Friday, June 17, 2005

Studies in Ruth (3)

God's rescue is much more than a rescue
When God rescues a person he does things in their life far beyond what they could ever imagine. When you turn to God for forgiveness and for rescue there is no knowing what he will do with our lives.

He doesn't make us perfect instantly. We're going to see that over the next few studies. But when you place your life in God's hands you never know what's he will do with you.

Right at the very heart of this book stands an outcast, an enemy. The Moabites were far beyond the covenant. They were about as unlikely a group of people to turn to God as there could be.

But right at the very centre of this book is a Moabite. And the writer wants us to know it. Seven times he refers to her as the Moabitess.

Here we see the wonderful breadth of God's redemption. There is no-one beyond the pale. No-one too bad. No-one who deserves it less than anyone else. None of us deserve salvation. We are all utterly equal on that point.

But it goes much further than that. Not only is she redeemed, rescued. But God has a part for her in his great plan of salvation. That's why the book ends the way it does. It isn't a list of credits at he end. But a family tree. And Ruth is the great-granny of King David. But more than that when you look at Matthew ch 1 she is one of four women mentioned in the family line of David's greater son - Jesus, the Messiah.

Ruth the outcast, Ruth the nobody is used by God in the salvation of many.

Here is something to stir our hearts. We may be ordinary people living ordinary lives, but we have an extraordinary God who can work through us in ways that we can't even begin to imagine.

When Ruth left Moab, she had no notion where it would lead to. Even in this life when she gave birth to Obed, she had no concept of his grandson David becoming King. And she certainly had no idea that 1100 years later the Messiah would be born to the line of David. But she does now. And who knows what mysteries Heaven will reveal to us

Here is what the book of Ruth teaches us. God's plan of redemption is immense in its scope. Not only does it over all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds, but God uses those same people in the most magnificent of ways.

The simple lesson is this - when God redeems anyone - he has a task for them to do. And their past is irrelevant when it comes to being used by God.

But how can we be part of this great rescue plan?

Naomi returns with not even the faintest shred of hope in her. Her only hope was that someone would marry her. And who is going to want to marry an elderly destitute pauper? She hasn't a hope.

She has no notion what God will do.

But she returned. She threw herself back on God. This return isn't just a return to home. It is a return to God. A throwing of herself on the mercy of God. And some of you have made choices, and they have had an impact on yourselves and your families spiritually. Is it too late? Come with Naomi and Ruth and throw yourself on the vast mercy of God. Who knows what he will do.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Studies in Ruth (2)

We need God to rescue us
This book starts out with a very real problem. Perhaps we don't grasp the seriousness of the problem. The problem isn't the famine with which the book opens. The problem isn't just that these woman are sad and grieving over the loss of their husbands.

There were no social services, there was no benefits system. To be a widow was sad, but to be a without sons was a tragedy. It was a disaster because she had no-one to provide for her, to work, to look after her.

But it was worse than that. It was seen as a disgrace, because a man lived on in his sons. They carried the family name. They took up the family property. Israel was given its land by God. Joshua had divided it up between the families. Each family had its portion in the Promised Land. It was their inheritance, their place in God's kingdom. It was the sign of a true Israelite. Foreigners were not allowed to own land. The land was a gift from God to his people. And for God's people to lose their land was not just an economic disaster, it struck at the very heart of your relationship with God. It was God saying, "You are no longer part of my Kingdom."

The land was passed on from generation to generation. It wasn't allowed to be sold. That's why Naboth couldn't and wouldn't sell his vineyard to Ahab. It could be rented out to others, it could be sold for a time but every 50 years all lands were returned to their rightful families. It had to stay in the tribe. Naomi mustn't have been part of Elimelech's tribe. Ruth certainly wasn't. The land must revert to Elimelechs family.

So here was a family who were about to lose their land. There were no sons to pass the land on to. They had no heirs. No support. No future. No land.

This is utter disaster. Penniless widows without hope of marriage. Without heirs, without someone to keep the name going, it would be as if they had never existed. No name, and no land. No place in the people of God.

This is why Naomi returns and says, "Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty."

They needed someone to rescue them. They needed a redeemer. Someone who would provide an heir. Someone who would take them under his wing and provide for all their needs.

