Ruth week 2: The Wings of Refuge

Last week in Ruth 1 we saw God’s hand fall hard upon Naomi and her family. A famine in Judah, a move to Moab, the death of her husband, the marriage of her two sons to foreign wives, the daughters-in-law were barren for 10 years, then the death of her two sons. One blow after another caused Naomi to say (1:13, 20), “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me . . . the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” In fact, she is so oppressed by God’s bitter providence in her life that last week we saw that she couldn’t see any signs of hope as they start to appear (ex: “Call me Mara!”)

She knows there is a God. She knows He is Almighty and rules in the national and personal affairs of men, and she knows that He has dealt bitterly with her. Her life is tragic, but what she has forgotten in her suffering is that in all the bitter experiences of His children, God is always plotting for their joy and happiness.

Psychologists tell us that the kind of losses that Naomi and Ruth have faced lead to depression that is insurmountable: loss of their husbands/children, financial ruin, social ruin and shame, infertility, a major move to a new culture, and loneliness. These kinds of wounds don’t easily heal. Actually, this kind of pain is the kind that affects you for the rest of your life. This pain has tremendous staying power. We can safely assume that both of these women are battling depression with the forecasted hope of barely getting by for the rest of their lives.

vv. 1-2: As we pick up the story here in chapter 2, Ruth must go out to work as a field laborer because there’s no food in the pantry. So she asks for Naomi’s blessing to go, and off she goes, a barren, widow, foreigner who looks foolish to every eye that sees her, into the fields to glean, to toil and sweat for hours for a handful of grain. This is her lot, for now at least…

v. 3 Ruth goes to work and we read: “So she set out and went and gleaned in the field and she [just so] “happened” to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.”

The Hebrew equivalent to “gleaning” would be a homeless shelter, food bank, food stamps, or the welfare system. The equivalent situation of Ruth today would be like one of you young college gals moving to Phoenix by yourself with no parents to pay for anything, find a place in a respite shelter, and then sitting and waiting at a labor force outfit waiting to get hired to do construction site clean up with men who aren’t respectful.

And as she went out to find a field out of all the fields to glean in, she just so happened to go out to the filed of Boaz; Boaz just so happened to be a godly man; he just so happened to be a single man who is wealthy; and he just so happened to related to Eli.

Let me help you out here: this is God’s doing and God’s providential care and provision for Ruth and Naomi. As Christians, even in the midst of our free choices, we know that God is over all things and this is not good karma or luck. God is showing “hesed” to his daughters Naomi and Ruth whom he loves through ordinary events in life that seem to be just a coincidence.

v. 4: Then Boaz’, the business owner, the big boss man, rolls up to check on his fields and his workers. Look how Boaz greets his employees. “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.” At the end of each service we end with a similar blessing from Numbers 6:24-26.

Can you imagine your boss rolling up into the office one day greeting you with a blessing like this? Boaz is a good dude, and he’s created a great place for his employees to work at, and we will see later that Boaz’ good character rubs off onto his other workers, which is significant in the time of the Judges.

vv. 5-7: Boaz checks in with his assistant and inquires as to who this woman is, and he quickly learns who she is and offers her his blessing of gleaning, but he also ensures her physical safety as well. Unlike the men in the book of Judges, Boaz does not exploit her and treat her as a piece of property as he easily could. Women, take note, this is the kind of man you ought to be looking for. Ruth looks her worst, Boaz is impressed with her character, and loves her by protecting her. Look for men who give, not take.

vv. 8-9: 8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”

In stark contrast of the society around Boaz, he not only treats Ruth respectfully, but offers her extra-ordinary grace. He addresses her as “my daughter” (v. 8), which means that he accepts her as a true Israelite, not as a foreigner. Then he tells her to stay on his field to glean, drink water from his well, and his men were told not to touch her, but instead serve her. In plain English Boaz says to his employees: “You see that pretty lady over there? She’s pretty ain’t she? If you touch her I’ll kill you. I have a lot of fields and secret places no one knows of… they’ll never find your body!”

Okay, this Boaz guy is just getting to be a dream guy…Men! Here’s your example. Be a Boaz kind of man! Ladies, they’re out there… don’t settle. Hold that bar up high… God will honor that decision… I promise!

vv. 10-12: Rightfully so, Ruth is shocked and falls to her face and asks Boaz why she has found such favor in his eyes? This is a good question many of you ladies should learn from. Ask the dudes that like you, “Why are you so good to me?” Get their intentions out in front. They may not have good motives for being nice to you, just sayin!

