The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

A Father’s Fortress (Part Two)

Proverbs 14:26-27

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death (NIV).

What are the benefits of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has a “secure fortress”. He has strength—a stronghold or a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). Whatever troubles come his way, he can trust in the Lord’s strength (Psalm 61:1-3; 62:5-7). A man, a father needs strength that is far greater than his, in order to handle all life’s pressures. There are many matters beyond his ability. “How can I have a great relationship with my wife? Sometimes we seem to be from different planets! How can I provide for my family? I work hard, but a hundred and fifty dollars seems to buy fewer bags of groceries every week! How can I guide my children in the right way? Everyone else seems to have their attention except me! How can I serve the Lord? Too much else demands my constant efforts!” The answer is found in the strength or security of the Lord’s Almighty power.

He has a fortress—a place of confident expectation (hope). The word translated “fortress” in the NIV in this text has the idea of “the feeling of being safe or secure.” While it means trust, it has the sense of hope. A man’s hope in God is not a questioning sort that seems to be mere wishing, but a confident expectation. It lays hold of God’s trustworthiness. A man who has a strong trust does not act like those who worship false gods and who try to control everything by their ability or sacred rituals. Instead, he relies on the God he can’t control, who nevertheless has pledged to be faithful to whoever trusts in him. An unbeliever wants a god he can control. A believer worships the God he can’t control, but who is totally faithful. And he is content and feels safe in this fortress.

The man who fears the Lord has a “fountain of life”. Since he is convinced of God’s surpassing worthiness, he gains various benefits. In God’s word, he has the “teaching of the wise” (Proverbs 13:14). He has a standard of judgment he can evaluate life by. This gives him understanding (Proverbs 16:22). He can escape the punishment that is the destiny of fools. He recognizes God as the source of life (Psalm 36:9). He does not turn aside to manmade cisterns that break and cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). This is because he has received Christ, who is the fountain of life (John 4:13-14). With Christ as his fortress and fountain, the man who fears the Lord has all that he needs for life and godliness. Do you rejoice that you have all you need in Christ?

What is the outlook of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has something to offer to his children. What does the worldly focused man have for his children? Perhaps he goes and watches their ballgames, puts food on the table and gives them a shelter from the weather, shows up for their graduations and weddings, and leaves something for them in his will—maybe, if anything is left. Is that all you want from your life? Is that all you can give to your children? The man who fears the Lord has something better for his children. Since he knows the Lord as his secure fortress and fountain of life, he can point to his children and say, “This is the way of true joy and peace. Don’t waste your lives on the pursuit of lesser things. God will be your refuge, too!”

The man who fears the Lord knows what turns aside death. Yes, we all have to die, but for the man who fears the Lord, physical death is but the passing to be with the Lord and eternal life. Why is this? The man who fears the Lord knows that the “sting of death is sin, and the power of the sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). So, he knows he can escape the power of death through Jesus Christ. He says, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV). I know him who has conquered sin and death. His word teaches me to turn aside from its snares to follow and to trust in the Lord Jesus, who is the fountain of life.” This is the confident expectation of the man who fears the Lord. Is he your fortress and fountain?

Grace and peace, David

God’s Time Is Right on Schedule

Genesis 41:1-36

There are times when it seems like God’s good promises will never come to fulfillment. Many believers have had to live and die waiting for the appearance of God’s plan (Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40). During a long time of waiting, we must maintain our confidence in the Lord. His time is not necessarily our time.

God’s time had now arrived in Joseph’s life. One moment he was suffering in a dungeon. The next he is being honored by the king. Let us seek to learn more about the providence of God in this series on “God intended it for good.”

God revealed the future to Pharaoh (41:1-8). Here is part of the mystery of God’s ways. Usually, he spoke to holy men in ancient times (2 Peter 1:20). But when it was necessary, he spoke to the ungodly. For example, he spoke to ungodly Abimelech to protect Sarah. He chose a method that would lead to the exaltation of his servant and the honor of his name (cf. Mark 4:10-12).

Part of the plan was a defeat of the Egyptian culture (41:8). The religious men of Egypt could not discern the meaning of the dream. The scholars of Egypt could not explain what it meant. American culture worships or at least has overweening pride in education as a cure-all for our problems. It is clear that education has failed as our nation continues its downward spiral into the depths of violence, addictions, and abuse.

