Ruth: A Love Story

Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are two books in particular I think are weird to find there: the Songs of Solomon and Ruth. It’s pretty obvious why Songs of Solomon is weird (it gets a little steamy), but don’t worry, it’s Ruth that I want to focus on today. Before the book of Ruth we have books devoted to our origin story, our laws, and our wars, but Ruth departs from all of that to teach us seemingly little about theology. Her book is more or less a short, random, overlooked love story.

This 4 chapter book begins with Ruth losing her husband and committing her life to her mother-in-law who also lost everyone dear to her. Ruth was from a different people and culture than her mother-in-law so it must have been a bit terrifying to follow her mother-in-law when she decided to return home to her own people in Bethlehem, but Ruth was committed to her, so she did it anyways.

While they were in Bethlehem, Ruth met a guy named Boaz. He let her freely take any food she wanted from his farm and made sure all the guys in his workforce left her alone. He protected her and took care of her and when mealtime came around he gave her more to eat than she needed, though she hardly knew who he was.

But he knew who she was, because he was a relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law. He had heard of how Ruth had committed herself to her mother-in-law instead of her own parents and how she had chosen the discomfort of being with her mother-in-law’s people rather than her own people.

And he was impressed.

Ruth and Boaz moved pretty quick. In chapter two they met and in chapter three Ruth gave a proposal of sorts through a bunch of interesting and confusing cultural practices, which you can all check out later if you want (don’t worry, it’s a short book). Whatever exactly it is that truly happened in chapter three, Boaz feels blessed by it and by chapter 4 they’re married.

So what’s the point of this book? Maybe to show us how God loved Ruth the Moabite, a woman from a people group outside of his own chosen Israel. Or maybe it was to tell us more about King David’s back story seeing as how Ruth ended up being David’s great, great grandmother. Or maybe it was so we’d know that not all mother-in-laws are evil—I don’t know!

But I do find it interesting that the Bible pauses for love. It pauses to tell us the stories not just of our heroes, but also of their love interests. Sure, many of these stories evolve into soap operas of sorts, but in this case, we find an incredibly short book breaking from stories of our origins, wars, and laws to tell us the seemingly unimportant story of how one little lady on the outside married a farmer on the inside—showing us that things like marriage and love matter.

Jesus himself (who was also a descendant of Ruth) talks about the importance of marriage. Even though he never married, he understood that it was a HUGE deal. He explained that in marriage we “are no longer two but one flesh” and that what “God has joined together, man shouldn’t separate.” He went on to explain that divorce was made by man, not by God—making it clear that not only does God care about our marriages, but that he takes them more seriously than humans do. He cares about your marriage whether your dating life was 3 chapters long or 6 years long.

Why does He care? Because He knows every hair on your head! I love my wife and my children immensely, but I don’t have the slightest idea how many hairs are on their heads! A God who is that meticulous about something so minuscule and unimportant as hair, of course cares about your marriage! That’s a huge part of your life! From today on out you’re two lives are fused as one and you need to know that God cares about it. He cares more than you do, which will be important to remember on some days.

He is a God who is constantly creating life, and he’s still doing it today in our marriages. It’s like our physical birth from our parents and our spiritual birth from salvation in Christ being melded together into some new kind of physical, spiritual, marital rebirth. Cherish it, just as God Himself cherishes it for you. For love is God and God is love and you dwell with God when you love each other.

Allow me to leave you with a scene from the movie Stardust. If you’ve seen it, you may recall in this movie that there’s a star that falls to the earth and becomes a human. Her name is Yvaine. After going on some adventures with a boy named Tristan she begins to wax poetic about love. Speaking from her prior perspective as a star looking at the earth she says:

“I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate—It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves—You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and—what I’m trying to say, Tristan is—I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart—It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you…. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”

I encourage you to make the same exchange. Your heart for theirs. Their heart for yours. If both of you are always about each other, consistently handing your hearts to one another rather than keeping it to yourself, your marriage will be filled with the love that God has for you, for He showed us that love for one another is found in humility and service to one another—freely handing us his heart if we wanted it even in times when we didn’t deserve it. We could just take the free gift of his heart in exchange for our own.

Judgment, Rumors & War

One of the biggest flaws with we humans is how quickly we judge others. It doesn’t take very long. In fact, one study says you decide if someone is trustworthy or not within 1000 milliseconds. Before you know their story (or even their name for that matter) you have already looked at their face and judged their character. That’s unfortunate for people like me who (as I’ve been told) have a “resting angry face.”