So Boaz says, “11 All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” This is what you want to hear!!
Essentially, “The provision and protection I give to you today Ruth, are just foretastes of what God is going to do for you. He is the one providing for you through me.” Great theology Boaz! “God is the source of your provision Ruth! He is the ‘hesed’ giver. He is the orchestrator of all of this!” Boaz has been kind to her because of godly character.

But notice what is happening here. Ruth wanted to know why she had received grace from Boaz, and it wasn’t because she didn’t do anything, because she did. Why did she receive grace? Boaz says that she received grace because she came to take refuge in God, under His wings. So this grace is free, but was given under a condition, “You must come!”

v. 13: Ruth humbly receives her roles as Boaz’ servant, who by the way is not eligible for marriage in this culture. But she is now Boaz’ property and is under his wings for refuge, trusting his goodness and his care. But it gets even better for Ruth…

vv. 14-16: Boaz breaks every rule and says, not only do I want you to stay here on my field, but come and eat with me and my other workers until you are full. Then he tells his young men to not only let her glean, but as she is gleaning, pull out grain from the bundles that you pick for her to glean, and do not correct her, because what they are doing for her was not supposed to happen. Some rules must be broken!

vv. 17-20: So Ruth gleaned till it was dark and when Ruth came home from work that day, she gave Naomi the special gift of what she had left over from the lunch she shared with Boaz. Then she says, “Oh yeh, I almost forgot mom, I have 22 liters of barley baby! It’s all beaten out and ready to cook!

Ruth is truly an amazing woman. In verse 7 we read that “she has continued from early morning until now without resting even for a moment.” Verse 17 goes on to say that she gleaned until evening and then before she quit, she beat out what she gleaned, measured it, and took it home to Naomi. In case you’re wondering, that’s a lot of work!

There is no doubt that the writer wants us to admire and copy Ruth. She takes initiative to care of her destitute mother-in-law. She is humble and meek and does not put herself forward presumptuously. She works hard from sunup to sundown. She doesn’t complain. She takes initiative. She’s a keeper! Ladies, Ruth is a model of a godly woman! Dudes, look for a Ruth!

Then Naomi asks, “Where did you get all this barley?”, and Ruth tells her, “At Boaz’ field”. Naomi blesses Boaz and thanks him and God Almighty (I AM) for His “hesed”.

v. 20: And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”

Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is a close relative of theirs and is one of her “redeemers” (2:20). Do you sense a “hesed” providence behind all of this?

Kinsman Redeemer: The word “redeemer” comes from the phrase “kinsman-redeemer” which is part of the Israelite law of marriage (Deut. 25:5-9) that God established to preserve families like Naomi’s. According to the law, other sons or close relatives of hers should marry the childless widows and use their seed to preserve the deceased relative’s name (have children) and land inheritance.

By law, God set this up to protect women in these situations and to keep families from poverty. A kin (or relative) was to step up and sacrifice for the sake of his relatives’ family, marry her or her daughter (or daughter-in-law in this case), and he will get no payoff from this, and will be looked to by many as a fool. His children with her are not “his” children who will take on his land or build his wealth. Rather, he will be preserving Naomi’s name and legacy for Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion.

This is where we get the phrase “kinsman redeemer”. This is a huge risk and foolish sacrifice to many people, especially those in the days of the judges. But Naomi is now seeing glimpses of redemption. Sweet redemption!

And this redemption was initiated by God’s “hesed” for His people, given freely to those who run (or come) to God for refuge and help. There are many people who never run to God for help and run off to foreign lands or live destitute lives because they do not trust God to provide for them. We saw that last week with Eli and Oprah, I mean Orpah.

Also, many times the relative (redeemer) won’t redeem what he is supposed to redeem. But the good news for us this morning is that Jesus fills perfectly the role of kinsman-redeemer for us. We are part of God’s family (Gen. 1-2; He created us). We had everything and lost it all and have no hope of survival on our own (Gen. 3; we rebelled from God’s rule). God sent a kinsman-redeemer to purchase us at the cost of His own life, and our eternal gain, so that we have hope of life, not just here, but eternally with Him, sharing in His wealth and glory (Jesus).

Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer who left His place of wealth, power and prestige, and looked foolish to many. And unlike Boaz, gave everything He had up for us, including His life so that our sin would not be held against us. The only contingency of us receiving this “hesed”, is that we come and rest under God’s wings of refuge.

This is the message of the gospel in the Old and New Testament. God will have mercy on anyone (all people groups) who humbles himself like Ruth and takes refuge under His wings. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

All that the Israelites had to do was to take refuge under the wings of Jesus. If they would’ve stopped justifying themselves; stopped relying on themselves; stopped glorifying themselves; then they would have been redeemed.

