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Entries in Disaster (2)


Believe For Greater Things- Naomi

Ruth 1:1-5, 15-21; 4:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on January 3, 2016.

This sermon series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, at its 2013 biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

We have looked at how Sarah laughed at what God was promising her.  Today we will look at Naomi and how she simply plodded through a difficult time until God’s faithfulness was revealed.  One foot after another, Naomi kept moving forward until the Lord brought her through.  Part of the difficulty of this story is the sense that God is against you.  It is bad enough when people work to bring you harm.  But who can fight God?  There is no hope when you reach this point.   Yet, we are going to see that things are not always the way they seem.  If we will trust God, He will prove faithful.

The Faith of Naomi

Normally we look at this and highlight Ruth.  But, it is Naomi who gives Ruth a connection to Israel and its God.  Without Naomi we would not have Ruth.  There are no great statements and declarations of faith from Naomi.  Rather, we simply see her moving forward despite difficult circumstances.  Sometimes a person has to just keep moving forward.  In the best case we do so because we know God will prove Himself in the end.  In the worst case, we do so simply because there is no better alternative, which is the most likely to describe Naomi.

Naomi is stripped of all that she had in the Lord.  Naomi had a husband, family, land, and connection to the people of God, but then a famine occurs.  Thus her husband decides to go to a foreign country.  There is some irony in the name of the town they lived in.  Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and yet because of the famine there is no bread.  In Moab her husband dies.  At some point her sons marry Moabite women, but then later die.  By the end of 10 years spent in Moab, Naomi finds herself without anything but her own skin.  At this point all the promises of God to His people would seem quite hollow.  It would be easy for her to be bitter and reject anything that had to do with such a God.  And, yet, when Naomi hears that God is blessing Israel with food again, she plans to go back.  It would have been easy for Naomi to choose to never go back, but she does so anyway.  Thus we have the famous scene of Naomi telling her daughter-in-laws to go back to their families.  Here one of them, Ruth, refuses to go back to her people and instead go with Naomi.  Though she doesn’t recognize it, this is the help of God in her circumstances.

In verses 15-21 we follow the next stage of the story.  However, it would be good to stop and recognize that in this very destitute condition Naomi had far more than she thought.  Why would Ruth leave her people behind and go be a foreigner in Israel?  She saw something in Naomi’s family that was more appealing to her than what she saw in her own people.  In fact, she not only identifies with Naomi, but declares she will become an Israelite and worship the God of Israel.  Naomi saw herself as destitute and yet Ruth would rather choose her than all the “plenty” of Moab.  Naomi was losing sight of the fact that she was still a child of God and she was a recipient of the promises of God.  Even the stories of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament were an amazing heritage compared to any other nation.  It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that we have far more than we know.  In fact, those who are lost and know nothing are often more appreciative of what we have than we are.  Sometimes God has to remove things from our life for us to be able to see that we still have all that matters, God’s love.

When Naomi arrives in Israel we see in her words to those who greet her that she felt afflicted and abandoned by God.  She still doesn’t see that God has turned her fortunes around.  She instructs them to not call her Naomi, which means “my delight.”  Instead, she wants them to call her Mara, “Bitter.”  Two words stand out: Bitter and Empty.  She feels that she has been treated bitterly and has nothing left.  Of course she has allowed herself to become bitter as well.  Hebrews 12:15 warns us, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  Naomi could have remained a bitter person that caused trouble and grief wherever she went.  However, we are going to see that she chooses differently.  When she hears about the favor that Ruth receives in the fields of Boaz, she begins to hope for Ruth more than for herself.  People who embrace bitterness do not care about the fortunes of others.  They become stuck in their own unfortunate experience and when they see others being blessed they generally try to rain on their parade.  “Don’t get your hopes up Ruth.  The other shoe will drop soon.”  “Don’t get married Ruth, God will probably kill him!”  These kinds of spiteful and venomous statements could have come out of Naomi’s mouth.  But instead Naomi comes alive with hope for Ruth.  It is often in giving to others that the Lord heals us and brings more into our life.  Of course this love story ends with one of Naomi’s relatives named Boaz taking Ruth to be his wife.  Naomi’s fortunes are turned around.

