Monday, July 30, 2012

Sovereignty - Ruth 2:1-10

Sovereignty – Ruth 2:1-10

I would like for someone to tell me about a time when God took you out of a situation was pretty good and led you into a situation that was even better. Maybe it was a job or a relationship or even a church. Tell me how God led you from good to better.

I hope that you continue to give God glory and honor for blessing you the way that He has. He deserves that, does He not?

Now I want you to think of a time when God took you out of a good situation and put you in a situation much worse. Have you ever been there? Of course you have. You just may not have looked at it that way. Everyone has been through a time when things seem to be rocking along just fine, all is well, and the bottom drops out of it. Maybe it is a report from a doctor. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one. A car wreck, a cheating spouse, a hang nail, or your favorite idol got voted off the show, whatever it is, is that God’s fault?

Think about it now, if you gave God credit for the good things that come your way, shouldn’t He also get the blame when bad things come? Wouldn’t it be disingenuous to not look at it that way? That line of thinking may make some of you uncomfortable but God is big enough to handle our exploration of this subject.

I believe it is especially applicable in the wake of the recent shootings in Colorado. Here’s a hypothetical situation for you: suppose that insane gunman had not gone into that theater that night (and he is insane by the way. He may not meet the legal definition but sane people don’t do that and more gun laws are not going to keep insane people from killing people.) But suppose he had not gone in there. Those people who saw that movie could go home and get in bed and thank God for a safe and fun night out, right? I don’t know that they would but they could.

But since many of those will never go home again at all and others will have physical and emotional problems the rest of their life, should God not get the blame? And if He is to blame and since we know Him to be all-powerful, who does He think He is to put us through that kind of pain? Have you ever felt that way? If you have you are not alone. David often cried out to God in frustration. Elijah told God to just kill him. Job wished he had never been born. Jonah told God he was so angry at Him he wanted to die.

In fact, I would imagine that the vast majority of people have at one time felt that way. I can remember a time in my own life where I was driving down the road and pounded on the steering wheel and shouted, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, God, but I don’t think it’s very funny!”

Humphrey Bogart, the great theologian, once said, “Things are never so bad that they can’t get a little bit worse.”

I have an idea that at the end of the first chapter of Ruth that Naomi and Ruth were feeling just this way. Our message is going to come from verses 1-10 of chapter 2 but I want us to take stock of what has happened in these widows’ lives up to that point. In chapter one the family endures a difficult time of famine and so they leave Bethlehem and go to Moab where Naomi’s 2 sons marry women but then not only does her husband die but then her 2 sons die as well and she is left with only 2 daughters-in-law.

The one d-i-law, Orpah makes the decision to go back to her family home but as you remember, Ruth says so eloquently in verses 16 and 17 that she will follow Naomi wherever she goes even unto death. Boy, who doesn’t need a Ruth in their life? That must have been a great comfort to Naomi. I can just picture the 2 of them walking back to Bethlehem. They are still in grief from losing their husbands. They don’t understand why all of this is happening to them but at least they have each other.

It’s a long walk back home to Bethlehem from Moab and I can just picture the 2 of them walking along and talking. I bet there wasn’t a moment’s silence, with both of them expressing their feelings to each other, both of them thinking they can’t get a word in edgewise. You married men know the feeling, right? So, while they still have a lot of problems, things are looking up for them. At least they have a plan and pretty soon they will be where they can get some help and then they top that last hill that overlooks the Jordan River.

The scriptures don’t say anything about all this but I want you to see one quick thing in verse 22 of chapter 1. Read. So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

And we know from one other scripture that there is a problem. In Joshua chapter 3 we see the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan and God stopped the flow of water and they passed over on dry land because in verse 15 it says the Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest.

Now can you imagine how Naomi and Ruth felt as they topped that last hill and saw all that water? Can you just hear the desperation in their voices? “God, why? We are trying to do what you want us to do. We are trying to be obedient. We are already in trouble NOT of our making and now this?! Why would you do this to us?”

We don’t know how they got across. Maybe they found a boat or maybe they walked all the way around or maybe they swam. I don’t know. The point is, it was just one more thing! Hadn’t they been through enough? I bet you know that feeling. I bet you have had that same desperation in your voice as you talked to God. But just as God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can endure He also knows how much heartache we can endure and so Naomi and Ruth finally make it back to Bethlehem. Let’s pick up what happens next as we read chapter 2, verse 1-10.

I would bet there are 25 different sermons in that one little passage but I want us to see only 2 things this morning.  I want us to look at what I believe are the main reasons this passage is in here.  Is the reason this passage is in here to teach us about luck?  Is it to show us how Karma works?  Is it to show us an example of how by working hard we can change our destiny?  No.  I believe that we can see from this passage that God is sovereign and that God has a plan.

The first instance of God's sovereignty is in the first verse.  There is a saying that you can pick your friends but you are stuck with your family.  It's a good thing for Naomi and Ruth because Boaz is described here as a man of standing or maybe in your Bible it says he was a mighty man or a man of wealth.  None of those are wrong.  The original word includes all of that but leans more toward the ethical side than the prosperous side.  In fact, Boaz uses the same basic word or phrase to later describe Ruth in chapter 3 verse 11 where he says she is a woman of noble character.

Ruth proves that she's not lazy by getting up early the next morning and going to look for food.  She knows she is going to have to provide for Naomi and herself and she goes out, a foreigner in a strange land, and decides to glean some grain or corn.  I said last week that there was no Social Security or Welfare but there was an OT law that commanded the owner of a field to leave behind just a little bit, some scraps, to those who may be in need and that is what Ruth is after here.

It says that Ruth just happened upon this field.  The King James says she happened upon it and that makes it sound like dumb luck.  It sounds like a blind pig finding an acorn.  Finally some good luck, advantageous circumstance, fortuitous providence, chance encounter. 

