Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary

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.

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.
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