Day 2: When You Can’t See God’s Faithfulness

Read: Ruth 1:6-14

Reflect: With Elimelech dead, the story shifts to the newly widowed Naomi. You can only imagine the emotions she is feeling at having lost her husband and both of her sons. Especially in a patriarchical society, for a woman to lose her husband and sons was to lose everything. She is empty, alone, poor and hopeless. She has nothing and has no one. 

Yeah, her daughters-in-law are there, but she tells them to go back home. She wanted to be alone in her sorrow and grief and bitterness. If God was against her, she figures that the best she could do for Orpah and Ruth would be to get rid of them. 

Unfortunately for Naomi, she could not see the first hints of God’s faithfulness. The passage opens with word getting to Naomi that there was food is Israel. But even more importantly are the words “the Lord had visited his people” (vs 6). She missed the spiritual implication completely. In her bitterness and grief, she missed it. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the children first hear the phrase, “Aslan is on the move”, the story tells us that the children were filled with courage and warmth and excitement, even if also a little fear and trepidation. They didn’t yet know Aslan, but they understood that something big was happening. 

Instead of experiencing spiritual renewal at hearing that God was on the move and had visited Israel, she tried to get rid of her daughters-in-law so that she could wallow in her grief alone. She threw herself a pity party and in the process, she missed the first hints of the faithfulness of God. The good news: there is more of his faithfulness yet to come, both for Naomi and for us.

Respond:

  • Where in your life today are you experiencing emptiness or bitterness like Naomi? 
  • When is a time in your life that you pushed away those closest to you so that you could wallow in your pity and sorrow? 
  • Looking back on your life, where can you see God at work now that you missed it in the moment the way Naomi did? 
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Day 1: Leaving the House of Bread in a time of famine

Read: Ruth 1-15

Reflect: Our story opens by quickly drawing us, the readers, into the drama as we meet our characters and the setting in which they find themselves. There is a famine in the land and a guy named Elimelech decides that the best way to care for his family is to leave Bethlehem to try and find food somewhere else. So he, Naomi (his wife) and his 2 sons pack up and hit the road. Ok, fine, you can read those details easily enough and don’t need me to retell it. 

But there is something deeper going on both in Israel and in Elimelech’s heart. A famine in Israel was not just a shortage of food. It was a punishment for the sin and idolatry of the people (see Deut. 28). It was more than just a famine. It was a depiction of the spiritual health of the people. And it wasn’t good. The people of Israel were far from God. Elimelech was far from God… 

How do I know? 2 things from the passage: First, look at what he named his kids. Mahlon means “weak and sickly” and Chilion means “pining or wasting away.” Who names their kids that? Second, they go to land of Moab, a known enemy of Israel and a people literally birthed in sin (see Gen 19:30-38, but warning, it gets a little weird). And not only does he lead his family to Moab, but he lets his sons marry Moabite women, something strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law. 

What started as a little roadtrip to find some food ends in the place where all sin and running from God ends: death. By the end of verse 5, Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion are all dead, leaving behind three destitute widows with no hope or future. The great, sad irony? Bethlehem, the city they left to head to Moab, means “House of Bread.” They left the House of Bread in a time of famine. And it cost them everything.

Respond:

  • When is a time in your life that you have experienced a spiritual famine? 
  • Elimelech went to Moab for food. Where do you go to try and provide for yourself in those times of spiritual famine? 
  • What words would you use to describe where you are spiritually as we start our trip? 

The Covenantal Faithfulness of God: A Daily Devotional

God has provided me the incredible opportunity to serve for the next 2 weeks in Manila, Philippines. I hope to share some stories of how God is at work through our team and, maybe as importantly, how God is at work in me during this time. But additionally, the trip leader, my good friend Dennis, asked me to lead the team in devotions. Each day I will post a daily reading, reflection and invitation to respond from the book of Ruth

These are designed for the team, but you are invited to study Ruth alongside of us. I apologize in advance for any grammar and spelling mistakes. Much of this was written during my long haul flight when sleep was evading me…

And, finally, before proceeding to Day 1, here is a quick setting the stage of the book of Ruth. 


Grace is like water – It flows downhill and pools up in the lowest places.” This simple, but profound, insight from Geography of Grace invites us to approach our time in the Philippines with great humility and earnest longing to see God at work. We will be invited into the depths of the need, pain, brokenness and sorrow amongst those who have often labeled as the least, the last and the lost. We are going to see those who have experienced all of the vulnerability and exploitation of life in a broken world.

And when we do, we are going to find something unexpected: the grace of God, pooling up in the lowest places.

There is a Hebrew word that describes that radical grace God shows to his people: hesed. Our English Bibles typically translate hesed as steadfast love, kindness or loyalty. It is a beautiful word to depict God’s covenantal faithfulness. As the Jesus Storybook Bible describes it, it is a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love. That is hesed.  

Matthew’s gospel opens with the genealogy of Jesus in which he names 5 of the most important women of all time. One of those women was a poor, destitute, widowed foreigner who grew up worshipping other gods but who grew to experience and cherish the kindness, the hesed of God: Ruth.

You may be familiar with the book of Ruth: It is a moving story of love and redemption. But let me suggest that Ruth is much more than a good love story (it is not less than that, but it mis certainly more than that). Ruth is a beautiful narrated tale of how the hesed of God takes the outcasts and the outsiders, the lost and the lonely, pours his radical grace upon them and then calls them his own. 

