April 2024

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.

Upside Down (Easter), 31 March 2024

Upside Down (Easter)
John 19:30

Big Idea:
Because of the resurrection, our world and future are radically transformed.
 
I love roller coasters. As a young boy, they terrified me, but a $20 bribe from my grandpa got me convinced to ride one a few years later and I was hooked (on roller coasters, not the $20!!!). Despite my early love for roller coasters, there was one thing I wouldn’t ride…a coaster that goes
upside down. I don’t know if I thought I would fall out or just thought it would be a weird sensation but I refused to do a loop for several years…until my grandpa bribed—no, he wasn’t involved this time, but when I was at King’s Island, I faced my fear and went upside down for the first time on a roller coaster, and while I didn’t want to stay upside down, I loved it!
 
We’re not here to talk about roller coasters (though I can’t wait to ride Top Thrill 2!), but the subject of Easter—of Resurrection Sunday—is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. It’s really a picture of life in the Kingdom of God, the life of a follower of Jesus. He is risen!
 
 
The resurrection of Jesus has been celebrated since…well, since it occurred in the first century. I wish we had time today to unpack all of the reasons why I believe in the resurrection. I do realize dead people do not usually come back to life…especially when they are exposed to the horror of crucifixion
. Nobody’s been able to locate the place where Jesus’ body was placed or buried, so whether you believe Jesus rose from the dead or not, just imagine for a moment that he did. What if it’s true?
 
The subject of Resurrection Sunday is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. Our scripture reading text is filled with such moments!
 
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NLT)
 
Nothing special here.
 
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. (Matthew 28:2-4, NLT)
 
Earthquake. Angel. Shining face and white clothing. Of course, the guards were afraid and fainted. Have you ever seen an angel? It seems like they always say the same thing…
 
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NLT)
 
The crucified don’t rise from the dead! That’s as
upside down as it gets!
 
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (Matthew 28:8, NLT)
 
Frightened and joyful. That’s upside down!
 
The Kingdom of God is upside down from the kingdoms of this world.
 
But let’s back up. How did we get to this scene? Many of you know the story of Good Friday which we remembered two days ago. One of Jesus’ three best friends, John, wrote regarding Jesus on the cross…
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
I’m grateful to pastor Erwin McManus for introducing me to the true meaning of this simple verse and its relevance to Easter. Jesus did three things.
 
First, he said, “It is finished.” This was moments before he died, making this declaration look like one of defeat. It appears his life is finished. His friends certainly saw it that way. Usually when people die, it’s a tragedy. The Hebrew word for
death does not mean the absence of life, but rather the separation of two things that never meant to be separated. Death feels wrong because it is. My father-in-law died on Monday and we’ve been surrounded by preparations for next Sunday’s funeral. But when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he wasn’t talking about the end of his life. He was referencing his completed mission to seek and save the lost. What appeared to be a failure was upside down. Jesus fulfilled the scriptures written centuries earlier. The cross was viewed as a symbol of powerlessness, but on the cross Jesus had total confidence in his power to accomplish the mission. At the cross, defeat is victory.
 
Then he bowed his head. This is the same language found when he said,
 
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, NIV)
 
Jesus had no place to rest his head, but he did on the cross. There is rest at the cross. He takes an act of violence and turns things
upside down, making it a place of peace.
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
Thirdly, the text says Jesus “gave up his spirit.” This doesn’t mean he lost it, but rather he gave it up, he made a choice—a decision—with his last act. Nobody took Jesus’ life, it was a gift, an act of grace, unmerited favor.
 
Do you see how
upside down the story of Jesus is? In this one verse, we see defeat is victory, violence is peace, failure is conquest. It’s not the death of Jesus that makes Good Friday good. Yes, he died to offer forgiveness to every man, woman, and child that responds to his simple invitation, “Follow me.” But if there was no resurrection, we wouldn’t be celebrating today.
 
Some of you today are exploring what it means to follow Jesus. Welcome! We welcome people of all faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, …all humans are welcome here! We’re not about becoming a big church or famous, but we are about helping people discover Jesus and what you might call the upside-down Kingdom of God. Our faith is not built on philosophy or someone’s dream or a dead person’s wisdom. It’s on the living person of Jesus, a real human who changed the world, who showed us what it means to be human.
 
In many ways, following Jesus is the opposite of following the world—both the religious world and the culture. Religious people have always tried to be good enough for a perfect God, but it doesn’t work. It’s always tempting to keep up with the Joneses, to pursue the American Dream, to just do it, to have it your way, to do you and be true to yourself (what slogans am I missing?!), but how’s that working for you? It’s no secret that we live in a cancel culture that then struggles with loneliness (I wonder why?!). Money, sex, and power are like a mirage in the desert, an illusion of satisfaction which quickly fades away. I like these words from the late J. Oswald Sanders:
 
“Because we children of Adam want to become great, He became small. Because we will not stoop, He humbled Himself. Because we want to rule, He came to serve.”
 
Jesus died for you and for me. His blood poured out of his beaten body, his head covered in a crown of thorns, nails in his wrists and feet, eventually a spear in his side. He took our punishment. That’s upside down!
Jesus left heaven to come to earth. That’s upside down!
His blood washes us white as snow. That’s upside down!
He brings us from darkness into light. That’s upside down!
  
And it wasn’t because we’re good people.
 
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)
 
That’s really upside down! That’s the message of the gospel, the good news. Jesus died for us…not only to experience forgiveness and grace, but also a relationship with God.
 
Jesus turned everything upside-down. Consider a few of his choice statements:
 
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:39, NIV)
 
Six chapters later, he says it again.
 
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt. 16:25, NIV)
 
Perhaps you’ve heard this one:
 
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matt. 19:30
 
Perhaps the most radical of commands is found in chapter five of the same book.
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matt. 5:43-44   
 
Love your enemies? That’s so upside-down. It sounds ridiculous to our culture. Cancel your enemies. Harm your enemies. Treat them the way they treat you. At the very best ignore your enemies. But love them?
 
One of the things I love about Jesus is he gets us. Perhaps you’ve seen the tv commercials! But he really gets us. He spent 33 years on our planet, getting sick, cold, tempted, and enduring the most horrific pain imaginable on the cross.
 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
 
I love that so much! When he says things like “love your enemies,” he walks the talk.
 
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34) 
 
Paul, who had a life-transforming encounter with the risen Jesus, notes:
 
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, NLT)
 
It's not like one or two people had a hallucination or something!
 
The resurrection is everything to the follower of Jesus. Paul, who met Jesus, wrote,
 
And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:15-17, NLT)
 
Without the resurrection, our faith is useless.
Without the resurrection, we are guilty of our sins.
Without the resurrection, we have no hope.
Without the resurrection, we have no peace.
Without the resurrection, Christianity is just one of many religions trying to get to God.
Without the resurrection, we’re wasting our time praying to a dead God.
Without the resurrection, we have future of death.
Without the resurrection, this is as good as it gets (and that’s tragic!)
Without the resurrection, we have no purpose (he who dies with the most toys wins)
 
But because he lives, I’m alive!
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow
Because he lives, every fear is gone
  
So What?
 
In a moment we’re going to hear stories of people who have said, “Jesus, I give you my life.” If you’ve done that, let this be a moment to remember your surrender and recommit to follow Jesus and his upside-down, radical, alternative way of life.
 
If you’ve never said, “Jesus, I give you my life,” I urge you to do so today. It’s the most amazing experience to surrender, die to your own selfish ways, and be resurrected in Christ. When you do so, Christ lives in you! When you die, you can really live. That’s upside down…and it’s amazing!

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