But they would not. Ruth was not their model. There was no falling on their face before Jesus. There was no humble acceptance of Him being the King. There was no bowing down. There was no astonishment at grace. Don’t be like the religious leaders.
God is not the type of business owner who is looking for people to work for Him. He is like a mother hen looking for her offspring to shelter under her wings. God is looking for people who will leave (as Ruth did) father and mother and homeland or anything else that may hold them back from a life of love and redemption under the wings of Jesus.

vv. 21-23: After Naomi discovers that it was Boaz who showed Ruth “hesed”, Ruth goes on to tell Naomi that Boaz wants her to stay and glean in his field until everything has been harvested. Ruth is working for a redeemer, she is protected from nasty men with terrible motives who want to exploit women for their gain, and they have food to eat and trade with so that they can live, and move, and have their being.

And we would do well, once we find our refuge under the wings of Jesus, to remain there. To trust Him even when things seem iffy. To glean from his fields and not fields from owners who will take from us, enslave us, and exploit us.

Are you gleaning from the wrong fields right now? Are you enslaved a bad slave master? To whom or where have you run to to take refuge? What are you bowing down to, or what impresses you more than God’s gracious gift of Jesus?

Today, may we stop justifying ourselves; stop relying on ourselves; stopped glorifying ourselves. Today may we humble ourselves before King Jesus; bow down and worship Him; glean from His fields; be astonished at His grace; take refuge under His wings; stay close to His workers.

May the workers of Jesus (or May those who call themselves Christians) obey their boss in the same way Boaz’ workers obeyed him; may we love well; passionately protect; graciously share; lovingly include. Or as the prophet Micah said it: May we “do justice; love mercy; and walk humbly!”

Let’s Pray!

Ruth week 1: Not the way it’s supposed to be

Ruth is probably the best short story in all of Scripture. It’s riveting, it’s real, it’s engaging with our hearts and emotions, and it’s got the a great ending! The big picture of Ruth serves as the means of recording how Yahweh continues to sovereignly bring salvation to earth through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:1-3; blessed to be a blessing), to the seed of Jesse (king David), to the seed of Mary (Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit).

This is in part, why the Hebrew word hesed is used to describe this book. Many people define hesed as mercy, loving kindness, faithfulness, and goodness. But Bruce Waltke (the main OT theologian who I’ve used to unpack technical terms in this series) defines hesed in the book of Ruth in many ways, one of them being “help for the helpless”; thus, the title of the series. That’s all for now. Let’s get right into the story:

Act 1: Ruth migrates from Moab to Bethlehem (1:1-22)
This first act has two scenes: Elimelech’s household migrating from Bethlehem to Moab, and its grieving widows returning to Bethlehem.

Scene 1 (1:1-5):
v. 1a: In the days when the judges ruled… The book’s setting is during the time of the Judges, where we see the cycle of rebellion (apostasy), slavery (taken captive by other nations), repentance (crying out to God to be delivered), and redemption (being delivered from the hand of their oppressor by a judge that God sends for the sake if Israel) among the Israelites.

The last passage in the book of Judges says this: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (25:21) There was no fear of God, no love for neighbor, and no sacrifice for the greater common good. This was a godless and wicked time in the history of Israel.

v. 1b: …there was a famine in the land, Scripture isn’t clear in this passage, but there was a famine in the land more than likely because God had raised up oppressors to come against unfaithful Israel and plunder all their grain. Then God withholds the rain to create a famine.

vv. 1c-2a: a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech

There was famine in the land, and the land this family was from was called Bethlehem, which means “house of bread”; go figure! People are hungry in the house of bread. The man’s names is Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King” acts like He has no king to trust in. Why do you say that?

Well, we need to understand a little more about Moab. The whole city began from an incestuous relationship, when Lot’s (nephew of Abraham) daughters got him drunk on 2 different nights, slept with him and had children; the first child being named Moab, the father of the Moabites. This is where Eli is going. To the nasty forbidden Moab, an incestuous perverted pagan city, where they worshipped pagan perverted gods, namely the god Chemosh, simply because there were financial opportunities in the city compared to the bread shop.

Eli has camped his wife and kids in the middle of a foreign land with no church family, no prospects for his sons to marry (at least prospects acceptable to Jews who were supposed to marry other Jews) and the whole reason he went to Moab was because of a famine at the bread factory! This proves to be a bad move for Eli and sons!

v. 2: and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. Here we meet Eli’s wife Naomi (whose name means “Pleasantness” or “Sweetheart”) leave Bethlehem with their two sons Mahlon (whose name means “Sick) and Chilion (whose name means “Dying”). Great names for sons, huh?

v. 2b: They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. (cf. 1 Sam. 17:12). In short, this would have sounded to the listening ear in this day, that this family is possibly of great prestige… they were like a family from north Scottsdale.1 This also means there were other options to stay rather than uproot your family, go on your own, and try to survive.

v. 2c-3: [So,] They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

So Eli moves to Moab, why? So he doesn’t die. What happened to wise old Eli? He died! Bad move Eli. Bethlehem was under the care of God, not to mention the place where his church family was, and now Eli dies and leaves his family in Moab, alone!

v. 4a: These (her 2 sons) took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth.