In John chapter 4, was it coincedence that Jesus was sitting by the well in Sychar when the Samaritan woman came to draw water?  Was it good luck when Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch in the chariot?  Was it good karma that Peter and John were going to the temple at 3 pm and saw the beggar?  No, it was the guiding grace of our Heavenly Father who sees and knows everything and has great, great love for you just like He did for Ruth.

It is the sovereignty of Almighty God who allows us to have free will and still ordains our footsteps.  Sovereign means to have supreme and independant power.  All through the Old and New Testaments God is called Sovereign Lord.  Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."  God doesn't need your permission to do something.  You don't see or understand everything like He does so we just have to trust Him.

Let's say for a minute God did ask you before He did something.  Let's say God comes to you and says, "Uh, hey Bill.  I have this plan and I need to break your leg so that you can go to the hospital to tell a certain nurse about Me.  How do you feel about that?"

You would probably say no.  But if you knew that that nurse would come to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus 10 years later, remembering what you said and that she would then witness to a doctor who would council a young woman not to have an abortion and that child would grow up to lead your grandson to Jesus?  Would that change your mind?  Was that broken leg fair to you?  Did it hurt you badly?  Were you affected by that the rest of your life?  None of those questions even matter any more!

We don't see things as God sees them so who are we to complain or even question God?

I want us to look at another verse in this passage.  We see that Ruth finds favor in the eyes of Boaz and he treats her with respect and fairness even though she has done nothing to deserve it in his mind.  I want us to read verse 8 again.  "So Boaz said to Ruth, My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me."

There are 2 ways you can look at that.  First you could look at it as restrictive.  That is narrowing my options.  Who does he think he is to try to limit what I can do?  He's not the boss of me.  Another way to look at that is to think of what a blessing it is to be separated or holy to these people and this field where Boaz can protect and provide for me.  God doesn't want you to do certain things or go certain places, not because He is mean but just the opposite.

He wants you to be in the right place at the right time because He has a plan for your life.  Just like He said in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

We see that Boaz is an OT picture of Jesus Himself and He wants us to stay in His field.  He knows there is nothing but trouble in another field and even though we don't deserve it He wants to bless us and protect and provide for us.  Ruth is a picture of the church and as part of the church of Jesus we want to do as we are told.  We want to stay under the protective wings of Jesus.  There is work for us to do there just like there was for Ruth but we don't see it as restricting us but it is protecting us.

One last thing I want us to see in verse 10 is the response of Ruth.  At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me--a foreigner?"

I am reminded of another such question.  I Chronicles 17:16 says, "Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?

You may think, "Oh sure.  That's easy for a king to say."  David knew heartache like I hope most of us will never know.  He knew great physical, emotional, even spiritual pain.  He often cried out to God.  He spent years running for his very life for reasons he couldn't understand.  In the end, he acknowledged God's sovereign will was for his benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom of God.

Did he understand why everything had happened to him?  Did it make it not hurt to lose an infant child?  Did knowing that God was sovereign and had a plan bring his son Absalom back to life?  No, of course not.  There will always be things we don't understand.  There will always be things in life that still hurt and things that aren't fair; things we can't know until we see Jesus.

My friend Scott told me about visiting a castle in England a few years ago.  He was amazed at the architecture.  He said the furniture was beautiful.  The gardens were amazing.  The pictures on the wall were all incredible.  He said they had in one room several huge tapestries hanging down from rods.  These tapestries were works of art that were sewn by hand and depicted all sorts of important places or events.  The handiwork was intricate and perfect.

He looked on the back of one of them, though, and he said it was awful.  It was nothing but a mass of different color pieces of material that made no sense.  It was ugly and distorted and you couldn't tell at all about what was on the front by looking at the back.  On the back was ugly nonsense but the front was beautiful and perfect.

It's the same way with our lives.  From our vantage point, it doesn't make sense.  It's not fair.  We don't deserve it.  It's ugly and horrible for no good reason.  And it may be that way our whole lives.  God doesn't promise to make it make sense.  He never says life is going to be fair in the end.  We just have to trust that He is sovereign and that He has a plan.  And when we do that we are in place to ask God just that one question like Ruth did:  Why have I found such favor in your eyes, Sovereign Lord?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Devotion - Ruth 1

Devotion – Ruth 1

If music be the food of love, play on.

She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed; She is woman, and therefore to be won.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service.

Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?

The sight of lovers feedeth those in love.

Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.

What is light, if Sylvia be not seen? What is joy if Sylvia be not by?

You know, with a little practice that Shakespeare guy is gonna be pretty good someday. Everybody loves love. Everybody loves a good love poem or a good love letter written by the one they love. What woman wouldn’t want their name to be written in that last line? “What is light if Judy be not seen? What is joy if Carol be not by?”

A young man wrote his sweetheart a love letter and mailed it to her. She opened it up and read how the young man would gladly walk the burning desert to bring her a flower. He would scale the highest mountain to gaze into her eyes. He would fight the wild beast for just one kiss. She was so moved she called him and said, “I must see you. I’m madly in love with you and can’t wait to see you right now!”

The boy answered, “Well, it’s raining right now. How about tomorrow?”

The Bible has often been described as God’s love letter to us. In it you find that God loved us so much He sent His Son to die on the cross and that if we just believe in Him we can have eternal life. But there are also love stories within the love letter. I love the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob worked for 14 years to get Rachel. Hosea loved Gomer even though she was unfaithful. But there is no greater love story in the Bible and arguably all of literature than the story we find in the Book of Ruth.

A story about a man’s love for a woman is common enough. Or a woman for her child or a father for a daughter, maybe. A story like David and Jonathan is rare but I have never heard of another story that talks about a mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship like this.

