Returning to the Lord

IMG_0853Ruth 1:6-9

In our previous article, we saw how God took the initiative to bring Naomi back from her sojourn among unbelievers to return to the Lord and his people. He acted in kindness. What was Naomi’s response to God’s action (1:6b-7)? She believed and acted. When God acts, we are to respond in faith according to his action. This requires us to think upon God and what he does (Psalm 77:10-12; 111:2-5).

So then, Naomi prepared to return home (to Israel) from Moab. Here, we need to know the meaning and importance of “return” in this chapter. The Hebrew word translated “return” is the verbal glue that holds this chapter together (1:6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15 [twice], 16, 22 [twice in Hebrew]; cf. also 2:6; 4:3). The chapter talks about the “return” of two women. For Naomi the return is personal renewal of the obedience that comes from faith (cf. Romans 1:6; 16:26; cf. 12:1-2). For Ruth the return is conversion to the true and living God.

This story is about turning back to the Lord. Part of the story of God’s glory concerns the return of people to him. God takes returning people and makes them part of his story of redemption (an important idea in Ruth.) God tells us his story, in order that we might become part of his returning people. How do you need to turn back to him? What parts of your world and life view and the actions that flow from it need immediate change? For example, how does your life honor God everyday? How does love for your neighbor produce generous, self-sacrificial action in your way of life?

When Naomi heard the good news of God’s care for his people, she sensed her need to return to God and his covenant community of people, for whom he provided bread. “Her return is a choice to identify with that community again. It is a return, not just to Bethlehem, but to Yahweh and Yahweh’s people” (Webb, p. 42). Naomi responded in faith to the word about what God had done. She continued to believe that God is gracious and merciful, and that he would receive her back to him and his people. It is important to grasp this in order to understand what follows properly. How can your faith remain strong when you feel crushed by life’s events? Remember what God has done for you in your walk of faith to this point, and consider what the Lord did for others in similar times.

Naomi’s decision influenced Ruth and Orpah to return with her. The people of God act as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). God uses our way of life as a means to draw more people to him. Think of people that the Lord might use you to influence. Her decision produced other consequences beyond Naomi’s control. This is part of faith’s adventure.

Initially, both daughters-in-law decided to go with Naomi. Clearly, they loved her, which speaks well of her previous interactions with them. Godly women should strive to draw their families close with the cords of love. Ladies, is this a priority in your life? Are you seeking to draw your family members to Jesus by the influence of your love for them?

This was an unexpected decision by Orpah and Ruth. “While Bethlehem had once been Naomi’s home, it was never theirs. Her people were not their people. And if Orpah and Ruth came with her, it would mean two more mouths to feed on a fixed and limited budget, two more bodies to clothe and house, all the while dependent on the charity of family members” (Duguid). And those family members knew neither Ruth nor Orpah! But they decided to go with her! As we seek to make other followers of Christ, our lives can become more complex.

Their decision complicated Naomi’s life in many ways. She would be taking two unwanted and widowed foreign women back to Israel. But she allowed them to start on the way back with her. We must appreciate Naomi’s problem. To have them with her would be a reminder of her tragedy. A look at their foreign faces would remind her of the loss of her sons. Consider what a woman goes through when she chooses not to abort a child from an illicit affair or rape, and who also chooses to keep the child! The child can be a sign pointing to her tragedy.

Sometimes we need to weep. Show compassion on people who have suffered terrible events, even if you think they’re to blame! (Why are people who claim to believe in God’s grace so judgmental? Why do they say, “He or she made their bed and now they have to lie in it?” Would they like God to say that to them?) Don’t you rejoice in God’s compassion toward you? Then how dare you not show it to the suffering? Suffering people need daily mercy and grace. I beg you; I plead with you—please show compassion and kindness for Christ’s sake! All of us should make compassion and kindness part of our constant return to the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

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The Lord Plans the Way Back

IMG_0982Ruth 1:6-9

In this series we worship the Lord as we listen to his word to us in the book of Ruth. The book is one of the festival scrolls of the Jews. We call it the “scroll of kindness”. In our current text from Ruth, we encounter the idea of kindness for the first time. The Lord speaks to us about kindness, and so may his kindness toward people and our kindness to one another fill our lives.

