By: Sarah Norman
Kindness is a difficult concept for our world to understand. In Galatians chapter 5, we're told kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning we can only truly access real, genuine, self-sacrificial kindness when we have the Spirit working in us, helping us to do so.
One of the major themes in the book of Ruth is God's kindness to those who do not deserve it. Ruth 2:20 says, “Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” God looked on Ruth and Naomi with kindness that they had probably rarely felt. They had just moved from a country who worshiped a god who was not kind, Chemosh. Chemosh's name meant destroyer. They feared this god, not in the reverent way we fear the LORD, but in a fearful way. They worshiped Chemosh by sacrificing humans to him in hopes to appease his anger. God's kindness to Ruth was greatly contrasted by the fear felt toward the god of her people.
We see God's kindness towards Ruth all throughout this book, but especially in chapter 2. When Ruth set out to find food for herself and Naomi, she happened to find Boaz's field to glean from. God set up a system in Leviticus 19 called gleaning. This would not have been something Ruth was aware of, and it was rarely enforced by the field owners, but Boaz was different. Gleaning allowed for sojourners, widows and the fatherless to gather food from the edges of the field, and even asked that if grain was dropped, to not pick it up so those who needed it could gather it. Boaz made sure Ruth, both a sojourner and a widow, could glean from his field. He made sure she would have more than enough for herself and Naomi to eat. God's kindness was given to Ruth through Boaz.
God also set up a system in Leviticus called the Kinsman Redeemer. Women had no rights in this time in history. They were treated like commodities, traded like property. God set up laws for the Jewish people to make sure women were treated with dignity and were taken care of if something happened to the men in their family. If a woman was left widowed, her husband's brother, or male relative, was suppose to marry her, protect her, and ensure she was not left alone. The field Ruth happened to walk into, the man who happened to own that particular field, was a kinsman redeemer in her family. He was a distant relative of Elimilech's, Ruth's father-in-law. This field and this man were God's kindness to Ruth.
I'm sure being a widow in a strange land was scary. Walking around looking for food and a way to take care of herself and her mother-in-law was probably intimidating. Ruth was an outsider of the worst kind, from Moab. She was vulnerable as a single woman. The things that take place in this story were not coincidence. God had a plan. I'm sure Ruth was terrified that first day she went to the fields looking for food. She had no idea if this God she just met would take care of her. But God saw her. God looked at her vulnerable state and loved her. He protected her. He made a way for her. He redeemed not only her but her people through the line that would come from her.
Jesus came from Ruth, generations later. Jesus showed the ultimate kindness. He, a perfect sinless man, laid down his life and died for us. Just as Israel deserved destruction for the sins committed in the time of the Judges, we deserve destruction for our sins. Just as God showed Israel kindness by ending their famine, just as God showed the Moabite people kindness through His love of Ruth, Jesus showed us kindness most undeserved with his sacrifice on the cross. He took our place. He took my place. He died for my sins. I did not deserve that kindness, but he freely gave it. Justin said in his message this week that “kindness doesn't base its dose on what the world requires, kindness delivers the best because of what love requires”. There is no limit to God's kindness, it's based off God's love for me and his love is endless. Kindness and love like that are difficult for our finite, human minds to understand because it's not something we see often this side of Heaven. But for those of us who believe in God, trust in God and have a relationship with God, we have access to the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. That same Holy Spirit gives us power to live out God's love, kindness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.
This is not something we'll do perfectly. In fact, I failed tremendously at this just this past week. Rather than speaking in love and kindness and patience, I spoke in anger and hurt someone. We read Romans 12 a few weeks ago and God has been reminding me today of one key part. Verse 10 says “Love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honor, (emphasis added). God did this for Ruth through Boaz. He didn't have to show her kindness. The system set up in Leviticus for gleaning and a kinsman redeemer were not enforced, but he showed her kindness, he showed her honor. That is what we are to do for one another. When we speak, when we act, we are to do so in love, in kindness. Our goal should be to outdo one another in kindness, not to outdo one another in anger. Thankfully when we fail, Jesus steps in. His kindness, his love, his gentleness knows no end. Because of what Jesus did for us, there is nothing beyond redemption.
Ruth's story shows us redemption is possible. When we fail, when we sin, we go to God, we ask forgiveness and he freely gives it to us. When we've hurt another person, we should also go to them. When we do these things, we learn we don't have to live in our sin, we don't have to dwell in our failures, but rather God is there to pick up the pieces, to show His perfect love and kindness. Ruth's story shows us no one is beyond redemption.