Naomi loses her husband, and then as her two sons find wives (Ruth and Orpah) to carry on the family name, from Moabite women because their entrepreneur dad left them no other options. We need to understand what this meant. Moabites were not allowed into the house of Jewish worshippers because they worshipped pagan gods. That’s like marry a woman (dudes) or a man (ladies) who isn’t allowed to be a member at Kineo. They can’t worship together which proves to be a bad way to build a family!

vv. 4b-5a: They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, Oh man, this went from bad to worse. In v. 1 we learn that there is no grain seed (“there’s a famine in the land”), and in vv. 3-5 we learn that there is no human seed (“the death of all the men in the family”).

Eli leaves the house of bread, goes to a pagan land to live because there’s financial opportunity there, and he dies, and so do his sons. Would you call that bad planning?
v. 5b: so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. This phrase seems to minimize the pain and loss of Naomi. Naomi buried her husband, and her two sons! Not to mention without having an heir to her name. In these days, without an heir, Elimelech’s household will lose its inheritance and will socially become an outcast in Israel. This is losing more than loved ones, its also losing any chance to live a normal life, if she survives herself. As an old woman in these days, her situation is dreadful.

The young widows (Ruth and Orpah) can remarry and haves sons because they are young, but Naomi is stuck as an older woman. It seems that Naomi’s life as she knows it would be better if she had never been born.

Her grief and demise has stirred up a lot of deep struggles with God, His goodness, and love for her (1:20-21). Naomi’s pain and struggles are very similar to that of Job’s. We must remember where Naomi is at right now. She is suffering and God is asking her to trust Him even though He has not revealed to her major pieces of the puzzle. But Naomi is even worse off than Job because she’s a woman who is childless and post-menopausal if you know what I mean! This is a road Job didn’t have to go down.

Job could work again, rebuild his wealth. Naomi can’t. He may endure unjust accusations from friends, but he will not face degradation, discrimination, possible physical/sexual abuse, or social oppression. Naomi has all that to navigate through and live in fear of. This is a terrible situation, worse than we could imagine, or maybe many of us this morning can unfortunately imagine it more than we would like.

But Naomi must go on. Death has stripped her down until she stands naked before God without anything else that women culturally have to rely on to give them significance (husband, children, a home, provision, ability to have kids, ability to work, etc.)

She is stripped of everything and has nothing to hide behind, and neither do we if we are honest with ourselves. We are all naked before God and our only hope is Him. Is this resonating with anyone? Have you ever felt hopeless, powerless, devastated to the point of quitting? This is Naomi. She does not look like a candidate to play a leading role in salvation history.
Scene 2 (1:6-22):
v. 6-7: 6 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. 7 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.

This new scene begins with a small ray of hope for Naomi as she hears that the Lord had lifted the famine in Judah, and has given them food. God, the name used here is Yahweh, whom we know to be Jesus. Jesus visited His people and gave them food! Naomi is headed home, back to the house of bread, and back to her people who worship Yahweh with her 2 daughter-in-laws.

Here, in this verse, we see God’s sovereignty at work, behind the scenes, yet still at work. God works by the means of miracles sometimes, but most of the time God works in invisible ways, at least to the normal eye. God works in very normal ways, among very normal people like you and I, to accomplish His purposes. And within His purposes, God works sovereignly (He is the highest authority, He rules and reigns, He’s over Satan, demons, death, He is even over the accidents and in all that He is good!)

vv. 8-15: As Naomi is headed home with her two daughter-in-laws, she turns to them and urges them to go to their mothers’ home, find husbands, remarry, that the Lord may “deal kindly” with them. Here is where we learn of that beautiful word that permeated this story of Ruth; “Hesed”.

May Yahweh bless you and bring you hesed, loving kindness that will never abandon you, but be kind to you in rich ways. And as Naomi is weeping, Ruth and Orpah respond and say “No, we will return to you to your people.” (1:10).

So Naomi turns up the heat and says: “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 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, 13 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.” (1:11-13).

In short, Naomi tells them that they have “No!” future with her. “According to the Israelite law of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-9), other sons or close relatives of hers should marry the childless widows and use their seed to preserve the deceased relative’s name and land inheritance.”2 This is where we get the phrase “kinsman redeemer”.