In the opening section of this story, we have read of the tragic events that came into Naomi’s life. A famine struck her native land, and her husband Elimelech decided to take Naomi and their two sons to the foreign land of Moab, in order to attempt to provide for them. However, everything went wrong in Moab! First, Elimelech died. Next, Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, which because of the law and given the history of Israel and Moab was not a godly marital decision. And then, both of Naomi’s sons also died within ten years of arriving in Moab. So, Naomi was left with the triple of burden of being a widow, childless, and lacking any honorable means of financial support. Her condition appeared to be hopeless!

Many people, including religious or spiritual people, would simply collapse at the terrible blow that Naomi received. There are various ways this personal collapse can happen:

  • Some might abandon belief in God completely and criticize him angrily
  • Some might withdraw into a hermit-like shell of bitterness
  • Some might reinvent their religious beliefs, like denying God’s sovereignty or seeking ways to manipulate God by works and rituals to regain his blessing
  • Some might seek to ease their pain through alcohol and drug use
  • Some might turn to crime to provide for themselves and/or to seek revenge on God and others for their terrible condition
  • Some might commit suicide or make a suicide attempt to gain pity from others

However, Naomi did not give into despair. She did not run from the true and living God in this desperate hour of her life. Instead, she ran toward God with continued belief in his rule over all things and with the deep pain that fills her life. So then, this is a helpful message from God for us to listen to in these uncertain, tragedy-filled days in which we live.

Let’s begin with a great idea. God’s grace is active at the darkest times (1:6a). The Lord took the initiative. The Lord continued to work out his plan, the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. We must keep this in mind, or else we reduce the narrative parts of the Bible to mere moralistic lessons. Naomi’s problems and pain filled her life. But the account is in the Word, not merely to tell us about a woman who endured, and so somehow to inspire hope; instead, it tells how the living God took Naomi into his story as part of the path to Jesus the Messiah.

God set his plan in motion, before Naomi had any reason to hope. For years, she had not heard any hopeful news from her native land, Israel. But at the moment of her worst circumstances, God was already at work to change her life forever and to pursue the goal of his great story. At the loss of her sons, her thoughts were focused on her grief and needs. She had no idea that God was at that same time at work to help her.

She was still in Moab when good news came to her. The Lord did not wait until she was on the way back. No, he set in motion the process that would lead to her return to God and his people. Many times when we are flooded with sorrows and trials, we cannot see or fail to see how God is already at work for his glory and our good. This is part of our weakness as humans, but God knows our weaknesses and does what it takes to draw us to him or back to him. This is a good reason to worship the Lord!

The Lord came to the aid of his people, or more literally, “to take note of or look after”. When God takes note of people, it can be either in a positive or negative sense in the Old Testament Scriptures. Here it is plainly positive, as in Genesis 21:1; 50:24-25; Exodus 3:16; 4:31; 13:19; 1 Samuel 2:21; Psalm 8:4; Jeremiah 15:15; 29:10 Zephaniah 2:7; Zechariah 10:3.

God is in charge of providing food for his creatures (Psalm 145:15-16; cf. Matthew 6:11). Usually God uses what we call “natural means”, but he oversees the whole process and acts in positive or negative ways to give us food. Notice the worldview of the God’s word. It does not say things like, “the weather changed,” or “the raiders left”, or “there is an upturn in the economy”. Instead, the Holy Spirit emphasizes God’s activity. Here, God took note of the suffering of his people from the famine and he sent them bread. We need to restore a deliberate, conscious recognition of God’s care for his creatures. Food comes ultimately from God, not from the grocery store.

The person who believes in God will see God’s action in our present situation. Only if you see God at work now can you pray for his mercy for a recovery. “It is concentration on the Great Cause which teaches us to live by faith” (Atkinson). Look at each day as part of the process in which he acts toward the end of the story of his glory in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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A New Life Begins

IMG_4750Father’s Day was far different for Dave this year, because our daughter, Sarah, and son in law, Matthew, posted on Facebook an announcement! It showed a picture of a Cubs’ cap, a Phillies’ Cap, and a tiny little Phillies’ Cap on top of a baby’s shirt with the words, “Daddy’s Home Run Hero”, all hanging together on their coat rack. They chose this way to announce the coming of our first grandchild on the first day of the new year, 2017! What a special Father’s Day, in anticipation of a little baby coming into our oh, so small family! Life is given to us by God!

