear to her…

Key Principle: God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us.

As we open the book, consider how God works to get us in the best position for use, and ponder what that means for the coming week.

God set the stage to move His people (1:1).

God wanted to accomplish something through His people, but they were utterly unaware of the important role God planned for them. They were living daily life and making ends meet with no thought they would play critical roles in the story of God’s redemption. God knew, and He set the scene to move the players into position. How He did it may seem surprising, but understanding it may help you recognize God’s hand where others don’t look.

Notice how the door they needed to enter to be of special use to our Father was one brought on by difficulty. God’s setting of the stage didn’t look like a prize – but a problem. Ruth 1 records:

Ruth 1:1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.

• The times offered little direction. The author related it was the time of the Judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

• The conditions offered little security. Israelites moving to Moab would not have been easy. The journey of the people under the last days of Moses would have been remembered, and those weren’t fond memories in the hearts of the locals. Moving to Moab likely felt much like being Japanese and moving to America right after the Second World War.

• The results offered little hope. In some ways, the move to Moab looked like a defeat of their God. He gave them a Promised Land, and in a few generations it was already suffering so badly that some left. It may have felt like a defection from the family ties and national heritage by Elimelech and Naomi.

We must remember that God doesn’t need those things: great cultural direction, solid community security and a hopeful setting to do great things in and through people. We seek those things for ourselves, but they aren’t required to accomplish a powerful and lasting work through our lives. When we understand that God has no need of them to work, we recognize He is ready to work even when we think the time may not be right. Follow the movements through verse seven…

God allowed increasing discomfort to unfold His plan (1:2-7).

He led the couple and their children to a place where he could set the scene for His work, but it was not a place them wanted to be.

Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.

A man named “My God is King” married a woman named “My pleasantness” and had two sons that appear in the record to have been “high needs” children. The boys were named “wasting” and “puny.” This reflects that while the children were a blessing, their condition may have led the parents to see them as a “veiled blessing” because they may not have been healthy. What could be more uncomfortable than having children that didn’t seem to get the life the others of their generation did? As they were already nearing marriageable age when they moved (they only lived in Moab for ten years and the boys married and died during that time span), it is reasonable to cite their sickly natures as the prime reason they did not marry at home. We have to read verse two slowly, because whole lives passed into and out of the scene. Naomi’s life flowed out of her as those she loved, served and cared for were taken by God’s hand.

The truth is, God set up marvelous blessing to the world, but He did so based on the daily, prickly discomfort and even the sometime sharp, searing pain of some of His own.

Jesus demonstrated this in His time on Earth. God’s richest blessings came at His expense. Scripture makes clear that God can and will use our lives, but we won’t know why it happens the way it does. Look at the specific costs that Naomi paid in the story:

God took cherished people (1:3,4)

Ruth 1:3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years.

God stripped Naomi of her identity in the community (1:5)

Ruth 1:5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

As difficult as it was to lose her husband and her grown sons, the text revealed something more. The issue wasn’t just the searing pain of those losses, but the underlying issue of her identity. Much more than now, a women’s identity was culturally determined by her marriage and the productivity of her womb. A woman in the home was often greatly loved, but in the community a barren woman suffered a sincere stigma. This helps us to identify the tremendous importance that was placed by people on bearing children and leaving something behind. Consider this: verses three and four would have been interpreted in Naomi’s time as more about her personal identity than about her loneliness.

God signaled a move home (1:6-7).

Left with little hope in a foreign land, Naomi rose from the grave side of her family, and made a decision: she would head home. The text reminds:

Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.

If you read carefully, you will note that her move was prompted by two factors: The change in the growing conditions in Judah, and the travel of the news about that change to Moab. Both of these factors were carefully superintended by God. What looked like a simple choice was hand fed by the Father above. God led the family out, and now God was leading the woman back – all in settings of discomfort and pain. None of it was vacation. None of it was fun. Her name meant “my pleasantness” – but her life sounded more like “my misery.”

The point is this: from the opening of the story two things have been true: life has ranged between uncomfortable and staggeringly painful for some of God’s people and He was working behind the setting of all the events to bring about incredible blessing to the Earth. This is no small lesson, and it needs to be rehearsed over and over, that we may understand that painful circumstances aren’t A SIGN OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD. God is not unloving, but His work in us may be uncomfortable. God is not cruel, but His shaping of us may be excruciating.

God didn’t only change the conditions to move the people – He changed the people in the conditions. He isn’t just changing life around you; He is working in and through you.

Watch a blacksmith working a piece of iron for a few minutes. Here is what you will learn. Shaping is hard. Shaping rips off rough edges. Sparks fly as shaping involves pounding and heat and sharp strikes to refine our shape for use. God does the shaping against the anvil of a hard world, and it isn’t easy to look past the pain. From the perspective of the red hot malleable metal, everything is working against it. The anvil is hard, the hammer is swift and unrelenting and the fire tears into its very structure. Yet, in the hands of a master craftsman, the work is purposeful, powerful and productive.

God offered gifts to make transformation possible (1:8-22)

The first gift God provided was found in other people who cared.

