Monday, May 31, 2021

May 31 - 1 Kings 3, Romans 5

 Key verse: 1 Kings 3:9

Big idea: Worship is the heart of wisdom.

Today's text picks up after the death of King David, when his son Solomon began to reign. The Lord came to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon could have asked for military might, personal wealth, long life and good health, or ten thousand other things. Every child who has ever seen the movie Aladdin probably has some ideas about what they would ask for if the opportunity arose to have anything their heart desired. But the king's answer was different: he asked for a wise heart to govern the people. The king knew that God had given him an extraordinary task, and his greatest desire was to handle that task well. To do that would require the ability to discern between difficult choices, to find a middle way between bad options, and to represent God well in all that he did. 

It is no coincidence that Solomon wrote, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," in Proverbs 1:7. At the time that he prayed, we do not have any evidence that Solomon had any extraordinary wisdom beyond his love of God. But the wisdom to put God's will for his life first led to all other wisdom. For you and me, we cannot expect to be visited in a dream and be given unmatched insight into every situation, but we can cling to God's promise in the book of James that if we ask God for wisdom, He will give it to us generously. If wisdom is the practical skill of living, what could be more central to being wise than having the single most important priority of all in place? God was pleased with Solomon's response, and as a reward for his humility, promised to give him all of the things that he did not ask for as well. Jesus put it this way, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." The principle is the same and God is still faithful.

Discussion idea: How does the story that ends this chapter illustrate Solomon's wisdom? How might a lesser king have resolved that same situation?

Prayer focus: Lord, make your Word and Your Spirit a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Help me to seek Your kingdom first, and know that everything else will be added.

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28 - 2 Samuel 24

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 24:24

Big idea: When God reigns, He sometimes calls on us to give much.

2 Samuel 24 is a challenging chapter. God was angry with Israel, so he incited David to conduct a census and then judged them for the census? Strange. Worse still, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan (a Hebrew word that means adversary or accuser that tempted David. What is going on here? Let me propose a theory that is shared by several scholars. Under David's rule, the united Israel was going stronger and stronger, and as they grew in strength, they were more and more proud. There was no reason for them to conduct a census - God was their strength, not raw numbers, and a census in the Bible was a sacred act. The people were not the king's to count as if they were his property; they were God's own people first and foremost. God was angry with the Israelites for their pride, and allowed Satan to tempt David. David sinned by proudly numbering the people, and in response to this, God judged the nation, and tens of thousands died.

When the judgment stopped, the angel of the Lord stopped at a large stone threshing floor. It is at this place, where God's wrath was stopped, that the Temple would eventually be built. But I am interested in one little verse today, toward the end. When David went to the main who owned the threshingfloor and asked to buy the land to build an altar. Araunah said that it was not necessary to buy it - he could have it, the oxen, and the tools to make a fire. But David said that he would not give God what cost him nothing, and bought the land and the oxen. 

Real worship is costly. We can give cheap worship: flowery language and symbolic gestures. But if God is really the King of Kings, then we must be prepared to give Him the painful and the inconvenient. We must be ready to strip down everything that seems precious to us, and give him the things that are of great value. What have you given up for Jesus?

Discussion idea: What costly act of worship is God leading you to? Where can you "give until it hurts"?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me a living sacrifice, open and vulnerable for whatever You ask.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

May 26 - 2 Samuel 7, Romans 4

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 7:11

Big Idea: God's great promises begin in the smallest details.

2 Samuel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. It serves as one of the great links in the chain of the biblical story, like God's promises to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, or to Abraham in Genesis 18. David decided that he wanted to build a Temple - a house for God. But God told him "no," and promised instead to build David a house. Sometimes, God says no to one thing so that He can offer a bigger yes. God would not build a palace for David, but a family, that would carry on an everlasting dynasty. God had promised Abraham to bless the whole world through him, and now he would bless the nation through the obedience of David's line. Ultimately, one descendant of David's perfect obedience would bring the hope of salvation to the whole world! 

But thinking about Jesus adds even more to the story than that. David had wanted to build a building where God could dwell, but the House where God dwelt most fully was not one made by human hands, but the body of Jesus. When the Word became flesh, the house that God built for David was the house that David could never build for God. Today, believers are God's house in the world, both as individuals and as the gathered church. We are the place that God's presence rests, and the house where He loves to be worshipped. The promise of this chapter is our hope and our joy, and it all began when God told David, "No." 