Dr. Wood told a story of a missionary William Wallace Simpson.  He ministered in China and Tibet in the early 1900’s.  His son Willie was born and raised on the field and spoke the native language of Tibet fluently.  At one point his son was ambushed in the mountains and killed.  The story is told of W.W. Simpson coming to the place of his son’s death and saying these words,

“When some distance away we saw the forlorn truck.  We galloped our horses to the dreaded lonely spot.  Dismounting, we started toward the rude grave.  How I longed for one last word with my darling boy.  Seeing a paper lying on the bloody ground, I picked it up.  It was a Sunday School paper folded on which I read, “In remembrance of Me.”  Opening it I saw smeared over the paper the blood and brain of my beloved son!  And I remembered how I had laid my son on the altar years before, knowing it probably meant his death.  And I remembered too that Paul wrote, ‘Be ye followers of God as dear children,’ and I thought, as God gave His Son to make salvation possible, I have given my son to make salvation known.  So the Lord arranged for this paper to convey my son’s last word to me.  His blood is my blood and was shed to help a party of missionaries locate on the Kansu-Tibetan border to preach the gospel to the unevangelized.”  As he stood that day on the barren mountain-side, he remembered riding over those same mountains with his son.  Then he raised his voice and began to sing his son’s favorite hymn, “Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper, my heart is pierced through with life’s sorrowing cry.  But the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper shall mingle together in joy by and by.” 

As he sang, he testified that his heart filled with peace. Our hearts too can be filled with the peace of God even though our flesh and circumstances shout to us that God has abandoned us and left us empty.  God help us to not give in to bitterness and grief and instead keep stepping towards God and keep hoping, even if it is for the sake of others.

In Ruth chapter 4 we see the end of the story.  However, in life when you are plodding along you cannot see the end.  God had given Naomi a connection to His people, and God had given Naomi a daughter-in-law who had a heart towards His things.  God is a restorer of life to us, if we will stay with Him all the way.  He is a nourisher of our old age if we will walk with him through difficulties of our youth.  The bitterness in Naomi’s mouth is sweetened with the goodness of God that follows.  It doesn’t change the difficult things she experienced, but it helped her to see that life was not over and God had not abandoned her.  Do not let faith be drowned in the despondent sorrows of bitterness.  Rather, keep on walking with the Lord and being faithful to what He gives you because, never fear, He has not abandoned you, even to the end of the age!

Naomi audio


Understanding Bad Events and God's Judgment

Today we will be looking at Luke 13:1-9.

No one likes to have bad things happen to themselves or their loved ones.  When they do happen, we often try to make sense out of the events and can run into some pitfalls.  Now the Bible gives us a strong framework upon which to understand bad things in our life and the Holy Spirit promises to give us wisdom regarding how to respond.  So the question is, “Am I trusting in these two supports, or am I trusting something else?”  When difficult times come, we need to take time to remind ourselves of the biblical truths involved and open ourselves up to what God may want to say to us.

When Bad Things Happen

In verse 1 we have some news of the day that is described to Jesus.  In the manner of “did you hear about so and so,” the crowd wants to hear what Jesus has to say.  This news event is about a situation where Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem and Judea, had killed some Galileans.  We are told that he mixed their blood with their sacrifices.  Several questions are not answered but are clearly implied.  Pilate most likely sees these Galileans as part of one of the rebel groups that existed in those days.  It also seems that he waited until they had entered the Temple to sacrifice their offerings before he killed them.  Thus the picture of a group being slaughtered in the act of worshipping God is shown.  Part of understanding the mindset of the people and why they are bringing this up to Jesus is to recognize their sense of judgment.  Pilate was not a righteous and godly man.  He mercilessly ruled Judea so as to keep Caesar happy and the Jews under control.  Yet, the fact that they are killed while worshipping God sets up a shock scenario: shock that Pilate would defile the Temple in such a way, and shock that these Galileans were killed in such a horrendous manner.  The whispers and “water cooler talk” would center around what God’s response would be.  Would God kill Pilate or did the Galileans deserve such a horrible death?  Was it a sign that God was about to remove Pilate (i.e. he has lost all restraint) or is it a sign that these Galileans were wicked and rejected by Him?  What do you think Jesus?

Jesus offers a very different response to these questions.  But, before we get into that, let’s look at the question of whether it was from God or not.  When bad things happen, whether to us or to others, we ask the question why.  Did God cause this, or is it just happenstance?  There can be no hard fast answers.  In fact part of the response Jesus gives is to point out another disaster that had happened recently and tie it together with this story.  In it a tower falls and kills 18 people.  Notice in the first story a wicked man kills some Galileans and in the second there is seemingly no one causing the tower to fall.  One thing to keep in mind is that we live in a fallen world that is under a curse.  Thus many things we call bad are a result of mankind’s choice to rebel against God.  We suffer disease and death as a result of it.  God is not necessarily directly causing our sickness and death.  Often, it is just the result of man’s choice in the Garden of Eden.  Also, much “bad” that occurs is a result of our own sin and the sin of others.  God didn’t make us sinful.  Sin is when we reject the directions of the One who created us.  We do so at our own peril.  In the midst of these two categories is the reality that some things are directly caused by God and some things are only indirectly allowed by him.

An example of direct involvement is when God pours out plagues upon Pharaoh in Egypt.  God generally reveals His involvement in such events through His prophets by both predicting, warning and explaining.  However, in the case of Job, we see that God is only indirectly involved.  It is Satan who is directly causing the trouble, but for some reason God is allowing it. 