This kind of judgment destroys our relationships pretty quick. I’ve been in scenarios where I can’t properly talk to people because they have perceived me in one way and refuse to see me in any other. Even if I express a legitimate concern with loving and kind words, they somehow come across condemningly when filtered through their eyes. Likewise, I’ve done the same thing to others. Something they do throws me off and now I can’t seem to remove everything they do down the road from that one experience.

We give people one chance, and then it’s over. And often, we don’t even approach them about the original thing they did that upset us, so it just festers and makes them look like a monster.

There’s a story in Joshua 22 that demonstrates this pretty well. Three different tribes of God’s people have just been assigned the land that they will live in and once they move in, they build an altar. When all of Israel hears about this, they’re offended. The only altar to God is in the tabernacle, what are they doing building another one? Is it to another false god? Have they turned away?

You can imagine how quickly the rumors spread between the thousands of people found in the other tribes. Without approaching these 3 tribes to ask why they built it, they instead gathered together to prepare for war. They then approach them and list off a bunch of accusations before they’ve even given them a chance to speak.

It almost sounds ridiculous, though we do the same thing, don’t we?

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Now their concern was fair. People at the time turned to false gods often and the altar in the tabernacle was the only place Israel was to make sacrifice, so if they were violating the rules, it needed to be addressed. But did they really need to prepare for war first?

It ends up that the real story was understandable. The land that these 3 tribes had been assigned to was divided from the rest of Israel by the Jordan river. Their fear was that their children would be told down the road that they weren’t really a part of God’s people because they were geographically separated from the rest. So the altar was there to be a memorial of sorts to the fact that they too, were a part of God’s people and to protect their children from ever thinking otherwise. They were never going to use the altar to make any sacrifice—it was just a visual reminder to all of Israel.

After hearing the explanation, everyone was good with it. But sometimes, our hearts are too hard to listen and nothing can get through to us and everything someone does is filtered through our anger or hatred towards them. Who are those people in your life? How can you begin to undo that in your mind? Jesus tells us to fix those relationships and to do it quick:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)

I know a pastor who tried this before everyone tithed once. Guess where one of the longest lines was? Right in front of him. Probably not too uncommon for us pastors.

Pursue love and let the hatred go.

To Our Muslim Neighbors

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A week before we were supposed to light the candle of peace for advent, all kinds of atrocities were happening that were being attributed to Muslims. On top of that, famous people were saying horribly racist things against them and it seemed the world was living in fear. Since our church is located across the street from the only mosque in Jackson, one of our congregants told me they thought we should do something. I agreed, and so she ran out to buy some cards for the congregation to sign at church the next day while I ran out to get a fruit basket.

The next day we put the fruit basket and blank cards up on our communion table, lit the candle of peace a week early and I read aloud a letter we would be sending to our Muslim neighbors as a church body:

Dear Neighbors,

We felt God impress on our hearts to reach out to you, so we wanted to take a moment to send you a letter. We have witnessed the way that your community cares for and loves one another and it is a beautiful thing to see. Your mosque is not only a neighbor to our church, but many of those in your mosque are neighbors to many of those in our church. Our faith calls us to love our neighbors, and so that is part of the reason we write to you today.

Next week our faith traditionally practices lighting a candle that represents peace. As we approach this tradition, we wanted to send some peace your way as we know that both your race and religion have been under attack and profiled, especially in the past few weeks. We do not align ourselves with the statements made against you. In fact, we know all to well what it is like to have fellow Christians commit extremist acts in the name of Christ. In those moments we find ourselves saying, “No, this is not who we are!”

Included with this letter are the signatures of those in our congregation, all of us offering our love and peace to you this morning. You’ll also find a fruit basket, which we simply offer as a sign of support during these difficult times. Please let us know if there is any way we can help you in the future. We are here for you.

In Peace and Love,
Your Friends

As I finished reading the letter the congregation applauded loudly. We then opened up the communion table for everyone who wanted to come up and sign the letter. The aisle filled faster than ever before.

A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, the mosque’s Imam stopped by the church to drop off a letter and present for our church. I left them sealed until the service that night. The church was deeply moved as I read their response aloud.

To Our Kind Neighbors,

This is in response to your kind comments we received, via letters and postcards, along with marvelous gifts. We want you to know that we have accepted your thoughts, prayers, and gifts with an open-heart and great pleasure.