Discussion idea: Why does Nathan assume that it would be okay for David to build a Temple? Why does God wait to give David the promise of an unending kingdom until this chapter?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to trust Him to use the small inconveniences and detours in your life to accomplish His plans.

Key verse: Romans 4:21

Big Idea: The greatest and the least all need the gospel.

Sometimes heroes seem to inhabit a different world than the rest of us. Who can think about Apollo 13 without wondering if Jim Lovell is made of a different kind of flesh than we are? Or look at Winston Churchill without doubting if we would have the strength to stare staggeringly powerful evil in the face and hold onto hope against hope? Could anyone claim to be like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, giving their lives to try to take the gospel to the Huaorani people, and Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, going to love the very people that had killed their husband and brother (respectively)? For Paul's Jewish readers, Abraham was like all of these combined. He was the founder of their nation, who with staggering faith had marched across the known world to go to the land God had promised. He was a religious, patriotic, and cultural icon. He lived centuries before the Law of Moses was given, and was the first to be ritually circumcised according to the commandment.

How does he fit into Paul's radical claim that because we are all sinners, incapable of attaining righteousness by obeying the Law, we are all saved by faith alone? Isn't Abraham's faithfulness the perfect example of someone who was saved by good works? Paul's answer is a challenge to read the Old Testament account carefully. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (although his wife was too old to have children), that he would have a certain land, and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him (ultimately, a promise that one of his descendants would be the Messiah). Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as if it were a life of righteousness.

Abraham's relationship with God, Paul points out, was because of his faith in God before he was circumcised. Before Abraham took the mark of a Jewish man, he was already God's. He did not comply with the Law first or join a religion first, he simply believed God's Word. The hero came to forgiveness the same way as the murderer Saul and the same way as you and I can. God could have had Abraham be circumcised first, but He controlled the order so that we would know that external acts of obedience follow a change of heart, not the other way around. 

Discussion Idea: Why is Abraham's salvation recorded in Genesis, according to Romans 4:23-25? The Bible includes a lot of history; how does God use examples to help us?

Prayer Focus: Pray for the ability to grow in faith, and take God at His Word.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 25 - 2 Samuel 6, Romans 3

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 6:22

Big idea: When God reigns in our lives, no one else's judgments matter.

Since our last reading, David has consolidated his reign over all twelve tribes, set up his capitol in Jerusalem and intended to bring the ark there. For the journey of about nine miles, David secured a previously unused cart. It was clearly intended to be an act of reverence, no cart that had ever carried anything else was worthy of carrying the ark of the Lord. They began their journey with all kinds of instruments and a tone of celebration. Then, when the ark began to fall, Uzzah reached out to stop it. He certainly intended to respect the ark, but paid for it with his life. David tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem on his own terms, with his own ideas about how to respect God, but it would never work. In fear, David stopped the ark for several months, until he heard how God was blessing the household where it was. David was reminded that God is a blessing God, and that the judgment of Uzzah was a response to their sin, not a sign that God wasn't good. So he prepared to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but carried by people this time, apparently with no instruments but trumpets and voices, and David himself led the procession, wearing a linen ephod. It certainly looked less dignified than the first attempt, but it was what God wanted.

The party took six steps from Obed-Edom's house to see if God would permit them to continue, and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving when He did. As they proceeded, David danced ("twirled") before the Lord with all of his strength, in worship. His wife and the daughter of Saul, Michal, looked down from a window and despised David. This was no way for a king to behave. A linen ephod was little more than a loincloth, and while a child might wear it, it was hardly appropriate for a grown man, and still less the dignity of a king. When Michel accused David of humiliating himself before the servants, what she probably meant was that he had humiliated her. But she had revealed her heart in any case. David explained that he was not dancing before the servants, but before God, and that he did not care what anyone else thought. Before God, he was happy to be humiliated. David knew that when he honored God that God would bless him, and told Michel that the servants would honor him just the same. In their first attempt to move the ark, people would have been pleased. In the second, God was.

Discussion idea: Why was God so particular about how the ark was moved? How can we replace God's will with what seems good to us or what looks good to others in worship?

Prayer focus: Ask God to teach you to be humbled before Him, and to trust Him to exalt you before others. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

May 24 - 2 Samuel 2, Romans 2

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 2:12

Big idea: The 

David had been anointed king by Samuel, served in Saul's court, spent years on the run, until Saul finally died at the end of 1 Samuel. We might be tempted to imagine that now, at last, everything has fallen into place and David can ride into the sunset to live happily every after. Unfortunately, as our text shows us, this is not what happened. Instead, Saul's general Abner set Saul's king up as king (apparently as Abner's puppet), while David ruled only over his own tribe: Judah. 

