And Behold!

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. (Ruth 4:1 ESV)

And behold. Boaz went up to the gate to look for the closest of kin so that he could seek a redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. The climactic scene of the night before where Ruth proposed to him had succumbed to anxious anticipation. Would he find the redeemer? What would the redeemer say? Boaz promised Ruth he would step in if the closest redeemer didn’t step up. So he went to the gate and sat down there. His efforts seem so nondescript, so low-key.

What we soon discover is that nothing with God is nondescript. God is completely in control. And behold. What is a “and behold” moment to us is a planned event from God’s point of view. What catches us by surprise is no surprise to God. R.C. Sproul said,

“If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

Boaz knew he had no control of this situation. There were too many variables, too many unknowns. Our sense of control is an illusion. On days where we think we are in control, we are only fooling ourselves. Every day of our lives is riddled with the unknown, showered with uncertain circumstances. The God who controls the universe sent the redeemer through the city gate that day.

Do you really believe He is in control?

Satisfied

“And at mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14 ESV).

For some time Ruth had been taking care of her bitter ole mother-in-law, and in our text she is now in Boaz’s field gleaning from his barley harvest. She had been working all day long with little rest, and now it was time to eat. Like any of us would have been Ruth is hungry from all of her hard work. She sits down at the table with Boaz and all of his workers and eats all the food she wants until she can’t eat any more. She even has enough left over to take back to Naomi! First off it was a big deal that Boaz allowed Ruth “the Moabite” to sit at his table because by doing so he was saying to her and the rest of his people, “I see you as one of mine.” But secondly, she goes from a traveling, sojourning stranger in Israel, to an accepted Moabite at the table of Boaz, eating enough to satisfy her, and then some! She left the table lacking nothing. She was completely and graciously filled.

In John 6 Jesus is talking with a crowd of people who are looking for a sign in order to believe Jesus in the messiah, and he tells them in verse 35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” By making this statement Jesus is saying that He is the life-sustainer, the one who satisfies hungry people completely. He is not talking about physical hunger, but rather spiritual and emotional cravings that we so often seek elsewhere.

Many times in our everyday life we look for so much to satisfy our deepest longings. As imperfect beings we look to things other than Christ to satisfy those. Ruth came to Boaz (the picture of Christ in that text) and ate at his table until she was satisfied, Jesus looks at those seeking a sign and tells them that anyone who comes to Him will never hunger or thirst again. Jesus is simply saying, “You want to be accepted? Come to me.” “You seek approval from everyone; instead come to me, and based on who I am I’ll approve you.” “You long for emotional stability; I alone give that freely to those who ask.”

Whatever it is today you seek to satisfy the longings in your life; maybe it’s your job, your family, or some hobbies. I encourage you to instead go to the ultimate and complete satisfier of all your longings, The Lord Jesus Christ.

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?

When God Changes Your Name

Throughout all of Scripture God has changed people’s names. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Abram means “noble father.” Abraham is the “father of many. Sarai is a princess; Sarah is the mother of nations.

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:3-5 ESV)

Jacob became Israel. His name change was dramatic. Jacob means “supplanter.” Israel is “one who strives with God” because Jacob refused to let go of God until God had blessed him. God specializes in changing you for the good. Speaking to his people through the prophet Ezekiel, God says:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

God delights in making you (and all things) new. Naomi didn’t get that. She blamed God for doing exactly the opposite.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:19-21 ESV)

God didn’t change Naomi’s name–she did. God longed for her to be the “pleasant one.” She chose to become bitter. The question in the mind of the readers of Ruth has to be this: will God change her name back. Will the God of Abraham and Israel prevail as the God of Naomi? Time will tell.

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.

His Way Is Right

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

Any respectable person watching CNN in Jesus’ day would have known who Caesar Augustus was. He followed the famous Julius Caesar and became emperor of Rome in 27 BC. For the next 41 years he led the massive Roman empire and established a peaceful kingdom. Though all self-respecting Israelites hated Roman oppression, they appreciated the peace Caesar Augustus brought.

Quirinius was a well-respected war hero. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a mentor for Casear Augustus’ grandson. He excelled at every position he held eventually landing the position as governor of Syria, the province in northern Israel where Nazareth is located. He would have been a regular contributor to Fox News–an expert in Palestinian affairs.

The leading news story of Luke’s day was the census. Reporters would have camped along the dirt roads leading into Bethlehem and interviewed the travelers. Caesar Augustus and Quirinius ruled the day. No one would have known a young woman named Mary and her fiancé, Joseph. They were lost in the sea of weary travelers making the trek to their hometown to be counted.