In the time of the judges, Naomi has little, to no hope that a relative will sacrifice his fame and fortune to help a young widow by bearing her sons that will neither bear his name nor add to his property or wealth (or in her bitterness forgot about Boaz or other relatives).

By law, God set this law up to protect women in these situation and to keep families from poverty. A kin (relative) to Naomi was to step up and sacrifice for the sake of Naomi’s family, marry Ruth, and he will get no payoff from this, and will be looked to by many as a fool, not mention the child would be Naomi’s, not his.

So Naomi says to Ruth and Orpah, that the only practical and sensible thing to do is to go back to your home, and marry and live a normal life. Naomi says that she is a dead end road; “forget about me” is essentially what Naomi says.

She places their interests above her own and makes the decision to face her own dark future alone. This is not the right decision, as she is sending these women back to their homes to serve vile false gods (Baal, Chemosh, etc.). Naomi is bitter and angry and acting in the flesh.
vv. 14-15: 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

They weep together, but Orpah takes her up on it. She chooses to live by sight, not by faith. She would rather fall back and serve false gods than risk losing a normal life. She was a pretending Christian… But Ruth… this is a really good “But” that we find in Scripture. Oh the beautiful “but’s” of Scripture:

vv. 16-17: 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me [literally: stop afflicting 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. 17 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.”

Facing the same realities that Orpah couldn’t handle, Ruth divinely insists that she remain with Naomi no matter what! She is sticking to her covenant she made with the house of Elimelech and her deceased husband Mahlon. Ruth uses the Hebrew word [pagaʿ]: “Stop afflicting me!” She is set on what she is called to do and she backs her word up with an oath: “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Like Abraham, Ruth leaves her family and homeland to follow Yahweh to an unknown land. This is a clear picture of God providentially planning to establish His kingdom here on earth. But this seems to be a bigger act of faith than even Abraham’s obedience, if I dare say that! Abraham is told by God to go, and to our knowledge, Ruth is going with what she believes to be right, not necessarily because she received a word from God.

So they return to Bethlehem together and upon their arrival, the years of anger and bitterness had aged Naomi to the point where her friends and family say: “Is this Naomi?” And Naomi interprets what has happened in her life like this:
vv. 20-21: “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?”

Naomi basically says, “Call me old hag for I am miserable and bitter”. That’s at least being honest. I love Naomi for her honesty! We could learn from Naomi’s honesty about where she’s at with the Lord (expound on this).

v. 22: So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. But ironically, Naomi is able to return to her hometown because the Lord had ended the famine, and she is not alone, and it just so happened to be harvest time for the barley.

Closing
This paints a picture of many of our lives in different ways. Some of our lives truly resemble Naomi’s life, and other’s lives resemble her life emotionally. You feel abandoned by God. You truly think He’s publicly against you and wants to punish you.

You feel like He’s playing one big joke on you that isn’t funny. You don’t believe that He is good or that He is “for” you… you think his sovereignty means that He’s in control of everything, but He’s not not good. God is sovereign and He is eternally good! But sin is bad! Humans are bad! Demons are bad! God is good! He is sovereign and He is good!

But I don’t think any of us would say about how Naomi feels, “That’s crazy! Why would she feel that way! She’s over doing it a bit!” We wouldn’t because we know her story and we have seen all that has happened to her. But we are not angry for her as we would be if we didn’t know the end. (the prodigal daughter and she doesn’t know it!)

We see the end. We see how God is working. Even before the big moment of redemption. Ruth is with her. The famine is over. She is back home. Even though Naomi can’t see the hesed of the Lord yet, the end of this journey home is the beginning of a new journey. Two destitute women arrive safely in time for barley season!  This is true for you and I today. We may not be able to see what God’s doing, but we do know He is not against us, in the same way we know and see that He is not against Naomi.

We read the Hebrew used of God here in chapter 1 is Lord, Yahweh; which we learn in the NT that Yahweh is Jesus. Jesus is the One who visited His people in Bethlehem. And He has visited us through the cross. He gave it all up so that we could gain it all. God is for you today because He sent Jesus. No matter where your story is at right now, the end can be sealed in sure redemption and reconciliation.

But to do that, we must be honest with ourselves today. We must learn from Naomi. Instead of coming in here with thoughts about God that are concealed (“How are you?” “Oh, I’m good, it’s a beautiful day!” and inside you can’t figure out why God seems so far from you today or that He would let this or that happen to you.)

Are you like Naomi today? Are you bitter and angry at God? Be honest. Let Jesus visit you this morning as He did Bethlehem.