This is an interesting parable. The wicked, rejected king is dead and his power is broken. Formally, all power now belongs to the Anointed One of God. Practically, his domain only includes his own people for a little while, but will eventually spread. Doesn't this sound like our world? Satan has been defeated, Jesus is King, but right now only His people accept His rule. But this will only last for a little while!  Like David would be King over the whole nation in two years, the day is coming when the Son of David will reign over all of creation, We only need to be faithful to Him while we wait.

Discussion idea: Why do you think that God allowed David's consolidation to be delayed? Would Jesus' apostles have been surprised to know that He has not returned yet?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to follow You now, and long for your coming Kingdom.

Friday, May 14, 2021

May 14 - 1 Samuel 7, Acts 24

Key verse: 1 Samuel 7:12

Big idea: God reigns in the past and the future. 

One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. One of the verses comes from our text today:

Here I raise  my Ebenezer

Hither by thy help, I've come

And I hope by thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wand'ring from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood

When Samuel was judging the Israelites and they were able to drive back the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer, "help stone." He explained that it was because God had helped them this far. "This far," like in English, has two possible meanings: it can mean up to this point in time, or up to this border in space. In this case, maybe both! 

Over and over again in the Old Testament, the Israelites set up stone monuments to commemorate God's deliverance. It was because they knew how forgetful human beings can be, and how quickly yesterday's blessings are crowded out by tomorrow's fears. These monuments reminded them that God had been with them in the past, and that He would still be with them in the future. It is the same way with us. God had brought us this far! In time, He has carried us to this point in your life. In "space," He has taught you and me so many things and helped us to grow past so many old habits and hurts. Is he going to stop now? No, beloved, when we look at our Ebenezer, we remember that God has brought us this far and will take us home. The God who sought you with His own blood when you were His enemy is not going to abandon you now that you are His child.

Discussion idea: Where is your "Ebenezer"? What has God helped you through in the past that can reassure you of His help in the present and future?

Prayer focus: Worship God for His faithfulness and repent of your forgetfulness. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

May 12 - 1 Samuel 5, Acts 22

 Key verse: 1 Samuel 5:4

Big idea: God rules over all other powers.

Because of the wickedness of Eli's sons, God allowed the ark of the covenant - the symbol of his powerful presence in Israel - to be temporarily taken. But the Philistines would not see this as God judging his own people, but as a sign that their god Dagon had defeated the god of the Israelites. That was not an impression that God would allow to stand. So when the ark was taken into the Temple, the idol that they worshipped as their God fell flat on its face before God, as if in worship. They propped the statue back up (what kind of god needs to be picked up by his worshippers?) and the next day, he had fallen down prostrate again and his hands and neck were broken off. The Philistines had defeated and shamed Israel in battle, but Israel's God was the conqueror of all others.

Sometimes, people imagine that God and Satan are locked in combat, two equals struggling for supremacy. But this is not so. God is the Maker and Sustainer of all that exists, from the highest angel to the lowest insect. Nothing in heaven or earth can oppose him, and more than the statue of Dagon could stand before the ark. For a season, Satan is allowed to oppose the people of God, but his defeat is certain and his power goes no farther than God permits. In your life, God may allow you to go through difficult times, but take heart! They can go no further than His wise and loving hand allows.

Discussion idea: Why did God allow the ark to be captured? How does the idea of warring gods leak into our culture today?

Prayer focus: Lord, You are Lord of Lords. all of the other powers and principalities in the universe are under your hand. Set my heart on you alone, and my faith in you alone. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

No Devotional for Today

 I apologize, but there will not be a devotional today. I was tied up in back to back meetings until fairly late last night. We will resume tomorrow. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

May 10 - 1 Samuel 2

 Key verse: 1 Samuel 2:35

Big idea: God rules with holiness and justice.

During the life of Samuel, the wickedness of the earlier judges is fading, but not yet gone. Eli, the priest that takes Samuel in, is followed by two extraordinarily wicked sons. They abuse their power in every possible sphere, and their biography reads a lot like a politician or Hollywood producer. God announces a judgment on Eli's house: they will lose their place of preeminence, Eli will live to see the Ark of the Covenant taken, and both of his sons will die in a single day. Stealing meat, taking advantage of women, and using spiritual and physical intimidation to manipulate people are all on their way out. 