In all of these things we have to exercise humility and caution in our judgments regarding the way in which God is involved.  Our first premonitions and analysis are not always right.  Even with a strong, biblical world-view and understanding of the above information, we can misjudge.  Job’s friends were sure that he was guilty of secret sin because of the horrendous nature of the things happening to him.  The Psalmist also recognizes that people looked upon his sickness as a judgment from God.  It is also the case that, when bad things happen to me, my flesh is quick to be angry with God and give up.  This fleshly dynamic is interesting to watch in others, but believe me, it is operating in you.  We are quick to judge (and even relish) the misfortune of others as proof that God is against them and quick to be angry with God when bad happens to us.  Jesus nips this in the bud in verse 2 with the words, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners?”  He even answers it, “No.”  God is not operating a universe in which the worse things happen to the worse of sinners and by extension nothing bad happens to the best people, as much as we may wish it.

Jesus turns his hearers away from judging those in misfortune and back to themselves.  When bad happens to others, I need to look at my own life.  We need to take time and judge our own life with the same soul-searching that the Psalmist cries for in Psalm 139:23-24.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And, see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The truth is that devastating events can teach us important truths.  First, it teaches us the reality of our frail mortality.  No matter how righteous and close to God we are, we are still frail and not guaranteed tomorrow.  Second, it teaches us to not pride in our position whether with God or with the systems of this world.  Such arrogant elitism can develop in the life of Christians as well as the lost.  God does not always protect the righteous from physical harm and devastation.  It keeps us humble and focused upon our true task, trusting God in a fallen world.  Third, I must always be ready to stand before God and give account for my life (i.e. to meet my Maker).  We can come up with many others such as how we come to see the reality behind why God has warned against sin and will judge sinners.  It is in the “Bad” times that we often draw closer to understanding God and being more like Him.

God Is Looking For Fruit

In verses 6-9 Jesus gives a simple parable to drive this point home.  To understand this parable let’s establish what the parts of the parable represent.  The “certain man” who owns a vineyard is God himself and Jesus in particular.  In this vineyard he has a certain tree that is not bearing fruit.  This tree is the people of Israel.  So what does the fruit represent?  The fruit of any believer is those godly actions that come from a heart of faith.  In fact, it might be good to point out that when the Bible speaks of the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace etc. it is not talking about feelings in our heart as much as it is talking about faith in God (following the Spirit) expressing itself in actions of love, joy and peace etc.  Jesus came looking for actions of repentance from sin, righteousness and mercy towards others.  But the tree of Israel lacked fruit as a whole.  So who are the caretakers here?  This is less clear but it seems best to connect the caretaker with the prophets.  The digging and fertilizing are those drastic events and the warnings of the prophets that could open the “roots” of people’s lives to God’s truth.  The ground around our heart can be so hard that God’s Word is unable to penetrate and do us good.  Jesus warns that though the tree be given one more year to bear fruit, it will be cut down if not.  Cutting down here is a picture of final judgment.  It is the loss of life and standing before God.  Israel as a national vehicle of God speaking to the world was about to be cut off.

It is important to recognize that God periodically comes looking for fruit, whether in the Church, a nation, or an individual.  Obviously He knows at all times how we are doing.  But He works by seasons in our life.  He breaks open our hardened ground and inserts His Word.  He then gives that Word a season to grow and come to maturity.  He then has an appointed time of harvest.  This parable highlights the judgment upon those who do not respond well to His Word.  We should not take for granted the goodness of God.  Rather we should work to cooperate with it.  When we trust Him, we believe that He will work all things to the good (even bad things).  Why would we believe that?  We believe it because we know that He loves us and has called us for His good purpose.

Yes, God is looking for fruit.  But, that does not mean that all bad things are a sign of His final judgment upon us.  God is not quick to cut people off.  He is long-suffering and works continually even in the life of unbelievers in order to open their eyes to sin and to His purpose.  He works with His people as a parent with little children.  Most of the time, He is simply disciplining us in order to make us more like Him.  He is trying to lift us up and not push us down.  He knows that those things we often label as bad can work for our good.  Thus He allows some.  He knows that we need chastised for our sin from time to time.  Thus He causes others.  Even when God is punishing a nation, city, or an individual, the path of repentance is always open to them.  Even the threat of final judgment can be the devastating thing that breaks through our hardness and gets the Truth down to our roots; like Nineveh.

We can change our mind and thus walk a different path.  This is the beauty of God’s mercy.  He desires us to come into fellowship with Him.  Even the thief on the cross is welcomed into Paradise, though he lived a life of sin.  In the end he had a change of heart and publicly declared the innocence of Jesus and begged his mercy.  Such is the heart of God even in the midst of judgment.  Let us search our hearts.  But, even more important, we must allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and bring to our attention those things that keep us from bearing the fruitful actions of a heart of faith.

Understanding Bad Events Audio