Do you remember last week when we read in Ruth 1 what Ruth said to her mother-in-law Naomi? Turn to Ruth chapter 1.  I want to read just verses 15-18.“Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her. Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.7 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Ruth and Naomi and the other daughter-in-law Orpah had all just lost their husbands. They had no children. They were in a foreign country with no relatives around to help them and it looked pretty bleak for the 3 ladies and so Naomi told them to just go back to their own people. Orpah finally agreed but Ruth said “no way”.  Ruth was devoted to her mother-in-law Naomi.

And you can't blame Orpah.  As nice and sweet as Naomi must have been there was no guarantee of even surviving if Orpah stayed with her.  There was no Social Security, Welfare or food stamps and if you didn't have a man to provide for you back then you could easily starve or be abused and so Orpah made the difficult decision to leave and go back to her family home.

In verse 15, Naomi tells Ruth that Orpah is going back home to her family and to her gods and the chief god of the Moabites was Chemosh.  The Moabites were called the Children of Chemosh and they not only worshiped this idol, they also performed human sacrifice to it.  Evidently Orpah had given that up while in Naomi's family but she returned to it.  And nothing is ever mentioned of her again.

I'm reminded of 2 Timothy 4:10 where Paul says that Demas deserted him because of his love of this world.  Orpah made her decision and as we saw last week, decisions have consequences and we never hear from her or Demas again.  I can't blame someone for trying to better themselves but when you turn your back on God you can expect to reap the consequences.

Ruth, on the other hand, says in 16 and 17 that Naomi's God will be her God and even then calls Him "Lord".  The name "Lord" was considered God's personal name or title.  It was used by someone who knew Him, not just knew of Him.  Ruth made the decision to stay with Naomi not just because she was devoted to Naomi but also because she was devoted to God.

The Jordan River divided Moab from Bethlehem and all of Judah and when Ruth crossed over that Jordan, she left behind that old way of life.  She left behind the old idols.  She left behind her old ways and just as the waters of baptism mean to us that we are leaving behind our old life and we are being buried with our Lord and raised to new life in Christ, devoted to Him, Ruth devoted herself to Naomi and to Jehovah God, forsaking completely every tie she had to the old way.

Now, I wonder how Naomi felt at first when her sons came home and said they were marrying Moabite women.  I wonder if she had mixed feelings.  I'm sure she was glad they found someone but for her, as a Hebrew, it must have been bad news to hear that these girls were Moabites.  You see, Moabites weren't just enemies of Israel.   Ammonites and Moabites were the offspring of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters and the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 23 forbid them from being in the assembly of the Lord with the Israelites.

This was the equivalent of your son coming home and telling you he was marrying a woman who had been a member of the Branch Davidians or some other cult. 

Now, I want to ask you a question.  God has laid out some rules.  There are laws that we are to live by.  There was the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments, Jesus said we are to live certain ways, Paul told us in his letters what God had told him and there are others.  I would include the laws of our land today.  But we mess up all the time. 

You can call it youthful indiscretion or a mistake.  Maybe you feel better calling it a shortcoming or a deficiency.  Peccadillo is a pretty word, maybe that’s what you want to say.  But God calls it sin.  When we disobey, when we go against what God says, He calls that sin.

My question is, when we sin, is God a just God or is He merciful?  I ask this because Ruth is a sinner.  I don’t mean just an average, petty, no big deal sinner.  She comes from a long line of sinners.  She is a Moabitess and as I told you before the OT law says that no Moabite will enter the assembly of God with the Israelites.  In fact, no Moabite to the 10th generation will worship God with the Israelites or be a part of their religious assembly.  God tells the Israelites not to have anything to do with them or their descendants!

I want to skip over to the last 2 verses in the last chapter of this beautiful book.  There is so much good stuff in this little book and I don’t want to give it all away before I have a chance to preach on it but I have to point something out at the very end.  Let’s read just verses 21 and 22 of chapter 4.

21 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, 22 Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.

Now, if you were to just read those 2 verses they don’t mean a whole lot unless you see that Boaz is the great-grandfather of David and then you realize that that David is King David and then you realize that King David and the others are in the lineage of Jesus Himself.  And who is married to Boaz?  Ruth!  (I know I just gave away part of the story there but that’s ok.)

That still may not mean a whole lot to you.  To see God’s grace and mercy in the life of a Moabitess in the OT may not be a big deal to you.  If not it is probably because you are one of those peccadillo kinda sinners.  You are one of those folks who sin little sins and so you can’t appreciate when God forgives big sins.  But I can appreciate it.  I can appreciate the mercy that allows a woman who should be forbidden to even be near God’s people to actually be related to the Messiah.

I can appreciate that kind of grace and mercy because, like Ruth, I am a big-time sinner and I come from a long line of sinners who don’t deserve that kind of grace and who, yet, have received it.  I’m not a peccadillo sinner.  I have done some genuine, messed up, jacked up, horrible stuff that I thank God none of y’all will ever know about; stuff that is hard for me to think about but God says I don’t have to think about it because He doesn’t think about it.

Because I came to Him and called Him “Lord” just like Ruth did and I repented and begged Him for forgiveness, He says all that nasty stuff is forgiven and forgotten.  And do you know why?  Because He is devoted to me.  Do you believe that?  Can God possibly be devoted to me?  Well, not just me.  Just like Ruth was devoted to Naomi and devoted to God, we see that God is devoted to her and He is devoted to me!

God is so devoted to all of us that He sent His Son to die in our place.  I assure you there is nothing redeemable about me and yet He came to redeem me like an expired coupon.  And like Job says in chapter 19, I know that my Redeemer lives.  And because He lives I can face tomorrow without guilt or shame but not only can I face it, God, like He did with Ruth, has chosen to use me.  And He has chosen to use you.