Has God abandoned the priesthood? Is He going to turn His back on Levi or Aaron's descendants? Of course not. But He will shift from one branch of Aaron's family to another because His people cannot move forward without justice at the center of their society. He promises to raise up a new priest, who will go before His anointed one (His Christ) forever. In the short term, that will be fulfilled during the reign of Solomon, when Zadok's family is set up as the high priestly line that will serve David's family until the exile. But ultimately, the Priest and King will go together because they will be one man: Jesus Himself.

Discussion idea: Why does God need to deal with the wickedness in the Temple to bring His people out of the dark period of the Judges? Where does wickedness begin?

Prayer focus: Lord, begin a revival in our nation and our world; start with me!

Friday, May 7, 2021

May 7 - 1 Samuel 1, Acts 19

Key verse: 1 Samuel 1:23

Big idea: God rules over the big and small things in our lives. 

In a study like this one, trying to summarize all 920 chapters of the Old Testament in 260 chapters, going through all four chapters of a book like Ruth is time that I will have to make up down the road. But after spending so much time in the dark and depressing book of Judges, hopefully you can excuse the desire to find a bright spot. Today's chapter takes up a similar path, but a few years later. It begins sadly, but unlike the book of Judges does not deal with tragedy of national or regional significance. Rather there is a man who has two wives, one who has not been able to have children and one who has, and rubs the first one's nose in it. We find a tender husband (bigamy notwithstanding), a broken heart, and a rivalry. It is a good reminder that God is working in the big, dramatic pain, and the pain unseen by everyone else.

Hannah, the wife with no children, poured out her heart before God with such intensity that the priest thought she was drunk and reprimanded her. But she was simply broken in the presence of her Lord, begging for a child who she could send to serve Him. Hannah undoubtedly knew that God was dealing in the mess of her country, but also believed that He knew and cared about her own broken heart. If you take the time to read chapter 2, you will see that she did not really draw a sharp line between the two: God works big things through small people. 

Her rival mocked her, the high priest questioned her, but God heard her. Isn't that good news for us? God is always working, no matter what anyone else thinks. He works in ways that seem to be small to us, but as in the case of Samuel, those small hinges often open great doors.

Discussion idea: What is an answered prayer in your life that might have seemed small to others but which had a big impact?

Prayer focus: Thank God for His attention to small details and sovereignty in the big picture.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

May 6 - Ruth 4, Acts 18

It may be an exaggeration to say that, like the book of Ruth, the Bible begins with a funeral and ends with a wedding. But hopefully a pardonable one. The story of humanity does begin with death and loss, and ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb and the beauty and intimacy of an eternal family. Naomi, by the end of the first chapter, has a bitter heart and empty arms, but by the end of this sweet short story, her arms have been filled with a grandson who is like a son to her, and her heart has been restored by the love of her daughter-in-law and faithful kinsman redeemer. We have seen God's lovingkindness modelled by each of the main characters in the story. Ruth's commitment to go with Naomi, Naomi's desire to provide for Ruth, and Boaz's tender generosity all point to the God who is working behind the scenes. Can the work of God end in anything less than new life? 

Early in the book, we noted how different the faithfulness of the Moabite Ruth was from the wicked Israelites in the period of the Judges. But of course, that is too broad of a brush. God has always maintained a people for himself. He told Elijah that he had preserved thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his church. The whole world was bathed in wickedness before the flood but Noah still stood for the Lord. God is never without witness. So when we come to the genealogy at the end of this book and find that Ruth is the ancestor of no less than King David himself, we should not really be surprised. The covenant keeping, faithful God, preserved the lineage of the King with whom he would enter a new covenant. 

Even more importantly, the promises God made the David were not the last word to David's line. David's descendant, Jesus, came into the world as a direct descendant of this Moabite woman, who had been a widow and was redeemed by Boaz. He was the heir of Naomi, who had called herself "bitter," and yet learned to remember that life could be sweet. How much more do we, as children of God, need to realize that his lovingkindness always breaks through. God has a plan to use the pain, the sorrow, and the apparent chaos of our lives for something beautiful. It began with death, but it ends with new life!

Discussion idea: Why do you think God chose to include this short story in the Bible? What would we miss without it?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the people he has used to demonstrate His lovingkindness in your life.

Key Verse: Acts 18:10

Big Idea: The churches of Jesus have unexpected allies.

