Do Not Despise the Day of Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:10 ESV)

Zerubbabel was Israel’s civic leader with a formidable task: rebuilding the temple. The temple lay in ruins, destroyed by the Assyrians. Twenty years had passed and no rebuilding had been done. No doubt there were naysayers, negative Nancys, pouting Pollys, barking Bobs. Before they could rebuild, they had to remove the rubble. And there’s no glory in rubble removal–it’s one tedious chunk after another.

However, days of small things are followed by moments of glory. We forget that, without the days of small things, there won’t be moments of glory. Noah spent up to 120 years building the ark–and a year riding in it to safety. Moses was on the backside of the desert 40 years, and spent one day crossing the Red Sea. Israel marched around Jericho for 7 straight days, and watched it fall in a few hours. Days of small things: moments of glory.

What is your day of small things? A fussy one-year old? A dirty diaper? Helping your aged mother into the shower? 10 hours on a Wednesday at work? One more semester in college? Correcting your teenager again…for the same thing you pointed out to her yesterday? Another day in singleness?

We love the miraculous, endure the mundane. We relish the glory, despise the groan. We celebrate the extraordinary, trudge through the ordinary.

When you’re sifting through the rubble remember there will be a day of rejoicing. Though Zerubbabel’s hands now held broken scraps of temple stone, one day they would hold the plumb line. One day he would measure corners, lay stones, build walls, erect altars, sew curtains, lead the people in celebration. Until then…the day of small things.

Jesus lived 33 years in relative obscurity, held neglected children, fed hungry commoners, angered religious elites. He endured six agonizing hours on a cross, three days in a tomb, and rose from the dead in a moment of glory.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Jesus endured the day of small things “for the joy set before him.” For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.

 

 

A Long, Slow, Steady March

On January 28, 1945, as World War II was groaning to a close, 121 elite Army Rangers liberated over 500 POWs, mostly Americans, from a Japanese prisoner of war camp near Cabanatuan in the Philippines.

The prisoners, many of whom were survivors of the infamous Bataan death march, were in awful condition, physically and emotionally. Before the Rangers arrived, the primary Japanese guard unit had left the camp because of Japan’s massive retreat from the Philippines. The new situation was precarious. Japanese troops were still around and in the camp, but they kept their distance from the prisoners. The men of Cabanatuan didn’t quite know what to make of their new freedom—if freedom was in fact what it was. And then, without warning, the American Rangers swept upon the camp in furious force.

But one of one of the most interesting facets of the story was the reaction of many of the prisoners. They were so defeated, diseased, and familiar with deceit that many needed to be convinced they were actually free. Was it a trick? A trap? Was this real? One prisoner, Captain Bert Bank, struggling with blindness caused by a vitamin deficiency, couldn’t clearly make out his would-be rescuers. He refused to budge. Finally, a soldier walked up to him, tugged his arm, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be free?” Bank, from Alabama, recognized the familiar southern accent of his questioner. A smile formed on his lips, and he willingly and thankfully began his journey to freedom.

Finally, well away from what had been, for years, the site of an ongoing, horrific assault on their humanity, the newly freed prisoners began their march home. In the description of one prisoner, contrasting it with the Bataan nightmare years earlier, “It was a long, slow, steady march …but this was a life march, a march of freedom.”

The Mind of Christ

All is not lost. There is hope. Look at Paul’s words:

I have the desire to do what is right (Romans 7:18)

I delight in the law of God in my inner being (Romans 7:22)

The law of my mind (Romans 7:23)

Here we see the opposite of the flesh, the archenemy of the enemy within. This is why the most miserable people on earth are not sinners, but believers who have chosen to live a life of sin. They are the most desperate, the most despairing of all. Why? Because inside them is a desire to do the right thing.  Look again at verse 18. The New American Standard renders it: the willing is present in me. The word present here literally means to lie near.

When we accept Jesus by faith, we have the desire to do the right thing. That’s why a man and woman can come to Christ and feel convicted about living together unmarried. That’s why an alcoholic feels badly when she takes another drink. That’s why a lust-filled man has a sense of satisfaction when he refuses to lust after another woman. The willing is present in them. That desire lies in wait for temptation. And when temptation presents itself, that desire says, “No.”

What is your ally? A renewed mind.

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…so that you may prove what God’s will is, His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

What is the problem? Our minds aren’t renewed. We spend our time thinking about our failures, planning our next step into sin, anticipating the next direction we’re going to take. Our thinking processes have never changed from our sinful way of life. The problem is that we carry old patterns of thinking into our lives with Christ. There is a conflict between the old nature and the new nature, between the old way of thinking and the new way of thinking.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)

When you and I come to know Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us. As He resides within you, He gives you the views, the feelings, the temperament of Christ. You are able to think like Jesus Christ. You are able to make decisions like Christ would make. You are able to respond to situations as Jesus Christ would.