Maybe you’re Eli, and you have taken the reigns of your life and think you’ve got everything figured out, but you’re headed towards death. You’re producing sons called “Walking pneumonia” and “Tuberculosis”. Submit, acknowledge you need help.

Maybe you’re Ruth and you’ve made a tough decision, and you don’t know what’s next and are afraid, but you’d rather trust Jesus. Be encouraged today. God is with you and you are not alone. Let someone here know where you are and let them walk with you.

Let’s Pray!

“I Love My Computer” lyrics by Bad Religion

The lyrics of this song are very sad, but they are a great representation of the brokenness of our culture and how much we have totally destroyed God’s view of sexuality and intimacy. God help us paint a different picture of the beauty that God intended there to be within male/female relationship and sexual fulfillment. The band’s name who wrote this song fits the character of the lyrics of this song:

I love my computer
you make me feel alright
every waking hour
and every lonely night
I love my computer
for all you give to me
predictable errors and no identity
and it’s never been quite so easy
I’ve never been quite so happy
all I need to do is click on you
and we’ll be joined
in the most soul-less way
and we’ll never
ever ruin each other’s day
cuz when I’m through I just click
and you just go away
I love my computer
you’re always in the mood
I get turned on
when I turn on you
I love my computer
you never ask for more
you can be a princess
or you can be my whore
and it’s never been quite so easy
I’ve never been quite so happy
the world outside is so big
but it’s safe in my domain
because to you
I’m just a number
and a clever screen name
all I need to do is click on you
and we’ll be together for eternity
and no one is ever gonna take my love
from me because I’ve got security,
her password and a key.

Reaching Out: A Necessary Step for Sexual Abuse Healing

In the book Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse by Dr. Steve Tracy, he evaluates and outlines the nature and impact of abuse and then outlines an organic path towards healing from abuse. In the third part of the book called “The Healing Path”, he highlights a story of a girl named Samantha who found it hard to process memories of her childhood and family history. Through telling her story and learning to feel the pain of her childhood, Samantha was able to remember that she was abused by her father. Her counselor had her look at pictures of herself when she was a little girl, which led to her to begin to live in truth with the pain that her abusive father caused her. She began to have compassion on the little girl she saw in the pictures and realized the deep shame she felt because of the abuse, and how she loathed herself all these years because she felt that it was her unloveliness that brought about all the pain. She then wrote a poem about herself from the mind of the little girl who was abused and how she felt inside and what she longed for, and she titled it “Reaching Out”:

Who will cry for this little girl?

Who will quiet her tears of pain?

Who will reach for this little girl

Who will shelter her from the rain?

Please won’t you hold me and just let me cry,

Say words of comfort and wipe my sad eyes?

Please won’t you play or just spend some time,

‘Cause just being with me would be very fine.

I hear words of anger and I try ways to hide,

But the words are so cutting and they hurt deep inside.

I long for attention and for someone to care,

I feel like that’s bad, so I hide away in despair.

I’ve learned to be strong, but feel very weak.

O Lord, help me find the wholeness I seek.

In this poem, we hear the sad words of loneliness in her own home which was supposed to be a place of rest, safety, and comfort. Often times, in homes where a parent is an abuser, the family as a whole (the other parent and siblings) is dysfunctional in the sense that they are all powerless to address the real issues that are going on in the home. The inaction of other members of the family to acknowledge or protect their child or sibling from the abuse that they have experienced is often harder to heal from than the actual abuse that took place.

Many times, the abuser is also a “loving” parent who shows many wonderful qualities as a parent, but in the secret places, he/she is a narcissistic, self-pleasing person who will do anything to gratify the flesh and not own up, admit or even be able to see that his/her behavior is despicable. The hidden sin of the abuser causes a false reality or a false dance, that the whole family dances to and everyone thinks that it is just the way things are.

So when a little girl like Samantha begins to cry out for help, she is looked at as a troubled child, or over emotional or too needy. Everyone in the family is too unhealthy to realize that children learn to behave in certain ways according to the environment they grow up in and their behavior is not necessarily because of their inherent personality.

This is a wake up call to family members to learn to live in truth and listen to their children. I do not mean to say that one needs to assume that there is abuse or trauma just because a child is acting out, but to write off children’s cries for help and not to take the time to care for them, extends the child’s pain and ability to relate properly and healthy in the future.

This is a wake up call for parents to deal with their own junk and emotional pain so that they can be healthy enough to truly love their children.

This is a wake up call to family member who are grown up now and have a sibling who has come out with memories of past abuse, not to live in denial and to resist going to the place that just maybe their life that they thought was reality, was really a dance that was off beat all these years. Denial of a family system that was abusive and unhealthy will never allow one to truly mature in the Lord and experience the fullness that Christ intended for His children.