God is our Father, and we praise Him for this new little life just forming, taking shape to be what God would have him or her to become. It is His creation! We can only imagine what we will hold when the New Year dawns and we meet this little one. We will begin a new role for us as Grandpa and Grandma!

God specializes in creating life, both our physical life and our spiritual life. Our existence in time began at his chosen moment. We are given a purpose and we live for the glory of God. He plans a time when his Spirit breathes into us and gives us a new, eternal life! It says in the book of John 3:33-35, Whoever has accepted it (The Gospel) has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit! The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (Everything! Our lives, events, family, and friends all are given to us by God. Everything!) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.(We must come to Jesus the Son of God and  rely upon Him for eternal life!)

These verses tell us a lot! Whoever accepts Jesus and His Gospel certifies that God is truth! Jesus spoke the very words of God! Here is the Trinity at work! It says God the Father is truth. He sent Jesus, the Son to speak His Word, and God gives the Spirit without limit! That means the Spirit of God reaches even to us and to every generation. Even to those yet to be born. Isn’t this the best words we can receive on Father’s Day weekend or any day? Everything comes from Him! That means our life came from God! And our eternal life as well! He wants us! He loves us with an everlasting love and has provided a way for us to come to Him. He will give us an eternal home where we will be with the Father. Jesus said in Scripture, that He is the way there, and He is the truth (to think we have the truth in this world when all around us is lies) and the LIFE.” John 14:6 No one comes unto the Father, but through Him, Jesus.

Do you have that life today? Have you been born into the Kingdom of God? Is your trust in Him? If it is and you truly have, you will give evidence of that life. You will look like your heavenly Father. And as we have read, the Spirit comes without limits! He gives and gives and gives! Believe the Gospel which is Christ crucified, risen and coming again, and begin a whole new life! God’s gift! BELIEVE! By faith!! We haven’t yet seen our grandchild, but in the New Year we will see him or her? Nor can we yet see Jesus, but someday we will! Both Dave and I hope to see you then! Enjoy reading His Word, the Bible till then!

IMG_9850A future grandmother, Sharon

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 NIV

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The Tragic Outcome of the Uncertain Journey

IMG_1017Ruth 1:3-5

We again look at a small family, who left the Promised Land of God’s old covenant people to seek an easier life. It wasn’t a far departure, but it was unnecessary and away from the people and worship of the true and living God. (Remember that under the old covenant, worship of God was closely connected with the place God had chosen for the tabernacle or temple.) What happened to that family?

First, Elimelech died. We must be cautious here, because the Holy Spirit does not say that his death was due to being in Moab or because he failed to return to the Promised Land. Physical suffering and death may come for a variety of reasons. You can be living for God’s glory and still suffer or die. But for Naomi, this was a great tragedy, regardless of its cause. For a woman in ancient times, like Naomi, the death of her husband had serious financial consequences. Most women had no job they could fall back on, and there was no insurance or social security or welfare system. A widow basically had three options: to return to her parent’s home (if she could), to beg, or to become a prostitute. In addition, Naomi and her sons are resident aliens, away from family and the people of God. All that Naomi can depend on, in a worldly sense, is support from her two sons.

Second, Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. This is to be expected in the circumstances. Young people tend to make friends and fall in love with available companions of the opposite sex. If there are not godly people available, they will be guided by mere physical and emotional attraction. Marriage to anyone from a Canaanite people group was forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Although Moabites were not Canaanites, the Lord restricted them from entering the congregation of his people, even for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Later in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, intermarriage with Moabites was considered to be a cause of guilt before the Lord (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-3). The Lord wanted his people separate from those who worshiped idols.  How much influence Naomi had over her sons at this point is unclear. Please do not blame either parents or children for the choices that the other generation makes! Parents and children are alike responsible to God for their choices. And do not expect God to bail you out of unwise marital choices! For every Ruth, there is also an Orpah. Now Naomi has to deal with the complications of having Moabite daughters-in-law. Seemingly, they got along well, and everything appears to be viable for Naomi.

