Good, Good Father: Psalm 103, 16 June 2024

Good, Good Father: Psalm 103
Restoring Your Soul: Psalms 

 
Series Big Idea: The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
 
Big Idea: The LORD is a good, good Father to those who love and fear Him.
 
Several years ago, I shared about my dad’s funeral. It was one of the greatest days of my life, which may sound strange, but it was a tremendous honor to celebrate the life of the greatest man I ever knew, a life which was slowly extinguished through Lewy body dementia. Dad was not perfect, but he pointed me to the One who is, and on this Father’s Day in the middle of a series on the Psalms, it seems appropriate to examine Psalm 103 and what is written about our good, good Father.
 
 
Happy Father’s Day. I realize for many, it’s not. Death, abuse, or abandonment are but three reasons you might be struggling today as a dad or the child of a dad. Calling God “Father” is challenging for some who are triggered by the mention of dad rather than comforted by the word. If that’s you, I want to draw your attention to the truth of our heavenly Father and let that be your starting point rather than trying to associate God with your earthly one. It’s worth noting there are 22 verses in this psalm, corresponding with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of Psalm 103, “There is too much in this Psalm for a thousand pens to write about.”
 
Psalm 103 begins with praise, much as our morning did today
                                
Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1, NLT)
 
God is worthy of our praise, our worship, our attention…all of it! Have you ever given someone your divided attention? I’m not a big fan of the telephone because I’m sometimes tempted to be multi-tasking…checking an e-mail, looking out the window, or surfing the Internet. If I have to look at you on a screen or face-to-face, I’m more likely to give you all of my attention.
 
That’s what God wants…all of us. All of our praise. Our whole heart. He’s holy and worthy. He deserves it!
 
In the past few years, we’ve seen the popularity of Taylor Swift skyrocket, with countless Swifties captivated by seemingly everything she says, does, and sings. They praise her with thunderous applause after each song. They spend millions of dollars on tickets, t-shirts, and recordings. She fills their thoughts, and perhaps even their dreams. One church even devoted a Sunday to her faith-filled lyrics and 1200 people showed up…and this is in Germany!
 
I’m not here to promote or critique Taylor Swift, but she’s a singer. How much more should we praise the LORD?!
 
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. (Psalm 103:2, NLT)
 
All that I am. What good things has He done for you? Tell someone now. If you needed help, here’s some ideas:
 
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! (Psalm 103:3-5, NLT)
 
That’s Someone worth praising and adoring! He forgives, heals, redeems or delivers, crowns, loves, fills, and renews. Hallelujah!
  
The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. (Psalm 103:6, NLT)
 
Let’s pause for a moment and meditate on that verse. How does it make you feel? It gives me hope for those experiencing injustice. Think of a time when you were treated unfairly. It’s a helpless, angering thing. But God sees. He sees you today. Take comfort. Obviously, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help the oppressed—quite the opposite—but God will right all wrongs…someday…maybe in this life, maybe in the next. He is a good Father. He loves His children. It doesn’t mean they always get what they want when they want it, but in the end, justice will be served.
 
 
He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. (Psalm 103:7, NLT)
 
It’s impossible to overstate the work of God through the Exodus. He called Moses to lead the people out of Egyptian slavery and provided for them during their forty-year journey of disobedience and grumbling in the wilderness. This included parting the Red Sea, feeding them manna, and sending quail before bringing them to the Promised Land of Canaan.
 
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. (Psalm 103:8, NLT)
 
God
does get angry, and anger is not a sin. It’s a primary emotion which can result in sinful or righteous behavior. We should get angry about things like child abuse and sex trafficking. Tragically, many fathers are not compassionate, merciful, or loving, instead quick to get angry, but not our Heavenly Dad. He’s the perfect example for us earthly dads. These words weren’t David’s idea, but quoted from God Himself in Exodus 34:6
 
The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out,
 
            “Yahweh! The LORD!
                        The God of compassion and mercy!
            I am slow to anger
                        and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6, NLT)
 
At least nine times in the. Bible we’re told God is slow to anger. Aren’t you glad? I believe there are two common extremes when it comes to God the Father. The first is that He’s an old, weak creature in the sky who is asleep, distracted, or just plain disinterested in us. Because our prayers are not always answered in vending-machine style, people assume He doesn’t care. The other extreme is angry God, mean God, out-to-get-you God who is waiting for one slip up so He can zap you and make your life miserable. Both are destructive images of God.
 
