Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?

And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.

The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. Ruth 2:10-12

The question that we need to ask ourselves is: how much has it been shown to the Lord how we have ‘left all’ and followed Him? That is Christianity’s central question. I love what Boaz told Ruth: “It hath fully been shewed me…” It was fully shown Boaz that Ruth had lost everything in order to serve her mother-in-law, Naomi. How so, so beautiful!

The problem, really, is that we fear to lose. Find me a man who is willing to lose everything and I will show you a man (or woman) who will gain everything.

That is why it is so important for we God’s people to hear the right gospel, the gospel that will show us how, and empower us to lose all that we hold dear, including our very lives, for the sake of Christ. But the scriptures also warn us that there are many errant ‘gospels’ on the loose. These are gospels that will teach us that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5). They will teach us to hold onto our lives. We need to stay warned.

In the above portion of scripture, we read about how Boaz happened to have heard about all that Ruth had done for Naomi and how she had “left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.”

I love the blessing that this man of God, Boaz, spoke upon Ruth’s life: “The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”

Rightly so, Ruth gave birth to Obed, who bore Jesse, who fathered David, Christ’s ancestor. I don’t know about you, but that rocks with me. That’s more powerful than anything this world will ever know.

I can say here right away that the blessing that Ruth received from the Lord is the same blessing that every child of God who agrees to forsake all will receive.

But the price Ruth had to pay to receive a heavenly blessing was also the highest possible. She lost everything! It is not easy to leave one’s father and mother and to go “sell yourself” to a strange people. There is no question that in doing so you will be inviting trouble from every which direction. Ruth’s relatives must have spoken the most awful words against her. Her parents probably even cursed her, cutting her off completely from their lives. It is a miracle her Moabite tribesmen did not send an assassination party to seek and finish her off! She had brought a reproach upon them!

But Ruth had seen something! Jesus said, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat. 7:14).

I wonder how many of us really “find” that way. It is so hidden! And when you look at the kind of mainstream doctrines being taught in church today, I would doubt your sanity if you told me that many are they who have found that road.

The Apostle Paul loved the church. That is why he would not preach them any other gospel other than the revelation he had received from Jesus Christ, which was “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) Here Paul was not just teaching them that Christ was crucified for their sins. He went beyond that and taught them to crucify their lives with Christ, to lose all, that they might have the resurrection life in themselves.

But God gives grace to the humble. I am doubly sure that God will reveal the road to any one of His children who are willing to humble themselves. He will point them to the cross and He will give them the grace to lose their lives.

I am sorry to say this, but there is so much pride and arrogance within the Body of Christ today. God’s people know so much! Everyone has a doctrine they are trying to propagate, no matter it has not even a whiff of biblical truth in it. And each one is holding their ground, firm in the belief that what they have is the right gospel. Some are even paying attention to doctrines taught by demons.

But when we read the Bible with unveiled face, we find that there is only one true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that teaches us to deny self, take up our cross and follow Christ. It is the gospel where we come to a place where we willingly lose our lives, which is the only way to gain that other life, Christ’s life. We must surrender the world to gain heaven. There is no other way.

The “Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah”

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. Ruth 1:16,17

These words by Ruth are not only some of the most popular in the Bible, they are also amongst the most powerful. Nearly every reader of the Bible knows them, and they have impacted many Christians’ lives in a most powerful way.

What many of us do not know is the origin of these words. Where did Ruth get these words? They came from her heart, of course; but what caused her to say them?

God uses the most unlikely people to work out His purpose. I am not talking about Ruth here now; rather, I am referring to Elimelech and his family. The grace of God is revealed throughout the Bible in many different aspects, but one of the most prominent ways we come to notice God’s grace was in the way He used many improbable characters to fulfill His purpose.

Elimelech was such a man. He had run away from his land to escape famine. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, except that he left his fellow countrymen praying, trusting and waiting patiently on God to reveal His faithfulness. That was what we would have expected Elimelech to do also. He should not have left his people in a time of trouble. But it appears that Elimelech was not a very persevering man, and in a moment of weakness, he lost his nerve and bolted for safety.

Years later, long after Elimelech and his two sons had died in a foreign land, God would remember His nation Israel and visit His people “in giving them bread”, and his wife Naomi alone would go back to the home they had left behind.

God knows men’s hearts, however, and He is the best judge of our motives. God knew Elimelech. And through this nerveless man God would re-write history.