And that's what the book is about. God's provision of a redeemer. A saviour for them. It is a little picture of our salvation.

Naomi needed rescued because she had wandered far from God. She is a backslider. Naomi says so in v 21. "The LORD has testified against me."

Testified against me, that's a legal word; she has been tried and found guilty. Naomi starts the book as all of us - guilty in the sight of God. That's our greatest problem.

Ruth needed rescued for another reason.

Ruth never had been part of God's people. She was in a real predicament. She obviously had no claim on anything back in Bethlehem. As Naomi points out she would have a much better prospect in Moab among her own people. For her to return to Bethlehem with Naomi was a bizarre choice which speaks of a much deeper change as we will see next week God willing.

But what we need to notice this week is that Ruth is a great picture of each one of us. We are born outside the family of God. We are born in fact as enemies of God. Ruth was an outsider, an enemy, and had nothing. She came before God with nothing to her credit.

Just like each of us. In desperate straights and needing to be rescued. No future. Guilty of disobeying God.

But unless we see the terrible predicament that they are in we will not understand the wonder of the rescue. And likewise unless we understand the terrible predicament we are in as sinful human beings in the sight of God we will never understand the wonder of the good news of the gospel.

God works his rescue in the lives of ordinary people
Here's the good news. God's has a rescue plan.

Ruth is a very ordinary book. There are no miracles like in the previous books of Joshua. There are no mighty and majestic men or women of valour as in the book Judges, larger than life figures whom we could never hope to be like. In fact the women in the Ruth demonstrate more spirituality than most men in the entire book of Judges. What a rebuke to men. And there are no direct words from God, no prophets.

It is a book dealing with ordinary everyday matters and concerns. Food, home, moving home, marriage, land, work. Yet in the midst of all this, as we move to the climax of the book we find that from this family comes King David, and from the line of David comes the Saviour.

All through the book of Judges, God's plan of salvation seems to be on hold. Nothing seems to be happening, other than ugliness and sin and wickedness. It is a bleak book to read. Nearly all the heroes in it are deeply flawed men. And as you read through it and come especially to the ugly chapters at the end of Judges you are inclined to ask, "What is God doing? Where are the signs that God is working out his plan of salvation?" But when we move on from the book of Judges and move to the book of Ruth, which takes place inside the time frame of Judges we see that God was at work, very definitely at work. And it was in and through the lives of not the big personalities of the day - Gideon, and Samson, and Deborah, and Jephthah - but it was in and through the lives of these ordinary believers, who had no visions, worked no miracles, that he was working out his plan of salvation.

And it was in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was at this stage just an ordinary town. It wasn't the birthplace of Jesus. It wasn't the birthplace of David. It was just like any other village in Israel. There are hints as we read the book that all isn't well even in Bethlehem. Boaz says to Ruth - don't work in other fields, people will take advantage of you. Eat with my workers and you will be safe.

This then is the sphere of redemption, the type of situation that God works in. A bleak world, where sin and lawlessness abounds. In a small town, where the people are very ordinary.

This is great for us. Because we are ordinary people who live in a world where sin and lawlessness abound, who have made a mess of our lives, and who stand guilty before God. And we desperately need God to work in our lives. And we see that he doesn't always work through the spectacular means, the big personalities with tremendous gifts, but he also works through ordinary everyday people like you and me. The work of his kingdom isn't always advanced by miracles and prophets, but God is at work through the nitty-gritty details of your lives.

And we see as we read this book that God is interested in the nitty-gritty details of our lives. This book is a book dealing with ordinary everyday matters - things that concern each one of us. And we see that God does care for every part of our lives.

He comes to unknown men and women, and he comes to them in the on going everyday routine of everyday life and in ordinary details of their lives. Although he is a God who governs the affairs of the nations, He is just as interested in the obscure unknown apparently insignificant family group and he is concentrating the same energy on the work of redemption in them and through them as he is anywhere else. And the writer is telling us that this is equally important because it is still God at work. God is focusing on these people and these problems in order to further his eternal purposes.

Do you see who wonderful this is? Who knows where God is furthering his purposes and with whom he is furthering his plans. The very thought of it should encourage us in every detail of our lives.