In Isaiah 55:8 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  And this is one of those things I don’t understand.  Why would God use me?  Why is He devoted to me?  I don’t know but it makes me want to please Him.  It makes me want to obey those laws and those commands and it makes me want to tell other people about the all-powerful, all-knowing God who is devoted to them.  I want them to know the great love story written to them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Answer

Like I did, most of you probably went to bed last night with enough on your mind, but then to wake up and hear the tragic news of the mass shooting in Colorado just breaks our hearts. I can't comprehend what would motivate a person to do such a thing except that Satan is alive and well in our country and he seems to be gaining momentum. It makes me ache to just be with Jesus in Heaven where we won't have anymore heartbreak and no more sorrow. But we are still here and we still have the answer to these problems.
The Bible tells us to expect this kind of thing as the end gets closer and closer and that we should be prepared. We are told that life is a wisp of smoke and can vanish in an instant (James 4:14) and that all creation is groaning and anxious to have things made right (Rom. 8:22). But while we are still here we are also told to share the answer to life's problems (Matt. 28:19). And we are told that we have God's own power when we go and tell (Acts 1:8).
The Answer to what happened in Colorado this morning is not more gun control. The Answer will not come from Washington D.C. no matter who is in the White House or Congress. The Answer is not going to come from more police or better surveillence. The Answer lives inside of us as Christians and we have the power to make changes while we are still here. You are not too old or too young. You don't have to know all the right Bible verses. You don't have to preach or be perfect or be famous. In fact, you have no valid excuse. What is keeping you from changing this world by sharing the Answer with somebody today? Will you just say the name "Jesus" to somebody today?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Decisions - Ruth 1

FBCRB 7/15/12

“Decisions” – Ruth 1

We had a great time last Wednesday night. We started having a family dinner discussion around the table discussing what the Bible says about certain big topics. Last Wednesday was “What does the Bible say about divorce?” and it was so good. I encourage you to come and be a part. You don’t have to say anything but you are welcome to. On the heels of that discussion on divorce, though, one might go away thinking I am against marriage or love or some nonsense like that and that is certainly not the case. I told the group that for me personally it is sort of like asking Mrs. Lincoln if she wants to go back to Ford’s Theater and see a show. She might say, “No, thank you. The last time I went there something really bad happened.”

But that does not make me against marriage, love or romance. In fact, it makes me appreciate even more couples who have been married for long periods of time. Several of you in here have been married multiple decades. My parents have been married 54 years. I know because I texted my mom the other day and her reply was 54 looooonnnnnggggg years. I can appreciate the effort involved there. That response probably tells more about her kids than her husband, especially her daughters! :)

But we can all appreciate a good love story. Women seem to be drawn to that more than men but we all want that in our lives. Adrian Rogers tells the story of 3 girls who were college roommates at their Christian college and were in their dorm room one night praying, “Lord, give us pure hearts. Lord, give us clean hearts. Lord, give us sweethearts.” And, all the girls said, “Ah-men.”

We are going to be looking at one of the most beautiful love stories ever in any kind of literature this morning and we have it right in our Bibles but before we do, this is a perfect opportunity for me to give a warning about some popular forms of media that are out today. One is a book and the other is a movie. The book is 50 Shades of Grey and the movie is “Magic Mike”. Both are extremely popular with women right now and both have been described as “mommy porn”. Ladies, when your friends start giggling and talking about these it’s time to politely excuse yourself or even nicely tell them you don’t care to see, read or talk about such things. You wouldn’t want your husband, son or father watching or reading things that portray women like these portray men so don’t be a part of it.

In fact, if and when that happens, that would be a great time to say something positive about your husband. Trust me on this. I know you have been married for a thousand years and your husband knows you are kidding when you say things about him but he also needs to know that you do not speak poorly of him in public. So, use this time to say something positive about him. When my mom texted me back about the 54 long years, I jokingly asked her if she had been mistreated and her immediate response was, “No, Daddy has always treated me like a queen. Far better than I deserve.” So, when your girlfriend wants you to go see Magic Mike you could say that while your husband may not look like Matthew McConaughey, he is…and then you fill in the blank.

So guys, now you have to make sure that your wife has something nice to say about you. I’ll leave that to you and I will end this session of “Marriage Advice from Todd”. That is all the marriage counseling you will get from me today and you can rest assured that counseling from me will be few and far between. Let’s get back to our beautiful love story. It comes from the Book of Ruth. Ruth is a continuation of the Book of Judges but while Judges was about culture, rules and laws regarding the nation of Israel, the Book of Ruth is about a common woman who was concerned about common things. Ruth is a picture—in the Old Testament—of the Church. And, she marries a man named Boaz, who was a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, our kinsman Redeemer.

If you have never read the story of Ruth, I think you will love it. It’s a great story, considered by many to be a great work of art no matter what kind of literature.

Benjamin Franklin—as you know, one of the fathers of our country—was also the ambassador to France. And, when in France, he was a member of a literary society, and they were giving different readings and so forth. Ben Franklin, without letting this agnostic literary society know where he had gotten it, shared with them the love story of Ruth. They were astounded. They said to him, “Dr. Franklin, that is beyond a doubt the most beautiful romance—love story—we’ve ever heard. Would you give us leave, please, that we might have it published and give it broad distribution?” He said, “It is already published, and it already has broad distribution. It is found in the Bible, that book that you profess to despise”.

I hope you have your copy of that book today and if you do please turn to the Book of Ruth which is in the OT right after Judges and before 1 Samuel. I try not to have you read any more than is necessary to get the point across but this morning I want us to read the whole first chapter. It’s not terribly long. In fact, the whole book is only 4 chapters. Go home and read the whole thing before we come back next time. You will be glad you did. And as we read I want you to think about the decisions that the characters make and we will consider that after we read. Read chapter 1.