By: Sarah Norman
Ruth is a well known story in the Bible and in this world of Disney that we live in, it's easy to paint Ruth with the Disney brush as a princess who met her prince charming. Ruth was in a difficult place. She met a wealthy man who brought her out of that difficult place, married her and they lived happily ever after. It's a nice story. One we've seen on screen or read in books often. But if that's all we see in this story, we miss the most important aspect...God's redemption for his people.
Sodom and Gomorrah, another well known, but not fairy tale story, is the backdrop of Ruth's beginning. These cities were so wicked that God knew they would never choose him over their sins so they needed to be destroyed. Abraham fought against this, knowing his nephew lived in Sodom. He didn't want to see the destruction of any innocent people so he began bargaining with God on their behalf. God said he would save the whole city if there could be 10 righteous people found, but there weren't. Lot and his family were the only ones saved.
Once Lot and his daughters were safely away from the destruction of the cities, his daughters grew worried that they would no longer be able to marry and have children, therefore have heirs to carry on their family line. His daughters decided to get him drunk and then both have sex with him in that drunken state. From this encounter came Moab, and then the Moabite people. These people were a blight on Israel's history. They were outcasts. They descended from sin. Israel thought they were beyond redemption. But Ruth's story shows different.
The story of Ruth occurs during the time of the Judges. The last verse in the book of Judges sums up the time of Judges very well. Verse 25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” We see this perhaps most clearly in Judges 19. A Levite and his concubine stop to rest for the night in Gibeah which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. A man asks them to stay in his house for he knew what would happen if they stayed in the town square. While eating dinner that night, a mob of men from the city came and wanted to rape the Levite. Instead of giving up the Levite, he gave up his virginal daughter and the Levite's concubine. The women were raped and abused all night, to the point of death for the concubine.
This story is very reminiscent of what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah and what ultimately led to their destruction. They wanted to rape the angels who visited Lot. That part of the story had a better ending as the angels were spared and these women were not. This story, when read by itself is heartbreaking and outrageous. It's difficult to see God anywhere in this story and difficult to see why God would allow such horrible things to happen. Israel expected the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah after what happened. And that is definitely what they deserved. They deserved to have sulfur and fire rain down on them for the wicked abuses that occurred. But thankfully, God does not always give us what we deserve. There is a reason why God is God and we are not.
At the beginning of Ruth, there was a famine so a man named Elimelech moved his family, his wife Naomi, and his 2 sons to Moab. They saw the judgment that God was bringing on Israel, and perhaps were afraid of total destruction like what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah so they jumped ship before anything could happen. But while in Moab, Elimelech died. Naomi's sons married Moabite women, then her sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. These were three women, destitute and alone in a society that didn't value women and where it was difficult for women to find legitimate work to earn money for food and lodging.
Naomi heard whispers of the end of the famine in Bethlehem. She believed that perhaps she could find family and help there, so she decided to go back. She tried to tell her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. They were still young, they could still marry and have children and a life. Orpah decided to do this, but Ruth stayed. In Ruth 1:16 she says “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Ruth came from a pagan people. Maybe she knew their history of origin or maybe not, but she knew they did not follow the God of Naomi, the God of Israel. She lived with Naomi and knew she was different. Ruth knew Naomi had something and was going toward something that she would not have if she stayed in Moab. There, Ruth became a follower of God. She declared her allegiance to the God of Naomi, declared that she would worship Him. And here is where our redemption story comes in.
Ruth was a Moabite, an enemy of God's people. Naomi didn't want to return with a Moabite woman because she did not believe she would be accepted, she didn't believe God's redemption could extend to Moabites. But God had a different plan. God's redemption is for all people and we see that clearly in Ruth's story.
Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem and we learn here why God did not destroy Israel like he did Sodom and Gomorrah. His plan was to bring redemption to his people in an unlikely way. Ruth meets a man name Boaz and eventually marries. She becomes the great grandmother of King David and eventually Jesus comes from her line. Jesus is the Savior of the world, who defeated death, defeated sin and redeemed not only Israel but everyone who is willing to follow Him.