We also want you to know we are proud of being a part of this beautiful community where we respect each other’s freedom, culture and religion. We established our mosque with the intention to not only bring peace and harmony, among our local Muslim brothers and sisters, but also to show to the community-at-large, how Islam is supposed to be practiced. We are really pleased to know that our neighbors have found us as peace-loving, law-abiding citizens.

Finally, please pay our highest regards to each and everyone who took their time to write their thoughts on postcards. We want them to know that we have read all of your comments and we share the same message for our neighbors. Rest assured as Muslim followers of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) we will continue to promote peace and love among the believers of different faiths in our community.

May God bless all of you from his unparalleled mercy and guidance.

Thank you.

God Bless America and the world-at-large.

Sincerely,
Your Neighbors

We then opened the present to find a giant box of chocolates. The church ate all of them following service.

An Accountable Community

Today, I gave one of the harder messages I’ve ever given, but I believe I did so Biblically and at an appropriate time to do so. Take a listen if you want a good challenge and want to deal with some of the harder passages in the Bible.

Ministry Amidst the Crack Addicts

It was tonight in Athens, Greece that I saw God’s grace be about as blatant as it could be. After worshipping with the Greeks in Greek for about an hour, we packed up bags of blankets and a giant container of soup and headed out to a rundown part of the city.

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The curbs were lined with litter as people sat along the sides of buildings. We plugged in a speaker, set up a table and got ready to go to work. Some of us handed out food while others of us got to know the people who were there—and if we got a chance, we prayed for them.

These were the drug addicts of the town. I’m not just guessing on this. I watched a good amount of them light up right in front of me. Cops don’t really go down to this area and it seemed that people didn’t really care much for these people in general. But here was this group of Christians that we were working with that makes it a point to go to this place every Thursday to show them God’s love.

There are no homeless shelters here. Just Christians loving the homeless—despite the fact that they will take their food and then go smoke crack right next to them. These Christians weren’t there to judge, just to care for those God loves. Many of these people took Bibles. Others grabbed pamphlets that gave a quick look at who Jesus was. And everyone was busy trying to engage them and love on them unconditionally.

We heard some difficult stories and prayed some good prayers. I think we even saw some physical healing happen. It was a powerful chance to see the grace and love of God stare right into the souls of addicts.

It reminded me of a story Robbie Dawkins shared in the documentary “Furious Love.” He spoke of a dream God gave him one night—a dream in which there were people in his church having sex in the pews and doing drugs and doing just about everything wrong you could think of. He finally told them to leave and God asked him why he would send away the people he sent them.

It’s a powerful reminder of the love and grace God has extended to us and the mercy we must extend to others.

See more pics and keep up with what we’re doing on our Facebook page.

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The Fear of God

I once heard Francis Chan give an amazing message about God in His throne room. There was a certain awe, wonder and yes, fear of God in the crowd that night. Many we’re moved to tears and we’re desperate for more of God—despite the fear that we all felt.

Many seem to want to preach that there should be no fear of God for He’s a loving, graceful, merciful Father. Now this is absolutely true, and I say that every single message I preach and blog post I write, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be exempt from having some fear of God. For He is also an amazing, almighty, powerful Creator and Judge.

There’s a certain balance to this and it’s easy to get caught up focusing on just one aspect of God.

Some dwell too much on the fear of God and therefore have a hard time trusting Him or drawing close to Him. They end up keeping their distance out of their fear.

Some, on the other hand, dwell too much on God’s love and then find themselves careless in life, living how they want because It doesn’t matter. Universalism is perhaps the extremist theology behind this aspect of God.

But fear is healthy and important in relation to a master. My wife and I got a dog recently and he’s kind of crazy.

He gets jealous if we lock him out of any room for a few minutes or even if we hug each other. I mentioned this on my radio show this morning and got a call from a professional dog trainer after. One of the things she said that really stuck out to me was that the dog needed to understand that I love Him, but also that I am in charge.

So many of us want to soak in the love that God gives us (which is great and absolutely necessary to our lives and faith), but we don’t want to have a healthy fear of God. Again, some people have an unhealthy fear of God, but then some have no fear at all. It’s no wonder we lack obedience and discipline. If we have nothing to fear, why would we do the hard things God asks of us?

This all just came to mind after reading the hymn Give Glory to God, All You Heavenly Creatures by Calvin Seerveld in Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.