God interpreted the dream through Joseph (41:9-32). The Lord brought Joseph to the center of the kingdom in an unanticipated way. The time had come for the chief cupbearer to tell his story. If he had spoken sooner, his story may have been mocked or ignored. Now it is different, for Pharaoh needed a man like Joseph. God’s servant acted wisely (41:14). On occasion, we must offend the cultural feelings of the ungodly. However, in things indifferent we must not. (There was not yet any law pertaining to the shaving of the beard.)

Joseph proclaimed God’s word in the court of Egypt. He honored the Lord as the dream interpreter (41:16). Not to us, but to the Lord, be the glory (Psalm 115:1). While he honored the Lord, Joseph gave hope to his counselee.

Joseph declared the rule of God over all things (41:25, 28). God is in control of the weather. It was not a change in meteorological conditions. It was what God “is about to do”. The Lord can predict the future because he is in control of it. If events can happen outside his authority then things might happen that would be contrary to what he foretold.

For this reason, Joseph confronted Pharaoh with God’s unalterable decree (41:32). People have lost a sense of purpose, due in part to rejection of the biblical revelation of God’s plan. History is headed toward God’s goal. Life is not a meaningless collection of events.

God revealed the way of deliverance (41:33-36). To appreciate his way, we need a full Biblical perspective. If we looked at the seven years of famine in isolation from the rest of God’s plan, we could wrongly infer that he did not care about human suffering. When we think of tragedies like famines, we must also hold two other truths in mind. Evil and suffering are in the world because of mankind’s sin. And God has made a way of deliverance. Our hearts ought always to say, “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God granted wisdom to his servant. Joseph knew the way to handle the crisis: a proper management of resources during the years of fruitful harvests. Read Psalm 105:16-22. He set forth the importance of organization as a means to God’s end. What is everybody’s business often turns out to be nobody’s business. A skilled manager was required to provide for the general welfare. We should give thanks to God for the good gifts he has given to people.

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part Three)

Genesis 37:29-36

In a few hours, Joseph’s life changed forever. Sold by his brothers without mercy to slave traders, his dreams and hopes apparently disappeared forever. I don’t think that we can comprehend the desolate anguish as he was carried away. And what of questioning God? Had the Lord of all turned against him to deny his hopes and bring him bitterness? It would take over twenty years for young Joseph to see any positive answers to those questions. We should not imagine that the Lord God rushes to resolve our personal traumas.

Joseph’s enslavement had other consequences for the family. The first to experience the outcome were his brothers, who did the evil act. How could they explain their brother’s disappearance to their father? They resorted to an act of deceit.

The occasion was Reuben’s trauma (37:29-30). As the oldest son, he was responsible for his younger siblings. If you’re the oldest in your family, caring for them might have been the first serious responsibility you experienced. “Watch your brothers and sisters while they play outside. Don’t let them go out of our yard!”

Reuben had thought he had everything figured out, but all events are in God’s hands instead of ours. Though Reuben had planned to return Joseph to his father, the Lord had a different plan, and his prevailed. The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1 ESV). If we cannot control words, what makes us think we can control actions?

Observe that Reuben was not concerned for his brother’s hardship, but for his own predicament. “Where can I turn now?” He had not dared to risk himself to rescue his brother earlier, relying on his own schemes for an apparently easy way out. When a heavy burden had fallen on him, he lost all thoughts of Joseph. Self-interest becomes a dominating force in a course of sin. It becomes every man for himself. Reuben loved himself very well, but self-love did not lead him to love others, especially his father and his brother. This caused them to come up with a scheme to protect Reuben. They took Joseph’s special robe and put the blood of a goat on it. This made it look like Joseph had been killed by some wild beast. People are very skilled at doing an act of deceit to cover up their real acts and motives. Joseph’s brothers were very sure they would get away with this deceit. But God had a surprise for them years later.

What the ten brothers did affected Jacob in a horrible way (Genesis 37:31-36). His sons deceived him even as he had deceived his father. It should not surprise a sinner when his own lies and deceptions turn on him. Many, many years had passed since he, at his mother’s urging and with her approval, had deceived Isaac. Now, he felt the pain he had caused. Jacob was overwhelmed with grief. He had endured years of hard labor for his uncle, the death of Rachel, and the disgrace of incest, but he finally reached the end of his strength. Let us not be too hard on old Jacob. Remember the old Indian proverb about criticizing someone before you walk in their moccasins. I think an even better lesson would be to listen to the Lord’s advice and pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”          

What could be Jacob’s and Joseph’s consolation in this severe trial? The character and promises of God Almighty. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). Had God forgotten Jacob and Joseph in their grief? Not at all! Even then he was working for their good. We could not have proved that to either man during their sorrows, but it was very true.