What God wants more than anything is you! All of you. He wants your heart, soul, mind, and body. He wants your love, time, and worship. It’s not about manipulation, ego, or insecurity but relationship. He sometimes uses trials and suffering to get our attention, to get our minds off ourselves and onto Him, to remind us of His presence, power, and love.
 
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:9-12, NLT)
 
It seems to me there are some Christians who love to emphasis God’s wrath and judgment. The other extreme—that He’s just a nice Mr. Rogers figure who is aloof and always gentle—is damaging, too, but look at these beautiful truths. God never changes. These words were true thousands of years ago and they’re true today. He backed them up by sending Jesus to die in our place, to forgive our sins, to reconcile us to our heavenly Father. In fact, I believe one of the primary reasons God hates sin is simply because he knows it always hurts us. When a loving parent says to a child, “Don’t touch the hot stove,” it’s not about them having power or being offended by the action, but rather they don’t want to see their child suffer.
 
Does God hate sin? Yes, because God hates to see His kids suffer, and sin inevitably leads to death of one kind or another.
 
Now we come to our scripture reading text, our Father’s Day passage, if you will. We’ve seen God’s compassion on His sinning people and now we turn to God’s compassion on His weak and frail children.
 
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. (Psalm 103:13-15, NLT)
 
The LORD is a good, good Father!
 
The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here. But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! (Psalm 103:16-18, NLT)
 
The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. (Psalm 103:19, NLT)
 
Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands. Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! (Psalm 103:20-21, NLT)
 
Praise the LORD, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom.
 
Let all that I am praise the LORD. (Psalm 103:22, NLT)
 
We were created to know and praise the LORD.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

The Crimson Worm: Psalm 22, 9 June 2024

The Crimson Worm: Psalm 22
Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea: The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
 
Big Idea: Psalm 22 is a remarkable portrait of the suffering Messiah centuries before his birth who is worthy of our worship and praise today.
 
On Friday, September 22, 2006, I was in one of the darkest moments of my life, living in a hospital with a sick child at the beginning of what would be a nine-year journey of pain and suffering, one which still impacts my life and family to this day in both good and tragic ways. My journal records me clinging to God, knowing that He is good and faithful and in control, and I was certainly out of control. Rather than play Bible Roulette and hope some inspiring scripture would appear as I randomly opened the book, I looked at the date, saw it was September 22, and turned to Psalm 22. I could hardly get beyond the first verse.
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
 
 
I shared this story several years ago, but as we continue our series on the Psalms, I wanted to return to this prophetic text which literally made me weep. Perhaps the words are familiar, not from the pen of King David, but the lips of King Jesus. The scene is the crucifixion of Jesus on the day we call Good Friday. He is hanging on the cross, nails in his wrists and feet, thorns on his head, and agony in his heart, body, and soul.
 
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Mark 15:33-34, NIV)
 
Some might think my connection to these words had to do with my suffering, but instead it thrust me into an empathy with God the Father like never before. My child—and God’s son—were in tremendous agony, but they were not alone in their pain. It’s been said the worst thing a human can do is bury their child. One of the things near the top is parenting a suffering child.
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
 
Jesus knew the scriptures and quoted them from the cross. Psalm 22—like the rest of the psalms—was originally a song. We’re even told about the music.
                                
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David. (Psalm 22:0)
 
I wish I could hum the tune for you, but David failed to record it!
 
Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 on the cross, but we never need to fear about God forsaking us. The writer of Hebrews said,
 
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
 
            “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)
 
That’s good news. That’s great news! When you’re hurting, lonely, afraid, rejected, anxious, discouraged, depressed, disappointed, or just sad, cling to this promise. A few psalms later, it says,
 
For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. (Psalm 37:28a, NIV)
 
God will not forsake you…ever. David felt forsaken by God, but it was never a reality.
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
            Why are you so far from saving me,
            so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
 
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
            by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2, NIV)
 
How many of you can relate to sleepless nights? It’s not just a new parent thing!
 
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
            you are the one Israel praises. (Psalm 22:3, NIV)
 
I love how David shifts gears. This is common in his prayers and psalms. He’ll go from one extreme to the other, angry and then confident, depressed then hopeful. I think begins looking inward at his own circumstances and then looks up. Don’t miss this, though…
we can pour out our heart to God.
 
I think this is one reason why David is called a man after God’s own heart…twice. He kept it real. He didn’t wear a mask or pretend everything was ok. He was fully present in the moment, honest about his God-given emotions, and held nothing back, but he didn’t remain in his misery. After getting things off his chest, he looked up to God and remembered his conversation partner.
 
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
            you are the one Israel praises. (Psalm 22:3, NIV)
 
This is our God!
 
In you our ancestors put their trust;
            they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
            in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Psalm 22:4-5, NIV)
 
We can trust God fully. I’m so glad. From generation to generation, God is faithful. He is trustworthy, and He’s the same God today as He was thousands of years ago when this was written.
 
Now David shifts again, this time returning to himself.
 
But I am a worm and not a man,
            scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
            they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (Psalm 22:6-7, NIV)
 
I am a worm. What an interesting statement. We’ve already seen the prophetic nature of this psalm with echoes of Jesus on the cross.
 
What’s fascinating here is found in the original Hebrew language. A common worm or maggot is “rimmah,” but here the word for “worm” is “towla” or “tola’ath,” referencing a specific, crimson worm found in Israel. It’s actually a deep scarlet, the color of blood. 
 
I heard a podcast about this crimson worm and almost drove my car off the road! A red dye was extracted from this worm, used for the curtains in the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and the high priest’s garments. The dye was also used to purify a leper (Lev. 14:4-6). Listen to this:
 
When the female crimson worm is ready to lay her eggs, which happens only once in her life, she climbs up a tree or fence and attaches herself to it.  With her body attached to the wooden tree, a hard crimson shell forms. It is a shell so hard and so secured to the wood that it can only be removed by tearing apart the body, which would kill the worm.  
 
The female worm lays her eggs under her body, under the protective shell. When the larvae hatch, they remain under the mother’s protective shell so the baby worms can feed on the living body of the mother worm for three days.  After three days, the mother worm dies, and her body excretes a crimson or scarlet dye that stains the wood to which she is attached and her baby worms. The baby worms remain crimson-colored for their entire lives.  Thereby, they are identified as crimson worms.
 
On day four, the tail of the mother worm pulls up into her head, forming a heart-shaped body that is no longer crimson but has turned into a snow-white wax that looks like a patch of wool on the tree or fence. It then begins to flake off and drop to the ground looking like snow.
 
Isaiah 1:18 says,
 
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
            says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
            they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
            they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)
 
Is that crazy or what? This is a picture of Jesus, dying on a tree to save us. Three days. Death. Heart-shaped body. Snow white…
 
500-1000 years before Jesus is crucified King David references a crimson worm with prophetic language. Amazing! Let’s return to the text:
 
“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
            “let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
            since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:8, NIV)
 
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
            you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
            from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:9-10, NIV)
 
David praises the LORD for His deliverance. He trusts God, even in the midst of trials.
 
Do not be far from me,
            for trouble is near
            and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:11, NIV)
 
Many bulls surround me;
            strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. (Psalm 22:12, NIV)
 
Roaring lions that tear their prey
            open their mouths wide against me. (Psalm 22:13, NIV)
 
Yikes!
 