What is the sin that continues to tangle you up? How does your thinking need to change? Change it today.

Jesus, the Selfless Master

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18 ESV)

Either: you have a choice. You can either obey sin or you can obey righteousness. No longer must you show up to the taskmaster of your own flesh and say “yes.” You can say, “no.” Why does Paul saturate this description with slave language? A slave among the Romans was considered his master’s property, and he could do with him as he wanted. Under a bad master, the slave lived a dreadful life. His ease and comfort were of no concern; he was treated worse than an animal; and, in many cases, his life hung on the mere whim of the master.

That’s what the old slave master, sin, does. Satan cares nothing for you. And when you come to Christ, his hatred for you intensifies. Your old nature, the sinful nature that you possessed when you came to Christ, you still have. Deep within you is the desire to sin. When you give in to that old sin nature, you are throwing away the freedom given you in Christ. Your own evil lusts and appetites become your most cruel taskmasters.

The truth is that you choose your master—and you do not have to show up at your master’s house one more day. You can be free. As a Christ-follower, slavery to sin is voluntary.   Look at what Paul says. You are a slave either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.

Why use the same term, slave, to refer to believers? It more forcibly shows that we are our Master’s property; and that, as he is infinitely good his service must be perfect freedom.   Jesus Christ asks no obedience from us that he does not turn to our eternal advantage because He has no self-interest to secure. You see, before Christ, you had no choice. The temptation came along, you gave in, and you fell to it. Now you have a choice. You have God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, living inside you. When temptation comes, you don’t have to say yes.

Your People Will Be My People

Turn up the volume on your computer or other device and take 3 minutes to remind yourself of how the timeless story of Ruth unfolds.

http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/embed/product/40235

Ordinary Obedience

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” (Ruth 3:1-5 ESV)

Most books on following God are written about the crossroads in life–the major decisions we make that determine the direction of our lives. Few books deal with everyday decisions–ordinary responsibilities that accumulate to result in extraordinary outcomes. Yet almost always it is the accumulation of ordinary obedient acts that results in the moments of “extraordinary” glory. We see that in Ruth’s story.

Naomi’s instructions to her appear to be trite: bathe, put on perfume and put on your coat. This is what we tell our 7-year-olds. “Take a bath!” “Use soap!” “Don’t go out in the cold without your coat!” Why such apparently unnecessary details? Who cares about cleanings and coats? Why make such a big deal about perfume? They are an example of ordinary obedience. Ruth isn’t the only one who exercised ordinary obedience. Joseph did too.

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:14 ESV)

I find it surprising that the same Scripture that unfolds the glorious truths of the salvation of sinners also recounts Ruth bathing and Joseph shaving! Joseph had supernatural wisdom to interpret dreams–and he still shaved. Ruth exhibited unbelievable fidelity to Naomi–and she still bathed. Joseph and Ruth practiced ordinary obedience.

For the stay at home mom, changing another diaper seems trite. The school teacher grades yet another paper and wonders if they are really getting it. The manager walks out of his office after a day of paperwork and asks: did I do anything today that made a difference? How can you know?

Here’s the simple test:

…rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:7-8 ESV)

Here Paul addressed bondservants and freedmen and he instructed both to do what they do “as to the Lord.”

Ordinary obedience with an “as to the Lord” attitude gets God’s attention.

A Prayer for Mundane Devotion

O Lord,
Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible,
Order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me,
nor prove obstacles to the progress of thy cause;
Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall,
no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments.

May I follow duty and not any foolish device of my own;
Permit me not to labour at work which thou wilt not bless,
that I may serve thee without disgrace or debt;
Let me dwell in thy most secret place under thy shadow,
where is safe impenetrable protection from
the arrow that flieth by day,
the pestilence that walketh in darkness,
the strife of tongues,
the malice of ill-will,
the hurt of unkind talk,
the snares of company,
the perils of youth,
the temptations of middle life,
the mournings of old age,
the fear of death.

I am entirely depended upon thee for support, counsel, consolation.
Uphold me by thy free Spirit,
and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling,
but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work which thou gives me to do.
Strengthen me by thy Spirit in my inner self
for every purpose of my Christian life.

All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in thee–
my name anew in Christ,
my body, soul, talents, character,
my success, wife, children friends, work,
my present, my future, my end.
Take them, they are thine, and I am thine, now and forever.

From The Valley of Vision (page 244)

Mundane Devotion

Mundane means common or ordinary. Devotion is defined as profound dedication. The high drama of Ruth’s story often causes us to lose sight of her mundane devotion. Listen to these summary words at the end of Chapter 2:

So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:23 ESV)

After Ruth’s first encounter with Boaz, she reaped throughout the barley and wheat harvests. Barley is ready first. The wheat is harvested about fifty days later. For at least (probably more) fifty days, Ruth got up early and got home late. She walked the distance from the town of Bethlehem to the fields of Boaz to harvest wheat. A foreigner in a strange land, she stood out among the other poor women of Bethlehem. She had become a scavenger for bread in the House of Bread.

