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?

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.

Your Personal OnStar

I don’t own a vehicle with OnStar. I have just always thought that I wouldn’t get very lost in Western North Carolina. What I discovered totally caught me by surprise. Are you aware of what OnStar, the satellite system that you can have in your vehicle, provides? Here’s a brief list.

  • Online Concierge Services – for event tickets, dining reservations, gift recommendations and more.
  • Automatic Notification of Air Bag Deployment – if your front air bags deploy, we can call for help – even if you can’t call for it – to your location as quickly as possible.
  • Emergency Services – press the red OnStar Emergency Button and we’ll notify an emergency assistance provider of your location and your emergency need.
  • Roadside Assistance – is on the way once you call OnStar. We’ll locate and contact a nearby provider and request help to get you back on the road quickly.
  • Stolen-Vehicle Tracking – with OnStar, a stolen vehicle can be tracked without the thief’s knowledge and help guide authorities to its location.
  • Accident Assist – gives you step-by-step guidance about what to do in the event of an accident.
  • Remote Door Unlock / Lock – OnStar Advisors can unlock and lock your doors in case you locked your keys in the car, or forgot to lock the doors when you left. The Advisors can also flash your lights and honk the horn if you have trouble locating your vehicle, or to scare off unwanted individuals gathered around the vehicle.
  • Remote Diagnostics** – cover your vehicle’s vital systems. If your “Check Engine” light illuminates, an OnStar Advisor can provide you with information about the problem – then make recommendations. The Advisors can also help locate a dealer to schedule an appointment for service.

John DiPaola tells his story: His wife and 13-month-old daughter were at the Detroit Zoo recently. The little girl was quite upset when her mother packed up the car to leave, so to calm the little girl, Mrs. DiPaola gave her the keys to their new OnStar-equipped Pontiac Montana to play with.

Mrs. DiPaola placed the girl, holding the keys, in the car seat and then walked around the back of the van to put away the stroller. When she tried the handle on the hatch door of the van, it was locked. She looked around the corner just in time to see the power sliding door closing. The toddler had pushed the buttons on the remote control attached to the key ring and closed the power sliding door and locked the van.

Needless to say, Mrs. DiPaola got panicky and asked someone in the parking lot if she could use his cellular phone to call OnStar. The OnStar Advisor was able to send a signal to the Montana, opening the door. Says John DiPaola, “During this time my daughter sat laughing in her car seat at all the people looking in the windows. After several minutes the doors were unlocked and my wife was relieved to give our daughter a big hug.”

And like OnStar, this traveling companion has a list of credentials—His own personal job description. His guarantees never fail. He carries through every time. This week we’ll learn more about HIm–the Holy Spirit.

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.

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?

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?

The God Who Connects the Dots

Steve Jobs said…

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Tucked in Steve Job’s convoluted idea of whom to trust are some kernels of truth: you can’t connect the dots looking forward. Ruth looked back at Moab and saw a comfortable past–she looked ahead to Bethlehem and saw an uncertain future. God did not allow her to connect the dots. He seldom does.

Steve Jobs’ second kernel of truth: You have to trust in something. He’s right. Everyone trusts in something. Even if you don’t believe God exists, unbelief in God is a belief system. You are trusting that your lack of faith in God will have no dire consequences. The assertion that there is no God reduces life to the here and now and eliminates the possibility of heaven and hell. You are still trusting something: unbelief.

So here’s a question: as you look back over your life, where do you see dots connected now that seemed nothing more than fuzzy lines at the time? This is the story of Ruth.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Ruth moved forward trusting that God (whom she had not known before now) would somehow make crooked lines straight. After all God promised Israel this is what He would do:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16 ESV)

God kept good on His promise to Israel and little did Ruth know that God would keep good on that same promise to her–and she was a foreigner! John the Baptist preached about this characteristic of God:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

It is likely that many of you reading this are dizzy from trekking down the crooked road of the last 24 hours of your life. You don’t know why things are happening the way they are. You don’t understand decisions being made around you. God seems strangely silent. Life isn’t fair. In those moments trusting God is paramount. You cannot connect the dots looking forward. One day you will. I remind you of John Oxenham’s poem:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–His way was right.

I Will

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:6-15 ESV)

Naomi was determined to dissuade Ruth from coming to Bethlehem. Four times in this soliloquy she demands that Ruth return. Her words are forceful: return, turn back, turn back, return. She’s angry at God. She’s mad at the world. Life has dealt her an ugly blow and she’s looking for someone to blame. She feels she has already put Ruth and Orpah through enough. You can hear it in her language: No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me. In other words, “It’s my fault you’re where you are–widowed and following a bitter old woman to her homeland.  Turn back!”

One must wonder why Ruth would ever want to continue the long trek from Moab to Bethlehem with a woman compelling her to go home. Ruth has no intentions of caving to Naomi’s pressure. Notice her answer:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Her language is anything but that of a quitter. She answers Naomi’s repeated commands to turn back with her own mantra: I will.

  • For where you go, I will go.
  • And where you lodge, I will lodge.
  • Where you die, I will die.
  • And there will I be buried.

Ruth’s language is the language of determination.

Some of you are staring down a road you’ve never traveled down before. You have no idea where it will lead, what you will find or even who you will be at the end of the road. In those times, focusing on what you don’t know will stop you dead in your tracks. Yours must be the language of “I will.”

I will trust God…no matter what.

I will pray….no matter what.

I will worship…no matter what.

I will.

I will.