I am poured out like water,
            and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
            it has melted within me. (Psalm 22:14, NIV)
 
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
            and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
            you lay me in the dust of death. (Psalm 22:15, NIV)
 
Have you ever felt like this?
 
Dogs surround me,
            a pack of villains encircles me;
            they pierce  my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16, NIV)
 
Did you catch that reference to Jesus’ crucifixion?
 
All my bones are on display;
            people stare and gloat over me. (Psalm 22:17, NIV)
 
They divide my clothes among them
            and cast lots for my garment. (Psalm 22:18, NIV)
 
This happened to Jesus in John 19:24. This is a bleak picture that shifts yet again.
 
But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
            You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (Psalm 22:19, NIV)
 
Deliver me from the sword,
            my precious life from the power of the dogs. (Psalm 22:20, NIV)
 
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
            save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (Psalm 22:21, NIV)
 
I will declare your name to my people;
            in the assembly I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22, NIV)
 
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
            All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
            Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (Psalm 22:23, NIV)
 
For he has not despised or scorned
            the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
            but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24, NIV)
 
God always hears His children. It’s hard to understand why He sometimes seems distant or even sleeping, but He will never forsake you. In the midst of your darkest suffering, He is present. And He understands.
 
Jesus knows suffering. He lived a perfect life, yet he was executed by that which he created.
 
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
            before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. (Psalm 22:25, NIV)
 
There are a few more verses.
 
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
            those who seek the LORD will praise him—
            may your hearts live forever! (Psalm 22:26, NIV)
 
All the ends of the earth
            will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
            will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the LORD
            and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28, NIV)
 
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
            all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
            those who cannot keep themselves alive. (Psalm 22:29, NIV)
 
Posterity will serve him;
            future generations will be told about the Lord. (Psalm 22:30, NIV)
 
They will proclaim his righteousness,
            declaring to a people yet unborn:
            He has done it! (Psalm 22:31, NIV)
 
Hallelujah!
 
So What?
 
The Bible is filled with prophecy, including over 300 Old Testament references that foreshadow Jesus hundreds of years before his birth. The crimson worm is an incredible symbol of Christ and his work on the cross to die for our sins and reconcile us to the Father. We see David’s gut-wrenching honesty followed by praise to the Almighty. Ultimately we see the LORD reigns over all and is worthy of our worship and devotion.


You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Choosing Your Next Chapter, 19 May 2024

Choosing Your Next Chapter
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 4:1-12

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories.
 
Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Isn’t that exciting? What are you going to do about it? If you’re like most people, you live moment to moment, day to day, hoping something will magically interrupt your routine and change your life. Unfortunately, life is filled with interruptions, but not always the “you’ve won a new car” or “you’re up for a promotion” or “we’re pregnant” kind.
 
Whether you know it or not, you and I are creating the future…every day.
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. Our character and actions matter.
 
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they are a college graduate! There is a long process of application, registration, classes, and exams over several years which lead to a diploma.
 
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they are in great physical shape. There is a long process of visits to the fitness club, time on the treadmill, and weightlifting.
 
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they have a great marriage, respectful kids, and beautiful grandchildren. There is a long process of dating, sacrifice, sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and parent/teacher conferences, among other things!
 
We’re in the final chapter of the book of Ruth, a short yet powerful story of two widows and a man who God uses to bless one another and—ultimately—change the world. At the end of their lives, they had no idea how God would use their kindness and decisions to impact the future of human civilization…literally.
 
 
This book is filled with hesed…kindness, blessings done by and to all three characters. Hesed is a Hebrew word. I wish there was an English word that was more accurate than kindness or blessing, but it’s a beautiful thing done by and to humans…and God.
 