Israel deserved destruction. The story in Judges is just one that was written down, but that story was likely a common story. Is the world we live in much different? Do we value life more than the Israelites did? Do we follow God more or better than what the Israelites did? No we don't, but what we learn from this story is that God is full of mercy. God does not give us what we deserve. God is giving us as much time as he can to turn to Him. We all deserve destruction, we all deserve death, we all deserve Hell. But in God's infinite mercy that is not what we get. When we have a relationship with Jesus, who came from Ruth, we find our redemption in Him. In this world that's full of sin and pain and death, we can look to the story of Ruth and see hope. In this story that is so heartbreaking, we see redemption in what God did for Ruth, the Moabite woman, the despised, the outcast, the marginalized. And just as Ruth did, when we follow God, when we turn to God a midst all the things of this world that we could follow, we find our redemption. God is the God who can redeem even the most despised, the most outcast, and the most marginalized, if we only look towards him.
By: Sarah Norman
When I was growing up, I was always the different one. I was different than my family. I would rather read for an afternoon or play my piano than give any attention at all to a sport. I was different than my friends. I spoke differently, I listened to different music, I dressed differently. Growing up, it can be hard to be different. We're taught from an early age that we should conform, that we should be like those around us. We're taught that anything that deviates from the norm is not what the culture we live in expects. So we conform to fit in, we conform to not be made fun of. We conform to make others happy. When we do that, we lose ourselves and who God uniquely made us to be.
Psalm 139:13 tells us “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God made each individual in this world. He made us with our likes and dislikes. He made us with our unique talents. He made us with our unique personalities that are unlike anyone else on the earth. God made us in his image, each of us important with a specific purpose.
The culture we live in spends lots of energy telling us to be “nonconformists”. But what the world wants is us to conform to their ways, leaving behind who we are. The world celebrates individuality as long as it's a certain kind that looks like everyone else's individuality. But God tells us something vastly different than what the world tells us. Romans 12:1-2 says “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.” If we are to conform to anything, we are to conform to God, not this world. Paul tells us here to not conform to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Conforming to this world is easy, but making the choice to live for God is not...unless we allow God to transform our mind.
Living for God is impossible on our own. I tried for years and years. I lived a legalistic, moralistic life, thinking that I just had to follow the rules and be good enough. I knew who Jesus was but I didn't fully understand what He came to do, I didn't fully understand how to live in His grace. So I tried and failed, over and over again. The more I tried on my own, the more my life always went back to looking like the world around me. When I met Jesus, I learned to stop trying on my own. I learned that in my own strength, I would always fail, but when I allowed Jesus to transform me, that is when my life began to look different. That's when I began to see the world differently. Then and only then, I was able to live for Jesus.
God makes us individuals with unique qualities, not to be conformed to the world, but to live for him, to work for him, to live our lives for his glory and his kingdom. We are all image bearers, made to work together. Verse 3 tells us to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment...” and verse 4 tells us “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” While God makes us all unique, the purpose of that is so we can work together for one purpose, to bring glory to His kingdom. Instead of calling people out for their differences, we should celebrate their differences and what they can bring to the table that we can't.
The next section in Romans 12 gives us practical ways that we can live out our walk with God, practical ways that we can love the people around us, believers and nonbelievers and how we can choose to not conform to the world we live in. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor...” Tony Evans says in his commentary that “love is not primarily a feeling. Love is an action, meeting the need of someone else, even at personal expense.” In our world, this is difficult. The world tells us that everything is about us, look out for yourself, do what's best for you, contrary to how it effects everyone else. To a certain extent, yes, we have to take care of ourselves because we can not serve others if we have nothing left to give. But looking out for ourselves is a priority of the world. We're told to “outdo one another in showing honor.” That requires sacrifice on our parts. That requires thinking of others first, putting others first, dying to yourself and loving those that Jesus has put in front of you to love.
The only way we are able to do this, to love those who seem unlovable, to work in God's kingdom in the unique capacity he's given us, is by allowing Jesus to transform our hearts. On my own, I will always chose to live for myself, maybe my family, but mostly for myself. I will do what's best for me. But when I let Jesus transform my heart and my mind, I begin to see others differently, I see others the way Jesus sees them, as image bearers of God. When I consider what Jesus did for me when he died on the cross and consider that he did that not only for me, but for every single person I meet, that changes how I interact with people.