Many storytellers, with a wink and a nod, bring every character back for the great finale. In The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa show up as some unlikely allies to fight Scar. In Great Expectations, every ostensibly minor character is actually a major one. Most of us learn quickly that real life has a lot more loose ends. But as we read Acts 18, we realize that in God's world, nothing happens without a purpose. In Corinth, Paul makes two important allies, Priscilla and Aquila. They had moved out of Italy (about AD 49) because the conflict over Christ had caused dissension among the Jews and Caesar had expelled them all from the capital. The king's harsh edicts placed two people in Paul's path that would have a wide-reaching impact for God's Kingdom. Although Paul faced a lot of opposition, God reassured him not to worry: God was with him and there were many people in the city Paul did not know about. When the persecution reached a fever pitch, the local ruler's laziness protected Paul and he was able to complete his ministry there.

When he left Corinth, Paul took Aquila and Priscilla with him to Ephesus, where they stayed and eventually discipled Apollos, who became an important ally of Paul's and figure in the development of the church at Corinth. Paul then traveled on, strengthening the churches that had already been established. Every thread pulled together to make a path for the gospel to be spread and for God's servants to be brought together. In your life and mine, there may be threads that we never see the end of, but none of them are loose. God is weaving them all together into a master tapestry, to showcase the beauty of Jesus and make us like Him. There are no accidents, so we can be grateful for everything. We are never alone because God can raise up friends in unexpected places and unexpected ways. No one knew that better than the apostle Paul, who saw the friends Christ raised for Him and was surely an unexpected ally himself. 

Discussion Idea: In 1 Kings 17, Elijah was convinced that he was God's last faithful servant, but God reassured him that there were hundreds more. Why are we so prone to feeling alone? If we know God is in control of every circumstance, how will that affect the way we respond to those kinds of situations? 

Prayer Focus: Who is someone God has placed in your life for your good and His glory that you can thank Him for today?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5 - Ruth 3, Acts 17

 Key verse: Ruth 3:10

Big idea: Lovingkindness is at the heart of true character.

Alfred Hitchcock coined the term "MacGuffin" to refer to an element that is theoretically the center of a film's plot, but could actually be replaced with something else and exists only to pull the story along. He called it, "The thing the actors on the screen worry about and the audience doesn't care about." The classic example is the military secrets in Hitchcock's own Thirty-Nine Steps, but the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the travel papers in Casablanca, or the meaning of the word "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane are all classic examples. On paper, those are what those stories are all about, but they are ultimately passive plot devices, a means to an end.

By this point in Ruth, you might start to think of Naomi as a MacGuffin. Things have happened to her (a famine, the death of her husband and sons, a faithful daughter in law), but she seems only to react and not act herself. She is the way that God brought Ruth to Israel but has otherwise been passive. But in chapter 3, things change. Naomi turns out to be an insightful and wise woman, making a plan for Ruth to have the "rest" of marriage. It had been about two months since she had first met Boaz, and he was a man of character and kindness, ideal for a husband. Naomi gave her specific instructions: go to him in secret (there was no need to pressure or embarrass him). Uncover his feet when he was asleep with the others after a long day of harvest, and lay down there. When the chill of the night gradually woke Boaz up, he would wake and find Ruth there, who could then propose marriage. It would be a unique kind of Hebrew marriage: because Boaz was a close relative (a kinsman redeemer), their first child would be legally considered the son of her deceased husband and his heir, to carry on the family name. 

Teens/Adults: Judah, the father of Boaz's tribe, sinned grievously in a story about this kind of kinsman redeemer marriage. Genesis 38 tells the story of how his daughter-in-law Tamar remained childless because no one in the family was willing to have his deceased brother's heir, and Tamar pretended to be a prostitute who was solicited by Judah. Both of these woman, Tamar and Ruth, are in the ancestry of Jesus. In Tamar's case, the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer went unanswered. It adds a certain tension to the story: will Boaz be like his ancestor, or will he be noble and kind?

Naomi's plan worked. But there is a wrinkle. There is another man, who is a closer relative, that would have something like "right of first refusal." Boaz cannot redeem this family if the closer relative chooses to instead. Would this other redeemer be the same kind of man as Boaz? Ruth did not want to marry him because he was the youngest or most attractive from a physical point-of-view, but because he was a man of character and integrity. Boaz did not fall in love with Ruth because of her family origin (she was a Moabite), because of her wealth (she was deeply poor) but because of the character she showed in her relationship with her mother-in-law. Our faithfulness reveals our hearts.