Naomi and her husband are from Bethlehem. A famine comes and they move to Moab, likely searching for food and a better way of life. Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving Naomi alive with her two daughters-in-law. She tells them to return to their families of origin. One does, but Ruth refuses, instead committing herself to Naomi. The two widows go to Bethlehem where Ruth gleans in the fields of a man named Boaz in hopes of avoiding starvation. Boaz hears about Ruth’s kindness and commitment toward Naomi and shows kindness to Ruth, including access to an abundance of food. Naomi instructs Ruth to essentially propose to Boaz, an act viewed by Boaz as kindness. He is very interested in marrying her, but according to the law, the closest male relative had the primary responsibility to marry a widow, and it wasn’t Boaz.
 
Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. (Ruth 4:1a, NLT)
 
Toledo doesn’t have a town gate, at least not one of which I’m aware. Back in the day, the
city gate was the center of life, where all important business was done. Perhaps it was like our city hall…One Government Center…or even Franklin Park Mall before Amazon! The difference was almost everyone passed through the gate twice a day on their way to and from the fields.
 
When someone was praised in the gates, it was a sign they were being honored by the community. The woman in Proverbs 31 is one example.
 
Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by, so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together. 2 Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses. 3 And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. (Ruth 4:1b-3, NLT)
 
The
South Asia Bible Commentary offers this helpful background:
 
Elimelek’s land would have been sold to someone outside the family when they left Bethlehem. When Naomi returned with Ruth, she probably did not have the means to reclaim it. So Naomi had land over which she had historical claim, but no actual ownership (an all-too-familiar situation in South Asia). The only way for her to get the land back was for it to be restored in the Year of Jubilee or redeemed by a kinsman-redeemer prepared to pay the full price.
 
I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”
 
            The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4, NLT)
 
Deal! But there’s a catch to this land.
 
Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.” (Ruth 4:5, NLT)
 
Land for sale…wife included! Of course! For some, this might be a bonus, but evidently this man said, “No deal.”
 
“Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.” (Ruth 4:6, NLT)
 
This deal would jeopardize his kids’ inheritance…we don’t know about the wife part, but he rejects the offer. His own kids would not get to inherit the land, something which might not make complete sense to us in our culture, but it was a big deal.
 
Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. 8 So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.” (Ruth 4:7-8, NLT)
 
There were no notary publics or title companies, but they had their own ways of doing real estate transactions. It’s interesting that we never know the name of the man who had the first right of refusal. He’s the rightful heir to the land, yet he declines.
 
Then Boaz said to the elders and to the crowd standing around, “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.” (Ruth 4:9-10, NLT)
 
Boaz is a good man. He was respected in the community as was his family. He was a direct descendant of one of Israel’s greatest leaders, Nahshon. He wants to preserve the name of Naomi’s husband and relatives. He didn’t need more land. He didn’t need more power. His concern was for Ruth, not the land. His act seems to be one of generosity and kindness. Remember, Ruth was barren with her first husband who died, so talk of a son is wishful thinking or pure faith. Contrary to those who see Boaz as the hero of the story, he’s not. God is.
Throughout this short book we’ve been introduced to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. They are an unlikely trinity God uses—each in a unique way—to execute His will, His plan, His purposes. But I love this move on the part of Boaz. He’s concerned not about himself, but saving the family of Elimelech, Naomi’s late husband. Jesus said,
`
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25, NIV).
 
The Kingdom of God is an upside kingdom as I said on Resurrection Sunday. Blessings—God’s kindness, His “hesed” to use the Hebrew word without a clear English equivalent—often follow selfless acts.
 
When is the last time you sacrificed for another person? When did you stand up to injustice and defend the weak, the widow, the stranger, the orphan? When did you last take a faith-filled risk and do something that cost you something, that got you out of your comfort zone, that involved losing your life for God or another?
 
As I said, this book is filled with hesed…kindness, blessings done by and to all three characters. So much of this scene is not about any of them, but rather Elimelech and his legacy. Instead of merely starting a family, Boaz and Ruth will rescue a family. These three image bearers join God in saving the world, and we’re invited into that same mission. But it is rarely easy. It’s certainly not safe. But it’s worth it.
 