Justin said in his message today, “Everyone may not be a Christian, but everyone can be and Jesus died so that everyone would be.” What if we looked at every person we come into contact with through that lens? Those that make us angry, those who vote differently than us, those who parent differently than us, those who make more or less money than us, those we see suffering on the street, those who have never heard of Jesus, those who have heard of Jesus but want nothing to do with Him? What if we looked at them and treated them as if Jesus actually did what he did? He died on the cross for the one who votes differently, for the one who looks different, for the one of a different culture. And he didn't die on the cross to change what makes that person who they are. He died to save them from their sins, just like he did for me. I'm not called to judge people by the choices they make just because they are different and I think I make better ones. I'm called to love genuinely, outdo others in honoring them, bless those who persecute me, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I am called to be different than the world, to not conform to what the world conforms to. Most of the time, that is uncomfortable at best, impossible at worse, but my God specializes in the impossible.
I'm not saying we will ever do this perfectly. I don't do this well most of the time. But when we let God transform our hearts, he will help us to live differently. He will help us to see others the way He sees them. He will conform you, not this this world, but to someone who walks in His will.
By: Sarah Norman
The story of Hagar in the Bible is one that is often misread and misinterpreted. She is often portrayed as the villain, put in the story to thwart God's plan for the covenant child coming through Sarah. But with a closer look at Hagar, we see that God can take the plans of man and use them for his purpose. We see that God is not a far off deity just watching to see what will unfold, but he is active in our lives, and cares about what happens to every person created in his image.
Hagar was a slave, taken from her homeland, perhaps sold by captors, her family or maybe she sold herself because she had no other means to provide. She was taken into a family with customs not her own, into a land different than her own. She was taken into the family who made a covenant with God. I can only imagine how strange it would seem to watch people worship one God, talk to one God and follow one God after a lifetime of seeing the worship of many different gods and a lifetime of trying to earn the favor of the gods with nothing in return.
In looking at it with 21st century eyes, I would have to think her life would have improved. She was living with God's people. Shouldn't they love her? Shouldn't they protect her? Shouldn't they treat her as the image bearer God made her? It's easy for me to judge as I have the whole Bible to learn from, as I can see the story throughout scripture of how God loves and takes care of the marginalized and oppressed. But Abraham and Sarah were not perfect and they were a product of their time.
It was the custom in that time if Sarah could not produce an heir, to give her handmaid to her husband that she might produce an heir for the family. In that culture, Sarah's value was based solely on her ability to produce children. Again, looking at this with 21st century eyes, what Sarah did was awful. She saw Hagar as nothing more than a vessel to carry a child and eventually be thrown away. But she herself was probably afraid the same thing would happen to her if she could not produce a male heir.
How often have I chosen to not believe in God's promises? It's easy to judge Sarah, but I often don't immediately obey when God wants me to do something. I often don't trust in God when things get hard and, much like Sarah, I try to make things happen on my own. God made a promise to Abraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. Years went by and Sarah still had not conceived. Years. I would have gotten anxious too. So Sarah took matters into her own hands and gave Hagar to Abraham to produce a child.
Once Hagar conceived, scripture says she looked on Sarah with contempt. Sarah forced her to get pregnant. I think contempt is the natural outcome of forcing a person into a pregnancy they never asked for. And to make matters worse, Sarah began mistreating her. Sarah's fix did not make the situation better, but rather made it much worse. That's how it goes when we try to take over for God. We make everything much worse. Instead of listening to God, trusting in what God told Sarah would happen, she involved an innocent woman, hurt her, used her body and then kicked her out because it didn't solve her problem.
Hagar ran into the wilderness. She was pregnant, single, desperate and trying to figure out how she could survive alone. The angel of the Lord found her by a well. It's here we see God's heart for the broken, the cast out, the marginalized in society. The angel of the Lord saw Hagar, heard her cry out, and paid attention to her pain. He didn't minimize what she went through. He didn't tell her to get over it and do her job. He didn't tell her that it would be ok, because it wouldn't. Instead, he gave her, a slave woman, a promise. He promised that she would have a son and her descendants would become a nation. Ishmael is the first child given a name prior to birth and that name means “God hears.” God took time to listen to this lowly slave woman. He took time to listen to the woman who had been cast out of his covenant family. He listened to her and he instilled value into her.
And then Hagar names God. She calls him El Roi, the God who sees me. God, the almighty, omniscient God we serve, who has his hand on the whole world, had a conversation with this slave woman, saw this slave woman and loved her. It's easy to understand that God is the God of this world, sovereign over everything. We learn He's Got the Whole World in His Hands at a young age. But to think that not only is God over the whole world, seeing everything that goes on, he sees me. He sees you. He looked through the whole world, and went to visit a lowly, pregnant slave woman who'd run away from her mistress. He saw her pain and he had compassion on her. His promise made to her gave her the strength to go back and endure whatever would happen with Abraham and Sarah. God loved Hagar and he loved her child she was carrying.