This is a wake up call for all of us to realize that denial and deadness to past hurts (to us and/or others) may provide temporary relief, but they are actually weak replacements that will only leave us more tired and more disconnected from God and the ones we love.

This is wake up call for all of us to get healthy so we can walk with others who are hurting and have been silenced because of years of powerlessness and shame. We need one another. God uses people to help heal other people. God desires family members to trust in Him over a family system. There are too many silent sufferers who need people to listen to them, empower them, and give them a voice. God desires family members, friends, and pastors to stop neglecting sin that is right in front of them and start advocating and taking proper (and healthy measures) to create a safe place for abuse victims to begin their healing journey. Reach out to someone you know who needs you to walk with them.

Pure Sex (part 3)

In this last post, we are going to lay out five steps to sexual freedom that should not be obeyed and followed as a checklist, rather, you should begin to let this change your whole worldview and way of life. Remember, we are not about changing behavior, we need to be changed at the very core of who we are before our behavior will permanently change:

Practical Applications:

Point # 1: You can’t fight sexual sin with religion.
It’s really interesting, that when Jesus was on the earth and He was teaching, He spoke to a religious culture that had a very technical view of what sexual sin was and they had created some categories that basically were loopholes so that they could be sexually immoral, much like us. So Jesus took it right to the mind (or the core of who you are; the seat of your emotions) and said, “I tell you, if anyone looks upon a woman with lustful intent” or “with the desire to lust”, “he’s already committed adultery.”

Sex isn’t just about genitalia and orgasms. It’s not just about being physical with someone else or yourself. It’s about your heart and God’s purposes.So, if in your battle against sexual sin, the passion that you have for Jesus doesn’t become greater than the passion you have to have sex or fulfill your selfish sexual desires, then you’ll always be fighting and never experience victory. Have you ever had a moment like these two men below, when upon encountering the beauty and worth and greatness of who God is, you radically change your surroundings to obtain more of God Himself?

Matthew 13:44-46: 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

You must encounter God in all His might and beauty and grace and splendor. God’s kingdom is the expulsive power over sin because it is a greater affection.

So here’s a typical scenario within the church. A believer comes to me and is broken and hates his sin and says: “I messed up man. I slept with somebody I shouldn’t have,” or “I fell again. I totally looked at porn on the internet and masturbated and I feel sick and guilty about it.” Then they’ll go straight to religion: “So here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna read the Bible ten times a day, and I’m gonna go to every church service I can find in town. I’m gonna put an internet filter on, and I’m gonna not ever look at another woman the rest of my life. I’m gonna make a covenant with my eyes like Job did,” and on and on goes the lists of what they are gonna do (or at least try)!

Now I do agree that those are helpful things, but apart from Jesus, they really won’t make a difference. So when men tell me stories like these, I basically have to say:
“Let’s go ahead and set up the next appointment, because I’m gonna give you three days and then you’re gonna be right back here crying.” … If you struggle with porn and sexual addiction, who hasn’t been that guy?

Point # 2: Sin grows in the dark.
These suicidal and self-destructive tendencies we have to rebel against God and not worship Him, have a habit of growing like fungus when kept in the dark. So just bringing your sin to the light, and by that I mean sharing your sin with the people you need to and confessing your sin to the Lord and being transparent is vitally important.

1 John 1:5-7: 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Confess your sin, repent and turn to Jesus. Get bros to walk with you. Come clean with your pastor, your wife, your friends, and whoever else needs to know. Stop managing your behavior and get your junk out into the light and let Jesus begin to work on your heart. This leads us to the third point.

Point # 3: At the core of sexual sin is a heart that doesn’t trust God.
Sexual sin basically says, “I can’t trust you God to meet my needs. I can’t trust you to provide these needs in the way that you choose, therefore, I’m gonna go outside of your will and provision. You’re just not big enough or good enough to satisfy this part of me. You’re not true to your word God. I can’t trust you to be good. I have these desires and urges in the moment, and I need to go take care of them because I can’t trust you to.”
At the core, this is what a heart that doesn’t trust God says and believes. Instead of worshipping the God who is trustworthy, who knows our every need, you worship sex and the feeling of gratification one gets from it. This is idolatry. You are saying, “I need to worship sex instead of you, God, so that I can fulfill this deep longing in me.”

Point # 4: A heart that doesn’t trust God has an idolatry problem.
Idolatry is the sin behind the sin. For example, you can get someone to stop eating and they’ll start drinking, or they’ll stop drinking and start smoking, or stop smoking, eating, and drinking, and start being proud of their morality and their idol is their obedience.
You can stop looking at porn then lust like crazy over women and treat them in a sinful way. Or you can stop looking at porn and then control relationships in some other self-righteous way in the name of Jesus.