Do you remember the gate at the beginning of the chapter, the center of community life?
 
Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the LORD make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the LORD give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth 4:11-12, NLT)
 
Author
Carolyn Custis James notes,
 
Bethlehemites pray that, like Rachel and Leah, Ruth will be a nation builder too. More significantly, they connect Ruth to Tamar,1 the revered mother of their tribe. She and Ruth have a lot in common. Both were foreigners who married Israelite men. Both are widowed (Tamar twice) and exhibit deep familial loyalty by courageously breaking with social protocol (an understatement in Tamar’s case) to rescue their deceased husbands from extinction. As with Ruth, Tamar’s righteous actions had a profound spiritual impact on a man. She pulled her father-in-law, Judah, out of a spiritual ditch and back on the solid path, where he thereafter lived as a true son of Yahweh. Tamar was the mother of Perez, from whom Elimelech, Boaz, Mr. No-Name, and other Bethlehemites descended…Ruth’s family surpasses the glories of Perez…
 
But that’s for next week! Here’s a hint: Bethlehem!
 
So What?
 
Throughout the book of Ruth, we see examples of providence…the protective care of God. There are some who live life as if it all depends upon God and we’re just pawns who can do nothing to change the future…or even the present. After all, God is sovereign and in control of all things, so we should sit back and watch (although some of these people might make voting an exception!). Others—obviously atheists and agnostics are included—believe it all depends upon humans. We make the messes and we have to clean them up. Carolyn Custis James writes,
 
one of the central tenets of providence — concurrence — which is the fact that the “God in whom we confess faith invites us to participate with him in the completion of his program for the world.” His preferred method of getting things done is to work through his image bearers. We aren’t spectators to what God is doing in the world, but participants. Right from the beginning and still today, he is fulfilling his great plan for the world through our actions and efforts. It may come as a surprise to some, but providence is one of the strongest incentives God could give us for bold, vigorous activism.
 
I love that! We’ve been invited by Almighty God to co-create, to co-labor, to do life with God for the sake of the world. For example, when you pray, “LORD, please feed the starving children,” perhaps God is saying the same thing to us! We can sponsor a child with Compassion, International. We can serve food at Cherry Street’s Mac Café. We can foster or adopt a child and end food scarcity for one young life.
 
The book of Ruth is a story about God, but also Naomi and Ruth and Boaz. It’s almost as if God wrote the script and they are the actors on stage. You need both!
 
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. Every day we make choices which will impact ourselves…and others. Often we fail to see the influence we have, and perhaps that influence will not be known until after we die. What kind of legacy are you living and leaving?
 
This is a great moment to remind you of the importance of a will. Many people don’t have one, and if you have more than one dollar in the bank, it’s probably a good idea to get one. Our
“give” page on the church website has some resources. Imagine the legacy you could leave if you left some of your wealth to the Alliance Great Commission Fund to support International Workers for decades to come. How different would First Alliance be if your passing could help fund a Dream Center where kids could meet Jesus and shoot hoops instead of guns. Wouldn’t it be great if people approach you in heaven and tell stories of how your generosity led to them to be there with you?
 
Those are but a few financial examples, but the same can be said of our time, talents, love, and kindness. Our world is desperate for hope, and we’re called to be hope dealers. Our world is desperate for love, and we are to be known for our love. Our world is desperate for relationships, and we were created for community.
 
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. What do you want that story to be?

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Four Signs You Might Have a Keeper, 5 May 2024

Four Signs You Might Have a Keeper
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 2:10-23
 
Series Big Idea: God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: If you want a good friend, be a good friend.
 
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
 
Which of those qualities are people born with?
 
Which of those qualities are character that is developed?
 
Today’ we’re returning to the book of Ruth, one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible. The first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does, but Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law despite the bleak prospects of two widows trying to survive.
 