Third, Naomi’s sons die by the time they had been in Moab for ten years. Again, the text does not say that her sons were being punished for sin. But it is a reminder that death can strike younger adults. Two of my best friends died around the age of thirty. Seek the Lord while you are young! Now Naomi is left without any provision in a foreign country. Picture her grief and fear as she stands beside three graves. Her hopelessness is accentuated in the story by not mentioning her name. In the Hebrew text (cf. ESV, NASV), she is now simply “the woman”; she has lost her family and with it her identity.

What hope was there for Naomi at this point? Was there any? She was living as a resident alien among an ungodly people and without the protection that God and his law covenant provided for the widow. Had this rushing river of tragedy proved that God has abandoned her? Before you rush to give a “spiritual sounding answer”, please stop and feel the horror of her situation! The Bible seems too good to some people, because they fail to read it as a story of real life. However, the story is filled with many stories of suffering and hardship for even the best of believers. Stop and read thoughtfully. Yet, the good news is that God calls wandering people back to him, regardless of the reasons and ways of their wandering. If you feel “alone in Moab” like Naomi, God welcomes you back home through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He says, “Come home! Find friendship and joy with me and my people!” This good news can be yours today. Don’t let pride hinder you. Return to the true and living God today.

Grace and peace, David

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The People of the Uncertain Journey

IMG_0949Ruth 1:1-5

Last time in Ruth, we learned of a family that decided to make a journey to leave the Promised Land and the covenant people of God. They assumed that they were making a good choice. (Don’t we all assume that our choices are good and wise when we make them? Even when our choices turn out to be poor, we thought they were good at the time.) What can we learn about these people? (1:1b-2)

The story begins with the family of Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King”. He was married to Naomi, whose name means “Pleasant”. This couple had two sons: Mahlon and Kilion, but the meaning of their names is very unclear. In ancient times, names were important. Their names should make us think. Did Naomi have a pleasant life? Did Elimelech live like God was his king? If I call myself a Christian, does Jesus Christ significantly influence my life?

Their family was from the clan of Ephrath in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”. So we encounter our first ironic contrast. There is a famine in the “house of bread”. What will Elimelech do to provide for his family during this famine? He has a couple of options.

  • He can stay put on the land God had given him and depend on the Lord to see them through the hunger and poverty that the famine would bring.
  • He can trust his own judgment and seek a better situation, where they will not have to struggle and may in fact prosper. At this point we must ask, “Did anything clearly point to the result that Elimelech and his family would suffer lasting hardship if they remained in Bethlehem?” The answer is clearly no, since as the rest of the story shows, most stayed and prospered in the long run. We are too quick to run from difficulties that might be God’s pathway into greater blessing.

Elimelech heard that Moab was not suffering through a famine, as Israel was, and so he decided to leave the Promised Land, and go to another nation, to a people that were committed to idolatry and wickedness. We are not told what input Naomi had in this decision. She might have been willing or reluctant or had mixed feelings. But a few facts about Moab will indicate that this was not a wise decision.

  • A former king, Balak, had hired Balaam to curse Israel, when Israel was nearing the Promised Land (Numbers 22-24). So then, there were deep roots of hostility between the two people groups.
  • The women of Moab had been a stumbling stone to Israel, having seduced them to sexual immorality and the worship of false gods (Numbers 25).
  • In the early days of the Judges, Eglon, the king of Moab cruelly oppressed Israel (Judges 3). This would have been recent history for Elimelech.
  • From Israel’s earliest encounters with the Moabites, the people of Moab were called the “people of Chemosh”, the cruel, vile false god (Numbers 21:29).

Yet Elimelech decided to take his family on an uncertain journey, which might offer short-term relief, but which could also involve them in long-term tragedy. Instead of keeping them among the visible people of God, he took them to live among worshipers of false gods. People usually ignore what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it again. Before you move, be very certain you have a faithful gathering of God’s people with whom you can worship!

Elimelech and his family evidently planned to move to Moab “to live for a while” in that place. Here we encounter the principle that you can make your choices but you cannot choose the consequences of your choices.