One of the things we have to evaluate is not what we have lost in troubling times, but what God has provided to get us through. One of his chief gifts is other people who reflect, knowingly or unknowingly, His love. For reasons I don’t really understand, it seems like God offers “helpers” for us, but we may push away those we need most (1:8b-13a). Take a moment to go to the road where Naomi and what was left of her tattered family were traveling. Listen to their conversation, because it is revealing:

Ruth 1:8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?

While God provided two friends, Naomi pressed the women to leave. In the brief account, we learn about a number of mistaken ideas she believed that led her to attempt to push them out.

First, she believed her circumstances made her less valuable to God and to others.

If they left, she would have lost some of her best allies and advocates. Why would she tell them to go away? Perhaps she didn’t seem to understand or truly believe the ladies would follow her for any reason other than their own benefit. Maybe she reasoned, “I don’t have anything to offer them, so they should leave me.” While she may have been doing a nice thing (putting others first) it seems based on her later reactions that something else was actually happening. She appears to have seen her worth as diminished at the very time God saw her as just “getting into position” to provide the backdrop of His rich blessing.

Take a moment and consider the lesson in Naomi’s life. Behind the words spoken on that path so long ago, there was a feeling that led Naomi away from the truth. Consider this: We may not realize how important our testimony and relationship is with another person. We may feel we have nothing to offer. We may feel small. All of that is how we feel, but it is NOT what is true. God positioned her by removing from her hands the things He chose to remove. Was He cruel? No! You have to look at His end game to understand His moves during your life – and you don’t have that ability. Neither did Naomi, and that caused her to misconstrue her worth in God’s work.

We stopped reading mid-way in verse thirteen. Finish the verse:

Ruth 1:13b “… No, my daughters, for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.”

What did she say? Did she say it was harder for her than for the two ladies who lost their respective husbands? She certainly did. That reflected how she felt. They lost one man; she lost three. They were still young and marriageable; she was neither.

The second false underlying belief was that her situation was so much harder that no one would truly understand. That would allow her to justify isolation.

Look closely at the strong feelings that poured out of the words and you will see what she believed about her pain. It wasn’t only that her loss was quantitatively greater. The truth is, when we have “bled out” in a painful loss, we feel like Jeremiah weeping in Lamentations 1 when he wrote: “There is no pain like my pain!” Though that is a common feeling, it isn’t substantively any truer than the idea that we have no worth. People feel things different ways. Our emotional structures aren’t all the same. One of the common ways people justify cutting themselves off from other people is by embracing the notion that they have been faced with a uniquely difficult circumstance. If no one will really understand, there is no reason to share it with another. We hurt alone and withdraw. We learn to quickly make little of other’s pain – because we didn’t pass through it with them. It looks like less to us. It can be diminished even more if we compare it to pain we have been sharply wounded by for an extended period of time.

The enemy’s chief weapon is isolation. God’s greatest offer is constant intimacy. One of our most common wrong beliefs is that we cannot embrace others because of our painful circumstances.

The women were told to leave Naomi. Her mind seemed set, and I have little doubt they were not accustomed to winning an argument with their mother-in-law! Orpah read the metaphoric handwriting on the wall and bowed out. The text continued:

Ruth 1:14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

The second gift God provided was a reminder of the truth.

If you look at what Ruth said to Naomi, you will see several truths that were clear to the younger woman:

First, whether she believed it or not, Naomi was a woman Ruth wanted to spend more time with. Ruth felt compelled to be a part of Naomi’s life, even though her husband was gone. Ruth felt a personal attachment and a continued desire to remain in Naomi’s daily journey.

Second, whether she saw the value or not, Naomi was part of a people Ruth desired to be a part of. It was no small thing to venture outside of her homeland into the land of Canaan. Worse still, Israel didn’t have a spotless record with Moab nor was she noted for being selfless in their eyes. Ruth was leaving her people to be with a people who didn’t have street credibility. Yet, she made the choice and was ready to live with the consequences. She did it because living with God’s people, with all their faults, was better than living out in the world.

I keep reading articles about all the ways the church has failed this country, this generation and basically, EVERYONE. Working in the church world, I think I can safely say it is far less than idyllic. At the same time, I think many believers fuss but don’t really know what it is like to face the world alone anymore. In this week alone, I have seen people from our little local church care for the needs of a number of people who were unable to do for themselves some critical task, and who do not have family on the scene to help. Living with God’s people isn’t perfect, but having the bond of the Spirit with others allows us to get help when we need it, and offer help when we should.

Whether she felt it or not, Naomi had a God worth knowing. The pains we face can make us forget the greatness of the God we love and serve. We may begin to believe He isn’t Who He truly is – and that is exactly what the enemy is hoping for! Look at how Naomi was reminded of the distinction that came from having a relationship with the God of Abraham – it was pronounced through the desires of a Moabitess.

Believers get used to echoing complaints about life and some forget how terrible it is in the world when you have to face life without knowing God. Ruth WANTED to be with Naomi. Ruth WANTED to be a part of the people of Israel. Ruth WANTED to have a walk with God. She saw these things as worth making the choice to walk away from the familiar. God was calling her to Himself.