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part Two)

Genesis 37:12-36

In part one, we saw how the life of Joseph and his family was about to change through a seemingly insignificant and harmless event: his trip that his father Jacob sent him on out of concern for Joseph’s older brothers. In Genesis 37:18-28, we see how an act of malice started them all on the path to lasting change.

They were intent on venting their wrath wrath against Joseph. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams” (Genesis 37:18-20 NIV).

Their hatred had brewed for so long that the mere sight of Joseph brought them to the verge of murder. Sin long nurtured in the heart waits only for an appropriate moment to wreak destruction. Sin causes hardening of heart. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13 NIV). Hatred and jealousy made them want to murder, but sin did not stop there. For they planned to lie to cover their murder, and pride made them dream of boasting they had defeated Joseph’s dreams.

No person is strong enough to hold the reins of sin. That lusty stallion can drag any presumptuous man or woman off to certain ruin. The wise course of action is to flee from sin, seek cleansing from its guilt and influence by the blood of Christ, and to put it death with the help of the Holy Spirit.

However, while Joseph’s brothers plotted evil against him, the living God was also at work. He acted behind the scenes to restrain their wrath (37:21-28). There are three clear ways that the Lord did this.

  • God worked through Reuben’s intervention. Reuben was an unlikely deliverer (see Genesis 35:22), but for some reason (perhaps fear of further offense against his father or qualms of conscience), he schemed to prevent the murder of his brother.
  • God worked through the appearance of the merchants. In this way, God permitted the hatred of Joseph’s brothers to go unchecked, but refused to allow Joseph to be killed. The Lord allows people to act freely, unless when he intervenes to accomplish his will. He lets people act as free agents, while maintaining his sovereign rule. Wise parents allow their children freedom to act and to fail many times, while stepping in at important times for godly discipline, instruction, and protection. If you were Joseph being handed over to the traders, you would be thinking that it’s better to be a living dog than a dead lion. Yes, he had reason to be thankful. Remember also that he did not have the rest of his life story to read at this point. It seemed that his life was ruined and his dreams vanished. The Lord does not consult us about the details of his plan, nor does he make sure that all will tend toward a life of ease for his children. Sometimes it is impossible to discern how a course of events will be for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • God worked through the greed of Judah. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed (Genesis 37:26-27). There are alternatives in a course of sin. It does not always take the worst path. After all, if you can make a few shekels and still have your malice vented, what’s the problem. I seriously doubt anyone wants to award Judah a medal for his suggestion. However, let’s not deceive ourselves if we do the same thing; namely, leave one path of sin only to pursue a less offensive sin.

The Lord God acts in many ways to accomplish his will. As has been said, God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Our responsibility by grace through faith in Christ is to be “straight sticks” ready for God’s use.  As we read in the New Testament Scriptures, Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part One)

Genesis 37:12-36

The Lord God has revealed in his word, the Bible, that he is in charge of all things. He is sovereign; he is the Boss (Psalm 115:3; 135:5-6; Proverbs 16:4, 9; Isaiah 46:8-11; etc.). Listen to Romans 11:36: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (NIV). Providence is God’s direction and care of his creation. The story of Joseph is an important study of how God directs various events in our lives for his glory and the good of his people. Individual events can seem counterproductive to God’s plan; in fact, some seem wrong and we don’t like them. But we must wait in faith for God’s wise result.

In God’s providence, great changes can flow from apparently insignificant and benign events. We can plan to help others and even to advance the cause of God and truth, and then everything blows up in our faces. I know this from sad experience. And it hurts. But the Lord of all can be working a better plan. We see all of this in the life of Joseph.

The game changer for Joseph, his father, his family, and seriously for the whole world came from an act of concern by his father Jacob. Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied. So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron (Genesis 37:12-14 NIV).

Compassion and prudence directed this plan. On Jacob’s part, he was concerned for the welfare of his sons and their family’s possessions. On Joseph’s part, obedience to his father motivated him. Notice how determined Joseph was to carry out Jacob’s orders (37:14-17).