  • No human can really discern where even insignificant choices will end. Many people have chosen to get in a car to go to the grocery store or the movies, and that was their last journey! The point is not to live in fear, because you can die in your house in your favorite chair also. Instead, the point is to avoid pride, as if you are in control of your life.
  • Though we make significant choices, God does, too (Proverbs 16:1, 4, 9). He has a plan that he is working out, and he has chosen to make our choices a part of his plan, usually in unexpected ways. For example, have you ever been in a situation where one choice seemed to require you to make another choice and then a whole series of choices that you had no intention of making when you made your first choice? More is involved than circumstances. God guides the smallest events (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:29).
  • What happens to Elimelech and his family? Do they stay in Moab for just a while? “Verse 2 literally says, ‘They went to the fields of Moab, and they were there.’” [Duguid] That is what happens in life. We reach a particular place, and we sort of get stuck there. For example, when our family moved to Rural Grove, I thought we might stay there four years. My reasoning was, “If a missionary can live in a foreign country for four years, then I can serve God in the country that long!” Before I knew it, the four years became ten, and then twelve and finally fifteen. Even if we have plans, God has a way of altering them drastically.

We all like to evaluate our decisions quickly. A short-term evaluation would say that Elimelech and Naomi were doing all right. That is a constant problem with our evaluations. Present circumstances can easily mislead us. “Everything is fine!” Or, “my life stinks!” This is why we need the word of God as our basis of evaluation. It is an objective standard far more accurate than how “good” our lives seem to be. What then is the good news? As noted, God’s gracious providence is not hindered by human foolishness, as we shall see from the rest of the story. God is able to act to bring good, even when we make wrong choices that produce many problems in our lives. God’s grace is greater than our situations.

Grace and peace, David

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Uncertain Journey

IMG_0942Ruth 1:1-5

Years ago in upstate New York, our family had a pastor from the Virgin Islands return to New York with us following a Bible Conference on the Jersey shore in mid-September. Now you must realize that mid-September in upstate NY is like early or mid-November in Philadelphia. This brother in Christ had never seen frost until he visited us. He wore my winter coat the entire time during his visit with us, including when he was inside our house! He was cold and told us, “If you would bring us up here to live, you’d kill us all!” Not only did he see frost for the first time, but he also saw fog when I took him to the Albany airport. The fog was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I actually had to stop the car one time in order to read a road sign. We thank God for safety on the road that morning, and for the many times we had to travel in thick fog in that area. But when you travel in fog, it makes for an uncertain journey.

Our text is about a family who started out on an uncertain journey. Given the increasing violence, the turbulent political scene, and the economy, you might feel like you’re on an uncertain journey today. What will happen? No one is really sure. I have always thought that a realistic, rather than a pessimistic or optimistic approach, is best at such times. Take a full view of what is happening, and remember to keep the all-powerful, wise God in the center of your view. In any sequence of events, it is better to trust the living God, the Maker and Ruler of all things, than to put your confidence in people.

What was the cause of their uncertain journey (1:1a)? People in Israel faced troublesome times. The religious and political setting was terrible. Israel lacked a stable, central government. Various judges, raised up by God, rescued and led his people after times of religious decline. But the people suffered constantly from actual physical danger or fear of danger because of weak government. Raiders and robbers were an ongoing problem, and they experienced civil war. All these things threatened the young nation’s survival. Israel continued to go through a recurring religious cycle a number of times: rebellion against the Lord, judgment by the Lord, repentance by the people, and deliverance by God. Any return to the Lord was short-lived and did not affect the whole nation.

Next came an economic disaster. God sent a famine in the land, probably in most of the land; otherwise, there would have been no reason for leaving Israel at all. Since Israel was God’s covenant people under his law, we must view this correctly. In our day, most people do not see God’s hand in anything, especially the weather. Jesus taught his followers differently (Matthew 5:45). God had promised to bless Israel (Deuteronomy 28:1-6, 8, 11), if they obeyed him. But he had also promised to punish them, if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15-19, 23-24). At such a time of famine, everyone in Israel was responsible to confess their sin to the Lord and turn from it. The question that confronted the people in this story was simply this. Would they believe God and return to him? Or would they seek their own solutions to the difficulties of their lives? This is the great choice facing God’s people today. Will we believe on and act according to God’s word, or will we rely on our wisdom and the opinions of so-called experts?