Discussion idea: Compare Ruth 2:12 and 3:9. How does Ruth use Boaz's own prayer to persuade him? Now read James 2:16. How does God often answer our prayers for others?

Prayer focus: Ask God to make you a person of lovingkindness, and to value faithful integrity in others more than the superficial things that so often distract us.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May 4 - Ruth 2, Acts 16

 Key verse: Ruth 2:20

Big idea: The Lord shows His lovingkindness through His people. 

In a study going through the Old Testament as quickly as this one, it is hard to justify slowing down to reflect on every single chapter of any particular book. We will not do it again except the book of Obadiah (look it up), but Ruth is a truly incredible piece of literature which has taught many people how to love the Bible. This chapter introduces us to the third and final major character of this short story: Boaz. The first chapter of Ruth was about Ruth's love for Naomi, this chapter is about Boaz's love for Ruth, the next chapter will be about Naomi's love for Ruth (in helping her plan for her future), and the final chapter will be about Boaz's love for Ruth. Confused yet? Let's take it one day at a time.

Gleaning was a provision in the Israelite law to provide for the poor and the immigrant. Israelites were forbidden to harvest to the very edges of their field, go back if they dropped anything, or prevent people walking by their fields from harvesting what they could eat. This food belonged to God, who used it as a provision for the needy and the foreigners who had no land of their own. It maintained their dignity, as they still worked for what they had, while providing for those without capital. Ruth, both a widow and a foreigner, was the kind of person that the law was deigned to protect. But when she "just happened to" enter the field of Boaz, she met a man who was far more generous than even the letter of the law required. He had heard of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and his heart was touched by her character. He had his workers feed her, give her water, intentionally drop sheaves for her to pick up, and not stop her from picking even among the rows which had not been harvested yet. God provided for Ruth, and used this godly man to do it.

God rarely provides for us with manna falling from Heaven. Instead, He shows his lovingkindness to people who pass that lovingkindness onto others. Ideally, it starts with your parents, who taught you what God is like by their own faithfulness. Friends, church family, spouses, and a thousand other people besides are all God's vessels for showing His love for us. In turn, even our smallest acts of kindness are infinitely important if we remember that these two are worship: pointing people to the God who is Love.

Discussion idea: Who is someone specific who has modeled God's lovingkindness to you? What relationship in your life is a chance for you to show God's lovingkindness to someone else?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the specific example you thought of in the discussion section, and ask for open eyes to see acts of kindness to offer God as worship.

Monday, May 3, 2021

May 3 - Ruth 1, Acts 15

 Key verse: Ruth 1:1

Big idea: The lovingkindness of God continues even during judgment.

By the time we finished our series in Judges, I was ready to be finished. It is such a dark and depressing period of the Bible that a serious study leaves your heart longing for a better day. That better day comes swiftly in two forms: one will be the rise of the judge Samuel, who will set apart both Saul and David as king. The other is the book of Ruth, set during the book of Judges, showing a bright patch in an otherwise bleak portrait of the life of God's people. We will touch on both this week, and they are like a breath of fresh air after a long time in darkness. The theme of Ruth is best summarized in a little Hebrew word: hesed. It refers to the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises, and is often translated as "lovingkindness." God is faithful even when people are faithless, and we see His hand here, during the period of the judges.

The story is kicked off when Naomi, her husband, and her sons must leave Bethlehem because of a famine. We should not see this as some random chance: God had warned Israel that when they were unfaithful they would experience famine and drought (Leviticus 26:19-20). God would not leave them to be complacent in their sin but would judge them to shake them from their slumber. Naomi and her family went to the country of Moab, where both of her sons married Moabitess women. Her husband and her sons died until she was like a female Job, bereft of all the blessings she had enjoyed. She determined to return to Bethlehem and said goodbye to her daughters-in-law. 

One of them kissed her, and said goodbye reluctantly. The other one "clave unto her." Especially in light of the wickedness in the book of Judges, this Moabite woman was a better picture of the faithfulness of God than the Israelites who learned about Him from childhood. Others might kiss and make a show, but He clung to His people, whatever it took. Even when He was judging them with famine, it was to bring them home. In fact, it was only through the famine and the death of these three men that God brought Ruth into Bethlehem, and through her both King David and King Jesus into the world.

Discussion idea: How did God use His judgment of Israel to bless Israel in the story of Ruth? Has God ever done anything like that in your life?

Prayer focus: Faithful God, teach me to be faithful like You. Teach me to cling to Your people and to Your promises, as a model of integrity and hope.