Over the course of our time in the Philippines, we are all invited to a study of Ruth. Maybe even today read through the whole story (it’s only 4 short chapters… you can do it!) and then each day there will be a short passage from Ruth with a couple of questions designed to help you process both the story of Ruth and how the grace of God is pooling up unexpectedly in low places among the people we encounter throughout the Philippines.

A Letter to my Congregation: Pastoral Reflections on Yesterday’s Election

Dear Christian–

We wake up this morning to a new world. Some people are excited, some are saddened and some are devastated… but nearly everyone is shocked. And, ironically, I probably could have written this email regardless of who won last night.

I will leave it to the pundits to try and understand how this happened, what it says about the state of the American public and American politics. But as your pastor, my deeper concern is for the fracturing in our country. Each of us has friends and family (and maybe this even describes you) who are hurting and angry. Half of our country feels disenfranchised, scared or completely betrayed by the system.

So what will we, the church, do now?

The church must walk in integrity. Never has the world needed our faithful walk of obedience more than now. May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be full of character and known for our honesty and kindness to all people.

The church must be a beacon of hope in the midst of darkness, confusion and instability. People are going to be looking for something firm to hold onto, and initial indications are that even the financial markets will experience significant turbulation and uncertainty. Politics may fail and finances may falter, but we have the hope of the risen Christ as our foundation.

The church must demonstrate peace and unity. Of all the words to describe our nation right now, words like polarized, fractured, broken and angry come to mind. Not peace and unity. In the coming days, there will be a lot of talk of unifying and drawing together. But it won’t work, not apart from the Spirit’s help anyway. Peace and unity are only possible if they start with the church and are modeled by the church.

The church must pray for wisdom for our leaders. We, as a nation, have a long road ahead with internal and external challenges facing us. All of our elected officials will need the wisdom of Solomon to govern well. So let us pray for that wisdom.

The church must honor and dignify those whom God made in his image. We have a President-elect who has successfully offended and angered women, immigrant, Muslims and many more. Racial tensions are high. Into this brokenness, we can be known as those who build up those who feel most disenfranchised and devalued. And maybe for you, dignifying and honoring God’s image-bearers means respecting our soon-to-be president.

The church must model compassion to the least, the last and the lost. May we be known for our radical generosity and love for those who feel like the system has failed them and need help. Julian the Apostate, the 4th century Roman Emporor, once famously said,”These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their fellowship, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.” This pagan emperor’s biggest problem with Christians is that they were so generous in caring for the poor. May the same be said of us.

The church must be a prophetic voice of truth to the world. Into a world of empty words, deceitful words and false words, we are to speak truth with grace. Because Jesus is truth.

Friends, the world is changing right before our eyes. We could get swept up in the changes. But that is not what the world needs right now. We have the incredible opportunity to be a calming presence to an anxious nation. And we can do so because our hope is not in the president, but in the High King. Let us rest and hope in the words of Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

For Christ,
Steve

From Suffering to Praise: A sermon on 1 Peter 5:6-11

Peacekeeping vs Peacemaking (Be a peacemaker)

PeaceMakerThe great book of Esther, which I have been studying for the last year plus, concludes with stating that Mordecai (Esther’s cousin and now second in command of all Persia) “spoke peace to all his people” (Es 10:3). Likewise, the apostle Paul spoke peace upon the churches. In fact, every epistle in the New Testament, except for Hebrews, James and 1 & 3 John open with the author pouring “grace and peace” upon his readers.

And Jesus? Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), he brings peace on earth (Lk 2:14) and he gives peace (Jn 14:27), he makes peace for us with God (Rom 5:1) and he is our peace (Eph2:14).

And us? We are called to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Notice Jesus calls us to be peacemakers… not peacekeepers. Important distinction.

Peacekeeping assumes everything is ok and strives to maintain the status quo. Peacemaking assumes things are broken and in need of repair.

Peacekeepers detrimentally overlook the pains, heartaches and realities of life in a sinful world. Peacekeepers try to pretend everything is okay. Peacekeepers sweet the dirt under the carpet and hope nobody notices. Peacekeepers shove the skeletons in the closet and tell people not to open it. And what does the Lord God call peacekeepers? False prophets. “My hand will be against the prophets… Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash” (Ez 13:9,10). Peacekeepers try and whitewash the problem and make it go away. And that is no peace…

True peace, biblical peace, is not marked by safety and security but by reconciliation and restoration. Peace is not by a temporary ceasefire, but by ultimate victory. Peace is not cheap, but the price of peace is the blood of Jesus (Col 1:20). Peace is not the absence of a threat but the presence of the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was a peacemaker… and he made peace by giving his life. The call for us, and what I pray is the yearning of my life as I long to be called a son of God, is that I would, like Jesus, make peace. Not that cheap, meaningless temporary ceasefire of peace, but a peace that is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit… to put together what has fallen apart, to reconcile that which is broken, and to restore that which is damaged.

I want to speak peace. I want to be a peacemaker.

You Bled: A Good Friday Responsive Reading

goodfridaybloodIn preparation for our 2015 Good Friday service, I wrote the following responsive reading as part of a service that will call our congregation to reflect on blood: its importance Scripturally, its unique role in God’s story of redemption and the preciousness of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Leader reads L / Congregation reads C

L: When in the earnestness of your prayer, sweat formed on your brow, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: When you were arrested and beaten, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: As the nails drove through your hands and feet, hanging you on the cross, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: When they pierced your side, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: While I was your enemy, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: Even when I denied knowing you, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: For the sins of the world, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

L: For my sins, you bled.
C: Your blood, shed for me.

A: By your blood we are forgiven. By your blood we are saved. We cling to the blood of Jesus. Amen.