Backing Down or Stepping Up?

It’s Wednesday and I’ve decided to include an excerpt from a book I’m reading. This week it’s Counter Culture by David Platt.

Elizabeth Rundle Charles, commenting on Martin Luther’s confrontation of key issues in his day, says:

It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. . . . If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proven, and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

Here’s the question to ponder: where are you backing down when you should be stepping up?

3 Questions to Ask Before You Act

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

  1. Will this help the other person? Will what you are about to do satisfy a need (not necessarily a want) of the person for whom you plan to do it? Meeting every “want” someone has ultimately ends up hurting, not helping. Helping requires discernment. Sometimes people around you view wants as needs. Your “no’s” may be as critical as your “yeses.”
  2. Will the other person be better because of what I am about to do? To build up literally means to “build a house.” Will what you are doing add to the other person? This requires having a vision for the other person that sees them not only as they are but as who they can be. In parenting, Smalley and Trent call this “picturing a special future.” If you’re a leader at work, you see your staff member as a supervisor, shift leader, or vice-president. If you’re a teacher, you see your student walking across the stage and graduating one day.
  3. Will this glorify God? A simple non-theological way to approach this question is: will God’s reputation be enhanced because of what you are about to do or say? Will your actions make his name greater? When all is said and done, will people talk more about you or about God?

Keep Calm and Worship

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scanWikipedia reports it like this:

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Although 2.45 million copies were printed, and although the Blitz happened, the poster was hardly ever publicly displayed and was little known until a copy was rediscovered in 2000.

Between September of 1940 and May of 1941 London was bombed 71 times. 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on cities in England. One million houses in London were either destroyed or damaged and more than 40,000 citizens of England were killed. War is bloody and dangerous.

2 Chronicles reports it like this:

And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another. (2 Chronicles 20:22-23 ESV)

Three enemies are storming Jerusalem. All conventional wisdom says do anything but sing. Plan your strategy. Draw your swords. Man your stations. Certainly there are times when conventional wisdom works. Then there are times when conventional wisdom falls short, when you’re outnumbered, when the enemy is just too strong and the odds are stacked against you.

What can you do in those times?

Keep calm and pray. Remember Jehoshaphat’s prayer? We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you. Jehoshaphat prayed God’s character and remembered God’s works.

Keep calm and worship. He did the most unconventional thing: he placed the worship leaders in front of the generals, the praise team in front of the army. The choir marched into battle first. You see, we have the advantage of knowing the outcome. Jehoshaphat didn’t. He had the diagnosis, not the prognosis.

I love the progression of events! And when they began to sing and pray, the Lord. Their sacrifice of praise filled the halls of heaven. God acted on their behalf. He created confusion in the enemy camp, turned them on one another, and his people watched it unfold.

Whatever you’re facing today, sing. I know it sounds simple, maybe even trite. It isn’t. Worship in spite of your circumstances. Do not allow your current predicament to rob you of giving God the praise He deserves. Do not allow your current crisis to curtail your worship of the crucified and risen Christ.

Keep calm and worship.

A Done Deal and a Daily Walk

There is therefore now no condemnation for those Finish Linewho are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

Freedom is a done deal and a daily walk. Don’t miss the tenses of the verbs…

  • “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free”—vs. 2
  • “what the law could not do, God did
  • “sending His own son”
  • “He condemned sin in the flesh”
  • “so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”

Our freedom was granted through Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Did you know that all your sins have been forgiven–sins past, present and future. David Jeremiah once said that most people don’t struggle with the sins they committed before coming to Christ. They know that God has forgiven them. However, they struggle with the sins they committed after coming to Christ. I love his response. “I can illustrate that all your sins have been forgiven. How is that? Because Jesus took all your sins on the cross. And every sin you have ever committed was committed after Jesus died on the cross.”

You only need accept that forgiveness. That’s what coming to Christ is all about. Will you accept the forgiveness available through Christ? And for those of you who already know Christ, will you accept His forgiveness for the wrong you did this week. Freedom is a done deal. You are free.

Freedom is also a daily walk. Remember, freedom is an inside job that works out in our lives.   Notice Paul’s next phrase (vs. 4b) “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Walk is simply defined as “to move over a surface by taking steps with the feet at a pace slower than a run.”

Freedom is a walk. We take one step toward freedom and then another…and another. Walking is a one-step-at-a-time experience. And one step leads to another, and another, and another. Aren’t you glad God said, “walk” instead of running. Be patient with yourselves.