There are 3 things I want us to see in this chapter regarding our decisions.

· We are free to choose.

· Our choices have consequences.

· Our consequences affect others.

The first verse says that this was the time of the judges. We have some Gideons here this morning. Gideon was one of the good judges but overall this was a dark and bloody time for the Hebrew people. It was also a time when names meant a lot more than they do now. You will notice that Elimelech (whose name means “my God is king”) is coming from Bethlehem that means “house of bread”.

So, evidently Elimelech had a godly background but he chooses to leave the house of bread and go to the land of their enemy to wait out the famine. There is no other source that corroborates the fact that there was a famine at this time so we have to wonder what drove this decision.

Now there is an ongoing debate over whether man has free will or if God is sovereign. And, honestly, I’m no Aristotle but I chalk that up to something I will never completely understand. We will talk about God’s sovereignty again in the next couple of weeks but for now, without dealing with a lot of semantics, we all understand that we have choices to make. God gives us a will, and with that will we make choices. We’re not machines. We’re not forced. God made us moral creatures; and, when God made us moral creatures, God gave us a choice.

Joshua 24:15 says “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”. "Come now, and let us reason together,'' says the Lord Isa 1.18a. “I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and cursing…choose life, that you may live”(Deuteronomy 30:19). If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Jam 1.5

The problem here is that obviously Elimelech did not ask God for wisdom nor did he pray about any aspect of this trip. God wants us to make right decisions.  It is for our own good that we make good decisions.  It is for the good of the Kingdom that we make good decisions and that is our goal, right?  To further the Kingdom?

As I was studying this the other day, I took a break and took my dogs for a walk.  I have 3 dogs.  Bo, Sara and Dori.  And every day it is the same:  Good boy Bo!  That's a sweet girl, Sara!  And where's Dori?  I like to walk them without leashes but Dori gets distracted and then won't come when she is called.  Now she has to walk on the leash or not at all.  She makes the choice.  That's freedom through obedience.

Some people think all God does is make up things we shouldn't do.  He has a long list of "thou shalt nots" and you can't have any fun being a Christian.  But the longer you serve Him the more you realize that if He says no it is for your benefit and the benefit of the kingdom.  The next thing about the choices we make is that they have consequences. 

Elimelech is going where he shouldn't go and with poor motive.  He was not seeking first the Kingdom.  He was seeking bread.  He takes his 2 sons (whose names mean "weak" and "sick", by the way, so this can't turn out well) and also his wife and the wives of his sons.  God did not tell him to go, it just seemed like the thing to do at the time.  There is a proverb that seems to have been written just for Elimelech.  Proverbs 16:25 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."  Nobody proved this better than Elimelech.

Also, the thing about our choices is that while we are free to make the choice, we are not free to choose the consequences.  I think there ought to be a warning label on spandex that says, "Just because you can wear this doesn't mean you should."  And it's the same with the choices we make.  Just because you can do something does not mean you should because there are consequences and you have no control over them.

Just because you can live with someone and not be married to them does not mean you should.  You can't choose the disease you may get or the pregnancy that comes out of it.  When you make choices outside the bounds of God's plan you should expect the unexpected.  Galatians 6:7 says, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."

Every night when you watch the news, there is story after story of somebody making poor decisions.  You see the business man who steals from his company; the mother who abuses her child, the drug dealer who sells to a cop.  Do you know how many of those people thought they would get caught?  None.  We can all say "amen" to that because we don't steal or do drugs, right?

How many times has a lie come back to bite you?  Have you ever been busted gossiping?  Have you had to apologize to a neighbor or a family member for saying something inappropriate?  Nobody ever thinks they are going to get caught.  Jerry Sandusky ruined boys' lives for years and for the longest time thought he would never get caught and now that he has we all cheer but God says a sin is a sin.  He hates them all.  The thing about making bad choices is that while God sees all sin as sin the consequences can be extreme, as Elimelech and his family found out.

Yes, his family also found out about the consequences because our consequences affect others around us.  Naomi, whose name means "sweetness" went back to Bethlehem and when her friends saw her they said, “Hey, look.  There’s Sweetness.”  And she said, “Don’t call me Sweetness.  Call me Bitterness.”

Naomi didn’t do anything to deserve this.  Neither did Ruth or Orpah.  Have you ever been in that position?  Has anybody ever made a decision that affected you?  Of course they have.  Adam and Eve made a decision that still affects all of us thousands of years later.  Think about David.  He made one wrong decision and it led to so many others.  Instead of going to war with his troops like he was supposed to do, he stayed at home, saw Bathsheba, and a man lost his life.  A baby was born and died.  The lives of many were changed forever because of one little decision made outside the will of God.

How about you?  I know some of you are in the process of making some big decisions in your life.  Is your relationship with Jesus where it is supposed to be?  Satan would have you believe that it’s no big deal.  You won’t get caught.  It’s just a little decision.  And that’s how it starts every time.

Thankfully we serve a God who is forgiving.  When we do make bad decisions there are consequences and they often affect other people but we don’t have to live in guilt and shame.  In fact, I’m anxious to talk about God’s sovereignty in the coming weeks because we serve the same God as Joseph in the OT who told his brothers in the last chapter of Genesis, “ What you intended for harm, God intended it for good”.