Please read the following carefully. America is not old covenant Israel or God’s nation. But the Scripture still warns any nation of judgment that turns its back on God. The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God (Psalm 9:17). It is time for us to seek the Lord. The living God is gracious and perhaps he will have mercy on us. Do not wait for current events to improve. Now is the right time for each of us to humble ourselves before him. We need to follow Christ’s leadership through the Spirit and the word of God.

Grace and peace, David

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Ideas in the Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0839Ruth 1:1-4:22

Today, let’s think about ideas to watch for in this short story that is part of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. As each appears, there are links forward and back in God’s revelation of his person and purposes. The Lord wants us to grasp these, so that we worship him for all that he has accomplished in our salvation in Christ.

We need to know the general way of life under the law (or old covenant). God’s people lived under the law for approximately fifteen hundred years. The law is good, because it provided a way for God to live among his people. But we ought not to glamorize it, since it was a way of life ruled by law (cf. Acts 15:10). Now we live in a better covenant and Christ is our leader by the Spirit, and God lives in us.

The story of Ruth is about an extended family within God’s people Israel. God (Yahweh, the Lord) made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the lives of his covenant people were under the supervision of the law (Torah). The law influences and guides the story of Ruth with its regulations about gleaning, the task of the kinsman-redeemer, and marriage. The question about inheriting the land was important in the old covenant, and also in this story. What we will see in this story is very ordinary people facing very ordinary struggles of life, like food, marriage, children and property. (Is anyone reading this affected by real estate issues?)

The story of Ruth occurs during the time when the Judges ruled (Ruth 1:1). It was a time of turmoil and religious declension. There was famine, foreign oppression, civil war, and danger on the streets. People were living in disregard of God and his laws. But these terrible times were not utterly faithless times. God still had a remnant, chosen by grace (Romans 11:5), and in this story we read about the life of that struggling remnant.

Surprising contrasts – As you read Ruth you will notice many contrasts; for example, Ruth and Orpah, Ruth and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, Boaz and the unnamed relative, God’s purposes and human plans, grief and joy, and for one more, emptiness and fullness. The Spirit of God wants us to view these contrasts and to learn from them.

We must see the place of kindness and redemption in the story of God’s glory. The book of Ruth highlights both these ideas. We will look carefully at them when we come to them, but as you read and reread Ruth, listen to what God is saying.

A great theme is the providence of God. How beautifully this story illustrates the truth of Romans 8:28 and 11:33-36! What do we mean by God’s providence?

  • It is God’s present activity in the world. God creates, and then he rules his creation to achieve the story of his glory in Christ. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) put it this way. “God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy” (Chapter 5.1). About a century earlier, the writers of the First London Confession wrote: “God in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good” (Article V).
  • In providence God proclaims that God is here, God cares, God rules and God provides, all according to his holiness, wisdom and love.
  • In Ruth we read of no miracle or special word from the Lord, yet we discern his unseen hand active throughout the entire story. People make choices, not on the basis of mystical guidance, but against or within the boundaries of God’s word. When they acted correctly, they acted in wisdom and by trusting God for the outcome. In other words, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz lived like you and I must live—according to the Scriptures and by faith. However, sadly unlike our typical responses, they recognized God’s activity. So then, this book is an invitation to become properly spiritual.

These are hard and uncertain times. The economic future for many is bleak, families are in turmoil, horrific violence spreads like a plague, and addictive sins are destroying lives. Our time is like the days that the judges ruled, as people turn from the living God to false gods, and enter into an increasingly desperate meaninglessness because of their foolish choices. Is there hope in such a time? Yes, there is, and that is one reason we need the message of Ruth in our dark hour. Please read the book of Ruth at least four times this week. And as you read, worship the Lord, as he teaches you about his full and flawless worth and glory.

Grace and peace, David

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The Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0870Ruth 1:1-4:22

Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?

First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:

  • It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
  • It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
  • It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
  • It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)

Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
  • Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
  • Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?

With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.

The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.

Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.

The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.

The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.

I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.