Ruth practiced mundane devotion. It’s really an oxymoron. Mundane devotion. Ordinary but profound dedication. Ruth worked through long hot days in the field. She gleaned behind the other reapers. For almost two months Ruth lived off of Boaz’s leftovers. She was content with crumbs from the table. And she carried those crumbs to the woman who had nicknamed herself Bitter. Bitter had come home to Bethlehem and was resigned to a diet of bread crumbs–leftovers.

You must remember that we are privy to the rest of the story. Ruth had no idea how this would turn out. God did. Ruth had no idea that chapter 3 was following chapter 2 and that her story would unfold the way it did. She did not know her story would be written down and that millions would read about it!

She practiced mundane devotion.

Mundane devotion is the wife who cares for her suddenly ill husband.

Mundane devotion is the parent of a special needs child.

Mundane devotion is working in the shadows while someone else basks in the sunshine.

Mundane devotion is giving with no strings attached.

Mundane devotion is praying privately for God to work publicly.

Ruth practiced mundane devotion.

Do you?

Your Failure Is Not Your Identity

“Ruth the Moabite.” This is a common phrase in the book of Ruth. In chapter 2 alone she is referred to as ‘Ruth the Moabite’ three times.  Had she been known as  ‘Ruth the great’ or ‘Ruth the wonderful’ that would have been one thing, but Moabite? This was not only her ancestry, but also a stigma. The Moabite lineage stems all the way back to Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  Lot lived in the sinful city of Sodom with his daughters, and was taken out of there only because God had to send his angels to take them out before he destroyed the city! After Lot and his daughters left Sodom and were living in Zoar, there was absolutely no man to be found to give Lot’s daughters a son to carry on his line.  Lot’s daughters then decided to deceive their father by getting him drunk and sleeping with him, and the oldest daughter had a son and named him Moab…  WOW! (The full story is in Genesis 19)  What an unbelievably terrible story about your ancestors. This would be comparable to discovering your great grandfather was the absolute worst Nazi general, who was responsible for killing most of the Jews during the Holocaust; nobody wants that to be their identity, but this was Ruth’s. She was “the Moabite.”

Her failure had become her identity. The writer of Ruth intentionally and divinely placed her identity in the text, but according to our story it didn’t matter to Boaz that Ruth was a Moabite. Boaz was able to look beyond Ruth’s stigma to meet a need that only he could meet. This is such a beautiful picture of Christ!

How many of you reading this blog have allowed your failure in this life to become your identity? You have let your major failures define who you are! God is speaking through this passage to a generation of failures saying, I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t care what others say about you, it doesn’t matter how you feel about yesterday, you may not can forgive yourself but I will… I will accept you; I am willing to lower my status and risk losing everything for the sake of taking care of you & giving you the value you’ve been looking for your entire life.

Boaz gave Ruth value and did not discount her because of her failure. Praise The Lord Jesus that He’s done the same for us by way of the cross! As followers of Christ our past sin and failure has been nailed to the cross, therefore canceling our record of debt to God, which was our sin (Col. 2:14-15). Your new identity is therefore now a child of God, a son or daughter of the king, someone who’s gone from spiritual death to eternal and abundant life!

Paul said: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Embrace your new identity.

Who’s Your Boss?

And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” (Ruth 2:4-7 ESV)

We infer from the opening lines that the field was outside Bethlehem. Boaz, a wealthy landowner, came to check on his reapers. He happened to come the very day that Ruth arrived. Immediately we see Boaz’s character. His first words to the reapers have nothing to do with how much grain they have harvested. Rather He blesses them. The LORD be with you.

Second, his workers weren’t surprised by his greeting. They knew exactly how to answer him: The LORD bless you. Not often in Boaz’s day (nor today) do bosses interact with their employees like Boaz does with his field workers. The socioeconomic distance between Boaz and his field workers was normally insurmountable!

Then Boaz saw Ruth. He didn’t hire her so he naturally inquired about her. Whose young woman is this? Don’t miss how the servant described her: She is the young Moabite woman. Ruth must have been shaking in her sandals. She knew she would never rid herself of this title. Who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. Her plight isn’t getting any better. She’s a foreigner who came with the bitter woman back–to the bitter woman’s home turf.

How could this turn out for Ruth’s good? One way: end up in Boaz’s field. And work hard. She did both. So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest. Yesterday we defined faithfulness as doing what you know to do–and doing it now. Ruth did what she knew to do. She worked hard and when Boaz came to the field he recognized her diligence.

Long before Paul penned these words to the Colossians, Ruth practiced them:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

Who are you working for? Who’s your boss?