I can see that in my own life and that is one reason that, as I said earlier, I don’t hate the thought of someone getting married.  I’m not against it.  I know God to be a God of second and third chances.  I know Him to be merciful and generous.  I know Him as my Father and even my Friend.  Do you have that relationship with Him?  You can.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blessed are they - Matthew 5:7-12

FBCRB 7/8/12

"Blessed are they..." - Matthew 5:7-12

James 5:16 says to confess your sins one to another so I have a confession. I said a bad word the other day and I got in trouble for it. My 6 year old nephew, Tristan, busted me for saying "Idiot". I don't know who I was talking about but somebody on the news was doing something I thought was not very smart and so I called the guy an idiot. Tristan gasped, shook his head and immediately scolded me. I tried to explain that I wasn't calling him an idiot but I just thought he was doing something that idiots do but that didn't help. So I just apologized. But it got me thinking about how I talk about other people which led me to think about how I think about other people which led me to think about how I treat other people. They are all related. One affects the other, so today's sermon is not just for y'all. I am glad you are here but if you weren't I would still preach this.

Have you dealt with any idiots lately? Don't tell Tristan I said that. I mean have you dealt with someone that is hard to get along with? I read something the other day that said everybody will deal with someone that is hard to get along with at least once in their lives. Good grief, you probably think like I do that it's at least once a day. I joke around that being a pastor would be alot of fun if it weren't for all these people. I promise you that is just a joke. I absolutely do not feel that way. But sometimes it is hard to deal with some people, right?

A little boy had misbehaved big time. As punishment his mother made his sit at a table by himself during the evening meal. After the meal was finished and his mom, dad, two brothers and sister were about to leave, the little boy bowed his head and said, “Thank you, Lord, for preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Prayer is definitely one way to deal with people. I’m not sure that’s the right way to pray, however. But if you did pray and if you asked God how to handle difficult people, what do you think He would say? Let me ask it this way: if you were God and somebody asked you, what would you say? Would you tell them to just be nice and hopefully they will be nice back? Would you tell them if they are not nice then to walk away? Would you tell them not to worry because those people will get what is coming to them? Would you promise "shock and awe" vengeance on those people?

If we were God, that may be how we would handle it, but it is not what God tells us through His Word in Matthew 5. We saw last week that those first 4 Beatitudes in verses 3-6 concentrate on how we are to relate to God. The next 4 deal with how we are to relate to other people, even people that are hard to get along with. It's real easy to be merciful to somebody that you love and enjoy being around. If that was what Jesus was saying, this would be pretty easy. In fact, that is what our culture would say to do but as I have said several times, these words from Jesus were counter-cultural then and they certainly are today as well.

Let's look closely at these counter-cultural words from Jesus as He preached on the side of a hill on the banks of the Sea of Galilee . Turn to Matthew 5 and let's look specifically at verses 7-12.

So simple…yet so profound. I read one commentator who said of the Beatitudes: “We are near heaven here.” Why do you think he would say that? Surely we don’t know what Heaven will be like but I think he is on to something here. Do you remember what the word “Blessed”means? It means more than happy but that is included in it. To be completely blessed means to ultimately have everything we need. I don’t know exactly what Heaven is going to look like but I think that is a pretty good description of our life there, having everything we need.

We have seen before that this is not a guide on how to get to Heaven. When Jesus says that we can inherit the earth or have the kingdom of Heaven he is not saying if you do this you go there. We see that some of these blessings are for the here and now and some are for the hereafter but Jesus is saying that if we live our lives in accordance to what He says here, we can ultimately have everything we need.

He says blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. The word simply means to have compassion on those in need. It is the same word used to describe the Good Samaritan when he helped the traveler when the man had been assaulted and robbed. If I were to give you an illustration of mercy I would use…you. I would use this church as a perfect example of mercy. It describes you for several reasons but one that stands out id the food pantry that y’all have been so generous toward lately.

Just this past week I was trying to be helpful to a lady in our community and I asked her if she had enough to eat. She quietly just said “no”. I found out that she had not eaten anything in about a day and a half and had no prospects for another meal. But because you had already shown mercy in giving she didn’t have to continue to go hungry. She was so grateful to our church and I was just tickled to be a part of it. Thank you.

Now, the way this is worded some people would believe that only through being merciful will God show you mercy but that is not correct. We don’t merit mercy with mercy just like we don’t merit forgiveness with forgiveness. It is only when we repent that we find mercy and forgiveness and we can’t claim to have repented of OUR sins when we have not forgiven others of THEIR sins and nothing proves more clearly that we have been shown mercy than by our showing of mercy.

I have found that each one of these Beatitudes makes you realize more and more who God is and who you are and when you see that clearly, it will change your life. You will show mercy. You will be poor in spirit. You will hunger and thirst for righteousness and that leads us to the next one in verse 8. When you realize who you are and who God is you will be pure in heart.

It is, of course, a good thing to be pure in heart before God.  David cried out in Psalm 51, “Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me!”  We are told in several places how we should be pure in heart when we deal with God.  But in this verse Jesus is telling us to be pure in heart when dealing with other people. 

To be pure in heart means to literally be “unmixed or not having mixed allegiances”.  The basic idea is of integrity, singleness of heart, as opposed to duplicity, or a divided heart.  Do you know of anybody like that?  Do you know someone who would be described as “what you see is what you get”?  I know some people describe themselves like that in order to justify not being sensitive to others.  They are rude and harsh but say, “Hey, what you see is what you get.  It’s just who I am.”  Well…that doesn’t make it right.  That’s nothing to brag about.  And it is not the kind of person Jesus is describing here.

The heart of the person Jesus is describing is pure including their thoughts and their motives, not mixed with anything ulterior.  They are not hypocrites nor do they deceive.  A physician told this story about her then four-year-old daughter. On the way to preschool, the doctor had left her stethoscope on the car seat, and her little girl picked it up and began playing with it. Be still, my heart, thought the doctor, my daughter wants to follow in my footsteps!
Then the child spoke into the instrument: "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?"