However, right motives could not prevent trouble. Jacob was seemingly unaware of the hatred of his ten older sons for Joseph. He might have known there was no love lost between them, but he didn’t realize how thoroughly jealousy ruled their hearts. We have to face the truth that loving parents are rarely the best judges of their children’s character. We love them very much, so that we fail to see what they actually are and do.

Joseph walked on the path of obedience. He honored God by his choice. But the next events demonstrate that neither faith nor good character are shields against trouble. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV). Watch out for the trap of second guessing a correct course of action when trouble comes during it and after it. You can do the right thing and experience much grief. Please make God’s glory rather than your happiness the standard of your actions.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Six)

20120605_1038432 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

The Spirit acted in a way that made sure that the content was God’s word: “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of mystery. This brief phrase is as close as the Spirit comes to explaining his communication of God’s message through human writers. He carried them along, is a forceful expression. Compare the use of the Greek word phero in Mark 2:3; 4:8; 12:15-16; Acts 27:15, 17. But how did he carry them along? “We take the historic fact; but we decline every attempt to explain the inscrutable mode… no finite mind can venture, without presumption, to say how the human faculties concurred and acted with the Spirit’s activity in the expression of a divine oracle” (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 166).

As God the Holy Spirit carried along the apostles and prophets, he “did not destroy the author’s individuality and talents, making the whole Bible stereotyped, with one style from Genesis to Revelation—the style of the Holy Spirit—with all the human differences of the writers overridden and ignored” (Palmer, The Holy Spirit, p. 50). Instead, the Holy Spirit acted differently. He used “the experiences of the authors to govern their writing, their different emotions to color their thinking, their individual tastes to be expressed in the Bible” (Ibid.)

Let’s think of some examples. What would the Bible be like without the strong faith of Abraham in Genesis 22, or the repentant prayer of David in Psalm 51, or Paul’s holy passion to know Christ in Philippians 3 or John’s tender exhortation to his dear friends to love one another in 1 John 4? In the Scriptures you see our holy Maker getting down in the muck of human lives to draw forth gems for his glory and our good. You ought to worship a God like that!

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of God’s sovereignty. This is seen in the various ways that he gave the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1): “dreams, visions, individual illumination and research, as well as ordinary and extraordinary divine providences, are involved in the process” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 27).

The Spirit carried along the men who spoke in many ways:

  • By directing their heredity, family upbringing, education and personal history
  • By his continual work in the history of redemption; all stood at a point of history for his selected purpose
  • By his influence on their hearts through previous revelation
  • By applying Christ’s redemptive work to their hearts
  • By in some way revealing God’s mind to them so that they had to speak it, consider Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)
  • By leading them to produce a unified message: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among people in conformity with the Father’s choice, molded a life, drew that person to salvation, and worked through them in such a way, so that when they wrote the Scriptures, it was the Spirit of God speaking (2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 22:43; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Now is the time to worship the Sovereign God, who can so powerfully work in human hearts! And here is hope. The same God still speaks through his word today! He can change your life and the lives of people you love!

Grace and peace, David

A Promise Forsaken (Part One)

DSCN35291 Kings 11:37-39

As I read our Bible reading for last week, I thought about the sad account of Jeroboam I of Israel. Like Solomon before him (1 Kings 3:10-15), the Lord gave him a conditional promise, after Solomon had turned to worship idols in the latter part of his reign. The Lord explained Solomon’s disobedience to Jeroboam and made this promise to him: “However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever’” (11:37-39 NIV).

Let’s notice a couple things about this promise. We need to think through this promise to grasp the tragic character of Jeroboam’s failure that we will look at next time.