So here’s some helpful insight for you: Good things that get turned into ultimate things are idols. What we don’t want is for you to stop looking at porn because you found another way to satisfy your deep longing. Only God Himself can satisfy the longings of our hearts, even the sexual ones (Psalm 17:15; 63:1-8).

Find out where your insecurity or deep longing comes from and begin giving that to Jesus. For example: You run to porn because you have attachment issues and are afraid to truly be known. So porn is safe to you. You worship porn because it satisfies that deep longing of being accepted without having to expose yourself. At the root of idolatry is a worship problem.

Remember in Genesis where we learned that we were made in the image and likeness of God. This means that in part we were made to worship; and so we ceaselessly pour ourselves out. We give ourselves away – our heart, our mind, our money, our devotion goes somewhere, to someone, to something. Everyone is a worshiper; a slave.

This is the way that God made us and it was a good thing, but we must remember that we were made to pursue God. But because of the fall of man, because of our sin, our worship is now directed toward things or people other than God. The result being that we continue to worship, but we worship wrongly. This means we worshipped our way into sexual sin. If we worshipped our way into sexual sin, then we must worship our way out. Here’s how we can begin to worship our way out.

Point # 5: The good news is, Jesus changes hearts.
If you are able to begin to see that these issues are really heart issues, worship issues, and then understand that the only way to change your heart is only and definitely through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit through the truth and belief of the gospel, then you are on the road to recovery.

Most guys and Christian counselors go straight to behavior modification, and it doesn’t help in the long run. Changing behaviors may work in this world, but they will not stand in eternity. What’s difficult about sexual sin is that it has a unique shame factor to it. It’s just a downward spiral. What happens when you commit sexual sin is you typically withdraw from the things you need the most, namely Jesus, His Word and His people.

Our sin at its core is always an issue of the heart, and the good news is Jesus changes hearts. You can get from one idol to another, but you can’t get from idolatry to freedom unless you meet up with Jesus and begin to worship Him (the pearl of great price). Sexual gratification has your affections and you have to find a greater affection that is more powerful than sex. This is why only Jesus and the power of the indwelling Spirit of God can free you from sexual sin. The only way out of your sex worship is Jesus worship.

We must know and believe the gospel at its core if we are gonna be able to let Jesus free us from our idolatry. God became a man, Jesus. He substituted Himself with you because He is the King and you are not. Jesus died in your place for your sins, and because of His resurrection, He conquers your enemy: Satan, sin, and death. He gives you a reconciled relationship with God so that you will again participate in the love and the joy and the praise and the adoration that the Trinitarian God has within Himself.

To the degree that you believe this and your heart is broken because of what Jesus has done for you, will be the degree by which you have victory over your idols and imprisonment of sexual sin.

What will begin to happen, is you will understand that you are radically accepted by God to the point that when you fall into sin, you won’t punish yourself for days before you run to Jesus and His word. You will get that you don’t have to add to your punishment by not feeling worthy to come to Jesus. Jesus paid it ALL!

Can you add to the atoning sacrifice that Jesus paid on the cross for your sin? The answer is an implied and emphatic NO! Then why do you make yourself suffer and punish yourself when you fall. It’s because you either don’t get the gospel or you don’t believe it. Jesus took it & freed you from having to punish yourself. Jesus paid it ALL!

Now if you get this, you will begin to fall on your face and repent to Jesus before you even choose to sin. This is how we battle sin and walk in victory. Treasure Jesus and the infinitely beautiful and the only worthy King! He is enough!

Closing:
Men, wage war against your sin/idolatry day after day after day. What in your life do you have to keep working on daily or else you’ll lose it (remember, we are not talking about salvation, but freedom): Marriage, jobs, houses, cars, grades, relationships, sports, etc… What are you laboring over more than your relationship and love for God and His word?

You must labor over this and kill the sin by running to Jesus day after day after day and living a life of transparency and repentance. If you stop looking at porn and you don’t treasure Jesus above all else, you will treasure something else above Him and you will still have a really big problem in your life; or worse yet, you might not even truly know the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the answer. No other! He is the pearl of great price. He is the treasure in the field that you must sell everything for. May we not take the words of Jesus lightly when He says this: “ 34 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

Remember, there is a universe of difference between “knowing of God” and “knowing God”. Labor to know God the way you labor to look at porn. Seek His kingdom with the tenacity you seek your own gratification. Then victory will come!

Our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered Satan, sin, and death. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:12-15

Let’s Pray!