That’s just being who you are without trying to impress or deceive anyone.  Isn’t it refreshing when you meet someone like that?  What comes naturally and easily for a child can be so difficult for us as adults.  And because it is so difficult to be pure of heart we get good at being not so pure of heart and we fool a lot of people but Proverbs 21:2 says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.“ 

So the pure in heart will see God, now with the eye of faith and later face to face but now and then we will be blessed.

Verse 9 says the peacemakers will be blessed as well.  I believe Jesus spoke these in a certain order for a reason.  How much easier it is for the pure in heart to keep the peace.  The #1 cause for lack of peace is somebody is saying or doing something to give the impression they are something they are not.  But this says we are to be peacemakers or reconcilers which is the same word Paul uses for what God has done through Christ.  In Colossians 1:20 it says that He made peace through His blood shed on the cross.

Now some people like to think of themselves as peacemakers but all they are are appeasers.  They avoid conflict at all costs but true peace will nearly always come at the cost of some pain.  It may be painful to apologize to someone or it may also be painful to approach someone who has wronged you and rebuke them in love.  If it is not painful then you are probably doing it wrong. 

God has called us to be in unity but we have no mandate from God anywhere that we are to be unified without purity; purity of conduct and of doctrine.  If someone in the church continues to live a life outside the bounds of what the Bible teaches we are instructed in Matthew 18 to go to that person and get it straightened out.  If there is ultimately no repentance then there is ultimately no peace and it will be painful but we can’t allow that to be lived out in our fellowship.

Just smoothing over a problem or pretending like it is not there is not being a peacemaker.  It’s not easy and maybe that’s why the blessing is to be called the sons of God because that is what He did through His Son Jesus and that’s also what Jesus did as He had such love for people He allowed Himself to go through pain to bring peace.  The question is:  how much do you love people?

Again I will say that it is appropriate that Jesus would say these in order for the last one says that those who are persecuted will be blessed.  And if you live your life according to all the previous Beatitudes, it will be rightfully seen as counter-cultural and when you live your life counter to what the culture says, you will be persecuted.

That same righteousness that we are to hunger and thirst for is the same thing that will cause you to be persecuted no matter how hard you try to make peace; no matter how much you show you love them.  And when you have done all you can and they still hate you God has a special blessing reserved for you.  Jesus continues this thought in verses 11 and 12, saying that when this happens we are to be glad because our reward in Heaven will be…pretty good…not bad…almost worth it.  No, He says our reward in Heaven will be great.

Have you been persecuted lately?  Let me warn you that the name of Jesus is highly offensive.  I heard just the other day about a judge that barred anyone praying at a high school graduation from saying the name “Jesus” in the prayer.  They don’t want the 10 Commandments in the school.  You can break out your prayer mat in the middle of Times Square, face east and pray to Allah but don’t say, “…in Jesus’ name” in the prayer or you will be branded an anarchist and face all kinds of persecution. 

So, if you are not seeing any persecution in your life that says a lot more about you than it does our culture because if you go around saying the name Jesus you will be persecuted.  Do you have enough passion for people and passion for other people that you would dare say that name to somebody this week?  Do you have enough mercy in you to want your neighbor to know how to avoid eternity in Hell?

Is your heart pure enough toward your co-worker that you would get out of your comfort zone, quit telling yourself that your life will be witness enough and start saying the name Jesus?  He is the great Physician.  He has the grace and mercy to forgive and restore.  He has the power to reward.  He can change lives, situations and attitudes.  Do you care enough about your family?  In fact, how bad do you have to hate somebody not to tell them the Good News that Jesus died for their sins, rose again and is waiting to forgive them and give them new life here and eternal life there?

Living your life according to the Beatitudes is not going to be easy.  But it will make you more like Jesus and that’s what this life is about.  And the more you realize Who God is and who you are the more you will want it.  Let’s pray about it right now.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Blessed are they... - Pt. II

7/1/12 FBCRB

“Blessed are they…”Pt. II – Matthew 5:1-12

I want you to take a few minutes and envision the scene. It’s a beautiful spring day. There is a slight but refreshing breeze coming off the Sea of Galilee. At the edge of the water some children are playing while a little further out 2 men in a boat are fishing with nets. At times a storm can come up and whip the water into large, angry waves but today the water is calm. In fact, it is so calm that nobody in the large crowd is even paying attention to the water. Their backs are to the water and their heads are up so they see up the hill and their ears are open, soaking up every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus as he preaches.

While it would be a wonderful thing to continue envisioning the Savior as He speaks, I want us to focus this morning on 2 men in the crowd. We don’t know their names. We don’t know from where they come. They are similar in how they look and how they dress. The biggest difference in these 2 men is not outward but inward.

Both men have been following Jesus as He walks and talks across the hillsides. Every so often Jesus would sit down; not really because He was tired but that’s how they knew He had something He wanted them to hear and so they would all gather around. This afternoon Jesus found a large rock and sat down on it with the large crowd between Him and the water. Both men were tired of living under this repressive military government. Taxes consumed 1/3 of their income. Slavery was rampant. Racial prejudice was standard. Surely this man Jesus who spoke so counter-culturally was the answer.

He then began to preach what would later become known as simply “The Sermon on the Mount”. The first 8 sentences alone would prove to be world-changing. Known as the Beatitudes, the first 4 dealt with man’s relationship with God, the next 4 dealt with man’s relationships with other men. Both men in our story this morning heard Jesus plainly as He started with the words found in Matthew 5:3-6.

When Jesus spoke those first words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” the first man’s heart soared! He had few possessions and very little money and he heard Jesus say that word “blessed” and immediately applied it to himself. He understood that one word to mean what in the English language takes several words. He understood it to mean more than just happy. It meant to have joy; to be fulfilled, to in fact have everything one needs and so he was very excited.