Grace and peace, David

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The Spoken Word: Colossians 2:1-2

Hi everyone,

Instead of a written article, today we feature a recording from a recent Sunday Morning gathering of FifteenFive. We usually have a short message from the word followed by discussion, but we don’t record the discussion. This recording is “as is”, without any editing.

Grace and peace, David

 

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More on Meeting Together

20140916_160521Hebrews 10:25

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (NIV)

After thinking about the desire that the Lord has for his people to gather together as a church (assembly, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18), next let’s think about the reason. The writer might have mentioned a reason such as the worship of God. Or there is the opportunity for a gospel witness to friends that do not yet know the Lord but are willing to come and observe a loving and caring church that proclaims hope (confident expectation). Or, thinking of the passage already cited from First Corinthians, a church needs to gather for a meal to remember the Lord together. These are all good reasons to meet together.

However, the writer of Hebrews concludes this great passage with another reason. We are to meet together to encourage one another. While the Holy Spirit has come to encourage us, the Lord wants his followers to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Encourage one another” is one of the basic differences between an edifice church and a sharing of life (koinonia) church. Those who attend an edifice church are very concerned about the “service” that will happen there. By the service, they mean the public program that is presented. In various edifice churches this means different actions, whether the observance of rituals and sacraments, or a strict order of service that is planned to the minute (that is no exaggeration), or a musical performance (dominated by the worship leader, band, and singers), or listening to a long, carefully constructed doctrinal sermon, or an evangelistic message that is followed by an emotional invitation (altar call), or some sort of combination of the above. The important matter in the edifice church is to have the best possible performance of the desired program. Before and after the program, there might be some chitchat about sports or children or politics or vacations. But to encounter personal encouragement is rare.

To meet together in a sharing of life church is to be involved with people, not a program. Yes, such churches will have worship, music, prayer, a message from the word, etc. But the concern is not to get through a program and then to evaluate how well the leaders lead the program. The Lord and people matter in a sharing of life church, because the Vine gives life to the branches, and he wants them to love one another with his kind of love (John 15:1-17). For this reason, there is a lot of time invested in talking together about the Lord and our lives in our families, job places, neighborhoods, and activities. Another time we will go into more detail. But the difference is the focus is on the Lord and people, not on any program. The Holy Spirit is in control, not an “order of service”.

When you are not in your local gathering of believers, your place in the body is vacant. Often when we meet together, it’s like being without a finger, a foot, an arm, or ears. You can’t contribute and the body is crippled. “My oh my, where is our ‘liver’ today?” Someone answers, “Oh, don’t you know? The ‘liver’ is off doing something or other with the ‘knee cap’. And by the way, the ‘back muscle’ is grumpy today, so be careful what you say!” You are at liberty to think that is a crazy illustration. But please listen to this. The exhortation to meet together to encourage one another is not merely “good advice”, but it is God’s will for your life. And this exhortation is addressed to people who have every reason to comply with it. The writer addresses those who are forgiven, those cleansed by the blood of Christ, those who may approach God boldly, yes, to those who are in covenant with the living God. As a person loves God and his family, he or she desires to be at family gatherings.

When we gather together, we must encourage each other.

  • Encourage one another to believe, to hope and to love. Notice how faith, hope and love occur in this paragraph (10:19-25), as well as many places in the New Testament Scriptures.
  • Encourage one another to grow in knowledge of God, of the word he has given, and in the Christian way of life.
  • Encourage one another to endure. It is tough to live for Jesus Christ in a world that hates him. Loving words of hope in the Lord’s resurrection victory can be greatly used by Spirit to strengthen each other in spiritual warfare.
  • Encourage one another to do good (1 Peter 2:11-15). The writer said this in 10:24, but we forget too easily that we are to do good works, so that others might see them and glorify our Father in heaven.

The writer adds a solemn motive. The Day is approaching. “The Day” means the “Day of the Lord”, which is the time when he will act openly in the greatness of his glorious power. The result will be salvation for his people and judgment for his enemies. Are you ready for Christ’s coming? Believers look for the dawning of that Day. We are watching for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. This requires us to grow in grace in the light of that Day: “all the more”. Since every day brings us one day nearer to the return of our Lord, we ought to be better prepared each day. For this reason, meet together regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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