However, 740 years earlier a prophet named Micah called this:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

Every news outlet in Jesus’ day missed the story. Caesar and Quirinius ruled the world and the day…or so they thought. But out of Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah, came the Ruler of all rulers. I am reminded again 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.

His way is right when no one notices. His way is right when no one cares. His way is right when no one understands.

His way is right.

His Way Was Right

Timing is everything. Yogi Berra, former MLB player and coach, said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” According to Paul, Jesus’ birth was right on time. In Galatians he writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Scholars have identified several factors that made the arrival of Jesus and the spread of Christianity so timely. Check these out:

  • Pax Romana–Rome was a massive empire controlling most of the known world. While Palestine squirmed under Rome’s heavy hand at times, the reality is that Rome’s dominance created peace over most of the known world. This Roman peace paved the way for Jesus’ message and the ability of the Apostles to travel unhindered and spread the Christian message.
  • Developed roads–Because of a highly developed system of roads, the Gospel message could spread quickly and efficiently.
  • Common language–Greek had become the common language of the Roman empire, and it was a variety of Greek that was easy for the common person to understand and write. Language has always been critical to the spread of the Gospel. It was no different in the 1st century.
  • Anticipation by Israel–Rome’s heavy hand made Israel long for someone to step in and release them from oppression. While their view of a Messiah was very different from Jesus’ life and ministry, they were looking for the long awaited Messiah.

God’s timing is perfect.

Years ago I discovered John Oxenham’s poem (God’s Handwriting) and have returned to it many times:

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

Why I Still Trust God

When I got the call Saturday morning that Eleck had died I was shaken. Surely it couldn’t be. I asked the State Trooper to spell his name to me just to be sure I was hearing correctly. “Not Eleck,” I thought. I wanted answers, explanations, reasons. The nagging question that grips many is this: If God is good and powerful, how could he allow Eleck to die? Why?

It’s a legitimate question. I don’t fault you for asking. At times like these I sometimes have more questions than answers. But I still trust God and I want you to know why.

I still trust God because…

  • He unconditionally loves me.  In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham.  It’s a gruesome scene.  Abraham took a cow, a goat and a ram, cut them each into two pieces and lay them on the ground.  Believe it or not this wasn’t unusual in Abraham’s day.  This is how kings made agreements between one another.  The weaker king would walk between the pieces of the animals and say to the stronger king, “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if I break this covenant.”  So you would expect Abraham to walk between the pieces of animals and declare his undying allegiance to God.  He didn’t!  He fell asleep and a boiling pot and a torch passed between the pieces, representing God!  What was God saying? “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if I break this agreement?”  No.  God cannot lie.  He would never break this agreement.  God was saying, “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if you break this agreement.”  Did Abraham break it?  Of course!  And God carried through with his promise.  Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  I still trust God because He kept his promise to Abraham by dying on the cross for Abraham’s sin.  I still trust God because, while I was ungodly, He died for me. He loves me.
  • He sacrificially loves me.  In his book, Reason for God, Tim Keller talks about the unique nature of Jesus’ suffering.  Many martyrs have marched valiantly to their deaths. Jesus cowered under the weight of his impending crucifixion.   “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled” saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  (Mark 14:33-34)  Why?  Jesus was not simply encountering the physical pain of suffering–he was carrying the weight of my sin.  His suffering caused him, for a period, to be separated from His Father.  His cry from the cross was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He not only sacrificed his life, but his good standing before His father so that I could have life. Again, Keller says, “He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”  He loves me.
  •  He sees me as I will be, not as I am.  I’m often tricked into thinking that I’m living my best life now, that things couldn’t get any better.  On really good days I sometimes think, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”  And I’m wrong.  As beautiful as a fall day is, it pales in comparison to the unhindered beauty of heaven.  As vivid as the bright orange on the maple trees is, its color is muted by the early frost.  When I feel I’m getting it most right, I’m not even close to getting it right.  I struggle with wrong motives and thoughts that others never see.  God sees them.  And the resurrection of Jesus is proof that I won’t always be like I am now.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” I am not who I was, but I am not who I will be.

I miss Eleck.  I love the Eleck I knew here.  However, the Eleck I knew here is a mere reflection of the Eleck I will see one day.  I saw Eleck in moments of glory…one day I’ll see Eleck in all of glory.

The reason I will be able to see Eleck is because God is good (He died) and powerful (He raised Jesus from the dead).

He loves me.  I still trust Him.