Give glory to the Lord all you heavenly creatures
All glory and power belong to the Lord
So drop to your knees and respect what is holy
Be quiet and listen to the voice of the Lord

The voice of the Lord rolls out over the waters
It thunders and echoes his glory abroad
The voice of the Lord is majestic and mighty
Its power resounds and His creatures are awed

The voice of The Lord is breaking the cedars
He shatters the trees while Mount Lebanon quakes
God speaks: all the hills jump like antelopes startled
The voice of the Lord makes us creatures to shake

The voice of the Lord whips out lightning-like flashes
The voice of the Lord makes the desert to reel
The voice of the Lord sets the oak tree awhirling
God strips forests bare by the force of His gale

The creatures now worship the God of all power
All creatures respond, “May God’s glory increase.”
The Lord gives His people their strength and all blessing
The Lord shall encircle His people with peace

I think this guy gets the balance. That’s the only way you can get from the first four verses to the fifth one.

An Overcritical Society


While I was painting my new digs yesterday, I was listening to an audiobook called Love Does, narrated by the author himself, Bob Goff. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. Whenever I see a new Christian book get a lot of attention and it’s written by an author I’ve never heard of, I fear that it might be off in some serious doctrinal sense or something. But I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one had caught my eye a few times.

By the end of the first chapter, I was in awe. By the end of the second I was cracking up. Three hours later I had experienced every emotion under the sun. This guy is clearly the most interesting man in the world and has so many crazy stories that I am just awestruck. It is by far the most interesting, hilarious, and enjoyable Christian book I have ever read.

It’s full of stories that all find a strange way of relating back to God. And for that reason, there are a few (and I mean very few) critics of this book. From what I can tell, nearly everyone love is. But I was checking it out on Amazon today when I saw that someone gave it a one star review. Feeling anger come over me (as I hate one star reviews on anything), I clicked on it to see what could possibly make someone give this book one star.

And as usual, the one star review was a bunch of crap. They took things too seriously and saw the enjoyable jokes and stories as sin and stupidity.

This picture isn't me dissing XKCD. I think that site is typically hilarious :D

Let me just tell you that when you live a life of criticism like this, you become bitter and difficult to be around. No one likes it when someone’s there to rip everything a part. I know this because I’ve been that guy plenty of times.

  • “Yeah, that album is their worst.”
  • “Yeah, that movie was awful. I know you liked it but…”
  • “Yeah, he’s okay at guitar but…”
  • “Yeah, but etc…”

Look, we all have preferences and thoughts about things, but if you find yourself consistently leaving negative comments on every YouTube video, book and music album that comes out, there’s actually probably something wrong with you—not with the things you’re rating.

  • That’s why people who talk too much trash on online video games now have to pay money at times to play online games.
  • That’s why YouTube is trying to figure out how to stop people from leaving awful comments on videos and is thinking of displaying your actual name so you can’t hide behind the internet.

I had an ex who once told me that there was absolutely nothing words could do to hurt anyone. All they are, are in fact, words. It was as though we were back on the playground singing, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” But we all know that’s not true. I’ve never been in more pain from the things people have said to me than the physical pain I’ve experienced.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:6-12)

I know: the irony (and perhaps hypocrisy) is that I’m criticizing critics. But my goodness—grow up! You live in a world full of creativity and there is no need to be so overcritical about every little thing, ESPECIALLY in the church!

  • You know why so many pastors burn out? Because for some reason, people think that their pastor needs to know everything they don’t like about what they do or say.
  • You know why worship leaders go to another church? Because for some reason, we give the worship band one star because she’s flat, he hit a wrong note, that beat was lame, and the intro was just a bit too loud.
  • You know why that new person left? Because for some reason, she saw more love at the bar with her drunk buddies than she saw in the pew next to her.

Despite our call from Jesus not to judge one another, we consistently whack people in the face with the 2×4’s sticking out of our eyes.

Over the past two months or so, I’ve been practicing holding my tongue more than I ever have in my life. Yes, things still slip out here and there, but I’ve found that when I just shut up about things that annoy me, I don’t care much about it. I don’t give it room to fester in conversation—I don’t give it the ability to overtake my thoughts.

I can feel an incredible change in my life because of it.

Alright, there’s my thoughts for the day. If you leave a nasty comment on this blog post or leave one star, you’ve obviously missed the point.

More thoughts on this post? Read my post All Christians are Called to Missions, listen to my message Forgiveness under the Luke series on the 1208 iPhone app, or read Greg Boyd’s book Repenting of Religion.