Here’s where the rub comes. We have a choice. Who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. The flesh will always be the flesh. The question is, “Will we walk as free people, bound no longer by our sin nature?” That is the question of the daily walk. I am not talking about having a quiet time, although that is very valuable. I’m speaking of a daily walk according to God’s Spirit.

How do we do this? I am convinced, first of all, that it isn’t easy. To walk by the Spirit is a moment-by-moment attitude of surrender. It is living your life, not for yourself, but for God. What are the fruits of the life of one who walks by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

If freedom had not been a desperate need, Jesus would not have died.

If the regiment of the law had worked, Jesus would not have come as God in human flesh.

If life had been intended to be miserable, Jesus would not have undergone the misery of your sin in your place.

If freedom were not a daily walk, Jesus never would have said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

God’s Reward for Unrequited Faithfulness

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” (Ruth 4:11-12 ESV)

What Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion could not do (because they were dead!), God did. The people invoked His blessing on Ruth and Boaz.  “Make Ruth like Rachel and Leah!” they declared. Rachel and Leah were the matriarchs of the Israelite people. This was quite a blessing to pronounce over a foreigner named Moabite.  The blessing was qualified by the designation that Rachel and Leah “together built up the house of Israel.”

Then the people turn their attention to Boaz. Remember this is Boaz who had practiced unrequited faithfulness. He did something knowing he would get nothing in return. The elders of the town speak: May you act worthily…and be renowned. Boaz, may you make a name for yourself. Here’s what is interesting: we never know the name of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one who was more closely related to Naomi. He goes through history unnamed–Boaz’s name went down in the annals of history and is known today in Christian circles all around the world. God reward unrequited faithfulness.

The elders made it clear that God was about to give Boaz a gift: his name would be Obed, a baby boy who would come screaming into the world of Boaz and Ruth. Obed would grow up and have a son named Jesse who would himself have a ruddy teenager called David whom God would choose to be king of Israel!

God rewards unrequited faithfulness.

Unrequited Faithfulness

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” (Ruth 4:9-10 ESV)

It is one thing to do something for someone who can return the favor. People do it everyday. Kids do chores so they can get an allowance. Employees work to get a paycheck. Friends do favors because they hope for one in return. In stating his purpose, Boaz clearly communicated his reason for buying the property: to honor three dead guys. That’s right. He did what he did for someone who would never be able to say “thank you.” Boaz practiced unrequited faithfulness.

Unrequited means unreciprocated, unreturned. There is no way Boaz can get any return on his investment. Elimelech, Chilion and Mahlon have died. They can’t say “please” nor can they say “thank you.” Boaz is practicing unrequited faithfulness.

Today you will most likely encounter someone who will never know the sacrifice you’re making, the burden you’re carrying, the pain you’re enduring–to help them. In those interactions, know that there is an unseen Observer who initially commands and ultimately rewards. It is He whom you are serving. Serve Him today.

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?

How Good God Is

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1-3 ESV)

Faithfulness is underrated. Just yesterday we celebrated two teams winning the big game to make it into the Super Bowl. No one talked about their workouts. No one saw the hours spent in the gym, the grueling practices, the ice baths to soothe aching muscles. Everyone watched as Russell Wilson threw the touchdown pass that could not have been more precise. Seahawks fans celebrated the touchdown–not the workouts. Faithfulness is underrated.

Ruth was faithful. She did what she knew to do. She was a Moabite on Hebrew soil. Her family heritage was nothing to write home about. Her family roots twist and turn their way back to an opportunistic man named Lot whose daughters got him drunk and had sex with them. She had no claim to fame.

She was hungry. Her hunger drove her to the fields. Faithfulness kept her there. I love the way the writer says it: she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. No one happens to do anything–God is completely in control of the course of events of human history. We call that the sovereignty of God. Your faithfulness (doing what you know to do now) and God’s sovereignty form a crossroads to the future God intends for you.

Ruth did not go into the field that day knowing anything would come of it but some leftover grain. She faithfully went so that she could feed her (bitter) mother-in-law. That’s faithfulness: doing what she knew to do then. God sovereignly intervened and gave her favor in Boaz’s sight…a point that will become critical later in Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) story.

J. I. Packer says this:

“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.”

Ruth, the meandering Moabitess, is about to find out just how good God is.