You ladies in your routine every lives, in the home or in work - you do not know what God is doing through you, what great plans and purposes he is working out through you.
You men as you go about your work, the regular routine of unexciting toil - who knows what God is doing. Week by week year by year, and you may wonder why am I here - but we just don't know what God is doing - but we know that he works in the short and simple lives of ordinary everyday people.
In our tragedies, sickness, illnesses, bereavements, hardships, discouragements, disappointments - we just don't know what God is going to do. That is precisely what this book is about.

The last place that people would have thought to look for where God was working would be Bethlehem. But that's where he was at work.

Your little corner and your brief lifespans are the very things that God uses to further his plans in this world. That's what this book teaches us. This is the wonderful hope that we have in the Christian life. You may be a nobody in the world's eyes. You may be up to your ears in just living, but God can be at work in the very ordinariness of it all. You never know what God is going to do.

God isn't just a God of church and Bible study, but his redemption covers all of life, and when you put your trust in him, all of your life is under his special care.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Studies in Ruth (1)

Set in the dark lawless period of the Judges, this is a little gem of a book.

We see running through the book of Ruth the threads of love, loyalty and kindness. And it would be easy to read the book solely on that level.

But this is a book not about Ruth and her love, but a book about God and his love. That is why his name is mentioned 23 times in under 100 verses.

This is a book specifically about God's redemption, his plan of salvation and his redeemer. This is the key thing to remember as we read this. There will be a lot of valuable lessons along the way about love, about obedience, about faith, but first and foremost this is about God's redemption.

Boaz is a picture of Jesus, and Ruth and Naomi are pictures of us.

The opening 6 verses of the book teach us that:

We make a bigger mess when we do things our way rather than God's way

What's the first thing we are tempted to do when we get ourselves in a mess? We try to get out our way. That's exactly what Elimelech did. We see it in the very first verse
"In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab."
When we read that it seems to our minds a fairly obvious choice. There was a famine, he had a family, there was food 50 miles across the border. Why not just up and move? But we need to see things in the light of scripture.

God had brought his people to this land. He had said that he would always provide for their needs as long as they were obedient. Famine in Israel wasn't a climate problem, or an agricultural problem. It was a punishment from God because of a heart problem. (Leviticus 26:13-42)

And he had brought famine to Bethlehem - because there were problems in the hearts of the people there. Bethlehem means House of Bread. The irony is unmissable - in the place of plenty there was famine.

And so Elimelech hears in the famine the voice of God's displeasure and what does he do? Instead of saying "we need to mend our ways" he up and heads for Moab. In the famine God was busy calling his people to repentance and renewal, but Elimelech was having none of it.

When God brings hardship into our lives we need to look at our hearts and ask ourselves - "What is God trying to tell me?" Sometimes like Elimelech it will be a call to repentance. Sometimes it will be a call to persevere. Sometimes it will be a call to move closer to him. Whatever it is we must listen to his voice.

Elimelech left the country of God and went to Moab. He didn't allow his trials to bring him closer to God. Instead, the man who name meant "My God is King" headed out of God's land. He took himself to the fertile plains of Moab. Because it seemed like a good idea.

Moab! They had just spent 18 years being suppressed by the King of Moab. Moab was the country that refused to give the Israelites bread and water when they wandered I the wilderness. Moab that sent for Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Moab that sacrificed children to their god Chemosh. And Elimelech goes to Moab! And he takes his two marriageable sons to Moab that God had said, "You are not to give your sons in marriage to their daughters."

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

This was the most logical solution. It was the most sensible option. If you left God out of the equation.

And let's not pity Elimelech. He had the promise of Almighty God that if his people humbled themselves and turned from their wicked ways he would hear and answer. To underline the folly of going our way and not God's way - what happened to the people who didn't flee? Boaz did pretty well for himself. It looks like the rest of the town turned back to God. And God turned back to them.

Not only that but look at what Naomi says in v21, "I went away full". Is it possible that they didn't move because of real hardship, but because there comfortable way of life was going to have to change because of God's dealings with them and they didn't want that?

The image isn't one of poor helpless starving people fleeing a drought and staggering over the border into Moab and falling face down at the nearest stream, not a moment too soon. It seems more like a wealthy family feeling the pinch a little, God's ways were cramping their lifestyle a bit, so they decided to ignore God's voice, and to do what seemed like a good idea to them.

