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.

Key Verse: Acts 16:6
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus operates when and where her Lord wills. 

This chapter of Acts involves some unexpected turns. The missionary team wants to reach out to a region, but are stopped by God from doing so. God forbade them from preaching! Then, he sent them to Europe instead, and they had great success in the place they did not expect to ever go (the church at Philippi would later be a big help to Paul, as we will see in a few weeks). In that city, they were arrested and beaten publicly. When God released them, the prison keeper thought he would lose his life for failing at his charge, but instead, he found eternal life in Christ. Although they had been beaten, their Roman citizenship forced the magistrates to embarrass themselves, providing at least some protection to the Christians they left behind.

No master strategist could have laid out that course. There are too many moving parts and too many uncertainties. The work of the churches of Jesus can never rest on their own ingenuity or planning because our plans are based on insufficient data. Only One knows where we need to go, and we must be dependent on His guidance every step of the way. In the Old Testament, the Israelites got into generations of trouble by failing to consult God (Joshua 9). Whether in our churches or our personal lives, this chapter ought to make clear that unexpected paths might lead to precious places and the path that looks the most appealing might actually go the wrong direction. 

Discussion Idea: Have you ever tried to read a description of a painting or a map you had not seen? Even if God did describe an aerial view of our lives for us, 

Prayer Focus: Pray for God's guidance in decision making, and the wisdom to recognize our own inadequacy for seeing the path ahead.

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