  • Part of it proclaimed what God would certainly do. Jeroboam would rule over ten of the tribes of Israel. This portion of the covenant kingdom came to be known as Israel (it had the majority of the people) or Ephraim (a metonymy, using the name of the most prominent tribe for the whole), and many Bible teachers refer to it as “the northern kingdom”. This part is a simple statement of fact; God had chosen Jeroboam as the king or “shepherd” of his people. His authority to rule came from God’s sovereign act. I’ll let you ponder the significance of this in regard to presidential elections (cf. Romans 13:1-7).
  • Part of it involved the nature of Jeroboam’s desires. Read his story and you will see that he had a desire to lead, which can be a good desire if the person is truly godly, or evil and dangerous, if the person’s heart is not right with God. Understand clearly that the all-knowing Lord of the universe knew exactly the type of man Jeroboam was. The true story of God’s glory involves many such people.
  • The promise was conditional, as was the law covenant that Jeroboam lived under. It came with an “if”. This fact should not obscure in any way that this was a good and sincere promise. Had Jeroboam obeyed the Lord, he would have received the blessings. He would have had an enduring dynasty or house. God made a genuine offer to Jeroboam that he would have delivered on, if Jeroboam had obeyed. The goodness of God’s promises is not changed or tainted by the character of people to whom he offers them. For example, Jesus offers eternal life to all who will repent and believe. The fact that many reject or even despise the offer does not alter the truth that the Lord invites all to believe and live.
  • God motivated Jeroboam to obey in faith. David had received God’s covenant promise that he would have an enduring house or dynasty. God let Jeroboam know that he could also have a blessing like the one promised to the man after God’s own heart. God invited Jeroboam to think of what he had done for David. Jeroboam needed to trust God’s goodness.
  • The Lord explained this promise in relation to his promise to David. God did not hide any “fine print” from Jeroboam. In some way unexplained, Jeroboam could have an enduring house like David’s, though at some point greater glory would come to David’s house. How could this happen? Perhaps the descendants of Jeroboam might have been princes in David’s restored kingdom. God was not going to alter his eternal purpose in Christ (Ephesians 3:11). But the all-wise Lord could have worked out something highly significant. Jeroboam had only to trust the covenant Lord of Israel, and he and his family would have been richly blessed.

In the Bible, God has made an offer of eternal life to people. We can take the promise of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and tell it to the people that God has placed in our lives. Who is around you to whom you can tell the good news? We have a good promise; let’s tell it to others!

Grace and peace, David

The Bigger Story (Part Two)

IMG_4300Ruth 4:13-22

In one of our groups recently, we discussed the topic of God’s sovereignty. Our walk of faith can prosper when we realize that God is in control of all things, that he has a plan that he will achieve for his glory and the good of his people. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36 HCSB). We have seen this idea in the book of Ruth several times. In this article, we will focus on it again.

In Ruth, we read the turnarounds that are part of the Lord’s ways. Many times these happen in small events. The small stories are important to God. We have seen God’s provision for two widows. God had given laws about gleaning and a kinsman-redeemer to provide for the needy. At the end of this book, we see him giving Naomi and Ruth a new family. This was very important to them and also to his plan, and so God provided (cf. Psalm 68:4-6). Naomi’s emptiness was replaced with fullness through her daughter-in-law and her son; she could enjoy being grandma to little Obed (4:16). What a great blessing it is to have grandchildren and to be able to hold them on your lap and care for them. Naomi’s arms are no longer empty, because God filled them. Perhaps you face some severe struggles right now. Your outlook might be gloomy, and you might be asking, “Does God care about the little story of my life?” Yes, he does. You are part of his great story and are significant. For this reason, reach out to him in faith. Take refuge in him until the disaster has passed (Psalm 57:1). When you are afraid, trust in him (Psalm 56:3).

God used the unexpected. After Ruth bore a child, the women praised the Lord for what he had done through Ruth. They told Naomi that Ruth was “better than seven sons”. This was high praise for Ruth in a culture where sons were highly sought after. It was the highest honor they could give the former Moabite, who had become a woman of honor. Now, think of what God taught Israel in the Torah. The Lord had given them the two great commands (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18); he also told them to care for the alien living among them (Leviticus 19:33-34). But ironically, Ruth the alien was the one who taught Israel to care. She was like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). God did the unexpected through her.

The women celebrated two blessings for Naomi in the birth of Obed. Naomi was assured of a kinsman-redeemer in her grandson, and she had someone to care for her in her old age. Obed would renew her life or “turn her life back”. This is the same word as “brought back” in 1:21. How Naomi misevaluated her life then! She thought that the Lord had brought her back empty; surprise! God had given her a grandson who would bring back her life; he would sustain her in her old age. God did the unexpected. Have you been evaluating your life by its present circumstances? You need to change your mind and reevaluate them by your relationship to Christ. Are you in Christ? Then you have one who will renew or bring back your life again and again and again. But there is more to see that we in our culture don’t want to see.