The Moabites were a nation that did not know or serve the true God. Their chief god was an idol they called Chemosh. As a result of worshipping this pagan god, they were a very ungodly nation and they lived very wicked lives in the sight of God. There is no way any nation (or person) can live a Godly lifestyle if they do not know the true God. Not, especially, when they are worshipping a demonic entity.

When Elimelech and his family settled in the land of Moab, no doubt they began telling the people there about the true God that they worshipped. But more importantly, they lived such a Godly lifestyle that when Ruth married into that family, through careful observation of their lifestyle, her tender heart was deeply touched.

She saw a kind of godly lifestyle that was not there in her own nation. She saw that the God that these people talked about was different from the gods she knew of in her land. He was a God who had many desirable attributes. He was a God of compassion, and a God of holiness. She heard many moving stories of the Israelite God, Jehovah, and she was profoundly touched.

More importantly, she observed how these people did not simply talk about their God, but she saw how their lives reflected the nature of the God they talked about. Her tender heart craved what she saw and heard.

That was why when Naomi besought her to go back to her gods and her people on the eve of Naomi’s return to Israel, Ruth was adamant: “Your people”, she told Naomi, “shall be my people, and your God my God”. She had found something she wanted, and she would pay for it with her life if it so required. What a powerful testimony to the kind of lifestyle that Naomi and the Elimelech family had lived in the midst of these people!

Neither Elimelech, nor any of his sons’ lifestyles is specified in the Bible, and some would argue that it was probably Naomi herself who lived the kind of lifestyle that attracted Ruth to her God. But I am sure that Elimelech himself and his sons also lived that kind of life. There is nothing to suggest that any of these men lived anything other than a perfect, Godly life in the land of Moab. Also, the Bible is a very keen Book, and it would never mention these men’s names without a particular reason.

Elimelech’s failing (if failing it was) in running away from his nation in a time of trouble fades into nothingness when compared to what he accomplished through his Godly lifestyle in the land of Moab.

Many Christians spend years, and possibly a lifetime, wringing their hands and wishing they were not the losers they are in life. But the Bible here shows us a bunch of losers who became one of the greatest winners in the Bible – The “Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah”. God, in fact, uses losers. If you consider yourself a loser, I encourage you to put on your dancing shoes right now, get out on the dance-floor of life and see what God can do with your life!

Now, we know that Elimelech and his sons died before they would even have an idea of the great wonder (Jesus) that would proceed from the seed they had planted through the Godly lifestyle they had lived in Moab. But the important thing is not that they lived or died. The important thing is what came out of their lives; the fruit that their lives bore.

Some folks are so taken up with living this life! How sad. We should be taken up with living the future life. I know that does not sound very appealing, particularly considering what the world has to offer. But the glory that comes out of living a hard, unpaid, but Godly life in this world could scarcely be compared with the flitting pleasures of this world.

Living this kind of life requires us, in fact, to die to this wordly life. How so contradictory! And yet… how so fascinatingly beautiful!

The Apostle Paul, observing how God works in ways so different from man’s thoughts and expectations, exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

How amazing, indeed.

Free to Love.

The Jews trace their lineage back, not to Nahor or Terah or any of the early patriarchs, but to Abraham. Abraham was he to whom God gave the specific promise that he would become the father of many nations and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God Himself set Abraham apart and, after taking him through a battery of tests designed to gauge his faithfulness, God set His seal on him that he and his offspring would eternally be a special people, unique in His sight.

Without going into too many details here, suffice it to say that the Bible makes it clear that the Hebrew nation that came from Abraham’s loins were considered by God to be His chosen people.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that many of the greatest of God’s heroes had a mixed lineage, that is, they did not come from a purely Abrahamic blood line. There is, for example, in the Bible a book named after an ordinary Moabitess girl, Ruth. This same Ruth became King David’s great-grandmother! The great King David had Moabite blood running in him! In Jesus’ day, this fact would have been unacceptable to some Jews, so prejudiced were they. I am surprised they did not raise a riot, but probably it did not register. At the very least, they would have been greatly humbled to learn this.

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mat. 1:1) is filled with names of strange people, and even stranger relationships:

– There is the incestuous affair of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar;

– There’s Ruth;

– A great Israelite King, Solomon, was born of an adulterous affair, and worse. (The story of David and Uriah’s wife is one that puts God Himself right in the middle of a controversy. But the good news is that God is not afraid of controversy. He loves being controversial! Anyone is welcome to challenge Him.)

What I am driving at is that God is such a God of grace that He does things that are simply ‘unacceptable’ to us. He forgives those we would not forgive; He elevates those we would not even think to look upon; and He accepts those that we would not accept.