In chapter two, Boaz is introduced as this wealthy and influential man who hears about Ruth’s commitment to Naomi and her commitment to God. The big idea two weeks ago was God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. It’s not a magic formula, but Ruth is a stellar example of someone faithful to God and Naomi and Ruth blessed by a relationship with Boaz. Spoiler alert: they get married, so today, we’re looking at four signs you might have a keeper. This not only applies to dating and marriage, but any friendship.
  
Before we get into the four signs of a keeper, let
me say again if you want a good friend, be a good friend.
 
I used to wonder why I rarely had friends call me (some of you remember when you used a phone to talk to someone!) and then I realized I wasn’t initiating. Don’t expect a gift on your birthday if you don’t buy birthday gifts for others. Does this make sense? I’m not saying keep score. I am saying do to others what you want them to do to you.
 
If you want a good spouse, be a good spouse…be the type of person you want to attract. It sounds so obvious, but it’s amazing how many guys want a beautiful woman to show up on their doorstep while they are too lazy to bathe, have terrible manners, and won’t get a job!
 
What qualities do you look for in a friend? Do you have those qualities?
 
Today we’re going to explore four signs you might have a keeper, borrowed from Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church. I’ll tell them to you now:
 
Seeking Character (v.10-13)
Exploring Connection (v. 14)
Showing Consideration (v. 15-18)
Receiving Confirmation (v. 19-23)
 
Let’s go back and review. Ruth tells Naomi she’s going to glean, which means she’s going to look for grain stalks leftover from the harvesters. Boaz notices a new person in his field and shows her unusual kindness. In chapter two, verse ten, we’re told…
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Ruth is a woman of great character, and Boaz takes notice. He’s also a person of great character himself. Are you?
 
Seeking Character (v.10-13)
 
We’re never told anything about Ruth’s physical appearance, but her inward character. She is faithful, hard-working, and humble. We saw that two weeks ago. What about you? Are you a man or woman of character? Are you friends? You are your friends. How do you treat others? None of us is perfect, but are you seeking to become like Jesus? Are you devoted to God? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? The test of that is not a particular gift or sign, but fruit.
 
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)
 
How do you get this fruit? They don’t sell it at Wal-Mart, but it comes from repenting of your sins and failures, following Jesus, and surrendering to the power of God. As our relationship with Him grows, we’ll naturally see more good fruit in our lives as the Spirit makes us more like Jesus. Let’s be men and women of character.
 
Boaz hears about Ruth’s character, extends kindness and grace, and then Ruth says,
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
Their character led to a connection.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
This is not normal. Something special is happening. It’s not necessarily romantic, but Ruth is getting special treatment from Boaz. It will continue.
 
When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!” (Ruth 2:15-16, NLT)   
 
I’m sure you’ll agree food is a necessity in life. We all need it and will literally die if we go several weeks without it. Food is readily available to all of us today in Toledo. Even if you can’t afford to buy food or don’t know how to cook food, there are food pantries and soup kitchens and the Mac Café at Cherry Street Mission to ensure we stay alive. You might say there are many safety nets in urban Toledo to make hunger unnecessary, though some still experience it.
 
Today in many parts of the world, no such safety nets exist. We’ve all seen pictures and videos of starving children and I was deeply moved a few years ago when Heather and I were in Burundi, Africa. We taught many who rarely experience more than one or two meals a day and often go without any food. We were a part of a special celebration and I watched Heather literally food a starving baby.
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows and without husbands, starvation was a real possibility. Gleaning leftovers as the only safety net, but Boaz is so impressed with Ruth and her character that he goes out of his way to ensure she gets plenty of food.
 
Boaz was Showing Consideration to Ruth.
 
So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket. (Ruth 2:17, NLT)   
 
This basket was worth two weeks wages! That’s consideration.
 
If you want a Ruth, be a Boaz.
 
Character led to a connection which led to consideration and finally they were
 
Receiving Confirmation (v. 18-23)
 
She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal. (Ruth 2:18, NLT)   
 
That’s a lot of food! It’s like going to Monnettes and bringing back a Costco load!
 
Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the LORD bless the one who helped you!”
 
So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.” (Ruth 2:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, confirms Boaz is a good man. If you’re seeking a spouse, pay attention to what others say about your date. They might not always be right, but usually those who know and love us the most also know what’s best for us. Be very careful if you find yourself defending your date to your friends and family. They say love is blind, and it’s scientifically proven! We need to seek wise counsel from others in important life decisions, especially life partners.
 
“May the LORD bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NLT)
 
The Hebrew word here for kindness is
hesed. It appears three times in the book of Ruth. There’s not a good English equivalent, but it refers to God’s plan for humans, the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself…selfless, active caring for others which seems to be rare in our narcissistic, self-centered culture. Naomi is saying Boaz is essentially acting like Jesus, our example of what it means to be human (even though this was centuries before Jesus’ birth). It is God’s hesed which is the real story here.
 
A family redeemer is someone who provides for someone who has had a great loss. Some translations call them a guardian redeemer or a kinsman redeemer. This goes back to the book of Leviticus.
 
If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. (Leviticus 25:25, NLT)
 
Numbers chapter 27 explains it further if you want to study it.
 
Then Ruth said, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.” (Ruth 2:21, NLT)   
 
“Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.” (Ruth 2:22, NLT)   
 
This is such a beautiful story. It reminds me again of last week’s big idea that
God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. Ruth did not deserve any special treatment, especially being a foreigner from Moab, yet Boaz is gracious after learning about Ruth’s graciousness to Naomi, refusing to leave her alone.
 
So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:23, NLT)
 
This is hardly the end of the story. The best is yet to come!
   
 
So What?
 
Character, connection, consideration, and confirmation are four signs that you might have a keeper, whether it’s a spouse or a good friend. Pay attention. Men, be like Boaz. Women, be like Ruth. Be who you want to attract.
 
But before we close, I want to go back to Boaz as kinsman-redeemer or family-redeemer or guardian-redeemer. Boaz is not related to Naomi, but rather to her late husband. He was not the closest relative. Ruth is not even an Israelite, yet Boaz extends grace. He was motivated by love to redeem Ruth and Naomi.
 
We have a redeemer who protects, provides, and paid for our sins. His name is Jesus. He restores broken masterpieces. He loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you starving or even being stuck with the scraps and leftovers. He’s preparing a banquet feast for all who will follow him. Boaz is considered to be a “type” of Christ, a biblical character who prefigures or foreshadows Jesus. We’re going to see this more in the coming weeks but understand there are layers to this story. It’s not the typical boy meets girl, they fall in love, and life happily ever after. There are three main characters—Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz—plus God, the real star of the show! Do you know Him? Do you know God? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? He gave everything for you, including his very life. You can return the favor by saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.”
  
One more thing
 
Today we’ve looked at four signs you might have a keeper, but what if it’s too late? What if you’re in a challenging marriage? Get help. Pray. Seek counseling (there’s a directory link at the bottom of the
FAC Focus e-newsletter each Wednesday). Most of all, be the spouse you want to have. Demonstrate character. Show kindness. Extend grace. Display the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t tolerate abuse. If you’re in danger, get out. But when it’s hard, seek to be part of the solution rather than prolonging the problem. Be the bigger person and make the first move toward love, forgiveness, mercy, grace. It’s not easy, but we serve a big God who can do incredibly more than we can ever ask, dream, or imagine…if we remain faithful to Him and His people.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
 
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
  
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
 
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
 
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
 
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
 
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
 
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
 
VIDEO
 
You’re welcome!
 
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
 
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
 
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
 
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
 
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
 
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
 
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
 
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
 
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
 
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
 
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
 
They were hungry and needed food.
 
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
 
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
 
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
 
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
 
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
 
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
 
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
 
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
 
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
 
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
 
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
 
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
 
So What?
 
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
 
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
 
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
 
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
 
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
 
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
 
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
 
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.
E13U796O04I5BEO0