The Lord also teaches the importance of community. We need to grow in our understanding and application of the truth of God’s set apart people, of our spiritual family. We need to join with those that Christ has joined us to. If we know the Lord, we are to share our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means much more than some casual chitchat on Sunday mornings. Our Father in heaven uses the sharing of life of his people to bring about good in our lives. Notice two examples of their community in action.

The neighboring women named the baby Obed (4:17). They named him Obed, which means “servant”. They saw his future as one able to serve Naomi and to provide for her when he matured. The community sensed the significance of the child and shared it with Naomi. Everybody could rejoice in what the Lord had done for her!  Perhaps letting others help name a baby seems strange to us in a self-absorbed western culture, but it seems that the parents would get all sorts of suggestions from their family and neighbors about naming a child (cf. Luke 1:59-66). They had a much healthier understanding of the need for community in a person’s life.

The women of the community celebrated the birth of Ruth’s son and Naomi’s grandson. The birth of a child is an important event in human life and should be celebrated. Sometimes men joke about women’s concerns about bridal and baby showers, but such times are important. Here the Holy Spirit puts God’s approval upon such events by putting this common event into the story; later Jesus showed the same sort of approval by attending a wedding and providing the best wine at the reception (John 2).

We need to be sharing all of life with one another. Read God’s word and pray that it will transform your thinking about your place and function in God’s family in a greater way than you have ever experienced.

Grace and peace, David

The Bigger Story (Part One)

IMG_1012Ruth 4:13-22

Good morning, dear friends! So how are you today? How do you like your life now? Are you content? Or are you really wishing for more? Are you feeling discouraged or depressed? Does it seem like the Lord cares? Or do you feel that he has forgotten you? Sometimes we may wonder. We might pray something like this: “Father in heaven, I believe that you are Lord of heaven and earth and that you have the absolute right to do whatever you want to do. But what in the world are you doing? This hurts so much! Why are you doing this?”

“The explanation for much that takes place in our lives lies well beyond our own lives, and may be hidden from us all through our lives! For God does not mean to touch only our lives by what he does in us; he has the lives of others in view—even those yet unborn. That is why life can seem so untidy for the people of God. He has not yet finished his business” (Ferguson, Faithful God, p. 145).

We must fully understand that we are part of the story of God’s glory. Life is not the story of your personal happiness or mine; it is not about you or me. It is God’s story, but because it is God’s story, our lives have meaning and significance, even if we are people like Ruth and Naomi. Their lives seemed to be ruined, but God brought them into his story, and now we get to see their part in God’s bigger story. Let’s think about three truths that become clear in this last section. We will focus on the first of these today.

Consider the Lord’s power. The Lord enabled Ruth to conceive (4:13). This can seem very strange to American people, who assume that people are in charge of everything. It actually portrays a very shallow acquaintance with life. If you doubt my words, think of the many couples who cannot reproduce.

Reflect on the earlier part of Ruth’s story. Ruth had been married once and had not been pregnant. If she had borne a child for Mahlon, we would not have had this story. She fits in the “barren wife” theme that is in the Scriptures (Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth, etc.) This reminds us that God is the source of life: “and life comes from God” (words from the praise song, “You are God”). We need to restore this viewpoint in our thinking. For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. (Psalm 139:13-16 HCSB).

God makes us and prepares us for the mission he gives to us (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). You are significant in the context of the plan of God. God has made you what you are in order to serve him in your family, your church, your nation, and the world. Sadly, the godless have no sense of purpose; their life is meaningless; weep for them if you understand!

As God gave fruitfulness to the land (1:6), so he gave fruitfulness to Ruth (4:13). This was in answer to the prayers of the people at the gate (4:11). The women also prayed that Ruth’s child would become famous in Israel (4:14). As we shall see, that prayer was also answered. Prayer is one of God’s means toward fulfilling his purposes. We do not have, because we do not ask God (Matthew 7:7-11; James 4:2c).

This is important in the life of your local church at this moment in time. In a time of great uncertainty, your local assembly may be struggling. You need to trust the Lord to adapt and to have boldness to do new things for his glory. The past is past. Stir up one another to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave us (Matthew 28:18-20). In the midst of troubles, think on the new opportunities that God provides. We all need to walk by faith with our Risen Lord, and realize that he rules over everything for the good of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). We need to think and act prudently, and we need to pray fervently. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. (James 5:16b-18 HCSB).

Grace and peace, David