The height of Naomi’s personal numbness to God’s gifts was emphasized during the few words found in the account of her return to her family farm and her old friends back in Bethlehem. The text offers this memory that was sure to be a later embarrassment to Naomi:

Ruth 1:19 So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

If you read the words with an open heart, they sting. God was setting Naomi up to be a blessing to the nations. She was playing the role God designed for her, and He was maneuvering her into position. All she could see was pain, and all she could do was BLAME.

She snapped at her old friends in bitterness, because they were excited to see her. That was nothing less than a defense mechanism to keep herself in isolation. She made clear that life was bad because God wanted her to suffer. She didn’t serve a good God, if you heard her tell it, but a sadistic afflicter of the downtrodden and innocent. She wasn’t LOVED by God; she was UNDER HIS HAND OF JUDGMENT. It wasn’t true, but it is what she believed – and it is what she said.

Bitterness is a work of the flesh. It is rooted in a false view of God, and an elevated view of our own pain. It grows in the heart that feels wronged by one more powerful. It thrives on victimization. It is very dangerous, because it is a poison that spreads from one person to many others.

Maybe it isn’t clear to you how she got so bitter. You should recall that she spent ten years in a place she didn’t belong. Long ago, the Moabites denied food and safe passage to the Israelites while on their way to Canaan. They even hired Balaam to curse them (Num. 23:5-7). Because of these evil deeds, God became very displeased with the Moabites (Deut. 7:1-3; 23:3-4). Whenever Israelites took Moabite wives God’s judgment followed.

She spent ten years out of the will of God and let her boys marry the forbidden ones. Her attitude wasn’t all because of her loss; it may well have been because she didn’t feel God wanted to bless her because of her choices. When you are out of God’s will, you will find yourself in places you are not supposed to be, doing things you are not supposed to do! After their deaths, I wonder if Naomi didn’t blame herself for the losses, because of her own disobedience to God’s commands.

In spite of her feelings, God gave more than just people and truth as gifts to her – He worked out a new start for Naomi. He didn’t do it BECAUSE of her, but rather so that He could work out His plan as He set it in motion. To do it, another gift was dispensed.

The third gift God provided was a new beginning (1:22).

The text in chapter one sounds like it ended in a summary statement…

Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.

On the surface, it is a simple: “So it was they came home together…” but that wasn’t the whole verse. Keep reading:

Ruth 1:22b …And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Barley is normally harvested in April, in the spring time. The winter rains end usually by February, with perhaps one last sprinkle in March. By April, spring has blossomed and the hillside greenery has already peaked. A new year’s food crop harvest begins with barley. The whole idea was they returned as a “page was turning” for a new beginning.

Naomi didn’t see the new beginning, because she was stuck licking her wounds from her past. That may sound harsh, so perhaps we can just say that she wasn’t able to think positively with all the pain in her heart. That was a mistake. When God offered a new day, clinging to the pain of the previous one could not help her move forward.

The Book of Ruth is rich in paradoxes. The story opened with a terrible famine and closed with a celebration feast. It began with the recollection of three sad funerals and ended with the memory of one happy wedding. In all, the greatest paradox (in my opinion), is that God was setting up unparalleled blessing at the very time when He would be accused of abandonment. He was doing a great work in one who failed to see His hand there at all.

All that happened because life took a turn to place Naomi into position to be used mightily by God.

Remember we said earlier that God loves us even when our life isn’t working out according to our plan. Don’t forget: His plan is my highest purpose. Wasn’t that best seen in Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? John 18 revealed the Savior slumped over a rock praying to be delivered – and then following that prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, Father.”

That is why God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. He wants us to have opportunities bigger than we feel qualified for, and greater than we can imagine.

Our lives are in His capable hands – and that should help to stabilize us when we pass into a time where what we planned fades away, and what He desires emerges. One writer offered this poem a few years ago to help us understand…

A basketball in my hands is worth about $19
A basketball in Michael Jordan’s hands is
worth about $33 million
It depends whose hands it’s in

A baseball in my hands is worth about $6
A baseball in Mark McGuire’s hands is worth $19 million
It depends whose hands it’s in

A tennis racket is useless in my hands
A tennis racket in Pete Sampras’ hands
is a Wimbledon Championship
It depends whose hands it’s in

A rod in my hands will keep away a wild animal
A rod in Moses’ hands will part the mighty sea
It depends whose hands it’s in

A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy
A sling shot in David’s hand is a mighty weapon.
It depends whose hands it’s in

Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands
is a couple of fish sandwiches.
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in God’s
hands will feed thousands It depends whose hands it’s in

Nails in my hands might produce a birdhouse
Nails in Jesus Christ’s hands will produce
salvation for the entire world.
It depends whose hands it’s in

As you see now it depends whose hands it’s in.
So put your concerns, your worries, your fears,
your hopes, your dreams, your families and
your relationships in God’s hands because

It depends whose hands it’s in. (Author Unknown)