He misunderstood what Jesus said and thought that if anything maybe he could be a little more poor-spirited by saying bad things about himself and since he didn’t have much money, surely that combination would get him the kingdom of Heaven about which Jesus spoke. He would just try real hard to look pious and put himself down in front of other people and he thought he would be right on track.

The second man understood that Jesus was not talking about being physically poor. If that were the case then we would certainly never see Abraham, Moses or David in Heaven. This man understood that Jesus was saying that those who were spiritually bankrupt would be blessed. He understood that meant to come to God with a complete absence of pride and self-reliance and because he understood that he was crushed. He was crushed because he knew deep down in his heart there was the remnant of pride; that feeling that if he tried hard enough he could earn his way to Heaven. And because of that, even as Jesus spoke the man’s heart ached and he cried out to God,

“God save me. I have nothing to give you. I don’t deserve it. There is nothing in me that is deserving of your Heaven but it is only through your great grace and mercy that I ask for your favor. I am utterly dependent on you.” This man was exactly where God wanted him to be and it was this attitude that would ultimately lead him to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then as Jesus continued with the greatest sermon ever preached the first man was again relieved to hear Him say that those who mourn would be comforted. The man, like everyone else, had suffered loss in his life and was very sad and so he took this as a promise that he would instantly feel better and expected that it meant that he would no longer have to go through loss anymore and he was anxious and excited for that to kick in.

The second man, on the other hand, was listening to the same words but didn’t even realize that he was living out exactly what Jesus was telling them to live out. He was in such mourning over his spiritual bankruptcy and his total inability to be good enough to live up to God’s standards that he no longer felt the sting of his own physical losses. He mourned the bad decisions he had made. He mourned the sorry state of his spiritual life through his own bad choices. He realized that he had grieved God and in doing so was grieved himself.

Psalm 51 kept running through his head where David cried out to God saying, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”And also, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.”

The second man grieved over his sin just as the first man had grieved his loss of a loved one and in doing so was doing exactly as Jesus was saying when He said “Blessed are those who mourn.” Just like David there was great comfort for that second man in this life but even more so in the life to come.

When Jesus then said, “Blessed are the meek…” the first man was confused. He knew that if they were to ever get out from under the cruel Roman rule they would need to have strength and power. In fact, in his mind that is how a man got anything, including respect, by showing his strength, not by being weak.  When Jesus said that the meek will be blessed and will inherit the earth the man the man felt almost pity for Jesus.  How could someone be so obviously wrong?  The idea of a meek and gentle Messiah was absurd.  In his stubborn thinking he even overlooked the scripture that talked of the Suffering Servant who would be the Messiah.  He was just sure that to overcome an out-of-control government one would have to have the most power.  It just made sense.

The second man, on the other hand, knew what it meant to be meek.  He had spent time as a sailor and he knew that word was often used to describe a well-balanced ship in whose captain had complete control even as it sailed through stormy waters.  He knew it did not mean weakness or cowardice and, in fact, was often used to describe Moses in scripture and no one would dare describe Moses as weak or cowardly.  He could also see great meekness in the one speaking at this moment.  He saw in Jesus a great power that was totally under control.  He spoke with clarity and directness while at the same time humble and with love.

He also remembered scripture in Deuteronomy and Psalms that also talked about inheriting the land and knew that it did not mean the meek people would possess great property but was used proverbially to describe a great blessing, perhaps the sum of all blessings.  The second man looked eagerly forward to the day when he would reap that blessing in Paradise with this man who spoke with the meekness of the Messiah.

The first man heard Jesus' next words with great confidence.  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."  The man didn't have to really hunger for that.  He already had it.  He went to the temple as often as anybody else.  He followed the law of Moses as good as the next guy.  He even fasted and tithed every now and then.  That was better than most people did so he was quite sure what Jesus meant by being filled included being full of himself.  He wore his righteousness like cologne.  It wasn't really a part of him but when he had it on it made him smell real sweet.

The second man wanted righteousness more than anything else.  He knew that meant to live in accordance to God's standards, to be in proper relationship to God.  And when he grasped who God was and who he really was then all he wanted was to be in right relationship with Him.  He often missed a meal because he was so intent on his prayer he just forgot.  He had even told his boss before that he wouldn't be in because he needed to study and pray.  He knew he was a sinner.  He knew he had displeased God and his sin crushed him.  He knew there was nothing in him that deserved God's mercy or grace.  He humbly spent time and energy on his face before God repenting of his sin, asking for wisdom and guidance as he lived his life as close to God as possible.

He learned from Job how to live when difficult times come.  He learned from David how to cry out to God for help.  He learned about wisdom and leadership from Moses, the power of prayer from Elijah.  He learned of God's sovereignty through Joseph's story and the benefits of obedience through the life of Joshua.  And now, through the power and meekness of this young preacher and prophet named Jesus he learned how to have everything he needed.

His hunger and thirst for righteousness was being filled and like a ship that is filled with everything needed to make a long voyage he was filled and ready to continue his relationship with this man who was, through his counter-cultural sermon, revealing Himself to be the Messiah, the One who had the power to cleanse and the grace to save.  He was and is the One who has the compassion to heal, the strength to protect and the mercy to provide.  He was and is and is to come the Creator, Sustainer, Deliverer, Redeemer and even our Friend.

Do you know Him today?  He is the same today as He was when He preached on the side of the hill.  He is still all these things and more and He is waiting for you to come to Him, not with the self-confidence of the first man but the humble hunger to live a life that is full and free that characterized the second man.  He is still meek.  He won't force you to walk with Him but He is also just and will allow you to reap the consequences of a life that is not in accordance to His will.  You can choose to do what makes sense to you like the first man did and spend eternity in Hell or you can put up your shield of faith and tell God you don't understand everything but you choose to have a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  It's your choice.