Friends. Look at this story and let it be a sombre warning to us that when we ignore God's dealings with us and make our decisions based on logic or feelings, and not on obedience to God's word, but simply on "Well it seemed a good idea at the time" - such disobedience will lead only to hardship. Elimelech dies. Mahlon dies. Kilion dies. All in the space of 10 years. Naomi has lost everything. Everything. No family. No inheritance. She is a stranger in a strange land. And a nobody in her own were she to return.

All because of sin.

Notice the path to sin: It seems a good idea at the time, Elimelech intended it only to be a temporary thing. - the passage says he meant only to stay there a short time. But time passed and he was still there. Sin has this way of catching up on us and sucking us in, and ensnaring us.

There are decisions that we make without thinking about what impact this will have on our spiritual lives. And the consequences are deadly. And they are deadly for generations after us. Here is a solemn lesson to be very careful with the decisions we make.

Young people, if you are following Jesus Christ, do not even begin to think about going out with someone who doesn't share your spiritual interests. Let me be abundantly clear - do not go out with or marry someone who isn't a Christian. God has something much better in store for you. Go to places where you will find Christian men and women. Elimelech certainly wasn't going to find them in Moab.

Some of you will be going away to study or to work away from home. Make sure that you only go somewhere where there is a good church to worship in. Elimelech wasn't going to find a good church in Moab.

There are decisions where all the reasons point in one direction, but we know in our heart of hearts that it is wrong biblically. And it may be financially viable, it may mean a better standard of life, it may mean opportunities for our children that we never had, but what use is that if they die like Mahlon and Kilion, outside of the people of God.

Are there things in your life that interrupt with your relationship with God - then get rid of them. We don't want to end up like Elimelech - A man with a great name among the people of God, but a man who lost all he had amongst the people of God, all for the sake of an easy life.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Food for thought - Pointless faith

(Local Newspaper Column - I'm writing my holiday articles at the moment so I thought I'd post a few of them this week.)

Socrates, the Greek thinker, reputedly said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

You could also say that the unexamined faith is not worth having.

I suppose if you were to ask most people in Ireland they would say, "Oh, I've got my faith." And if you pressed them about how they came to this faith, they'd say, "Well I was born a ______________ (fill in your own religion), and I'll die a _______________."? Why? Have they thought about it? How do they know that that is the best one?

We all have a tendency to grow up believing what our parents believed. But how many have actually looked at what they believe? Perhaps many are banking on what they've been told being right. What if it's not?

If your father fervently believed that running naked through a field of nettles was a great cure for a cold, would you blindly continue his tradition or would look for some manner of proof before you committed yourself wholeheartedly to following his course?

Nevertheless, many Irish people, Protestant and Catholic, do this in matters of religion. They hold blindly to what their fathers and mothers believed. But they have never examined it themselves. They have never asked any questions. For example:

Does it make sense? How does it measure up with what the Bible says, about man, about God, about salvation? Don't take it for granted just because your minister or priest or pastor says it, get your Bible out and check for yourself. The Bible nowhere commands us to accept everything we hear, instead it urges us to:

"Test everything." - 1 Thessalonians 5:21

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" - 1 John 4:1

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." - Acts 17:11

The next obvious question is, "How do I know the Bible is true?" Have you looked at that one? Or perhaps like many you just assume that it is a load of fairy tales with no basis in history, and that it has been largely disproved by scientists? How wrong you would be!

The unexamined belief is not worth having. It isn't worth the paper your baptism certificate, membership certificate, confirmation certificate, communion certificate is written on. Because unless we examine what we believe and make sure that it is right, and that it personally applies to us, then it will not save us.

Those two qualifications are important. We must make sure that what we believe is true. It isn't enough to be sincere in what we belief. We could be sincerely wrong. God has made it clear enough in his word what the way of salvation is - he wants us to examine his word and make sure we have heard what he says.

And it isn't enough that we know we have the right beliefs, because a head knowledge doesn't save either. It takes a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ to save. You can grow up in a church where the true gospel is taught and be just as lost as the next man, because you haven't taken time to think it over for yourself.