When we live through a year like 2020 and now 2021, it's easy to think that God is far off. It can be tempting to think that God has forgotten about us, that he doesn't care what's happening. But then I read stories like Hagar's. I see that God “draws near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18). The God who visited Hagar in her desperate and alone state, the God who saw Hagar in her loneliness, in her pain, is the same God who draws near to you and near to me when we feel like we can't go on another day. He's the same God who sees your desperateness as you pray for your wayward child. He's the same God who sees the hurt of your broken relationships. He's the same God who wipes your tears away as you say goodbye to a loved one. He meets you in the broken places and carries you through them. Out of everyone in this world, He sees you.
Fast forward a few thousand years and we come to a different well, but a significant one all the same. Jesus, in his infinite sovereign wisdom, decides to journey through Samaria on his way to Galilee. His disciples thought he was crazy. Why would he go through this place of insignificant, outcast people. But Jesus never does anything by chance. He had a reason for walking through Samaria because he knew exactly who needed him in that moment. Jesus stopped at a well for a drink of water and met a lonely, broken and hurting woman. Here we see the longest recorded conversation in the Bible, and that conversation was with a Samaritan woman, the lowest of the low according to Jewish customs. But Jesus saw an image bearer who needed him. In this conversation, he offered her living water, saying those who drink living water will never go thirsty again. This woman had no clue when she went to the well that she would meet Jesus, but when she left, she became the first evangelist, she told everyone she saw that she had met the Messiah.
Jesus didn't judge the Samaritan woman. He saw her. He looked into her broken soul and healed her. He offered her a life that only he could give. So often in this world we seek healing through other means. We numb out with screens, we eat our comfort foods, we turn to substances, we let our anger take over thinking it'll make us feel better. When we do those things, we miss what Jesus is calling us to. He's calling us to himself, into relationship with him. He says “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11:28) Those aren't empty words. And he's not talking about rest that the world tries to give. When we draw near to Jesus, our souls find a rest that nothing in this world can fix.
So as the world keeps spinning out of control, seek Jesus, talk to Jesus, follow after Jesus. He is the God who sees you and the God who hears you. He cares about what you are going through. He is the only means of finding rest for your weary soul.
Justin’s been given a big gift. I think that after listening to most of his messages. They help me gain perspective and focus before beginning another week. I always think they’re wonderful reminders. Application to my life is easy. I thought especially so after this week’s message.
He talked about categories and labels. Earthly ones. Things we believe and value because we’ve been programmed to our whole lives. Categories that brought my life to an abrupt halt a few years ago.
I’m sure I won’t do his sermon justice, but I’ll try to summarize some of the things I took note of as he was speaking. Some things I loved. Some things I feel so deeply.
The world can enslave us with its categories. We can’t find meaning in the categories our world tries to put us in, but we often try to find our worth through the labels we wear. It can take a daily, even hourly, reminder for us to remember we are all one through Jesus.
And my favorite quote from today: “The world wants to take away our texture.”
In our family, the labels and categories can be helpful. They provide services and answers to questions. They can bring understanding, and hopefully, acceptance.
Because of a label, I’ve also learned to embrace differences. In my classroom. At home. I now find beauty in what I once saw as obstacles. My mind goes to children so quickly, because of my own kids and my job. We push so many labels - athletic, smart, social, popular. We often send the message that life is supposed to be so easy-just fall into one of these categories- when in fact we as adults know how hard things can actually be. What happens when we don’t fall into a category so easily...or when we don’t into one we once did? As Justin said, “There’s a unique gift in all of our categories”.
None of our labels define us. We are so much more than the categories we fall into. Asher is so much more than the word autism will ever describe.
“The Lord is our banner” - That gives us so much freedom. There’s only one category we need to fall into. We only need to wave His banner, promote His brand. We only need to love Jesus and display this love. Don’t let the world take away your texture. It’s what makes you, you.
By Sarah Norman
What defines you? This was the question posed at church this week. Our world is constantly asking this question. Who are you? What side are you on? How do you identify? The answers to these questions give us our identity, put us in a tribe, help us find belonging. But most often, they just leave us asking more questions.