I read a story about a man whose cousin was lynched by white American racists many years ago, but after finding Christ he found the strength to forgive the murderers and the community that endorsed the deed. There are many such stories of God’s grace working in people’s lives and we thank God for them. But there are also countless other people struggling with unforgiveness and kindred attitudes, and they are dying a slow death.

Others struggle with accepting people who are different from them in one way or another – probably color, status or whatever.

We cannot hide behind anything. There are so many things we carry that are not a product of the grace of God and oh! how we need to repent of them. How we need to pray for that grace which we see God Himself having! That is exactly what the Apostle James says in 4:6-10, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble… Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

In carrying that grace, we shall show forth the true character of God, who is love. There are many things we will have to ‘swallow’ in order to walk in the reality of that grace.

We all need to be set truly free.  The Bible makes it clear that this freedom comes about through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If people continually hear the right gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, they will learn to stay in that place of true humility and repentance and eventually they will be set totally free. Free to love.

I do not write these words because I myself am totally free in my relationship with other people. On the contrary, these words are a prayer from the depths of my heart. I more than anyone else need the grace of God. I need and I want to arrive at the goal of true liberty which God has set for me. I can only thank Him for any victory that I find in my daily walk with Him.

Naomi pt.1

Some days ago my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to visit a couple who had recently been blessed with a baby girl. When we inquired what the new baby’s name was, the mother replied, “Naomi!” I looked at Joshua and we exchanged broad smiles. The story of Naomi had been featuring prominently in our conversations lately, and we were both struck by the coincidence of it all.

When we told the couple the source of our rejoicing, they were exceedingly happy. We took time to thank God for His grace, for we felt His hand was upon this child.

We are living in a time when the Book of Ruth, and particularly the life of Naomi, is so very relevant for the Church. I would like to take some time this week to meditate on some of the lessons that we learn from this great book. To begin with, let me point out that the Biblical Book of Ruth is actually the story of Naomi. Without Naomi there would have been no Ruth. It is also a story about perseverance. Through her perseverance Naomi caused Ruth to live another life and come into the line of bringing our Savior Jesus Christ into the world.

Naomi lost her husband and her two only children in the land of Moab. She was left with nothing. There is nothing remarkable about Naomi losing her entire family. Misfortunes of this sort affect people in every generation. But, you see, when we take up our cross in circumstances that God allows into our lives, God is able to move on many different fronts. Nothing is written about Naomi’s lifestyle, but I am convinced the Godly life that she lived in the sight of her two Moabite daughters-in-law is central to the message in the Book of Ruth.

Ruth must have watched closely Naomi’s lifestyle. She must have watched as she lost, first her husband, then her two sons, one after the other. During these times of tragedy, many things must have happened. Maybe words were discreetly spoken behind her back. Questioning glances thrown her way. After each burial, her Moabite neighbors would no doubt go back home wondering about this “cursed” woman.

The pain and sorrow in Naomi’s life must have been plain for Orpah and Ruth to see.

And yet, Ruth must have seen something else in Naomi’s life as she struggled with her misfortunes: faith in a living God. Most likely Naomi did not react in the natural, like other people. She probably sang songs of praise to God like Paul and Silas would do much later in prison. She probably called in her two daughters-in-laws after every tragedy, and consoled them, and told them of hope in God, and of life after death.

Through her resoluteness Naomi proved her faith in a living God. Her beautiful faith was clear to all. Probably Orpah did not look hard enough, and when the opportunity came to separate from Naomi, she quickly exited the scene.

For Ruth, however, when that moment arrived, her decision was firm. She would follow Naomi. “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (1:16-17). 

When we take up our Cross and follow Jesus, God works miracles. Through that living faith we allow others into God’s Kingdom. Evangelizing, preaching and witnessing for Jesus are all vital components in bringing people to Christ, but what will get people firmly rooted and attain to the full realization of God’s purpose in their Christian lives is the divine power that can only come from lives that are totally surrendered to the Lord; lives that are suffering and dying daily with Christ.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). We all have our share of worldly tribulations, tests, trials and temptations. But these all occur so we may learn to take up our cross and follow Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 Paul says: “…being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat.” Why would the early apostles go into all this trouble? The answer is: to bring life to others. There is no other means to achieve this other than to lose our lives through the revelation of the Cross. Had there been an easier way, Jesus would most definitely have taken it.

Are we living for ourselves, or for others? We cannot have our cake and eat it. If we are to live for others then we must die; and when we die, we reap a glorious, heavenly reward far beyond our wildest dreams.