The unexamined faith is not worth having.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Abortion, Murder, and a crazy legal situation

Great article by Tim Challies about a sad yet absurd situation in America. Go Read it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Food for thought - The week that was

(Local Newspaper Column)
And here is last week's news:

"Porn Star in training" - that's the slogan on a t-shirt aimed at pre-teen girls and upwards. The actress Liz Hurley wore a t-shirt with the slogan recently, and now it seems the 'in thing'. Is it just me, or is that asking for trouble?

In a world of increasing child abuse it is almost beyond belief that a company could make and market such a t-shirt. But what really beggars belief is that a parent would buy it or allow their child to wear it.

But then again, maybe not…

Former singer, Coleen Nolan, promised her son sex with a prostitute if he passed his GCSEs. She was appearing on ITV's lunchtime show, 'Loose Women' when she made the claim. Not only that, but her fiancé is going on the trip, and she says she has no problem with him having a one-night stand too.

Is it just me or…?

She has defended her position in the press by saying, "her son wanted to go to Amsterdam because it was 'every teenager's fantasy'". She claims she isn't irresponsible because he has already had sex, so this is just more of the same.

It could be argued that it isn't every teenager's fantasy, and that other teenagers have different fantasies, some fantasize about having the biggest fastest car and driving it recklessly on the roads - and we wouldn't for a moment think of indulging them. Others, it would seem from recent events in England, have much darker fantasies, about murdering younger children. Is it our job to indulge our children's fantasies, whatever they are?

I think it's a fair comment that we live in a sex-mad world. A cursory glance at the TV guide will tell you that: Sex in the City, Celebrity Love Island, Desperate Housewives, and I see that Big Brother is back again.

Add to that the very public acts performed on the streets of Letterkenny and most other Irish towns on a Friday or Saturday evening. Not only do we live in a sex-mad world, but in an unashamedly sex-mad world. Everything revolves around it. It has become the be-all and end-all of life.

And at the other end of the scale in this week's news: A Leicester hospital has set out to ban Bibles from the patients' bedsides, on the grounds that it was insulting to other religions and could spread diseases. This is despite the fact that not one complaint has ever been received from someone having been insulted by the provision of a Gideon Bible. And despite the fact that Muslim and Sikh leaders in Leicester said that it is a good thing to have spiritual books at the bedside of sick people. As for the dreaded MRSA, that probably has far more to do with the hygiene of hospital procedure than hospital reading material - are they going to ban newspapers too?

We live in a world that has turned things upside-down. We call evil, good. We have made something vulgar into a fashion accessory. We have made something precious and beautiful into something common and cheap. We have made a god out of the gift rather than worshipping the giver of the gift. And we have turned our backs on God's word, and wish to stop others reading it too.

It might be shocking to us, but God had long ago predicted it in his word:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them… For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is for ever praised. Amen…" - Romans 1:18ff

What we are seeing, is not just a world departing from God, but a world under God's judgment. Romans 1:28 "Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." In other words, when we see such wickedness around us, it should be a real wake up call, that God is judging Ireland. Because we don't think his opinion matters, he has given us over to living in our own mess. And people wonder why so many disasters occur and would insist that we don't deserve it!

Ireland, and the UK, need to repent, before it gets worse.

Mark Loughridge is the minister of Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church and Letterkenny New Life Fellowship.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Haloscan - Who commented where?

Sometimes some of you people are nice enough to comment on my posts. Sometimes, some of you even go the extra mile and comment on old posts. Unfortunately Haloscan doesnt tell you which post a comment belongs to.

So I was poking around on the discussion forum and found someone who has come up with a little button for your toolbar that will enable you to find which comment belongs to which post. It works really well (if you follow his instructions).

Here it is - for any of you out there who might find it useful.

Ps I haven't looked at anything else on his site, so don't take this as an endorsement for anything else that might be lurking there!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Obnoxious Calvinism

Phil Johnson starts his blog of with a belter post. As an unashamed Calvinist, I concur wholeheartedly with his assessment.

If you are new to the Reformed Faith, or a young person who has just started to grasp these truths - go and read this.

Obnoxious Calvinists annoy me more than obnoxious Arminians - and I'm meant to be on their side (the Calvinists', that is!).